Lord Matthew’s Honor

Here’s an interesting story that I found buried in the parish records from Rozdziele, my ancestral village on the north slope of the Carpathian Mountains. Today the village lies within the borders of Poland, but at the time these events took place it was part of Austrian Galicia. Some of what follows is the product of my own fertile imagination, but I’m pretty sure I have uncovered an unusual love story in the pages of these dusty old metrical registers.

Dmytro (Metro) Telep, 1882-1978

Dmytro (Metro) Telep, 1882-1978

This man is Metro Telep. He was born in Rozdziele in 1882 and worked as a coal miner in Fernie, British Columbia his whole life. His many descendants are to be found scattered across western Canada. He was my great-grandfather’s half-brother; they grew up together and must have emigrated to Canada around the same time. I knew him as “Grandpa Telep”, but nobody in my immediate family was certain of our relationship to him until I started delving into the Rozdziele records a few years ago. He is the only family member I ever met who had a living connection to the old country.

This photo was taken in 1975. We were on our way back from an Easter break trip to visit my dad’s brother’s family in Richmond on the coast, and we stopped in at Grandpa Telep’s place in Haney to help with the campaign to convince him to move into a nursing home. Metro had been living by himself after his wife Dora died (Theodosia Nowak, 1886-1966, also born in Rozdziele), and his children were very concerned about him because he was starting to slip. I remember having to wait outside because there wasn’t room for the kids inside the tiny house, and the adults had to stand in the kitchen and talk to Grandpa Telep because he did not have any chairs, for some reason. Here he is holding court seated on the oven door, in front of the firewood that he chopped and stacked himself. (Looking a little closer at that pile, maybe that’s what was left of his chairs.) He eventually did move into a nursing home, and a few years later he died at the ripe old age of 96.

But this story isn’t about Grandpa Telep, it’s about his great-grandmother, Anna Barszcz (barszcz, барщ, is the Rusyn form of the word for borsht, beet soup). When she was born in 1791 her father went by the name of Andreas Paulak, but Barszcz must have been a family alias because by the 1810’s Andreas and his children appear in the records with the Barszcz surname. (You can read more about this common dual-surname phenomenon in this article, The Dual Identity of the Lemko Villager.)

In 1814 Anna, 23 years old, unmarried and living in her father’s house, had an illegitimate son, Stephanus. The birth record gives the father as Ignotus— “unknown”.

Stephanus Widłak birth record. Sept. 20, 1814

Stephanus Widłak birth record. Sept. 20, 1814

Seven years later (May of 1821) Anna gave birth to a second illegitimate child, Thecla. Again, no father is indicated.

Thecla Widłak birth record. May 7, 1821

Thecla Widłak birth record. May 7, 1821

I include as an aside the birth record following Thecla’s: the next baby born in the village was also named Thecla, and her parents, Adalbert and Tatianna Bubniak, appear to have been next-door neighbors to Andreas Barszcz. I believe that Andreas and Tatianna were cousins, although I haven’t nailed down their exact relationship yet. I draw your attention to the Thori column– Thecla Bubniak is marked as illegitimate too! (Thori illegitimi means “[born] of an illegitimate bed”.) The curious case of Adalbert Bubniak’s illegitimate children is something I have written about elsewhere. It’s of interest to me because Adalbert and Tatianna are my great-great-great-great grandparents, and the families of Adalbert and Andreas remained tightly linked across several generations. But I digress. Getting back to the story at hand…

Ten years pass. Anna’s father Andreas Paulak/Barszcz died in 1831 at the age of 83.

Then in April of 1833 Anna had a third child, Josephus. She was now 42 years old, and still living in her late father’s house, which was now densely populated with members of her extended family. Josephus, like his siblings, was marked illegitimate in the record book. But the significant thing about his birth record is that, while he is illegitimate, he does have a father: a certain Mathias Widłak signed a statement on the record, declaring

Jako to dziecko Józef jest mojim własny: “This child Jozef is my own.

Josephus Widłak birth record. April 15, 1833

Josephus Widłak birth record. April 15, 1833

Little Josephus survived for only 5 weeks. But guess what? In June of 1834, a year after they laid him to rest, Anna and Mathias got married!

Marriage of Mathias Widłak and Anna Barszcz, June 15, 1834

Marriage of Mathias Widłak and Anna Barszcz, June 15, 1834

These are all the historical facts of the case that I have been able to gather. What to make of it all? Here is where my romantic imagination kicks in.

D. (Dominus) Mathias Widłak

D. (Dominus) Mathias Widłak

Mathias is interesting because when he appears in the record books, there is often a “D.” in front of his name. That must stand for Dominus, “Lord”, or Pan in Polish, which means he was of noble birth. However, his occupation on the marriage record is given as sartor, tailor. So he must have been of the landless gentry (szlachta) who had to work for a living. It’s also notable that his home was in Lipinki, a town about a kilometer north of Rozdziele. Lipinki and Rozdziele had close historical and cultural ties, but their church administration and religious life were quite distinct: Lipinki was Roman Catholic and predominantly Polish, whereas Rozdziele’s population was Lemko and its church was under the jurisdiction of the Greek Catholic Eparchy of Przemyśl, which, while technically acknowledging the Pope in Rome as its supreme head, in form and function more closely resembled the Orthodox Church.

This is what I think: I think that Pan Mathias was a traveling haberdasher who would come to Rozdziele regularly on business, and on one of his visits he fell in love with a Lemko peasant girl named Anna. But alas, there was some obstacle to their happiness. Perhaps there was something about Mathias that her father didn’t like… Was it that he was Polish? Roman Catholic? a szlachta? I don’t know. Let’s just suppose that Andreas didn’t like this smooth-talking Polish gentleman, and he forbade the marriage.

But love will find a way. The couple would meet secretly whenever Mathias came to the village, and over a span of almost 20 years they managed to have three children out of wedlock.

While illegitimate children were by no means uncommon in the village, there was a definite social stigma attached to them. There can be no doubt that Anna’s father disapproved: his daughter was bringing more mouths to feed into his household, and probably damaging his reputation among his neighbors. Their relationship must have been fraught. I wonder what promises Mathias made to her, throughout those difficult years.

Finally, the stern old father died, and Anna and Mathias were able to wed at last. Mathias, nearly 60 now, did right by his children. Both Stephanus and Thecla are surnamed “Widłak” in later records, which tells me that he formally adopted them. This would have been a very big deal in those days, because to be a bastard in that society was a mark of shame that was very difficult to overcome.

What happened next? Anna died in 1847 in the very same house where she had been born 56 years earlier. But what happened to Mathias? I have no record of his death. Anna’s death record makes no mention of her being a widow, so Mathias must have outlived her. Did he abandon Anna after their marriage, having satisfied his obligations as a father and his honor as a gentleman, but preferring to live in the bourgeois comfort of his own home town? Or did they live out their final years together in marital bliss, in Anna’s ancestral home? Did Pan Mathias give up tailoring and take up the peasant life?

Anna Widłak death record, May 24, 1847

Anna Widłak death record, May 24, 1847

I would have a clue if I could see Mathias’ death record. If he died in Rozdziele, news of his death would have reached the parish priest in Lipinki and it would have been recorded in the Lipinki book, with the annotation that he died in Rozdziele. But the Lipinki records have not yet been digitized by the Polish National Archives, so I shall have to wait and see. Meanwhile, I will assume that the story has a happy ending.

Thecla herself lived a long time and was able to watch her grandson Metro grow into a young man. He was 13 when she died in 1895, and he would be off across the big water to Ameryky within a few years. Did Thecla ever tell her grandson the story of her parents’ secret passion?

I wonder if Grandpa Telep knew that he was descended from Polish aristocracy.

Thecla Telep (Widłak) death record. Jan. 10, 1895. Cause of death: Senectus (old age)

Thecla Telep (Widłak) death record. Jan. 10, 1895. Cause of death: Senectus (old age)


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Bublick, the Name

The Lethbridge Daily Herald, Dec. 17, 1920

My great-grandfather, Joe Bublick, ran a store in Coalhurst, Alberta, alongside his wife, Julia. They sold clothing, tools, household supplies, etc. to coal miners and their families.

At various times, Joe and Julia had more than one store under their purview, spread across the bustling coal mining towns north-west of Lethbridge– Diamond City, Commerce, and Coalhurst. The Coalhurst store was the last one they had before they retired in 1933, at which point they handed the store over to their daughter and her husband. Just in time for it to go bankrupt after the mine blew up in 1935 and put hundreds of people, including my grandparents, out of work at the height of the Great Depression… but that’s a whole ‘nother story. Joe and Julia, they retired to a peaceful little farm in Haney, British Columbia, and did fine.

Joe Bublick gardening with his granddaughter Marian. Haney, B.C., 1946.

Bublick, as I mentioned in a previous blog post about Julia, was not Joe’s original surname. He was baptized Josephus Bubniak. Born in the village of Rozdziele in Austrian Galicia on April 21, 1875, his parents were Michael Bubniak and Marianna Bieniek, who came from old Greek Catholic serf families that had farmed the north slope of the Carpathian mountains near the Slovakian border for centuries. The records I got from the Polish National Archives tell me that Michael and Marianna had another son, Michael, born two years after Joe, but I had no idea what happened to him. Nobody in my family ever heard Joe talk about a brother, so I just assumed he must have died in infancy. It was all too common in those days.

Josephus Bubniak birth registration

Josephus Bubniak birth registration, 1875

registration, 1877

Michael Bubniak birth registration, 1877

Something else the records told me: Joe’s father died before little Michael was born, and their mother went on to marry a man named Josafat Telep. Josafat and Marianna had a son, Metro (Demetrius), and years later Joe and Metro would emigrate to North America and start new lives. Metro Telep went to Fernie, B.C., and worked in the coal mines there, and Joe, as we have seen, wound up in Coalhurst. The two half-brothers remained close friends for life, though, and I even met Metro once, shortly before he died in 1978, a very old man. He was known to our family as “Grandpa Telep”, but nobody knew for certain what his relationship to Joe was, until I tracked down those Polish birth, death, and marriage records.

Getting back to that name, Bublick…

When and why did Joe change his name from Bubniak to Bublick? This has always been one of the big riddles that drives my genealogical research.

The fanciful legend, that my dad remembers being told, is this. One day Joe said to his son, Mike, “Mike, nobody can pronounce our name. Think up something easier.” Mike thought about it, and he pulled the name “Bublick” out of thin air. Joe liked it, and sent Mike up the ladder with a can of paint to change the name of the store to “Bublick’s”. And that, supposedly, is how the name got changed.

This is impossible, of course.

Birth certificate of Mike Bublick, or Bubniak

Mike, Joe and Julia’s eldest child, was born in 1904, and his name was recorded as Bubniak. (However, all his life he went by Bublick, and this became a bit of a problem decades later when he went to apply for his Canada Pension).

So the family was still using Bubniak as of 1904. But on the 1906 Census, the family name is reported as Bublik; this is the earliest documented instance I have of the family using that name. That means that Mike would have been just a baby when he had to climb the ladder to change the store sign; a highly unlikely event. (Both Joe and his son Mike were, unsurprisingly, renowned for telling tall tales to the gullible).

Also untrue is the story that the name was made up; Bublick is a real name. One particularly famous holder of that name was Gedaliah Bublick, a journalist and Zionist activist who was instrumental in facilitating the wave of Jewish emigration out of Eastern Europe in the aftermath of terrible violence against Jews there in the early 20th century. The fact that he was a contemporary of Joe’s, and that they came from the same general part of the world, made me suspect that we may, in fact, have Jewish ancestry. I have subsequently uncovered absolutely no evidence to support that theory, but the possibility intrigued me for many years.

In addition to the Jewish connection, Bublik is also found as a surname throughout Ukrainian and Russian-speaking regions. However, in the records from the cluster of Carpatho-Rusyn villages connected to my ancestors, I have not found a trace of a single Bublik or Bublick. Plenty of Bubniaks, but no Bublicks.

A bublik is also a type of bread, similar to a bagel. It looks like this:

Bublik in Kiev with Sesame

Off-shell, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

None of this enlightens me as to why Joe changed his name. But at least now I know approximately when he did it: 1904-1906.

Recently I made a breakthrough when I stumbled upon the following marriage announcement:

Vancouver Province, January 5, 1948

Butt-Bublick Chapel Wedding

Rev. G.B. Switzer officiated at the
ceremony December 19 in Canadian
Memorial Chapel, when Ann Fae Bublick, daughter of Mrs. P. Melnik of Fernie, exchanged marriage vows with Edward William Butt, son of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Butt of Victoria.

Mr. David Boyles was best man and ushers were Mr. A. Abbot and Mr. John Melnik.

Given in marriage by Mr. James Tasker, the bride wore a gown of corded white satin, with long fitted sleeves and full skirt extending to a train. Inserts of lace with pearl embroidery enhanced the bodice and her floor-length veil of net filmed from a silver crown. Pink roses and white heather were in her bouquet.

Mrs. R. Vinson was matron of honor, in a gown of lilac taffeta and carrying a bouquet of yellow mums.

Miss Gladyce Tasker, as bridesmaid, wore turquoise blue, with a pink net veil caught to a coronet of pink and white flowers and carried pink daisies.

Following the reception, the couple left for a honeymoon in Victoria.

I had no knowledge of any of these names. Ann Fae Bublick? Nope, never heard of her. But the fact that there were so few Bublicks in Western Canada at that time made me curious. And, the fact that she was from Fernie– the very town where Joe’s half-brother Metro Telep had settled— made me even more curious!

The mystery began unraveling quickly as I discovered clues in the newspapers and the genealogical archives of the Royal British Columbia Museum. The clincher was the death registration for a man named Mike Bublik, who died of influenza in Fernie in 1918. His parents are listed as Mike Bublik and Mary Benik, and his birth is given as 1878 in Austria. This is close enough to Michael Bubniak, son of Michael Bubniak and Marianna Bieniek, born 1877 in Austrian Galicia, that I am certain I have discovered Joe’s long lost brother!

Mike Bublik death registration

Here, then, is the story of the Bublick/Bubniak/Telep boys, which I have reconstructed from the evidence.

