When I was fifteen, I was on my first quest to trace my family tree (just like Alex Haley!) and I was in name-collecting mode! My paternal grandmother Eugenie Beryl (Atwell) Pleau was a wealth of ancestral information. She had given me dozens of names and relationships of not only her family, but my grandfather’s as well. My recent forays into family research have (so far) proven all her memories correct.
When telling me about her mother’s people, my grandmother named Lipsetts, O’Briens and Bruces. She was able to get me back to Robert Bruce Lipsett and his wife, Christina McMaster. Later I was easily able to find more information on Robert, thanks to online records and yes, some online trees.
I did find a little information on Christina: born in 1826 (I later found out it was on May 26); married Robert Bruce Lipsett on January 8, 1859 in Manchester; died June 15, 1891 and was buried in Manchester Cemetery. Some alternate spellings of her name were: Christiana and Christeana. On the 1891 Census, her father’s place of birth was listed as Scotland and her mother as the United States. Being an unlikely (in my mind) match, I was sure the census taker did not make a mistake. But who were her parents? And if her mother was from the USA, where was she from and what could her maiden name possibly be? Even online trees had no clues for me. I could find other McMasters in Guysborough County who must have been related to Christina somehow, but I couldn’t make the connection.
In May of 2013, I turned my annual trip to my favorite genealogy society, the Essex County Society of Genealogists, into a genealogy pilgrimage. Arriving the night before, I visited Pine Grove Cemetery in Lynn, MA and stayed overnight in the affordable and historic Hawthorne Hotel in Salem. I took advantage of being in the area by visiting the genealogy room in the Lynnfield Public Library, which ESOG maintains. I was hoping to find all kinds of information on my New England ancestors! Little did I know that I would find a golden nugget for my Nova Scotian ancestors…
The genealogy room not only has a lot of information on Essex County, MA, but information on other New England States and some on Canada as well. One tiny little booklet caught my eye: “1838 Census of Nova Scotia Consolidated Index of Heads of Guysborough County Families” (Prepared by Mary Elizabeth Koen, Swampscott, Massachusetts, 1985). I took pictures of the pages with my surnames on them, and there on page 21 was “John McMasters, Farmer”. He was the only McMaster/McMasters in the book!
Snippet from Mary Elizabeth Koen’s census compilation.
At that point, I knew enough not to merely accept at face value that John was Christina’s father. Now that I knew a first name, I scanned online trees to see if they could lead me to further clues. Out of all the sites I knew to search, I only found one tree on myHeritage that connected John to Christina, and named a mother: Sarah Scranton (a new name!). I emailed the tree’s owner to find out where she got her information, but she never got back to me. So I hit Google with the search terms “John McMasters” AND “Sarah Scranton”.
Google Books came back with a hit: “A Genealogical Register of the Descendants of John Scranton of Guilford, Conn., Who Died in the Year 1671.” Yes, John McMasters was in there. He was a Scottish immigrant who was an early settler of Manchester. And Sarah Scranton was there, daughter of David Scranton and Loraine Strong of the United States. (So far, it’s lining up with that census information!) The book also listed their children, which included Christina, listed as Christiana.
But the awesomeness does not stop there. Although I could find nothing further on John McMasters, Sarah Scranton was quite a different story. Her roots go deep back into colonial Connecticut and beyond. There will be many more stories from her lines in the future!
So what is the moral of this story? Not everything is online, and although not everything online is true, it can help you get to the truth. The truth can put a crack in the brick wall, which can lead to an avalanche of information!