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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Newspaper Records by Ryan Taylor, revised by Susanna de Groot, PLCGS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
SOCIAL NOTES & NEWS ITEMS (Continued)
Accidents and illnesses provided many items of news for social columns, some serious and some reported for the diversion of the neighbours.
|Dr. J. R. Porter was taken suddenly ill yesterday morning with appendicitis, and was operated on yesterday. His many friends will be glad to know that he is doing very nicely. The operation was performed by Dr. Hazelwood. (Oshawa Daily Reformer, 7 January 1927)|
|Drowned: while the steamer Moody was some three or four miles above Langley on her upward trip on Sunday last a passenger named Hugh McDougall fell overboard and was drowned. The steamer was promptly b-cked [microfilm scratched] and every endeavour made to rescue him but without success. The deceased was 32 years of age, a native of co. Aberdeen, Scotland but had resided for the greater part of his life in Wilmington, Kent, England, from which place he emigrated to this country. As this is the second case of this kind which has happened upon the river within the short space of three weeks, we would suggest that if any precautionary measures can be devised they should be adopted. (The British Columbian, New Westminster, 9 May 1861)|
|Mrs. F. D. Walley of Little Red Deer had the misfortune to be kicked by a cow on Monday last with the result that her arm was broken. She was brought to town where the bone was set. (The Province Innisfail, 1 February 1923)|
|The other day a cow belonging to Mr. Stratford near Donegal, fell feet first into a well thirty feet deep which contained four feet of water. The animal was taken out, and with the exception of a few bruises, received no serious injury. (St. Mary’s Argus, 29 September 1881)|
|Bow Island—The small daughter of H. Kjelgaard was quite sick on Thursday and was thought to have infantile paralysis. Friends will be glad to know this was not so and she is now quite well.(Medicine Hat News, 21 September 1935)|
|A vicious dog tore a new pair of garments belonging to Mr. Thos. McClay.(St. Mary’s Argus, 6 October 1881)|
The McDougall drowning is useful because it predates civil registration, and the possibility that the body was never recovered means there would be no church burial record.
This newspaper item may be the only record of the death. A question raised is how the newspaper obtained the biographical information. It may indicate some family member lived in New Westminster or Langley, which would bear investigation.
The details may also be completely unreliable. It may be that a McDougall researcher would not think to look for Hugh’s drowning in this newspaper, simply because they did not know of his early death.
Fortunately, this newspaper was indexed in an umbrella volume of British Columbia newspapers and canny researchers will automatically check such volumes on the off-chance of finding something unexpected about their relations.
Both the cow in the well and the Bow Island stories make interesting details for a family history, without being very significant in themselves.
They add a good deal to making our ancestors come alive, however, reminding us that they had many tense days through accident and illness, more than we have in modern life.
The torn ‘garments’ belonging to Tom McClay were almost certainly trousers, but the vaguer term was a Victorian euphemism to divert attention from the fact that they were discussing a covering for his legs.
In Victorian times, people did not refer to legs (even pianos had their legs covered in some places), this being indelicate.
One unexpected bonus occurs when a seemingly innocuous item provokes some reaction or comment which spices up the whole matter. A simple report of a child’s illness prompted her mother to write a letter to the editor:
| Aberdeen, Feb. 20, 1924.
To the Editor of The Province:
Dear Sir: It has come to my knowledge that a series of rumors have been in circulation regarding the illness of my daughter, and attributing neglect or ignorance to Dr. Dorsey. In justice to him I shall be glad if you will publish the following facts. There was an epidemic of scarlet fever in this district and the Aberdeen school was closed in consequence. Dr. Dorsey, as medical health officer of the municipality, went around and examined the children who were absent from school by reason of illness. He examined my daughter and found she had a slight sore throat. He told me to let him know if a rash developed, as a sore throat often preceded an attack of that disease. He did not examine the girl further or treat her in any way, and this was the only connection he had with the case. Yours truly, Mrs. Frank Laing.(The Province Innisfail, 22 February 1924)
This would be of interest to both Laing and Dorsey researchers, and more information about the outbreak and about Dr. Dorsey’s difficulties might be found in the local board of health or school board minutes, if they have survived.