Josephus (Jozef, Joe) Bubniak was born to Michael (Michał) Bubniak and Marianna (Maria) Bieniek in Rozdziele in 1875. Michael died when Joe was a baby, in November 1876. I’m not sure of his cause of death, but I suspect cholera; he was only 25 when he died. Six months after his death (May 12, 1877), his wife gave birth to another son, also named Michael. When Michael was 5 and Joe was 7, their mother married Josafat Telep, and they had a son, Demetrius (Dmytro, Metro), born November 1, 1882. The three boys (Joe, Mike, and Metro) grew up together, and they all must have departed for North America around 1900 or earlier, maybe together, maybe separately (I have yet to find authoritative immigration records for them).

Joe married a girl from his home village, Julianna Swedish (Świder), and they wound up in Lethbridge after a brief sojourn working in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. Joe became a merchant in Diamond City and Coalhurst, probably supplied by his brother-in-law Simon Swedish who had a thriving store in Lethbridge (here is a fascinating history of the Swedishes’ store). Mike and Metro went to Fernie and worked in the coal mines.

In about 1915 Mike married Anastasia (Nastya, Nettie) Buriak, who had recently  immigrated from Husiatyn (Wilchovetz), a village from the part of Galicia that is now in Ukraine. They had two daughters: Mary (1916) and Anne Fae (1918).

In November of 1918, when Anne Fae was only 6 months old, Mike caught influenza and died, a victim of the 1918-1919 global Flu pandemic. The Vancouver newspapers mentioned Fernie as a major hotspot of the disease.

Nettie wasted no time; in March 1919 she married another miner, Peter Melnik, an immigrant from the Russian part of Ukraine. They had three more children in addition to Nettie’s two daughters: John (1920-1991), Helen (1921-?), and Michael (1927-1994). Nettie died in 1963 and is buried in the Fernie cemetery. Peter died in 1975 and is buried next to her.

Nettie’s first husband Mike Bublick is there too; he rests in a different section of the cemetery.

What happened to Mike and Nettie’s daughters? I am interested in them, because their descendants would be my blood kin. Mary got married in 1933 to Jules Kosiec, and Anne Fae, as we saw above, married Edward Butt in 1947. The interesting thing about their marriage registrations is that both brides are named Bublick (or Boublick, in Mary’s case), not Melnik. That tells me that Peter Melnik never formally adopted them.

Anne Fae died young. She had no children, and died in Vancouver of cancer in 1952.

Mary lived all her life in Fernie and died in 2003 at the age of 87. She outlived her husband Jules by 35 years. They had descendants who may still be living, meaning there are cousins out there I haven’t met yet.

It’s exciting to find a whole branch of the family tree you never suspected even existed. I still don’t know where the Bublick name came from, and now it’s lost to time, as nobody in the family bears it anymore. But there’s one thing I discovered from all this: Joe was not alone in his use of the name. His brother changed his name from Bubniak to Bublick, too.

Who knows, maybe the story about the ladder and the paint can has a kernel of truth– maybe it was not Joe’s son Mike who made the change, but his brother.

Here’s a tree sketching out the descendants of Marianna Bieniek and her two husbands:

Descendants of Michał Bubniak and Marianna Bieniek

Descendants of Michał Bubniak and Marianna Bieniek

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Alvin’s Ashes

This is a story of four young people and how the paths of their lives crossed and re-crossed over the years.

When an unpopular emperor named Peter was overthrown in a palace coup in 1762, the conspirators propped up his unassuming German wife Sophie (who called herself Yekaterina) as temporary regent, until their son could assume the throne. She proved feistier than anyone could have imagined, though, and soon got herself crowned as empress, and went on to have a long and glorious career as Catherine the Great of Russia.

Something that frustrated Catherine was how backwards Russia was, agriculturally. So one of the first things she did, in the mid-1760’s, was to send letters back to her homeland inviting her industrious German countrymen to come to Russia, particularly the Volga River basin, to establish farms using modern agricultural practices and help to make Russia into the prosperous nation she wanted it to be. A great many Germans answered the call. They were given special privileges– they did not have to assimilate into Russian society, they were (at first) exempt from military service, and they were allowed to keep their native religion (they were mostly Lutherans, Catholics, and Mennonites). These immigrants became the people who are known to history as the Volga Germans.

The Volga Germans thrived, but in the latter part of the 19th century many began emigrating to North America. Their main destinations were Kansas, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, the Pacific Northwest, and Canada. They were the lucky ones. As the 20th century progressed the German population of Russia began to be seen with increasing suspicion, and by the time of Stalin, the Volga Germans were being subjected to a policy of deportation and ethnic cleansing that could be characterized as a genocide.


One such fortunate family of Volga Germans boarded the SS Professor Woermann in Bremen on March 15, 1907. After a 26-day voyage, they stepped off onto the pier on Pelican Island, which served as the offshore immigrant processing and quarantine station for the port of Galveston, Texas. There was 60-year-old Michael Reuber and his 53-year-old wife Elizabeth (neé Mueller), along with their teenage and adult children. Michael’s son Michael Jr., 24, was accompanied by his wife Amalie (or Amelia or Mollie) and their 9-month-old daughter Pauline.

The ship’s manifest hints at some of the trouble the family endured as soon as they set foot on American soil. The two youngest sons, Alexander (15) and August (12), are labeled “DEBARRED”. Column 21 gives the reason: the two boys suffered from Trachoma, a highly-contagious eye infection that can result in blindness, the scourge of immigrants in those days. In the days before antibiotics, the treatment for trachoma was the topical application of copper sulfate that was worked into the inside of the patient’s eyelid using a stiff metal brush. Newly-arrived immigrants were free to refuse this painful treatment, in which case they would simply be sent back where they came from– which is just what happened to poor Alex and August. They were sent back to Bremen by themselves, presumably at the shipping company’s expense. Imagine the consternation and uncertainty the parents felt, to have their two youngest children suddenly taken away from them at such an unsettled time!

Reuber Family immigration record

Page from the Professor Woermann’s ship manifest at the Port of Galveston, April 10, 1907, showing Reuber family immigration data. (click to enlarge)

The rest of the family had no choice but to press ahead with their plans. Their stated destination (column 16) was Michael Sr.’s cousin, Friedrich Streck of Russell, Kansas.  The family made their way from Galveston to Kansas and started farming in the vicinity of Russell, about 180 miles west of Topeka, where there was already quite a sizeable community of Volga Germans.

What happened to Alex and August? Evidently they spent two months in Bremen, on their own or perhaps in the care of relatives, and they eventually acquired steerage tickets aboard the SS Rhein that arrived at the Port of Baltimore on August 3, 1907. What’s interesting is that Alex inflated his age from 15 to 18, probably because it was against the rules for unaccompanied minors to immigrate. Fortunately they met with no resistance from the immigration authorities this time. What an adventure those boys had that summer, on their own on the high seas! They were eventually reunited with their parents in Kansas, and I know that both Alex and August lived long lives in the U.S.A. and have numerous descendants.

Alex and August Reuber Immigration Record

Page from the Rhein’s ship manifest at the Port of Baltimore, August 3, 1907, showing immigration data for Alexander and August Reuber.

Michael Jr. and Mollie rented land from a local farmer named Robert Kaps, and over the next 13 years they brought up a large family– Pauline (who had been born in Russia), Henry, Marie, Lizzie, Alexander, and August (the last two no doubt named after their globe-trotting uncles). There was another son, Conrad, who appears in the 1926 census, but I think he was born later, and I’m afraid he may not have survived, as I can find no further record of him.

It’s the second daughter, Marie Theresa Reuber (born 1911), who is the focus of this story.

Michael Jr. had some trouble with the law– he operated a still and sold moonshine to his neighbors, and he got caught in a dramatic raid that generated some eye-catching newspaper headlines. He decided that he needed to get out of Kansas in a hurry. In April, 1921, he gathered his family together and headed for Canada, and his farm was duly seized by the local sheriff to cover his debts. According to the sale notice in the local newspaper, Michael left behind 17 horses, 28 head of cattle, 3 hogs, and a crop of wheat planted and growing in the field, along with all kinds of vehicles, tools, and household goods. Several hundred people attended the auction, which lasted all day. Refreshments were served.

Michael Reuber property auction

The Russell Informer (Russell, Kansas) · 21 Apr 1921 · Page 4

Report on the Reuber farm auction

The Salina Evening Journal (Salina, Kansas) · 29 Apr 1921 · Page 1










One can only guess at the difficulties the family underwent in the course of their flight from Kansas to the Canadian border! It’s about a thousand miles as the crow flies, and the road crosses some pretty rugged terrain, as I know, since I have been over that route several times researching other branches of my family tree. I have no knowledge of the Reubers’ mode of transport, although train from Kansas City across Wyoming and Montana seems likely; the port of Coutts, Alberta/Sweetgrass, Montana saw a lot of immigrant traffic in those days. In any case, in 1921 the Reubers wound up in Coaldale, one of the coal mining towns outside of Lethbridge, Alberta, when Marie would have been 10 years old.

What happened next? That is best told in Marie’s own words. She wrote the following brief history of the family in 1976 for a local history project, omitting, understandably, any mention of the hurried flight from Kansas.

MIKE REUBERS FAMILY — by Marie Valentini
   My dad and mother with all their children, Henry, Marie, Elizabeth, Alex and August, came from Coaldale to a farm four miles west of Monarch in the spring of 1923. The following year, 1924, we moved to a farm just northwest of Kipp. Here we planted trees to improve the place. We children all attended the Fort Kipp School. While we were there, we enjoyed the social activities, especially the dances and the many friends we made, (some never to be forgotten).
   In the spring of 1929 my dad decided to give up irrigation for dry land farming at Bow Island. We packed up and left with all our horses, cows, pigs and chickens. On March 29, 1929, we said good-bye to all our friends in the Kipp and Monarch area.

From Sons of Wind and Soil (page 335), published by the Nobleford, Monarch History Book Club, 1976, and archived by the University of Calgary.

One family that was prominent in the Monarch area back then was the Alexanders, and the three Alexander boys– Alvin, Gus, and Rudy– would have gone to school with Marie. Alvin, I am sure, is one of the “never to be forgotten” friends that Marie wistfully remembered in 1976.


This part of the story starts in 1909 with the birth of Alvin Paul Alexander in Granum, Alberta. His parents were Jacob Alexander, a German immigrant from Bukovina (currently within the borders of modern-day Romania, although at that time it was part of the Austrian Empire), and Ottilie Netzer. Ottilie was also of German descent, and was born on board an immigrant ship en route to America. Her family settled in the Dakotas. Jacob and Ottilie were married near Bismarck, North Dakota in 1905, and after an unsuccessful stint at farming there they moved to Granum in southern Alberta where they started their family. There Jacob, who was a skilled builder and spoke several languages, built homes for the immigrants streaming into the region. Alvin was their first son who would survive into adulthood.

After Alvin’s birth, the family moved to the nearby town of Monarch, where Jacob (or “Pop Alexander”, as he came to be affectionately known by the locals) eventually built and was proprietor of a service station. Meanwhile Ottilie (“Ma Alexander”) ran a boarding house.

I have no documentary evidence to support this, but according to the lore on my side of the family, Alvin and Marie were high school sweethearts. The trouble was, they were both very young, and Marie was two years younger. Ma Alexander, who was a great believer in the value of education, had her sights set on Alvin going to university, and romantic entanglements were out of the question. Family lore says that Ma put the kibosh on Alvin’s high school romance. The whole thing seemed doomed anyway, because as Marie’s testimony above states, her family left the Monarch area in March of 1929, and moved to Bow Island… not impossibly far, but far nonetheless. Alvin graduated from high school two months later, and that fall he was packed off to university in Edmonton, which was very, very far.

While he was away, Marie got married to a handsome young Italian immigrant.


Marcello Valentini was born in 1909 in Ville del Monte, a tiny comune perched high above the shores of the Lago di Garda (Lake Benacus), an enormous body of water in northern Italy that had seen major battles going back to the days of the Roman Empire.

Marcello’s father Giuseppe went off to North America looking for work, and found it in the little Alberta town of Maleb/Conquerville, a locality that no longer exists. From there he sent back money for Marcello’s passage. Eighteen-year-old Marcello bade farewell to his mother Libera and crossed the mountain to the ancient city of Trent, where he obtained his passport on September 24, 1927, and then made his way to Cherbourg on the English Channel (a journey of almost a thousand miles) where he boarded the SS Empress of Scotland on October 15. It was a brief voyage across the Atlantic, and he arrived in Quebec City (with $100 in his pocket) on October 22, whence he made his way to Alberta. This is the information I have been able to glean from his Canadian immigration record.

Marcello Valentini immigration record

Page from the SS Empress of Scotland ship’s manifest, Quebec City, Oct. 22 1927, showing Marcello Valentini immigration data.

I have no further information about his father Giuseppe, but Marcello settled in Redcliff, a mining community northwest of Medicine Hat, Alberta, and there he worked in the Ajax coal mine until he retired. Redcliff is not far from Bow Island where Marie’s family settled, and somehow Marcello met Marie, and they were married in 1931.


Alvin, meanwhile, returned to Monarch in 1933, having earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Alberta. Perhaps he already knew that Marie had married someone else, or perhaps he just learned of it.

There wasn’t much work for electrical engineers in those parts back then, it being the Great Depression and all, so Alvin worked around Pop’s service station. He was handy with tools and fixed up a broken down Model T that a farmer had given to Pop in payment of a debt. With that start Alvin gradually built up a small trucking empire, hauling gravel, livestock, barrels of gasoline, etc. His friends made fun of him for having wasted so much time at the university, and here he was working as a chauffeur for hogs and cattle.

Meanwhile Ma Alexander was busy with plans for Alvin’s future happiness. A bright young schoolteacher had come to Monarch to teach at the Fort Kipp school, and she was staying at the Alexanders’ boarding house, so Ma got to know her quite well. Her name was Annie Bublick, and her parents were shopkeepers in the nearby coal-mining towns of Coalhurst, Commerce, and Diamond City. (I have been to Diamond City, and I’m afraid the name is slightly more grand than the actuality).

The Bublicks originated in the Ukrainian-speaking part of Austrian Galicia (today part of Poland), but Annie’s parents had learned quite early that Ukrainians were looked down on by the Anglo-German population of southern Alberta, and so they changed their name to sound less Slavic (the original family name was Bubniak) and they raised their children to blend in with the dominant culture. Unfortunately, they passed on very little consciousness of their Carpatho-Rusyn heritage to the next generation.

