The Saga of “Yukon” Cameron, or How to Fix a Broken Telephone, Part III


Last post I told you about my Eureka moment, when the real focus of my research suddenly became clear in the search for “Yukon” Cameron. I had suddenly realized that I wasn’t looking for “Yukon” Cameron, but “Cariboo” Cameron. Not only did the geographic focus of my research change, but also the temporal focus. That is, I had been looking for information in both the wrong place and the wrong time. As a result, I had to come up with an entirely new research plan.

My New Research Plan

Here is the basic outline of my new plan:

1. Google “Cariboo Cameron” and “John Cariboo Cameron”
2. Locate “John Cameron” in census records if possible.
3. Locate “Fairfield House”. Hopefully it was still standing and maybe I could find some photographs.

My first item returned wonderful results. I found a detailed story, citing both primary and historical sources, about “Cariboo” Cameron at a website called Barkerville.com. It yielded some fascinating details about “Cariboo” Cameron and his adventures. For example, his gold claim, known as the Cameron Claim, yielded the equivalent of $5 million (in today’s value), more than enough I would think to build yourself a wee mansion near Cornwall, Ontario. There was even a little town named Camerontown after the new millionaire.

Verifying the Broad Details

Good historical research means that you don’t always accept the claims of one single source. It’s very important to seek out other resources to confirm the first source. That means looking for completely different resources that don’t cite the first resource in their own research.

One resource I find very useful in confirming certain historical facts and biographical details in Canadian history is the website biographi.ca. And, indeed, the Dictionary of Canadian Biography also has an entry for John “Cariboo” Cameron. This is a website you can trust for a number of reasons. For example, it is an official creation of the Government of Canada. Most of the articles are written by professional historians. It’s also fairly easy to search the site. I suppose one drawback is that it can be a bit dry in places. However, each article cites actual historical primary and secondary sources that you can use in your own research to further your knowledge of your subject.

The Fine Details

Having confirmed the broad details of the “Cariboo” Cameron story from multiple sources, I looked at some of the finer details. I found out his middle name (Angus, after his father), and the names of several of his brothers (Allan, Alexander, Daniel, and Roderick). Two of the brother’s names came from some old photographs I found archived on the British Columbia archives website in its “Visual Records” collection. Bless our digital age! This type of name information can be very useful when trying to find someone in census returns.

The information on these websites also gave me some dates to work with. For example, Cameron arrived in Cariboo Country in 1862 and had returned to the Cornwall area by the end of 1863. He remarried in 1865 and returned to the Cariboo with his second wife in 1886, where he died in 1888 of a massive stroke. I have located him in some census returns for Glengarry County. However, in 1852, he moved to California and doesn’t show up in the Canada West census of that year, although two of his brothers do (or I’m fairly confident it’s the same family, anyway), with the Cameron family headed by Angus Cameron.

The House That Gold Built

If you’re wondering, I did manage to locate Fairfield House, the mansion built by our hero. It did become a boarding school in 1946. In the 1990s it was purchased by a Catholic order called the Legion of Christ. It still stands today at 19119 County Road 2, Summerstown, Ontario. I have pictures. And yes, it does show up in Google Earth Street View.

Final Thoughts

After I made my report to my client, he told me he couldn’t wait to pass it along to his sister. She would be thrilled, he said. And he would make sure that she connects with me to keep going with the family history research for them.

There is definitely more research to be done here. Are there any surviving records of Cariboo Cameron’s time in California? Where did Cameron’s second wife end up? What happened to Cameron’s brothers? Which of these brothers (if any) does my client descend from?

Researching the story of John “Cariboo” Cameron has been very exciting and interesting for me. I haven’t had many opportunities to research a family story like this. And it certainly doesn’t hurt when the subject of your search has such posthumous notoriety, even if we did start off with the wrong moniker. There’s even a novelized version of the story and a play based on the novel.

What an amazing life this man led. As I wrote in a previous post, we are all part of history by ourselves and through our family history. That’s why it’s so important to discover your own heritage. You can contribute another chapter in the great story of our collective history. For me, that’s the real take away from the saga of Yukon/Cariboo Cameron.

I also think it’s important to reiterate that in our research we need to take care with our assumptions. As genealogical researchers, we have to start somewhere, and a reasonable assumption is as good a place as any to start from. However, be prepared at any point in your research to abandon your assumptions and start making new ones when you have discovered new facts.

Finally, the search for Cariboo Cameron also illustrates how relatively easy it can be to conduct research online. I made use of Google to find almost every resource I consulted. I also used the Library and Archives Canada website for the census returns, and the official Dictionary of Canadian Biography website. Using these ready resources meant I didn’t have to do a whole lot of independent research, other than sifting through some census pages. Still, the story has a lot of holes in it, at least from my client’s perspective. His search for his family has only really just begun. I filled in the broad strokes of the family lore for him, but now he’ll need to make the direct connection to his family’s most well-known scion. That will probably require much more in-depth, hands-on research, with visits to local cemeteries, libraries, consulting local historical resources, and so on. But all of that is the really fun part in my view.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the Saga of “Yukon” Cameron. At last his family history’s broken telephone has been repaired for my client. By the way, the title for this post series actually partly comes from my client’s comment after I’d sent him the Cariboo Cameron story that he “knew” it was Cariboo not Yukon, and chalked it up to the “broken telephone concept”.

Take joy in learning your own family heritage!

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