52Ancestors

Are We Family? (A Tale of 3 Johns)


As I review the working title, it sounds like a trio of clients from a Red Light District, doesn’t it? 

I just wanted a short title that would be memorable and I think it works 🙂

In 1926 a small group of people put together a family reunion and decided they would document their family history.

It was a massive project taken up by a smaller group of novices a year later. They took notes of recollections from the oldest members amongst them, as well as many neighbours and close friends. They went to cemeteries and churches and copied everything they found.

By 1965-66, notes were mass produced privately with a hand-crank Gestetner machine, and each copy sold for the amount it took to cover the paper and copying costs to make more.

Within this collection, the first two pages explained the processes used to reach the decision of cataloguing the Family, and a “Time Capsule Challenge” addressed to future descendants to fill the empty holes and gaps of the Founding Generations.

But, what the challenge actually did was turn the research notes into a living document that would forever be in transition and change.

As the years passed, the Family prospered throughout the country, across the continent and over the seas, and a chosen few chronicled their immediate branches, but, the original “Time Capsule Challenge” went unanswered.

By 1982, I came into possession of one of these wine-coloured duo-tangs from 1966 that held just under an inch of paper browned with age.

It was a wonderful read for a 19-year-old history buff! There were three narratives, written in 1965, about the Founding Families.

Yes, families — three of them to be exact, each with a patriarch named John ATKINSON, where the families closely farmed in proximity of each other in Richmond Hill (1819), Victoria Square (1830) and Thistletown (1833).

3Johns

This is a capture shot, not a narrative

Within these descriptive narratives, family members from Richmond Hill were reported as cousins to those in Thistletown, and possibly Victoria Square as well. Comments were that everyone physically resembled each other – but, like before in 1927, the 1965 research team was not able to locate any proof, so the age old question remained unanswered.

I was living in Ontario at the time (1982), so it was too easy to locate many of the sites named in the research papers: Dundurn Castle with its park-like grounds, and the many cemeteries that dotted around Lake Ontario from Niagara Falls to Toronto.

But the biggest obstacle that made me think twice was how to prove everything I held in my hands and build backwards from that — not so easy a task really when I discovered these two novice research teams did not cite their sources!

Having exhausted the paper trails of public libraries, online genealogy websites and consulting with many other researchers (some family and some uncertain), I figured early on (by the mid 1980s) that the only clarity to quell all the rumours, doubts and uncertainties would be DNA testing.

Now, in the present (2014), that lingering question from 1927 still remains.
It is a nagging question that could finally be answered; confirmed by a DNA test that would prove (or disprove) if any of the three Johns were actually related to each other!

It would also be an easy and painless way to pinpoint where the rightful answers have been hiding after 90 years.

I have a handful of male cousins that carry the ATKINSON name that might be convinced to participate, but without representation from all three families, how will we ever know:“Are We Family?”

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