Anyway, Ma thought very highly of schoolteachers, Slavic or no, and so Annie and Alvin were married in July of 1939.

Alvin and Anne Alexander, just married. 1939

Alvin and Annie en route to their honeymoon pose outside Pop Alexander’s service station. Monarch, Alberta, 1939.

(Annie, by the way, was my grandmother’s sister, so that’s where I fit into this story, in case you were wondering.)

Alvin and Anne lived happily ever after, and spent most of their lives in Vancouver, where Alvin finally was able to work as an engineer. Annie gave up teaching to raise their daughter.

Marie and Marcello raised their family in Redcliff, and from all the evidence I have found in the newspapers, they lived happy and fulfilling lives, too.

Marcello and Marie Valentini 50th Anniversary

Marie and Marcello Valentini.
Medicine Hat News, Medicine Hat, Alberta
November 10, 1981, Page 21

Anne and Alvin Alexander, Easter 1975

Anne and Alvin Alexander, Easter 1975







Life, inexorably, goes on. Marcello died in 1983. Annie died in 1989. Through some twist of fate, Alvin and Marie, now retired, found each other again (I don’t know how), and they finally got married in December, 1990. The high school sweethearts lived out their sunset years quite happily, I’m told. Alvin died in 1999, and Marie lived on until 2003.

The Ashes

I wish I could leave it there, but there is a sad and unfinished colophon to the story.

Marcello and Marie Valentini headstoneWhen Marie died in 2003, she was interred in the Redcliff Cemetery next to Marcello. It seems fitting that she be laid to rest alongside the man she shared so many decades with.

It was Alvin’s wish that he be cremated and interred in a small plot in the Ocean View Cemetery in Burnaby, B.C., alongside Annie, and Annie’s brother and sister, with whom Alvin was very close. Here’s a photo of the plot. It’s a perfect square, missing only the hole for Alvin’s remains. Alvin helped to pay for this plot many years ago, and made it well known to various members of the family that this was where he wanted to spend eternity.

Bublick family grave

Bublick family grave

Unfortunately, Alvin’s ashes are missing. Marie, for reasons of her own, would not give them to Alvin’s family, and at this point, some twenty years later, nobody has contact with Marie’s family anymore.

So this is my motive behind placing all this research into the Reuber and Valentini families here on my blog: I am hoping that someday, a descendant of Marcello and Marie Valentini will stumble across this post as they are doing their own research into their family tree. My message to them is this:

Do you have, by any chance, an old cremation urn in a closet or in the attic that you don’t know what to do with? If so, please contact me— I think I know where it belongs.


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A Tale of Two Houses

Back in the Olden Days people didn’t move around much, and the place where you lived was as much a part of your identity as your name.

In the old birth, marriage, and death records I have been studying from the Carpatho-Rusyn village of Rozdziele (where some of my ancestors came from), it is evident that keeping track of an individual’s identity was of the utmost importance to the parish priests whose beautiful penmanship adorns these registers. But in a village of 400 people with only a handful of surnames, and where almost everyone is named John, Mary, Peter, or Onuphrius, how on earth do you differentiate one John Tylawsky from the next?

One remarkable thing about all these parish records is that they carefully record the house number (Domus Numerus) where the principal actors lived: the house where a birth or death happened (there were no hospitals, of course; everyone was born and died at home), and the house where each party to a marriage lived (at first just the groom’s house was recorded, but starting in 1847 the bride’s was too).

More often than not, the house number is essential for identifying and differentiating people with similar names, and with the house number, you can get an idea of how family alliances form and change over time.

Here is a sample death record for the purpose of illustration. The column to note is Nrus Domus obitus, “House Number of the deceased”. Birth and marriage records have a similar column. The clerk typically tried to pack as much family information into the record as possible so as to remove ambiguity, e.g. in House 62: “Eva, wife of Petrus Przybyła” and in House 40: “Justina, born the daughter of Basilius Pregnar and Rosalia, formerly Dudra.” Both died of “Epidemia”. More about this later.

Sample record header

This House Number was not a street address, exactly. As each new house was built in the village it was assigned a serial number that had no logical connection to its location as modern addresses do, although the building of houses did tend to follow the general expansion of the village over time, and the house numbers tend to increment along those lines of expansion.

As I was researching the family of my great-grandmother Julia (see Julia Swedish was not Swedish!) I discovered two house numbers in particular that showed up again and again, and when I started enumerating the multitudes that these houses held across the decades, I realized that the houses themselves had stories to tell.

I’ll begin with House 40, the birthplace of Julia’s mother (my great-great-grandmother), Maria Pregnar. Maria was born there in 1842, but before we get to that point we have a bit of time-unraveling to do first.

The records I have begin in 1784, and they document the births, deaths, and marriages that took place in the four villages that comprised the Greek Catholic parish of Męcina Wielka: Rozdziele, Wapienne, Pstrążne, and Męcina Wielka itself.

The Greek Catholic Church, formerly called Uniate, was an interesting hybrid that arose out of the ancient East-West schism of Christianity. It used the forms of the Eastern Orthodox communion, and showed outward similarities to the Russian Orthodox Church, but it acknowledged the supremacy of Rome.

1784-85 was an important year in Rozdziele, because it saw the building and dedication of its own church, The Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin (or Maria Geburt in the language of their new Austrian overlords). This new church, so close to home, would have allowed the residents of Rozdziele to attend mass in their own village, rather than having to travel 2.5 kilometres to the main parish church in Męcina Wielka.

The first knowledge I have of House 40 is the record of a marriage that took place on July 21, 1784. It is, indeed, the first marriage in the entire parish that these records report, and it may well have been the first marriage that was solemnized in the brand-new Maria Geburt church. It was the marriage of one Grzegorz (Gregory) Mizik, from the nearby village of Wapienne, and Agata (or Agaphia) Kunca (pronounced KOON-tsa). Bride and groom are both quite old– Agata is 50, and Grzegorz is almost 25 years her senior. The details of their past are lost to me, but this was not the first marriage for either of them.

The first marriage celebrated in Rozdziele after the building of the new Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin was between Gregorius Mizik from Wapienne and Agaphia Kuncicha. Kuncicha is the feminine form of Kunca.

The first marriage celebrated in Rozdziele after the building of the new Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin was between Gregorius Mizik from Wapienne and Agaphia (Agata) Kuncicka. Kuncicka is the feminine form of Kunca.

From other records I managed to piece together a bit of the story. I surmise (please note that much of this paragraph is based on inference and circumstantial evidence) that the original inhabitant of House 40 was one Andrzei (Andrew) Kunca, and Agata was his wife. He died sometime prior to 1784, leaving no son to inherit the farm, but they had one daughter, Anna, born about 1732. The widow Agata married the elderly Grzegorz in 1784 and then followed him to his home in Wapienne, where they lived out the rest of their days– Agata dying just a few years later, in 1788, and Grzegorz living until 1797, dying at the ripe old age of 93.

If I am correct about this reconstruction, then Andrzei and Agata Kunca would be my… let’s see… great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents.

Andrzei was doubtless a serf, meaning that he was not free to move about and choose his own occupation or employer, and he was obligated to spend a certain number of days each year working the farmland of the local Polish landlord. Andrzei would have been born in the early decades of the 18th century. I don’t know when he died, but he may have lived to see the First Partition of Poland (1772), when his homeland went from Polish to Austrian rule.

I should note that even though I am using the Polish versions of given names here, the people I am writing about had a national identity that was definitely not Polish. German-speaking Austrians ruled them from far-off Vienna, Polish aristocrats owned most of the land, and Polish was the language of law, school, and government bureaucracy, but the people thought of themselves as neither Polish nor Austrian. The government authorities referred to the rustic farmers occupying the north slope of the Carpathian Mountains as Rusyn (Ruthenian), and the language they spoke amongst themselves was an ancient dialect of what we now call Ukrainian.

But Anna, waving farewell to her “newlywed” mother Agata and old Grzegorz as they shambled off down the road to Wapienne, was not left alone in that house! Even though the records do not speak directly of it, she had, years before, married a young man and brought him into the house, perhaps as early as 1763, and they started a family of their own. This young man’s name was Stefan Pregnar, and he came from a family that appeared to be well established in Rozdziele by the mid-18th century. The Pregnar name will thrive in Rozdziele in the coming century, while the Kunca family name will vanish from the record-books within a few years.

I know about Stefan because the next concrete event I have, which ties House 40 to a verifiable ancestor of mine, is the record of the birth of a boy, Szymon (Simon) Pregnar, in 1787. His parents are Stefan Pregnar and Anna Kunca, daughter of Andrzei. Stefan and Anna are my direct ancestors. Stefan’s eldest daughter was born (this I know from her registration of death) about 1763, so I am guessing that 1763 must have been about the time that Stefan and Anna got married and Stefan moved in and took over management of the farm from his in-laws, Andrzei and Agata Kunca. There is no record of the births of Stefan and Anna’s first three children– Anna, Bazyli (Basil), and Anastasia– because they were born before record-keeping began in 1784, but I have no reason to suppose they were not all born in that house and grew up there.

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, once the largest, most powerful state in Europe, had sunk into irrelevance. It became an object of interest to its neighbors, which were competitive, aggressive, and hungry for land.

The year 1772 was a traumatic one for the Commonwealth, because in that year the great powers of Austria, Prussia, and Russia colluded to take large chunks out of it for themselves. Empress Maria Theresa of Austria was reportedly distraught at this dismantling of Poland, and she wept at what Russia and Prussia were doing… but she took her share nevertheless. As the Prussian king Frederick joked, “She wept as she took, and the more she wept the more she took.” The portion she took became the Austrian crown land (province) of Galicia, which survived until the end of World War I.

While the change from Polish to Austrian sovereignty in 1772 probably had little immediate impact on the farmers of Rozdziele, the long-term historical implications would be vast.

1793 must have been a tumultuous year for the Pregnar family. In February, Stefan died at the age of 50. At that point he and Anna had a fairly large family: their two daughters, Anna (then 30 years old) and Anastasia (19) will never marry and will live out their entire lives in that house. The eldest son Bazyli (23) was no doubt thrust suddenly into the role of head-of-household upon his father’s death. Stefan also left two young children, the afore-mentioned Szymon (6) and Michał (3), and a few months after Stefan’s death, in June, another son, Jan, was born, who will live for just 11 days.

Why did Stefan die? His cause of death as listed on his death registration is no help at all. Ordinaria, Latin for “an ordinary death”, is used with maddening frequency in these death registers, along with Naturalis, “natural causes”. Sometimes it appears that the priests are using these terms to mask their lack of medical knowledge, and it might have been more honest of them to simply write down “Sorry, I don’t know why, he just died, that’s all.” Sometimes, when there is a cluster of deaths called Ordinaria and Naturalis that take place within a short period of time, it is pretty clear that there is either a famine or an epidemic taking place. It appears that something like this may have been going on in 1793, because the number of deaths from “Ordinaria” was up almost 400% from the previous year.

What about little Jan, who died shortly after Stefan? There is something peculiar about Jan’s brief life. I know from Anna’s death record (she died in 1822 at the age of 90) that she must have been born around 1732. But that means she would have been over 60 when she gave birth to Jan! That stretches the boundaries of belief, and anyhow, given the state of medicine in those days, giving birth at such an advanced age would have been a virtual death sentence for Anna…

Perhaps there is a simple explanation, although one which Stefan would not want me talking about here in public. Stefan himself was getting on in years, and with only one son of an age to help him on the farm, he probably hired young men as live-in farm hands. Stefan’s 19-year-old daughter Anastasia may well have become an object of affection for one of the farm hands, and rather than go through the embarrassment of declaring an illegitimate child, the baby was simply declared as Anna’s.

These birth registers, by the way, are full of illegitimate children, and it’s a stigma that followed a person through their entire life. It was, in all likelihood, very important to avoid the stain of bastardy at all costs.

(Maybe I shouldn’t ask too many questions, but if you take a look at Anna’s age at the birth of her other two youngest children– 57 when Michał was born, and 54 at the birth of Szymon– you may be forgiven if you raise your eyebrows and go “hmm”.)

Pregnar family tree.  Stefan and Anna’s generation.

Laying aside my speculation about the parentage of Jan and Michał and Szymon, here is the “official” family tree, as we have it thus far:

Within a few years (1797) the late Stefan’s eldest son Bazyli (my great-great-great-great grandfather) will marry Rozalia, the 14-year-old daughter of his neighbor Piotr Dudra.  Basyli’s little brother Szymon (or is Szymon really his nephew??) will move out of House 40 in 1808 and move in with the parents of his new bride, Pelagia Dudra, who is possibly a cousin of Rozalia. They will start a new branch of the Pregnar family, which I won’t deal with here.

I found it interesting that Bazyli and Rozalia did not start having children until 8 years after their marriage, when Rozalia would have been 22 years old. Perhaps this custom was out of consideration for her tender years? Anyway, between 1805 and 1824 Bazyli and Rozalia had 8 children, 5 of them surviving childhood. At its busiest in 1822 the house was home to at least 9 people: Bazyli and Rozalia and their children Teodor, Justina, Anna, and Anastasia; Bazyli’s sisters Anna and Anastasia, and his aging mother Anna. You get the impression that Anna was a favorite name in the Pregnar family in these years.

Anna the elderly family matriarch (you remember Anna… who watched her mother and Grzegorz Mizik shamble off towards Wapienne some 40 years ago…) passed away that year (1822) at the age of 90, and her maiden daughters Anna and Anastasia followed her a little later. It’s kind of humbling to think of the continuity that the elder Anna must have represented in that household. She was (probably) born in that house and lived in it all her life, watched her children grow up and move out, and, in some cases, die before her. She did her best to protect her daughters from scandal. By the time she died, her eldest son Bazyli was approaching his old age and her 17-year-old grandson Teodor would have been assuming more responsibility for the farm.

Pregnar family tree. Bazyli and Rozalia’s generation.

