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COLUMN: Researchers create Ship Hector descendants database

Project researcher Brenda Hutchinson and Michelle Davey, curator of the McCulloch House Museum and Genealogy Centre, display a list of the passengers who sailed to Pictou on the Ship Hector. (Rosalie MacEachern photo)
Project researcher Brenda Hutchinson and Michelle Davey, curator of the McCulloch House Museum and Genealogy Centre, display a list of the passengers who sailed to Pictou on the Ship Hector. (Rosalie MacEachern photo)

The Ship Hector was not a large ship and its tightly packed passengers numbered only 189 or so, but McCulloch House in Pictou has already traced more than 9,000 descendants.

It is painstaking work with curator Michelle Davey and researcher Brenda Hutchinson expecting that number to soar far beyond 9,000 as they work toward the Hector’s 250th anniversary in 2023.

Hutchinson, a volunteer at the centre, has been compiling a database of the descendants, working with two passenger lists for the ship, both compiled many years after the journey.

“It is going to be incredibly useful to have that sourced information in one database,” said Davey who receives constant enquiries from people trying to establish their lineage.

The centre has a Facebook page for people interested in the ship’s descendants and a new webpage with the same theme has been up and running for a month.

“We’ve had over 1,000 people on the webpage and it is interesting to note 60 per cent of them have been Americans while 26 per cent have been Canadians with other countries making up the rest,” said Hutchinson.

She is not really surprised since her work has uncovered descendants spread all across Canada, into the United States and beyond.

“There was a time when a lot of people left Pictou County to work in New England and many of them settled there. I think that is a factor in what we are seeing on the webpage,” she said.

Davey noted oral tradition isn’t always accurate and sometimes people don’t have good information about their ancestors. There were many other ships that brought highlanders, including many with the same or similar names as those on the Hector, to Pictou County.

 

She knows firsthand that people searching their lineage back to the Hector may not find what they are looking for. She grew up hearing her own family members were descendants.

“I understood we were descended through a Sutherland line and I tried and tried to trace it, but it just wasn’t there so I accepted the story was wrong. Through Brenda’s research, we discovered the story was both right and wrong. I am a descendant but through a MacKenzie line,” she said.

While she encourages family researchers to gather all the information they can, it is experiences like her own that have also taught her to warn them not to be too specific in their search.

“We always encourage everyone to be open-minded. You might not find what you are looking for but you may find something else.”

Part of Hutchinson’s webpage now includes a feature on descendants of distinction.

“At first I thought I was just getting off track following these stories of very interesting, accomplished people and then I realized I had to add a part to the page so other people could read about them.”

Some of these notables include a Confederate soldier, naval officers, surgeons, lawyers, shipbuilders, authors, educators, a grocery magnate and a women’s rights activist.

Hutchinson, like all researchers before her, struggles with the prevalence of the same names, both in first names and surnames.

“I think the Frasers have been the worst – so many of them and so many with the same names.”

There is an Ontario Fraser who has plans to be at the centre next month to see what he can add to his family tree.

“He is a Hector descendant so he is very interested in our project. He has a lot of information so we are hoping we can add to it and maybe pick up some information from him, too,” said Davey.

She encourages people looking for help to first e-mail their information.

“A lot of people come from great distances and we can help them more if we have their information in advance,” she said.

There are a number of researchers in the community who happily share their information with the centre.

“If we get an inquiry about a certain family, we may already know a researcher who has information on that family name and is happy to share.”

Sometimes, though, it falls to the centre to break the hard news that a Donald MacKay or John Fraser identified by someone in California may be just one of hundreds by the same name from one end of Pictou County to the other.

“Sometimes people think the job is much easier than it is, especially if they are not familiar with the names or the geography,” said Davey.

Hutchinson, who retired in Calgary and then moved to Pictou County, loves the endless stream of information her project is turning out but she has a little mystery of her own that she has not been able to solve.

“I’ve got MacDonald ancestors who lived in Millbrook and moved to Colchester County. I know what happened to them after they moved, but I can’t seem to find any earlier information but I keep hoping.”

The database can be found at http://shiphectordescendants.ca/

 

Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer who seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you have someone you think she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at r.maceachern@ns.sympatico.ca

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