The rural social columns included a great deal of agricultural or business news which other farmers would want to know.
|Mr. E. Schmidt of Sebringville has commenced to manufacture copper kettles for boiling cider for apple butter. (St. Mary’s Argus, 29 September 1881)|
|Mr. John Kelly, jr., of North Easthope, exhibited a flock of Leicester sheep at the Provincial which attracted considerable attention. One of them is an imported ram which took the eye of all sheep breeders. (St. Mary’s Argus, 6 October 1881)|
News from fairs, town, county or provincial, provide a great deal of information for genealogists. The wide variety of competitions, involving livestock, fruit and vegetables, grain, flowers, handicrafts, baking and canning, were often reported in detail, with all winners’ names being given. From these lists, it is possible to learn that an ancestor had a great skill either in growing, tending or making.
|Mr. McLagar of this town, got first prize for Flemish Beauty pears and the second for Bartletts at the Stratford show. (Stratford column in St. Mary’s Argus, 29 September 1881)|
Local political affairs are always reported, and may contain items of interest. Decades-old politics is usually fairly dry reading, but sometimes either the subject or the way it is reported will be worth noting.
|The annual school meetings of districts in this vicinity are over. The casualties are one black eye and a gashed cheek presented to the owner at the Red Raven meeting. (The Province Innisfail, 1 February 1924)|
Rural schools ran their own business, two or three local men acting as trustees. Since the school was a matter of concern to the whole community, the annual meeting might attract a large crowd, and obviously feelings ran high at this one.
Most papers, even in towns, ran school results as news each spring. It is possible to find our relations listed, and learn their places in the class even if we do not have any surviving report cards. Some results list exact results, some indicate who passed, and some may be for special subjects.
| Christmas exams in Union S.S. no. 6
Sr IV Vera Vodden, Bill Scattergood Jr IV Jack Vodden, Norman Brown Sr III Allan Down, Amy Lysson*, Helen Lysson* Jr III Mavis Firth, Llewellan Goyne II Billie Goyne, Carl Down, Nick Lisson* I Olga Goyne Sr Pr Wilfred Scattergood Jr Pr Isabel Goyne, Marjorie Down Name in order of merit. *denotes absent through illness.
|Report of the standing in Household Science for the second half of the school year is as follows: Collegiate Fort 11A E. Bellinger 94; E. Allen 92; D. Mickler 91... (Collingwood Bulletin, 23 June 1927)|
In the first example, all three members of the Lysson family being absent through illness would indicate either some contagious disease had stuck them all, or one was ill and the house had been quarantined, which was common at that time for a variety of sicknesses which were ‘catching’. The Collingwood example lists exact grades assigned. Modern readers will notice that the grades had different names then: instead of being numbered from one to eight, Junior and Senior Primer, First, Second, Junior and Senior Third, Junior and Senior Fourth.
Although sports played a very small role in newspaper reporting in the early days, they gradually won a place in every paper. Most of the reporting, as we have noted, concerned professional sports at a national level, but in both the small weeklies and in the big dailies after 1950, we can find some local sports. Provided we know that a family member had some sporting experience, we might find it worthwhile to search for them in these pages. This is especially true when we find that a local reporter was sufficiently interested and talented in writing on the subject, because sports reporting is more personal than news reporting. The result can be stories which leave us with vivid descriptions, or quirky stories about our relations.
|A hundred yards foot race between M. Carlyn and L. Larondelle, $2 a side, was the best feature in the sports. It was closely contested throughout and was only won after a hard struggle by Carlyn. (Edmonton Bulletin, 7 March 1881)|
This was one of a number of horse and foot races run that day, and is among the earliest of personal local stories in the Bulletin. The $2 prize seems in tune with the times, but a wrestling match proposed in The Alberta Star on 6 August 1909 and accepted, also in print, on the 13th, required the participants to post a $50 deposit for a $500 prize. This was enormous money for the time and place. It is interesting that the challenge was both conveyed and accepted through the newspaper, thus increasing public interest. In the Innisfail Province there is little sport, but the occasional reference is to the most popular of Prairie activities, curling. The sports which appear in the newspaper are bound to be those which most excite the local populace.
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