The end of the 18th century and first decades of the 19th were increasingly tumultuous years for Galicia. The Third Partition of Poland finally wiped the last remnants of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth off the map of Europe, and Galicia absorbed more of the formerly Polish lands. Galicia became a magnet for Polish aristocrats and intellectuals from other Polish areas, who believed that the relatively liberal attitudes of the Austrian Hapsburgs made Galicia a good place from which to launch a Polish independence movement. The Austrians, for their part, tried to rule their Galician province with an enlightened fist, granting Galicia its own provincial legislature, with very limited powers and being dominated by Polish landowners, and not at all responsive to the interests of the peasants. The Austrians did, however, attempt to mollify the serfs by granting them certain freedoms, giving them, for instance, the right to defend themselves in court against the landlords. Except for the the limited rights granted to the serfs, none of these matters would have had much impact on the Ruthenian farmers of Rozdziele.

After his grandmother Anna died, Teodor waited a fairly long time to get married– he was 27 years old when, in February of 1832, he married 15-year-old Anna Lizak, the daughter of his neighbor Maximilian. Like his parents, Teodor and Anna waited a few years before they started having children. Alas, they waited too long, because old Bazyli died six months before the birth of his first grandchild, who was named Bazyli in his honor. And then, Teodor became the master of House 40.

Let’s take a close look at the timeline of the growing family of this Teodor, old Anna’s grandson, my great-great-great grandfather, because I think it holds the key to… something.

Young Bazyli was born in February of 1835. The next two children were also boys– first Mikołaj (Nicholas) in December of 1836; he died after 2 months (and his grandmother Rozalia died in the springtime before him). Then Daniel was born around Christmastime 1838; he too lived for two months, then died in February.

I have a notion that Teodor and Anna were starting to feel desperate. So much death in such a brief span of time, and now, no elders to turn to for guidance. Lives of such devotion and hard work, punctuated by so much sorrow.

Then, less than a year after Daniel’s death, a daughter was born, Maria, in early January, 1840.

I believe this is significant. Maria was not, up to this point, a common name in the branch of the Pregnar family that we have been chronicling here, although it was very common in other Rozdziele families at the time. Was this child, Maria, an answer to fervent prayers the family had offered to the Blessed Virgin at the church down the road? Perhaps, but I have another theory, which I’ll get to eventually.

Before we breath a sigh of relief and rejoice in the power of prayer, I have some bad news. Little Maria lived for 17 months, and died in June of 1841. Her cause of death was listed as Naturalis, “natural causes.” I can’t imagine Teodor and Anna thought there was anything natural about it.

Teodor and Anna wasted no time. On January 20, 1842, another daughter was born! She, too, was named Maria. And I invite you to do the math– this Maria was born at least 2 months prematurely, so the odds of survival were stacked against her. Plus, wintertime is a bad time for a baby to be born on the farm, with the next harvest so far off. And believe me, there were going to be some dark years ahead.

The years 1847-48 took a terrible toll on the family. Teodor and Anna’s newborn daughter Rozalia died, as did Teodor’s unmarried siblings remaining in the house, Justina (26) and Stefan (24). Anna’s father Maximilian Lizak died, along with her older brother Jan. Teodor’s sister Anna had previously married into the Wozniak household, where there were at least 3 deaths during this time, and another sister, Anastasia, witnessed at least 5 deaths in the Fryncko household. Things looked grim for little Maria #2, for these were years of cholera.

The Third Cholera Pandemic, that started in 1846, spread across the globe and would take hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of lives. It saw the birth of the science of epidemiology and the discovery that the cause of the disease was germ-infested water rather than “miasma” or bad air. In addition to the disease wreacking a terrible toll in Galicia in 1847-48, 1847 was also a year of famine due to the destruction of food stores during the Galician Slaughter in 1846. The parish death registers in those years tell many a heart-breaking tale.

It’s crazy to claim you think you know people you never met, who died over a century before you were born, who left no written or photographic artifacts, and who inhabited a completely unknown and foreign cultural milieu. But I’d like to say that I think I have gotten to know this Teodor and his wife and grandmother, at least a little bit. Because now, I’d like to show you where I think House 40 stood, and what I think that means.

Here is the heart of the village on the official 1850 Austrian land survey map of Rozdziele. The church of Maria Geburt, dedicated in 1785, is there in the blue circle. And there, less than 200 metres to the north, are two structures labelled 40/1 (yellow rectangle) and 40/2 (pink rectangle). This complex of buildings, I am reasonably sure, is House 40, whereof we speak.

House 40 and Maria Geburt (Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin)

And here, if you care to get a bird’s eye view of the entire village, are all the parts of the survey map, knitted together. (You can also download the whole thing from The Polish National Archives here).

Map of the village of Rozdziele in Galicia in the Jasiel region (1850)

Map of the village of Rozdziele in Galicia in the Jasiel region (1850). Source: Polish National Archives in Przemyl

I’m going to lapse into speculation here, and suggest that the proximity of House 40 to that church had an impact on the family’s trajectory. I suggest that the elder family matriarch Anna Pregnar Kunca, who watched that church being built and who lived, grew old, and died a stone’s throw away, was a very devout woman. If I’m correct about Jan, Michał, and Szymon being, not her own children, but the children of her daughters whom she was protecting, then that suggests she had a rapport with the record-keeping priests, who must have raised a question or two when an elderly woman showed up with newborn babies for baptism, and that somehow, she had the power to quiet their doubts.

I’ll go further and suggest that her grandson Teodor adored her and was equally devout, and that she urged (or commanded) him to name his first daughter Maria, in honor of the patron saint of her beloved church, to which she owed so much. Somehow, Teodor got it into his head that having a girl named Maria in the house was very important, which is why, 7 months after the death of his first daughter Maria, he named his second daughter with that same name. The survival of that second girl named Maria must have held an outsized importance in the minds of her parents, during those years when the Pregnar family– indeed, all the families of Rozdziele– were suffering terrible hardship.

It is surely no accident that the best map we have of Rozdziele was created in 1850, on account of the weighty events of the preceding few years. 1846 saw a period of massive civil unrest known as the Galician Slaughter, a two-month period in which serfs rose up against their landlords and massacred them. This brief “peasant war” was centered on the town of Tarnów, some 50 km north of Rozdziele. Historians generally believe that is was mostly the Polish-speaking serfs who were behind the slaughter, rather than the Ukrainian-speaking Ruthenians. I have so far discovered no mention of Rozdziele in written accounts of the uprising, although you can bet it must have been a hot topic of conversation amongst the villagers.

And then, as you may recall from history class, 1848 was the famous “Year of Revolutions”. It was the year of Marx and Engels and the Communist Manifesto; revolutions and uprisings swept across Europe, and the Austrian Empire was no exception. The governor of Galicia, fearing a repeat of the violence of two years past, took matters into his own hands and unilaterally abolished the institution of serfdom within the borders of his province. This made the Polish landlords furious, and it caught the Emperor in Vienna off-guard too, though he ultimately decided it was a good idea and instructed the Imperial Parliament to ratify the Emancipation retroactively. Thus Galicia came to have the distinction of being the first part of the Austrian Empire to free the serfs.

So the purpose of this map, finished two years after the Emancipation, was to lay out in detail the land that each peasant held a legal claim to.

By now you might be wondering what ever happened to Maria #2, the frail premature baby with poor prospects for survival…

Guess what? Maria #2 lived through all those years of famine and disease and social upheaval. She grew up to become my great-great-grandmother, Maria Bubniak-Świder-Pregnar, the mother of Julia Swedish who went across the Big Water to Canada. Maria’s house was large. I’ll tell the story of that house in Part 2.

Pregnar family tree.
Teodor and Anna’s generation.

The Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin is still standing, by the way. Here are some modern-day photos of it. And here is a recent satellite photo of the neighborhood, which you can compare to the 1850 Austrian survey map. The blue circle is the church, and the red circle… is a collection of roofless, partially-collapsed buildings that stand on the site of the old House 40 complex. It’s deliciously tempting to imagine that this might be the remnant of the 18th-century building where Anna Kunca grew up, raised her children, and formed her views of the world…

Image copyright Google 2020. Retrieved on July 15, 2020.


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The Daring Mr. Melling

86 years ago today– and a decade before she joined the Allied Occupation Force in Belgium– Aunty Kay had a harrowing brush with death in the Oldman River.

P.S. Rest in peace, Dr. Melling, and thanks.

Kay Bublick river rescue

Lethbridge Herald, July 16, 1934

Heroic Medical Student Saves City Girl

From Old Man River

Kathleen Bublick Owes Her Life to John Melling of Coalhurst

(From Our Own Correspondent)

COALHURST, July 16.- The heroism and timely skill of a brilliant young medical student, John Melling, of Coalhurst, were the means of saving Kathleen Bublick, 19, stenographer of Lethbridge, from a watery grave in the Oldman River near here last evening.

Miss Bublick, with some girl friends, was wading across the Oldman near the junction with the Belly River, when she slipped and was carried downstream by the current. Not being a strong swimmer, she was soon overcome by the force of the undertow, when John Melling, who was upstream on the bank, heard the cries of the girl’s friends.

He sprinted two hundred yards down the bank, plunged in and swam out to the drowning girl. With considerable difficulty, being almost exhausted from the sprint and fighting against the current, Mr. Melling managed to tow Miss Bublick to the farther bank.

Respiration had ceased, and he immediately applied artificial respiration, being assisted by John Brenton of Lethbridge, who had followed across the river. Mr. Melling worked for fully fifteen minutes before bringing the young lady around, and then about an hour later, when it was almost dark, constructed a rough stretcher, and with the assistance of Joseph Melling and Charles Brenton, Miss Bublick was conveyed across the river to the near bank where a fire had been prepared in readiness. Miss Bublick, who is employed by Rylands and Company, is now progressing favorably at the home of her sister, Mrs. George Coulson.

This is the second rescue Mr. Melling has made from the Oldman River, having saved a boy from drowning there about two years ago.

Lethbridge Herald, December 29, 1934



Near Drowning Recalled at Coalhurst Meet –

Mayor Barrowman Officiates

(From Our Own Correspondent)

COALHURST, Dec. 29 – Over two hundred persons gathered in the Odd Fellows hall here last night to witness the presentation of certificates issued by the Calgary Humane Society to John Melling and John Brenton.

E. L. Langston occupied the chair, and the program commenced with an accordeon solo by Tony Neidermeier of Lethbridge, followed by a song by Tom Walker also of Lethbridge. Mrs. Holman accompanied on the piano.

The chairman then outlined the circumstances for which the certificates were to be presented. On July 15 a party of Coalhurst and Lethbridge people were picnicing at the junction of the Old Man and Belly rivers, west of Coalhurst. A number of young women amongst them Kathleen Bublick, attempted to ford the river and while doing so Miss Bublick was swept off her feet by the current, which at this point is quite strong.

Respond to Screams

Her companions screamed for help, and John Melling and John Brenton, both strong swimmers, who were bathing about two hundred yards upstream, heard the cries. Sprinting toward the scene, Mr. Melling in the lead, they could see Miss Bublick being carried away, and without hesitation John Melling plunged in and swam across to the unfortunate young woman. Reaching her, he towed her to the farther shore, and found that respiration had ceased. He at once applied artificial respiration, and was then joined by John Brenton, who working under Mr. Melling’s instructions, continued with first aid, while the latter swam back to obtain two blankets, which he carried, while swimming with one hand. The chairman then remarked on the fact that both Mr. Melling and Mr. Brenton are former Coalhurst residents, Mr. Melling being now a medical student at the University of Alberta while Mr. Brenton is a student at the Institute of Technology at Calgary.

Makes Presentations

Mayor Robert Barrowman of Lethbridge was then called upon to present the certificates.

Mayor Barrowman, in his opening remarks made reference in the recent disastrous fire from which Coalhurst suffered and extended his sympathy and that of the citizens of Lethbridge to Coalhurst. His worship stated that it gave him particular pleasure to accede to the request of the Calgary Humane Society to present certificates, in view of the fact that his own two young daughters had been presented with medals by the Royal Humane Society. He laid stress upon the fact that the two who were to be presented with certificates had sought to avoid any public recognition of their heroism, but he considered that acts such as theirs should be made the subject of public presentation, and was glad that they had decided to accede to public opinion and be present.

The certificates were then presented, and the recipients called upon for a few remarks. Mr. Melling disclaimed any credit, stating that he merely happened to be there, but advised the youth of the community to prepare themselves for emergencies such as are bound to arise during the bathing season. Mr. Brenton spoke briefly, thanking Mayor Barrowman for his interest.

An accordeon solo by Mr. Neidermeier ended the program, the chairman thanking Mr. Barrowman. The thanks of the community are due to his worship for his kindness in coming out on such a cold night and to Tony Pavan whose cooperation made the program possible. The gathering closed with the singing of “O Canada.”

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An Unlikely Farmer

In Finding the Family Farm, I talked about my surprising discovery that my great-grandfather George Lindley Coulson, the Yorkshire coal miner, had a brief stint as a homesteader in the Black Hills of Wyoming in the opening years of the 20th century. Surprising, because the family lore doesn’t mention it, and his background was about as far from farming as you could get. I am considering the possibility that his foray into homesteading was a fraudulent scam, and that his employer at the time, the Cambria Coal Company, was behind it.

A decade later, after putting his family through a grueling migration to Saskatchewan that saw the death of his wife and one of their children, he became a farmer again in 1917 at the age of 53, when the vigor of youth was long past.

What kind of a farmer was he? “Lazy,” said George Arthur Coulson, George Lindley’s youngest son, my grandfather. George Arthur told a story about his time on that last farm in an attempt to explain why he walked away from his father and never looked back.

It was 1918 and winter was coming on. George Lindley and his second wife Mary found the farmhouse they had moved into a year earlier too cold and drafty, and so they decided to go down to the big city to stay in a cozy hotel for the winter, leaving young George Arthur in charge of the farm. There wasn’t much to do, just feed the livestock and go to school. So they all rode together to Lac La Biche, then the northern terminus of the brand-new Alberta and Great Waterways Railway. George Arthur saw his folks off for their winter holiday in balmy Edmonton, and then he took the horses back home to the farm which lay 20 miles to the west.

George Lindley could afford to spend the whole winter in a hotel in the big city because, for the first time in his life, he was rich… though not through any fault of his own. Three years earlier in Havre, Montana, he had met and married Mary Griffin, the wealthy widow of the successful rancher and local character “Bear Paw” Jack Griffin. She was loaded.

George Arthur, at 13, was the last of George Lindley’s six surviving children still under his father’s tender care. George Arthur did not like the arrangement. He especially did not like his new step-mother. He was still grieving over the loss of his real mother, Lucy Scarlet, who died of tuberculosis and exhaustion when he was only 7. My grandfather remembered the name of the place where the farm was located with great disdain: Plamondonville. He was an outsider from a foreign culture, the other kids picked on him, and he hated it there.

Plamondonville actually has a pretty interesting history. It was settled by families of French Canadian expatriates who had migrated from Quebec to Michigan after the U.S. Civil War. Prior to 1907 one enterprising resident, Isidore Plamondon, ventured north into the newly-created Canadian province of Alberta, and came back to proclaim it a promised land for farming. They found a spot to settle in northern Alberta west of Lac La Biche, and families went north from Michigan in droves over the next few years, making Plamondonville (today, simply called Plamondon) into a vibrant French-speaking, Roman Catholic community.

How my great-grandfather, an English Anglican Protestant, found his way up there, is one of those enduring mysteries I have yet to unravel.

Anyway, back to my grandfather’s story. The Spanish Flu came to Plamondonville that winter, so bad it shut down the school. George Arthur caught it, and he lay in bed, delirious, for days, completely alone, not knowing if he would live or die. He finally recovered, and was able to drag himself out to the barn to open the doors. The horses were mad with hunger by then, and they almost trampled him on their way to the haystack.

George Lindley and Mary returned from their happy holiday in Edmonton in the spring, and George Arthur was resentful of how they had, unknowingly, abandoned him to his doom while they were having a high old time. But soon there was another crisis to contend with: George Arthur got into trouble. He claimed that he had been bullied by some boys and had to fight back. But in fact, according to his own telling, he had been caught riding down some French boys on his pony and whipping them with his riding crop. Is this the action of a boy defending himself from bullies? I am inclined to think that Grandpa was the bully here. Whatever the truth of the matter, he told the story as if he really believed he were the injured party.

As you can imagine, his step-mother Mary got a visit from the parish priest, tout-suite. This must have caused Mary considerable embarrassment. She had raised eleven children back in Montana and had managed her first husband’s ranch for 20 years, and she knew a thing or two about child-rearing, but apparently she didn’t know what to do with George Arthur’s defiance. He was too strong to be whipped, and his father was too chicken to intervene in this long-simmering dispute, so they were at a stalemate. Finally he asked her,

“What’s it worth to you to get rid of me?”

Mary answered,

“Look under the cookie jar tomorrow morning.”

The next morning George Arthur got up early and looked, and found twenty dollars under the cookie jar. And so he saddled his pony and rode in to Lac La Biche, sold the saddle, and pocketed the money. Then he parked the pony at the livery stable (because the pony did, after all, belong to his dad), bought a train ticket, and caught the A&GW to Edmonton.

At that point Grandpa’s story falls silent, but I know he wound up living with his big sister Mary and her husband, who had a farm and ran a hotel in Govenlock, Saskatchewan. His sister’s husband, John Lindner, came from a large, respected family of ranchers in the Cypress Hills, and they took George Arthur in, financed his further schooling, and helped him get started on his long railroad career. He never saw his step-mother again, and only saw his father one more time, briefly, twenty years later. That story will be the subject of a future blog post.

This blog post, believe it or not, is not about George Arthur; it’s about the farm in Plamondonville, and how I tracked down its location.

First, let’s lay out the evidence I started with.

I know that George Lindley brought his family to Plamondon no earlier than 1917, because I have the record of their border crossing at the port of Coutts, Alberta, on April 5, 1917. Notice that George L. is carrying $3,600 in cash– quite a lot of money. I am pretty sure that is Mary’s money from the sale of her late husband’s estate a few years earlier.

Tom, George Lindley’s eldest son, came with them on this trip, but he does not figure in the story because he went off and started working on other farms in the region.

Grandpa’s reference to the Flu pandemic anchors the story in either the winter of 1918-19 or 1919-20, because influenza ravaged Plamondonville both winters. By April of 1921 (when the Canadian Census was taken), he was living in Govenlock, Saskatchewan with his sister.

George Coulson is living with John and Mary Lindner and their daughter Lucille in 1921. George is listed as “bro in law” to John.

So George Arthur left Plamondonville and never came back, but George Lindley and Mary stayed on. How long did they continue to live there? Well, they are still there in April 1921, as they appear in the census that year:

The Coulson family in the 1921 Census. The identity of the 10-year-old Cree boy, William Swain, who is living with them as an “adopted” son, will be the subject of a future blog post.

At some point George Lindley and Mary must have left Plamondonville, because I know they died in Edmonton (in 1940 and 1938, respectively), but when did they leave? The earliest hard evidence I have is an immigration record for George Lindley’s eldest daughter, Rose Kopaunik, dated November 7, 1925:

Canadian Immigration record for Joseph Kopaunik’s family, stating their intended destination is “Father-in-law George Coulson, Namayo, Alberta”

So it appears George Lindley had already left Plamondonville by this time, and was living in Namayo (Namao), a small village just north of Edmonton. (When they released the 1926 Prairie census last year I was able to confirm that he was actually living in Carbondale, just west of Namao, and since Carbondale was intensive coal-mining country in those days, I surmise that George Lindley had run out of money and was forced to fall back on his lifelong trade as a coal miner in his old age).

By the way, finding this immigration record was a real surprise. I had no idea Aunt Rose and her family tried to immigrate to Canada in 1925. Evidently they changed their minds and went back to Wyoming; the whole family is buried in Kemmerer.

So these are the dates of my family’s sojourn in Plamondonville: 1917 to about 1925.

Getting back to the 1921 census… it also gave me the approximate location of George Lindley’s farm: 9-68-16-W4. This means Section 9, Township 68, Range 16 West of the 4th Meridian. You may recall we had to get into the North American survey system in some detail in Finding the Family Farm; the system used in western Canada is essentially the same as that used in the United States, just with different reference points. The baseline for the township numbering is simply the U.S. border (the 49th parallel), and the 4th Meridian is (conveniently) the border between Saskatchewan and Alberta.

This map helps to visualize the farm’s location with respect to Edmonton.

The red square to the left of Lac La Biche lies at the intersection of Township 68, Range 16. The Plamondonville townsite lies within this square and the one immediately below it.

(Notice how the squares do not line up to form perfect tidy stacks, they “jag” off to the side at intervals. This is because the survey system is a flat, square grid, but the earth’s surface is curved, so the grid must be corrected every so often, otherwise all hell would break loose.)

A section, recall, is a square mile of land, comprising 640 acres, and the typical land grant was a quarter of that, or 160 acres, which was what the powers that be back in the 19th century deemed was enough for a single family to work profitably. The Coulson farm was on Section #9, which is here:

The red square is Township 68 of Range 16. The blue square is Section 9.

This page has a good explanation of the survey system. Note that the 36 sections within a township are numbered starting at the south-east corner, whereas in Wyoming, they are numbered from the north-east corner.

Somewhere within that blue square stood the house where George Arthur suffered with the Flu in 1918 or 1919: one or two miles north-west of the Plamondon town site, and directly west of Horse Lake (Lac des Chevaux).

Now that we have narrowed the farm’s location down to the square mile, let’s see if we can find out which quarter section it was on! Where to begin?

My first thought was that George Lindley might have tried to acquire the land in the form of a Homesteading grant, such as he had done in Wyoming in 1908. The Alberta Genealogical Society provides a wonderful online tool for searching the Canadian Homesteading records. This will tell us who, if anyone, homesteaded on section 9. Here’s what we get back when we plug in 9-68-16 W4:

Rats, none for Coulson. That tells me that George Lindley either bought the farm outright at the market rate, or else he was someone’s tenant.

Well, this gives us some names of homesteaders, but doesn’t tell us which quarter-section they were on or the dates. It would be nice to know these things, because then we might be able to figure out the Coulson quarter-section through the process of elimination. We could request the records, but the Alberta Genealogical Society wants $10 per record. They are also in the Provincial Archives under Accession number 1970.313, but I would have to fly to Edmonton to look, and I don’t want to wait, I want to know now.

Fortunately all the Canadian Homestead records up to 1930 have been digitized and are available on Ancestry.com. The name of the collection is Alberta, Canada, Homestead Records, 1870-1930. I was able to find all the homesteading records  (except for Clifford Gagnon’s, but his record is part of the post-1930 collection that hasn’t been digitized yet, so that is outside of my range of interest) and in the process learned a little bit about my grandfather’s neighbors.

1. North-east quarter:

Joseph Labonty (Labonté) was born in Quebec. He arrived in Plamondonville from Michigan in March 1910 with his wife and 9 children and moved on to the NE quarter of section 9. He built a 459 square foot house of logs in April, and immediately broke 2 acres and got a crop in. He submitted his application for a homestead in July. By 1913 he had built a stable and granary, dug a well, and had 33 acres under cultivation. He received his land patent in 1914.  He was still living there at the age of 60 with his large family as of the 1926 census, so this cannot be the Coulsons’ quarter.

2. South-east quarter:

Harvey Dacier was born in Quebec. He had most recently been employed as a civil engineer in Edmonton, but he decided to move to Plamondonville and give farming a try. He applied for a homestead on the SE quarter in 1913 and spent 10 months on the property before moving to Arizona due to ill health. He formally abandoned his homesteading claim in 1917, around the time the Coulsons arrived in Plamondon.

However, this cannot be the Coulsons’ quarter section, because in 1920 Eli Plamondon, the 18-year-old son of Nelson Plamondon, applied for a homestead on the SE quarter. He never lived there, and never built any structures on the property. His regular residence was on the neighboring Section 10; he merely used the SE quarter of section 9 for extra crops and he finally received patent for the land in 1930.

3. North-west quarter:

Joseph Harp arrived from Michigan in 1908, so he would have been a member of the original Plamondon migration. He started breaking land on the NW quarter that same year, but he didn’t start his homestead application until 1911, by which time he had 15 acres under cultivation. He occasionally went to Morinville (over a hundred miles to the south) to work on the railroad, leaving his wife and 5 children to work the farm. He received his patent in 1914 and was still living on the land at the time of the 1916 census, but by 1921 he had moved to a nearby farm. It’s possible that this is the farm that the Coulsons acquired in 1917.

4. South-west quarter:

This is the most interesting quarter. In 1912 J. Emile Richard, a clerk from Ottawa, moved to Plamondonville and filed a claim to the SW quarter. But he never took up residence there; he ran out of money and returned to Ottawa, abandoning his claim a year later.

Two months after Emile abandoned his claim, 60-year-old William Walton Willcox arrived from nearby Athabaska Landing and filed a claim to the SW quarter. He was an English-speaking Presbyterian born in Chatham, Quebec, and had recently been working in Portland, Oregon as a carpenter. He took up residence in June 1913 and built his house in September. Meanwhile he broke 6 acres and planted crops. He was new to farming, but by 1916 he had 10 acres under cultivation and had built a stable for his two horses.

Then, on September 7, 1916, William up and died. He had no wife or children, and no will, so his brother Barnabas Dalhousie Willcox came to settle his affairs. Barnabas continued with the homestead application process, and based on the improvements his brother had already made, he was awarded the patent in November, 1917. It is unclear whether Barnabas ever resided there; he does not appear in either the 1921 or 1926 census. His acquisition of the land title coincides approximately with the Coulsons’ arrival in Plamondon, so it is possible that he sold his brother’s property to George Lindley, and then vanished.

I’m not sure which quarter I like better as candidate to be the Coulson home: north-west, or south-west. The houses were of comparable size: Joe Harp built a 340 square foot house (which must have been tiny for his family of 7) while William Willcox’s house was slightly bigger at 352 square feet. Barnabas Willcox makes a comment on his patent application that swings me in favor of the latter: in response to a question about mineral resources on the land, he replies “No, only agricultural land, but really stony and brushy.”

That would be just my great-grandfather’s luck, to be stuck with a piece of stony, brushy land.


More about the history of Plamondon can be found in this book, which you can read online: From Spruce Trees to Wheatfields: Plamondon 1908-1988



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Julia Swedish Was Not Swedish!

Julia (center) at her daughter's wedding in 1929.

Julia (center) at her daughter’s wedding in 1929.

There’s my great-grandmother Julia Bublick, presiding over the wedding of her daughter, my grandmother, Mayre Coulson. You can tell by this photo who’s in charge here, can’t you?

Julia’s husband Joe stands to her left. I didn’t know Joe and Julia; they both died long before I was born, and all I knew about them was a few dribs and drabs I heard from my dad. He couldn’t tell me much about them either, since they were gone by the time he was a teenager.

Here are some of the things I knew about them…

I knew they were Ukrainian, but they didn’t speak Ukrainian, according to my dad. Joe read a funny newspaper with crazy writing that looked the same no matter which way you held it. They didn’t wear colorful Ukrainian costumes, celebrate Ukrainian Christmas, shumka dance or make pysanky like the “normal” Ukrainian kids I knew growing up. They were from a mysterious place called Little Poland, which wasn’t in Poland, except maybe it was, sometimes. I knew they grew up in the same village and knew each other from childhood, but they didn’t get married until they met by chance at a party in New York, having made the journey to North America independently. I knew their name was Bublick, except it was originally Bubniak, and nobody seems to know why they changed it. Joe was a cheerful man, always cracking jokes. Julia was serious, always hard at work, and never smiled.

And one other thing I knew about Julia… her maiden name was Swedish.

Originally I thought that meant she was from Sweden, but no. Swedish was her actual name. Julia Swedish. A Ukrainian from Little Poland named Swedish. How odd.

When I started getting serious about genealogy a few years ago I discovered how difficult it is to search online for somebody named Swedish; search engines seem to think you are looking for something completely different. I had a feeling that Swedish was not her original name. It had to be an anglicized spelling of something else, but I couldn’t tell what.

Mike Bublick, originally Bubniak

I made a bit of a breakthrough when a cousin showed me Uncle Mike’s birth certificate. (Uncle Mike is the dashing gent with the mustache and wavy hair in the wedding pic above. Joe and Julia’s eldest and only son, he was born a year or two before they changed the family name from Bubniak to Bublick.)

The important thing here is that it tells me Julia’s maiden name: Swider. Pronounced (I now know) SVEE-dur, it makes perfect sense that English-speaking folk in southern Alberta’s coal belt would have mashed that into “Swedish”.

Jan Bubniak return address

Jan Bubniak return address

The cousin who had Uncle Mike’s birth certificate also had this beautiful nugget in her possession: an envelope from someone back in the “old country” who addressed Joe Bublick as my brother. The return address (translated) reads:

Jan Bubniak, Mayor
post office: Krug
county: Gorlice
Little Poland

Rozdziele! There’s a place-name that nobody in the family had ever heard of before. That gave me a focus for my research.

Rozdziele (so Polish Wikipedia tells me) lies in what is today the Polish county of Gorlice, in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains just north of the Slovakian border, between the Polish city of Crakow and the Ukrainian city of Lviv. During the 19th century Crakow and Lviv (Lemberg) were the twin capitals of the now-defunct Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, a quasi-independent crown realm of the Austrian Empire which was formed out of the First and Third Partitions of Poland.

Małopolska, or “Lesser Poland”, is the historical name for the region that comprises the part of Galicia where Rozdziele lies. The region had been mostly under Polish administration since the Middle Ages, and it came under Austrian rule when Poland ceased to exist at the end of the 18th century, but the inhabitants were a diverse cultural mix. Prior to World War II, the region was dotted with enclaves of three main ethnicities: Poles, Ukrainians, and Jews. They all technically owed allegiance to the Hapsburg Crown and in that sense were “Austrian” citizens, but school would have been conducted in Polish and they spoke their own languages at home (in the case of my ancestors, an archaic Ukrainian dialect). This explains why in some documents my great-grandparents are described as Austrian, but actual Austrians were rare in those parts.

You can use this map to zoom out and see where the place-names of interest to our family– Rozdziele, Lipinki, Męcina Wielka, etc.– lie with respect to the modern borders of Poland and Ukraine.

See full screen

Take a close look at the postmarks on that envelope– late August 1939, the very eve of the German invasion of Poland (September 1st), which started World War II. The story of what happened in that region during and after the War is inconceivably tragic, but I’ll save that (and the mystery of what is in those letters) for another day. Let’s stick with a discussion of that name, Swedish.

Newspapers.com is a great resource sometimes; it lets you do text searches of old newspapers without reading them page-by-page. It happens to have a fairly complete set of old papers from Lethbridge, Alberta, during the time Joe and Julia lived in the nearby towns of Diamond City, Commerce, and Coalhurst, and it gave me a wealth of data about their doings and the doings of their children. The children are frequently mentioned in the Society page– Joe and Julia evidently encouraged their kids, especially the girls, to participate in all aspects of upper-middle-class Anglo culture, which perhaps explains why their Ukrainian heritage was downplayed, and may also help to explain why they changed their name.

Anyways, here’s a notice I found in the classified section in 1926 that reminded me of Julia’s connection to the Swedish name.

Card of Thanks for Simon Swedish funeral flowers

Lethbridge Herald, May 10, 1926

It appears that Joe and Julia sent a large, heart-shaped floral arrangement to the funeral of one Simon Swedish. Was this a relative of Julia’s? I mentioned it to my dad and he suddenly remembered other people in Lethbridge with the Swedish name… there was Steve and Matt, who worked for the Pilsner brewery, and a younger Julia, who married a man named Wilson and moved to Dog Creek in British Columbia… but he had never heard of Simon Swedish, and didn’t know if any of these people were related to his grandma, Julia Bublick.



Bublicks and Swedishes in 1906 Census

Bublick and Swedish families in the 1906 Northwest Canada Census

Here’s an important clue that I found in the 1906 Census of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba: someone named Simon Swedish living right next door to Joe and Julia Bublick in Lethbridge. This doesn’t prove that Julia and Simon were related, but it strongly indicates a connection between the two families going back decades.



Swedishes in 1926 Henderson DirectoryAnother tool I turn to frequently is the set of Henderson Directories (city directories) maintained by the University of Alberta. In 1925, I see that Simon Swedish was a grocer in Lethbridge, and Nicholas (who the Census confirmed was Simon’s son) was working for Simon as a clerk.

And so, using the Census, Henderson Directories, newspaper articles, and death records I found in the Provincial Archives of Alberta, I was able to piece together the rough outline of Simon’s life.

Simon Swedish was born in Galicia in 1876 and he emigrated to Canada as a young man. He settled in Staffordville, a village that would soon be annexed by the rapidly-expanding city of Lethbridge, in about 1900 and by 1914 (probably earlier) he was proprietor of a dry goods store. His wife, Anna, was also born in Galicia (1883), and they had many children… Joseph (1904), Annie (1905), Mathew (1906), Mary (1908, died in infancy), Nicholas (1908), Stephen (1910), George (1911, died in infancy), Michael (1913), Julia (1915), and finally Helen (1916, died in infancy).

(By the way, Simon’s daughter Julia must have been friends with my grandmother, Mayre, because I have photos of Julia’s wedding from Mayre’s photo album. But I never met my grandmother, so all I have to go on about her friends and personal life prior to my dad’s birth are just suppositions and educated guesses.)

Simon also had a sister, Anna, who was born in Galicia and joined him in Alberta. She married a farmer named Michael Kret, also from Galicia, and they moved to Albion in upstate New York in about 1919. Michael was killed in a car accident in 1922.

Simon’s general store remained in the same spot, 920 7th Avenue North, Lethbridge, for years. Later it became a grocery store. In May of 1926, at the young age of 49, Simon died of “chronic nephritis”. Tragically his son Nicholas, who had been working as a clerk at the store but who recently moved to Drumheller to work in the coal mines, died of cerebral meningitis that same year. After that the name of the business changed to “A. Swedish and Sons”, suggesting that Anna and her children tried to keep it going, but it disappeared from the city directory sometime around 1928. Anna lived on in the same house for many years, dying of a heart attack in 1941.

This dry recounting of facts surely hides a great deal of turmoil and pain that I have little personal insight into. The death of so many children, the sudden death of father and son, the collapse of the family business… it’s hard to imagine, but I can understand why I heard about none of it. It all transpired before my dad, who is my main conduit for so much of the early family history, was even born. And anyway, none of this establishes a definitive family link between the Swedishes and the Bublicks (and, ultimately, to me). I seemed to have hit a brick wall using the North-American-based, English-language resources I was familiar with.

That’s when the Archiwum Państwowe w Rzeszowie— the Polish State Archives in Rzeszów, Poland– came to the rescue. For only 166 Polish Zlotys (about $39 US) they supplied me with a trove of birth, death and marriage records scanned from the actual church registers of the Greek Catholic parish of Męcina Wielka, which included the village of Rozdziele where my Bubniak ancestors lived and died. And in amongst the Swider records (remember, the original family name was Swider, not Swedish) I found this…

1876 Simon Swedish birth registration

Birth registration for Simeon Swider, 1876

A boy named Simeon Swider, born May 11, 1876. Could this be our Simon Swedish? The date of birth matches Simon’s birth year, which I obtained from the headstone on his grave.

In case your Latin is rusty, here’s the translation:

Simeon, born May 11, baptized May 14 1876.
Catholic, a boy, legitimate.
Father: Alex Swider, a local farmer, son of Anton Swider (a farmer in Perhrymka) and Maria, née Dragan.
Mother: Maria Swider, daughter of Theodor Pregnar (a farmer in Rozdziele) and Anna, née Lyzak.
Godparents: Joseph Tylawski, a farmer in Rozdziele, and the widow Anna [indistinct], a farmer in Perhrymka.
Midwife: Maria Grymata

In case there’s any doubt about the identity of this boy, Simeon has a younger sister, Julianna, born 5 years after him:

1881 Julia Swider birth registration

Birth registration for Julianna Swider, 1881

That’s got to be Julia Bublick’s birth registration.

Julianna, born March 18, baptized March 20 1881.
Catholic, a girl, legitimate.
Father: Alex Swider, a local farmer, son of Anton Swider (a farmer in Perhrymka) and Maria, née Dzugan. [I believe that Dzugan was an alias for Dragan; I often see these surnames used interchangeably.]
Mother: Maria Swider, daughter of Theodor Pregnar (a farmer in Rozdziele) and Anna, née Lyzak.
Godparents: John Grabania, a farmer in Rozdziele, and Maria, wife of Basil Dragan, [also] a farmer in Rozdziele.
Midwife: Maria Grymata

(Note that Simeon and Julianna had the same midwife, Maria Grymata; it seems she had a long career in Rozdziele as I’ve found her name on other documents as well.)

Well that seals it. Julia Bublick, my great-grandmother, and Simon Swedish, the grocer of Lethbridge, were brother and sister! Simon’s descendants (and I know they must be out there) would be my 3rd cousins.

I also have a birth record for Anna, Simon’s sister who came to Alberta and later moved to New York with Mike Kret. These three siblings (Simon, Julia, Anna) apparently left Rozdziele (along with friends and cousins named Bubniak, Dragan, Telep, Nowak, and Kret), perhaps at different times but all prior to 1905. I know now that at least one of them arrived in North America via Ellis Island in New York City. Perhaps they all came via that route, and made their way across the continent to Fort Benton, Montana, and from there up the well-worn ox-cart trail to Fort McLeod, and they reunited in wind-swept Lethbridge in the days before Alberta was a province of Canada, where they all started new lives.

And not a word about this not-insignificant multi-family migration from a little village at the foot of the Carpathians to the dusty expanse of southern Alberta was passed along to my generation; I had to piece it together from the records.

Here then, for the record, are the generations descended from Anton Swider, the farmer of Perhrymka (probably Pielgrzymka), and Maria Dragan, whom I now know to be my great-great-great grandparents. If any 2nd, 3rd, or 4th cousins out there reading this have details to fill in, feel free to contact me!

Descendants of Anton Swider and Maria Dragan

Descendants of Anton Swider and Maria Dragan

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Finding the Family Farm

We don’t know for sure, but we think that George Lindley Coulson and his step-father Tom Henson appear in this photo of coal miners of Rotherham, Yorkshire because it used to be in the possession of George’s half-sister Helen Coley. From the collection of Elizabeth I. Coley and used here with the kind permission of William Lindley Coley III.

My great-grandfather George Lindley Coulson grew up working in the coal mines of west Yorkshire. When he arrived in North America with his wife and family around 1890, he found employment in the coal mines of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. That was about the time that the Wyoming coal boom was starting, and he was drawn to Cambria– a thriving boom-town north of Newcastle, Wyoming, that no longer exists– to work in those coal mines in the mid-1890’s (possibly as early as 1892).

My point being, George Lindley was a coal miner with an urban background, and none of the oral family lore I know of indicates he had any aptitude for or interest in farming. I was therefore surprised to discover, while researching him and his family, that after spending a few years working in the coal mines of Wyoming, he decided to try his hand at homesteading!

Homesteading, as codified in the 1862 Homesteading Act, was intended to implement the old Jeffersonian ideal of a nation of citizen-farmers tilling the land in small family-sized plots, an ideal that was part and parcel of the American Dream as it was perceived throughout much of the 19th century. Another purpose of the Act was to curtail land speculators who would buy up land and sell it later at profit– the government wanted to bring as much land as possible under cultivation, and make it affordable and attractive to immigrants, and speculators stood in the way of this kind of economic progress.

To deter speculators, a prospective homesteader would be granted a quarter-section of land (160 acres) at a nominal cost, but with certain conditions attached. If, at the end of a 5-year period, the homesteader could prove he or she had lived on the land continuously and had brought it into production (or “improved” it), the government granted title to that land free and clear to do with whatever the homesteader pleased. If desired the land could be sold at a handsome profit, but the Government hoped that the homesteader would stay and put down roots, having invested so much sweat-equity in the land already.

Alas, it appears that my great-grandfather did not enter into his homesteading adventure with the purist of Jeffersonian intentions. After weighing the evidence I am compelled to admit that he was, in fact, a land speculator with no interest in improving the land or putting down roots in the Wyoming soil; he was in it purely for the money (which is a more modern version of the American Dream, you might say). Since there is nobody left in the family who remembers our brief ancestral homesteading period, all I have to go on are the homesteading records themselves along with what I can find in the newspapers. So here, with a big dollop of my own speculation, is the evidence.

My great-grandfather’s proper name, according to his baptismal record, was George Lindley Coulson, but he didn’t always put the ‘d’ in Lindley and he also went by Linley G. Coulson. He was also known as “Splint” and he appears to have been a bit of a local character because the newspapers in Crook and Weston Counties frequently refer to him with that nickname. He also sometimes appears with the common misspelling of our name, Colson. These are things to keep in mind when reviewing the records.

In 1898 George staked his claim to the Northwest Quarter of Section 30 in Township 49, Range 61, West of the 6th Principal Meridian — Also known as NW¼ 30-49-61 W6. That’s in the northeast corner of Wyoming, a few miles from the South Dakota border, technically part of the Black Hills (and just outside the bounds of the Great Sioux Reservation established by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868), and within sight of the sacred Lakota mountain Inyan Kara, a mountain that “spoke”, perhaps because it was at one time full of unmined coal and spontaneous coal fires deep underground made the earth groan, a fact that was noted by indigenous peoples and early European fur traders.

Here’s where that is on the map.

The orange square represents Township 49 of Range 61. The word “township” here has nothing to do with towns. It’s just a name for one of the subdivisions in the system of land surveying that is used in the U.S. and Canada.

The survey nomenclature means that this square is the 61st township counting west from the 6th Principal Meridian, a north-south line that runs from the northern border of Nebraska, through Kansas to the northern border of Oklahoma. It is also the 49th township counting north from the 6th Meridian’s associated baseline, which is an east-west line running along the northern border of Kansas, through Colorado to the Utah border. To visualize this system, this map from Wikipedia might help.

Each township is divided into 36 sections, numbered sequentially from the northeast corner of the township. Each section contains one square mile, or 640 acres. Sections are further subdivided into 160-acre quarter-sections. A quarter-section was the basic land-grant unit for the homesteading system through the 19th century and into the 20th.

Township 49 is the orange box on the map at the right, and Section 30 is the red box within township 49. The blue box inside of section 30 is the northwest quarter-section which constituted George Lindley’s claim.

Within each quarter-section there are further divisions (“lots”) of 40 acres each. We’ll talk about those later, because they are a source of some confusion, as we shall see.

How did I first learn about the Coulson Homestead? I stumbled upon it accidentally when combing through the old newspapers that are archived by the State of Wyoming (Wyoming Newspapers, newspapers.wyo.gov). The following notice was published in the Crook County Monitor (based in Sundance, Wyoming) on Friday, May 3, 1907.

Notice for Publication – Department of the Interior, Land Office at Sundance, Wyoming, March 25, 1907.- Notice is hereby given that Linley G. Coulson of Buckhorn, Wyoming, has filed notice of his intention to make final five-year proof in support of his claim, viz: homestead entry no. 667, made February 23, 1898, for the nw qr, sec 30, township 49 north, range 61 west, and that proof will be made before the register and receiver at Sundance, Wyoming, on Saturday, May 4, 1907.

He names the following witnesses to prove his continuous residence upon, and cultivation of, the land, viz: Fred Clark, William Brown, Hans Tobiasen, Charles A. Walker, all of Sundance, Wyoming.

A. E. Hoyt, Register. First publication March 29; last May 3.

This gives us quite a bit of information. First it indicates that George Lindley and his family were living in Wyoming as early as 1898. I am pretty sure they were there much earlier than that, but this is the earliest solidly dated documentation that I have so far.

Second, it tells us the names of some of George’s friends and neighbors, people who were willing to vouch for him and state that he had been living there for at least 5 years. One significant name I notice is Fred Clark, who also had a homestead in the Inyan Kara neighborhood not far from the Coulsons. I know from my previous research that George’s next-to-last son Frederick Clark Coulson was born in 1902. Apparently, George named his son after his friend and neighbor, Fred Clark! I am especially interested in this connection because I myself am named after this Uncle Fred, who died before I was born… so now I know where my name comes from. My research into the Crook County pioneer Fred Clark, who had such an impact on my great-grandfather, will be a blog post for another day.

Third, it gives us the survey designation of the property (NW 30-49-61). Since historical homesteading records are pretty well documented, this allows us to look up George’s claim on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management database.

Sure enough, here we find the actual patent that was issued to George on April 27, 1908, a year after he made his “final proof” application:

Homestead patent for NW 30-49-61, April 27, 1908.

Homestead Certificate No. 800.
Application 667.
WHEREAS, There has been deposited in the GENERAL LAND OFFICE of the United States a Certificate of the Register of the Land Office at Sundance, Wyoming, whereby it appears that, pursuant to the Act of Congress approved 20th May, 1862, “To secure Homesteads to Actual Settlers on the Public Domain,” and the acts supplemental thereto, the claim of
has been established and duly consummated, in conformity to law, for the northwest quarter of Section thirty in Township forty-nine north of Range sixty-one west of the Sixth Principal Meridian, Wyoming, containing one hundred sixty and four-hundredths acres, according to the Official Plat of the Survey of the said Land, returned to the GENERAL LAND OFFICE by the Surveyor General:
NOW KNOW YE, That there is, therefore, granted by the UNITED STATES unto the said Linley G. Coulson the tract of Land above described, TO HAVE AND TO HOLD the said tract of Land, with the appurtenances thereof, unto the said Linley G. Coulson and to his heirs and assigns forever; subject to any vested and accrued water rights for mining, agricultural, manufacturing, or other purposes, and rights to ditches and reservoirs used in connection with such water rights, as may be recognized and acknowledged by the local customs, laws, and decisions of courts, and also subject to the right of the proprietor of a vein or lode to extract and remove his ore therefrom, should the same be found to penetrate or intersect the premises hereby granted, as provided by law. And there is reserved from the lands hereby granted, a right of way thereon for ditches or canals constructed by the authority of the United States.
IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I, Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, have caused these letters to be made Patent, and the seal of the General Land Office to be hereunto affixed.
GIVEN under my hand, at the City of Washington, the twenty-seventh day of April, in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and eight, and of the Independence of the United States the one hundred and thirty-second.

This transaction is recorded in the BLM Tract Book for Township 49. It’s a little hard to read, but the record of George’s claim is the 6th entry from the bottom of the page. It indicates how he bought the 160 acres on February 23, 1898 for $1.25 per acre with a down payment of only $16, and indicates that the final patent was issued ten years later on April 27, 1908, as we have already noted.

Well, that was quite a find for me. George received this parcel of land, to have and to hold forever! And I, being one of his “heirs and assigns”, might well be owning that land today, if history had taken a different turn.

But this is where things start getting a little weird.

First of all, before George received title to his land in 1908– in fact, before he even made his application for “final proof” in 1907– he sold the land.

Warranty deed for sale of Lots 2, 3, SENW, NESW of 30-49-61, February 19, 1906.

That’s right. He sold the land to one Ernest Bolton for $1,000 on February 19, 1906, according to the Warranty Deed at the right, which I found on microfilm at the Wyoming State Archives in Cheyenne.

Since homesteading was intended to be a family affair, the homesteading laws recognized the rights of the wife– that way the husband could not just sell the land and abandon his family without resources to fend for themselves. The fact that the Coulsons believed this land was theirs under the Homestead Act is evidenced by the final paragraph, where my great-grandmother Lucy has to explicitly sign her Right of Homestead away:

And I further certify that said Lucy Coulson wife of the said Linley G. Coulson was by me first examined separate and apart from her said husband in reference to the signing and acknowledging of such deed, the nature and effect of said deed being explained to her by me, and that she being by me fully appraised of her right, and of the effect of signing and acknowledging said deed, did sign the same while so separate and apart from her said husband and did then acknowledge that she freely and voluntarily signed and acknowledged the same for the uses and purposes therein set forth, including the release and waiver of the right of homestead.

Newcastle News-Journal, February 23, 1906 p.1

The land sale was such a notable event that the newspaper in Newcastle south of Cambria saw fit to run a tiny news item about it.

So… George and Lucy sold the land more than two years before they legally owned it. This, on the face of it, sounds like fraud. But then again, maybe not…  here’s an added complication: the parcel of land that George got title to in 1908 is not exactly the same as the one he sold to Ernest Bolton in 1906.

Remember, the land described in the Patent that was granted in 1908 was described as NW¼ 30-49-61 W6. However, the land that Mr. Bolton bought in 1906 is described as Lots 2 and 3 and the southeast quarter of the northwest quarter and the northeast quarter of the southwest quarter of section 30 in township 49, north of range 61. Whew. That’s gonna take some decoding.

Remember how a section is divided up into quarter-sections of 160 acres each. George’s quarter section, which he ultimately received the patent for, is the northwest quadrant.





Each quarter-section can itself be divided into 40-acre lots. These are designated as at the right. For example, the NWNW lot is sometimes referred to as “northwest quarter of the northwest quarter”, and SESW can be referred to as “southeast quarter of the southwest quarter,” and so forth. It’s a little confusing but you get the idea.

Lots can also be designated by lot number, and there seems to be no universal way of numbering the lots. This is how I think the lot numbering goes, but I could be wrong.

That means that the land George sold to Mr. Bolton in 1906 (Lots 2 and 3 and the southeast quarter of the northwest quarter and the northeast quarter of the southwest quarter of section 30 in township 49, north of range 61) are the lots in green:


…What on earth is George doing trying to sell a lot in the Southwest Quarter of section 30? His original homestead claim made no mention of that at all!


Crook County Monitor, January 20 1905, page 4

OK, and things get even messier. Remember how a homesteader is supposed to post a “final proof” to their claim in the newspaper before the patent can be issued? Well, George did that for these four parcels of land in 1905. It’s identical to the one we saw above (from 1908), except it references the odd grouping of parcels that appear in the bill of sale to Bolton in 1906: Lots 2 and 3 and SENW and NESW of 30-49-61!

I should add that George did not at any time receive a patent for the land hereunto described.


I think I have a workable explanation for this mess, and I think the clue lies in a clause attached to the final patent we looked at above:

And there is reserved from the lands hereby granted, a right of way thereon for ditches or canals constructed by the authority of the United States.

I’ll bet that when George and his family moved on to the northwest quarter of Secton 30 in 1898, he discovered that he was unable to use the northwest 40 acres of his claim because the government needed it for a ditch or canal or right-of-way of some kind. So, he started using the southeast lot of the quarter-section immediately below his as (to him) just compensation, since nobody had claimed it yet. Maybe he had a handshake agreement with some government official that this was “fine”. After he had lived there for more than 5 years and posted his “final proof” in the paper, maybe he had forgotten all about it. Or maybe he thought the government had recorded the change in their record book. Maybe he thought his patent was a shoe-in, so he went ahead with the sale of the land to Bolton without waiting for his homesteading patent to be issued.

(In fact, there is a hastily-scrawled notation in red ink in the Tract Book that I can scarcely make out, but it seems to say something like “Amended by XXX July 2, 1902…” and the rest is indistinct. Part of the scrawl looks like “SW 1/4”, so perhaps this is a reference to George’s use of the NESW lot. Can you make out what it says?)

Imagine the bureaucratic nightmare when George and Ernest Bolton discovered the sale could not go through, because George had no legal claim to the the lot in the southwest quarter! George probably had to start his paperwork all over again. It took 3 more years for the mess to be sorted out.

Warranty deed for sale of NW 30-49-61, April 2, 1909.

There’s a happy ending to this story– We find another warranty deed in the county records, documenting George Lindley Coulson’s sale of land to Ernest Bolton (again) for $1,000, this one dated April 2, 1909– a year after George received his land patent. This time, it seems, he wasn’t taking any chances! This bill of sale is essentially identical to the one in 1906, except it refers to the northwest quarter of Section 30 in its entirety, just like it appears on George’s patent. We can only assume that the 1906 sale was cancelled, and Bolton got his money back.

George Lindley made a tidy profit on the transaction, despite the red tape and misunderstandings he no doubt endured. For an initial investment of $16, he eventually walked away with $1,000 in 1909 U.S. dollars. But the happy ending was short-lived… Shortly after this sale was transacted, George and Lucy and their younger children– Mary, Maggie, Fred, and little George Arthur– pulled up stakes and headed for Canada in an adventure that would turn into disaster for the family. More on that in a future post.

As for Ernest Bolton, it appears he did put down roots in the Wyoming soil. I found newspaper references to him as an “industrious young farmer”, and a mention of him digging a mine on his property. The last trace I have of him was a notice that he was drawing an old age pension from Crook County in 1932.


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Kay’s 48 in Gay Paree

On this day in 1945 my Aunty Kay got away from the drudgery of her administrative posting with Canadian Army Headquarters in Aalst, Belgium, and took 48-hour leave in Paris. She had an awesome time and a few days later wrote all about the experience in a letter to her Ma and Pop (my great-grandparents) and her brother Mike back home. (Mike had flat feet and was rejected for service, so his main contribution to the war effort was sending his sister cartons of Export A cigarettes on a regular basis).  

I don’t really remember Kathleen Bublick (I only met her when I was a baby), but I am fascinated by her short life and adventuresome spirit. She worked her way up to the rank of sergeant in the CWACS (Canadian Women’s Army Corps) in London during WWII and dearly wanted to get across to the Continent after D-Day, but the quota of sergeants had already been filled so she took a voluntary reduction in rank back down to private in order to join the advancing Canadian Army. She eventually made it all the way to Germany, and stayed there long after V-E day taking care of the paperwork that transferred Canadian soldiers home or else to the still ongoing Pacific Theatre.

I have a lot of information about Kay’s life that I want to share eventually. I am waiting for Archives Canada to fulfill my request for her military dossier, but I’m not expecting that for another 6 months. In the meantime, to commemorate the 74th anniversary of her adventure in Paris, I’ll post her letter home.

27 Feb 45

W13053 Pte Bublick K
Cdn Sec 2 Ech
HQ 21 Army Group
Cdn Army Overseas

Dear Folks.

How do you like my stationary? It’s straight from Paris. Yes I’ve had my 48 and went to Paris and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a city I like better. It’s simply marvelous and we were busy every minute of the time. It wasn’t half long enough so I’ve decided to take my 7 days leave and really see Paris.

It’s so clean and the streets are wide and there are so many beautiful monuments and buildings. The river Seine runs through it and there are 36 bridges over it and such white wide ones too. The outstanding thing is the Eiffel Tower which can be seen from any point in Paris.

It was quite a long train trip and rather tiresome but after we had a nice hot bath and got cleaned up we were ready to go and see the sights. The first afternoon we walked and walked for miles and took some snaps. In the evening we went to the Folies Bergere. Boy oh Boy. I never saw anything like it in my life. The scenery and costumes were marvelous. Some of the girls didn’t wear very much. A little silver girdle, a pair of slippers and a smile. Some of it was rather embarrassing and we sure were thankful we were all girls instead of with men. We walked back to our hotel which was quite a considerable distance but the moon was bright and the streets were lit up to a certain extent.

Next morning we got up at 8:30 to go on a bus tour. It lasted about 3 hours and we saw all the most important spots such as Notre Dame, The Concorde, Champs Elisee, Napoleon’s Tomb, The Trocadero and ever so many other spots. In the afternoon we walked again and shopped. At night we went to a dance in the Hotel Dorsay where the ballroom is absolutely breathtaking with its glass chandeliers and bronze and gilt walls. We had a grand time. The next morning we slept in and had breakfast in bed. Sunday afternoon we walked some more and took pictures and in the evening we caught the train back. I’m still tired as I haven’t walked so much since leaving London. I’m sure going back for my 7 days leave.

The snaps I’m enclosing were taken here when there was a fair on or “Mardis Gras” as they call it. One Sunday afternoon we went and tried our hand at shooting, rode on the little cars and ate potato chips. The Mardi Gras lasted for about two weeks. I imagine in peace time they really go to town and celebrate, dances, parades and much more to eat and drink.

I haven’t been getting any mail for two weeks now. I wonder what’s the matter with everybody.

The weather has been grand. A little rain, a little cold but lots of sunshine. In fact it feels more like April than February. The trees are getting green and the grass is like velvet already.

I’ve been very busy at work. I changed my job and now I sure can’t complain of not having anything to do. The days are much too short for all the work that has to be done. However, we’re pretty well caught up now and I hope it won’t be too rushed from now on.

I hope you’re all feeling fine and that the weather has improved. I’m feeling pretty good these days. Nothing to complain about but I’m sure looking forward to coming home and I hope it won’t be too long before we’re on the move toward Canada.

Cheerio for this time and lots of love.


Mike I rec’d another carton of Exports. Thanks a million.

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Happy Great-Grandmother’s Day

In celebration of Mother’s Day, I wanted sum up what I know about each of my great-grandmothers, none of whom I think I ever met in the flesh, although I have gotten to know them a little bit through my genealogical research.

Julia Swedish

Julia (center) at her daughter's wedding in 1929.

Julia (center) at her daughter’s wedding in 1929.

“Swedish” wasn’t her real name. The actual spelling, as it appears on her son’s birth certificate, is Swider. This, I believe, is actually Świder, which is the name of a village near Warsaw. But she may not have come from there… according to the family legendarium, she came from the same village as her future husband, which I have determined to be Rozdziele (near Gorlice, about two hundred miles south of Świder), just north of the Slovakian border near the foot of the Carpathian Mountains, in what is now south-west Poland, though when she was born in 1884 it was in the now-defunct Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, part of the Austrian Empire.

According to those family legends, Julia and her future husband emigrated to North America separately in about 1899 and met by chance at a party in New York City, where they got married. Later they moved to southern Alberta’s coal belt and started a dry goods business near Lethbridge through the patronage of a friend. I haven’t been able to back up this story with any documentation, yet. I have found many Galicians in the Ellis Island passenger lists named Swider (and Bubniak, her husband’s name), but no definitive matches.

The earliest firm document I have establishing Julia’s existence is the birth certificate of her first son in 1904. She and her husband were marvelously vague about their past. On the 1906 Canada census (when Julia would have been about 22), it states that she came to Canada in 1900, whereas her husband Joe arrived in 1886 (I am almost certain that Joe’s statement here is bogus, and perhaps hers is too). The 1916 Census states that they both arrived in 1898 (if this is true then she would have been only 14… which might suggest an elopement? But I have no stories hinting at that). And by 1921, they were saying that she arrived in 1903, and he arrived in 1897. So who knows?

Julia’s religion at birth was probably Uniate (Greek Catholic) and her language was probably one of the Western Ukrainian dialects, possibly Lemko. She insisted that her children grow up speaking English, and only her firstborn son spoke any Ukrainian at all. She raised her children in the United Church of Canada, and she was active in the Rebekah Lodge (the female wing of the International Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization with roots in Britain), rising to the rank of “Noble Grand”, the highest post at her local chapter.

Her family’s background was most likely farming, though she helped her husband run the dry goods store from the time of their arrival in Canada until they retired in 1933. At that time they gave the store to their son-in-law (my grandfather) and they moved to a farm in Haney, British Columbia, which is now part of Vancouver’s suburban

Julia Bublick (Swedish), Christmas 1947

Julia (left) with her family in 1947.

sprawl but in those days was quite pastoral. She managed the farm until her husband’s death in 1947, whereupon she moved to New Westminster to live with her son until her death in 1949.

Julia rarely smiled, but here’s a photo of her smiling– this was Christmas 1947 at her daughter’s house, almost a year after her husband died. It was the first time in years when she didn’t have to do all the cooking.

Lucy Scarlett

Lucy Ann Coulson (Scarlett Somerfield)

Lucy Ann Coulson (Scarlett Somerfield)

Lucy Scarlett: What a great name! She was born Lucy Ann Somerfield in 1867 in Bloxwich, Staffordshire, England. The fact that the earliest documents I have for her do not record a father, but show her sharing the same surname as her mother (Jane Somerfield, 1844-1914) leads me to suspect that she might have been born out of wedlock. By the time she was 4 years old, the census of 1871 claims that her mother had married one George Scarlett, a Bloxwich miner, and it appears George has adopted little Lucy, although her name is still “Somerfield”. (In fact, George and Jane did not legally get married until 1873… suggesting a little bit of drama that I have no insight into, except what I read in these old documents).

In 1885 18-year-old Lucy married George Lindley Coulson, a hard-drinking coal miner. He was over 6 feet tall; she was 4 foot 10. The legends say that she was an accomplished singer and even sang “in the opera”. This may be true– there was quite an active music-hall scene in late 19th century Yorkshire, and she may well have taken part.

In 1888 or 1889 Lucy and George departed for America, after first giving birth to two children: Rose (1886-1970) and William, who died in infancy just before they left. They landed in Pittsburgh where she had another son, Tom (1890-1983). In about 1896 they moved out to Wyoming, living in various coal mining camps in the eastern part of the state (mostly Cambria, now a ghost town). There she had five more children: Henry, Mary, Margaret, Fred, and George. Henry, her favorite, died at the age of 4. I can remember Mary, the next daughter, talking about a pearl her mother retrieved from Henry’s clothing… how she would roll it over and over in her hands with a faraway look…

Lucy’s children gather at her grave 50 years after her death.

This life was hard on her. Sometime after 1908 her husband decided he had had enough of the United States and wanted to get back to British territory, so the family pulled up stakes again and started heading north-west, mostly on foot, across Wyoming and Montana on a vague, wandering route towards Canada, stopping periodically to work at ranches and coal mines along the way. Lucy had at least one, perhaps two, miscarriages on the trail.

There was no border to speak of in those days, and they finally reached the Northwest Mounted Police outpost of Fort Walsh, Saskatchewan, in August, 1911. Lucy was already suffering from tuberculosis and pneumonia; she died almost immediately from the exhaustion of the journey, and was buried in the police cemetery there. She was only 45 years old.

Lucy was remembered somewhat more fondly by her children than her husband was. Here is a photo of them in the 1960’s when they met at Fort Walsh to install a headstone for her grave.

Robina Woods

Robina in 1915

Robina in 1915

Robina Kean Woods was born in a working-class slum in Paisley, Scotland, in 1890. Her father John was a carter, or deliveryman. John’s father was also a carter, and his father had been a boiler stoker at a cloth bleaching factory. Her family on her mother’s side were shoemakers. Both sides came from Ireland, having fled to Scotland some generations previous to escape the Great Famine.

Robina’s family attended the Free Church of Scotland, a fairly radical offshoot of the presbyterian Church of Scotland. She was wrenched into the episcopalian Church of England at the age of 19 when she married William Elliott, a young man who had a good engineering job at the Paisley threadmill. They hid it well, but his family was Irish too, and had left Ireland around the same time as hers and for the same reasons. I mention the Irish connection because in Scotland in those days, to be Irish– even Protestant Scotch-Irish from Ulster– was to be seen as little better than an animal. The Irish were despised and could not aspire to any but the meanest jobs. William’s family had carefully recrafted itself to be seen as Scottish, and William was the first in generations to have any job but unskilled labor. Robina probably thought she was moving up in the world, by marrying him.

They started a family and things seemed to be going well for Robina; her husband’s employer even gave them a nice house to live in in a respectable neighborhood. The First World War changed things, and William’s wartime injuries forced him to seek employment elsewhere. They had to move out of the company house. He became a gamekeeper and had a series of jobs all over the Scottish highlands; Robina, as the gamekeeper’s wife, not only had to keep her own household but also function as a domestic servant at the great estates where they resided.

Robina in about 1940

Robina in about 1940

She had seven children during that time; the family finally emigrated to Canada in 1927. Neither her family nor her husband’s had any background in farming, but suddenly Robina found herself a farmer’s wife in a foreign country with unbelievable temperature extremes and prodigious snowfall. They managed to keep up that life for 9 years, having two more children in that time. Despite all the children they had their differences, and they separated after they retired to Calgary in 1936. Then Robina worked energetically as the manager/caretaker for an apartment building; she outlived William by 14 years and died in 1963.

Cora Foss

Cora (seated, center) with her family in about 1918

Cora (seated, center) with her family in about 1918

Cora was the only child of a farming couple in Ontario. Cora’s family on both sides were solid Upper Canada farming folks. I have been able to trace them back to the American Colonies in the 18th Century, which they probably left as a consequence of the American Revolution; possibly they were part of the Tory exodus to British North America.

Cora herself was born in Norfolk County, Ontario in 1887. She moved with her parents to Olds, Alberta in 1900 when she was about 13, and married John Luska Berkley, a farmer of German descent, in 1904. She had five children. I know little about her except what I have learned from cousins who had contact with her.

She and her husband farmed the same land for 40 years. Their house burned down in the winter of 1935; the community pitched in to help them rebuild. They passed the land on to one of their sons when they retired in 1946; then she lived on in Olds until her death in 1961. She was, I’m told, an excellent seamstress.

Here is a piece commemorating Cora and John’s 34th wedding anniversary that my cousin found in a local newspaper, that gives some flavor of Cora’s household and friends:

OLDS GAZETTE: November 24, 1938: the home of Mr. and Mrs. J. L. Berkley was the scene of a memorable event on Wednesday evening last, when about twenty-five intimate friends and relatives joined with Mr. and Mrs. Berkley in celebrating their 34th wedding anniversary. Preparations had been carried on while Mr. Berkley was away so the whole event was a complete surprise. During the dinner hour (6:30) Mr. Fred Penny proposed a toast to the honored couple, speaking warmly of the friendships which had strengthened during the years. Mr. Berkley replied fittingly.

Neighbors gathered in for the evening to enjoy music and dancing. At midnight when lunch was being served Mr. And Mrs. Berkley with their attendant bridesmaid and groomsman of 34 years ago, Mr. Newt Reid and Mrs. R. M. Anderson, were given the seat of honor facing a five tier wedding cake beautifully lighted with candles. As the other lights were dimmed the Gardin sisters sang very sweetly, “while the Mighty Organ Played.”

The scene was most effective and will live long in the memory of those present. Mr. and Mrs. Berkley were married November 16th, 1904 at the home of the bride’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. A. Foss, when their home was the present Charlie Bowman farm. Rev. Lang was the officiating minister. The day was bright and warm with no signs of snow. Those from a distance attending the anniversary dinner were, Mr. and Mrs. Foss, Olds, Mr. and Mrs. W. Miller, Didsbury, and Mr. and Mrs. W. Golden of Sundre.

Cora with her husband in about 1960

Cora with her husband in about 1960

(Credit for the above goes to Janis Berkley’s History of the Berkley, Foss, and Connon Families).

Mary Griffin

Mary Theresa Griffin (other surnames are Davis, Paul, Nelson, and Coulson) is someone nobody within my immediate family network even knew existed, until I started my genealogical digging. She’s what you might call my step-great-grandmother. She’s the second wife of George Lindley Coulson, and therefore not in my direct genetic line, but the more I discover about her the more remarkable I find her.

After Lucy Scarlett died at Fort Walsh in 1911 and her (mostly-adult) children scattered to the winds, her husband George wandered back into the U.S.A. and found himself in Havre, Montana in 1915. There he married Mary Griffin, and they proceeded to spend the better part of 25 years together. Who was she?

Mary was Métis, born into the family of Oliver Paul in 1862. She was baptized in St. François Xavier, a village that lies a bit west of the present city of Winnipeg; at that time it was part of a network of communities known as the Red River Settlement, semi-itinerant groups of fur trappers and buffalo hunters in Rupert’s Land, a vast area that had been owned and worked as a monopoly by the Hudson’s Bay Company for two centuries. In a few years title to this land would be transferred to the nascent Canadian government, leading directly to the Red River Rebellion of 1869, followed by the North-West Rebellion of 1885.

Mary fits into this history, somehow, I’m sure. She acquired the surname “Davis” quite early, and in 1879 (when she is just 17) we find her at Fort Assinniboine, Montana. There she met a Scottish immigrant named Jack Griffin who had a government contract hauling firewood to the fort. She became his common-law wife and bore him at least 12 children over the course of 24 years; they finally became formally married in Havre in 1903. Mary, it seems, was Jack’s lover, wife, agent, and manager. She took care of Jack’s ranch, raised his children, and fed his employees. These are details that I have gleaned– perhaps imperfectly– by poring over census records, as well as the birth, death, and marriage records of Mary and Jack’s children.

Jack died in 1913. Mary held an estate sale and sold off all the ranch livestock and equipment. In 1915 she hooked up with my great-grandfather George and in 1917 they moved to Canada. George declared $4,750 in cash and effects to the border officials; I have little doubt that this was Mary’s money. George wasn’t much of a saver.

Mary and George settled in Plamondon, Alberta (near Lac La Biche), and farmed there for almost 25 years, about as long as Mary had been with Jack. I think they chose Plamondon because Mary probably had relatives there: that region had been a welcoming refuge for Métis fleeing the brutal suppression of the Red River fights for independence in 1869 and 1885. I suspect they were not very successful at farming; they probably lived off of Mary’s money and wound up quite poor towards the end. Mary died in 1938 and was buried in Edmonton in an unmarked grave (and George, who died two years later, also has an unmarked pauper’s grave in a municipal cemetery). Mary’s funeral, though, was well attended and some of her children came up from Montana to say farewell.

Great Falls Tribune – Sat, Dec 31, 1938 – Page 5

Mary’s obituary

Violet Clegg

Violet is another step-great-grandmother. She entered my family tree after my grandparents got divorced in 1946, thus introducing a whole new vast network of ancestors to track down.

Violet Elizabeth Clegg was born in a suburb of London in 1886 to a large family– she had four brothers and three sisters. Her father Samuel was in the insurance business, and her mother Elizabeth was “a prominent political and social worker and was also a popular figure on the concert platform” (this from Samuel’s obituary).

Violet with her husband and daughter and dog, Scruffy in 1946

Violet with her husband, daughter and dog, Scruffy in 1946

In 1909 Violet married a young man named Henry Giles, who may have been an employee or junior associate of her father. After giving her two daughters he went off to the War and was killed in action on the Western Front in 1917. I found it rather fascinating that Violet’s brothers were commissioned officers during the War, but Henry was not. I wonder what, if any, family tension that may have occasioned?

After the War Violet remarried, this time to a charming man named Alfred Willis, who became the perfect father to Violet’s two daughters. They regarded him with great fondness.

After Violet’s daughter married my grandfather following World War Two, I don’t know much about her except a few photos. She looks like a content woman who enjoyed taking vacations with her husband, and I can see she loves dogs. She came over to Canada a few times to visit (I’m told I may have met her, though I don’t remember), and she died in 1971.

You can read more about Violet’s interesting family over on Neil Berrett’s blog.


I like to play the game of how it would be to bring them all together at a Mother’s Day brunch, perhaps. It would have to be prior to 1911 when Lucy died… Let’s say 1910, when Lucy is 44? Julia is 26, Robina is 20, Cora is 23, Mary (the eldest) is 48, and Violet is 24. They were such vastly different women… I wonder how it all plays out.

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