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Family History Research Survey Update

Last week I announced my Family History Research Survey.

When I first decided to become a professional genealogical researcher, I put together a detailed business plan in order to understand the business I was getting into. Finding online statistics about the state of the industry (particularly trying to discover a profile of the average genealogy researcher) proved to be a bit of a challenge. All I could find at the time were some very outdated studies (1990s and early 2000s). Over the past decade, the availability of digital records and, I think, participation in researching family history as a direct outgrowth of that, have grown unbelievably quickly. How else could have become a $1.6 billion company? In short, the industry has changed mightily.

I’m not sure if other professionals have faced the same challenge trying to understand this industry. I decided that conducting my own survey might prove useful. I wanted to know who is into family history research, how old they are, whether they’re male or female, and if they had enlisted or planned to enlist the services of professional genealogists among other things. How much did people know about their own families before they started their research? With the data I’ve collected so far, it seems that women are more likely to research family history than men, which actually confirms the earlier studies I mentioned. But maybe that’s not really that surprising.

I think these are all valuable bits of information. This is a chance for all of us to understand our industry a little better as professionals. It’s also a chance for hobbyists to know a bit more about this wonderful pastime they are part of and how they fit into it. That’s my intent, anyway. If you have already shared this, thanks! If you haven’t, please let others, especially amateurs and newbies to family history research, know about this survey. I’d like to get as many respondents as possible to increase the accuracy of the survey.

As I mentioned when I first posted this survey, I do intend to publish these results so that everyone can benefit from them. So I’m putting out the call again today to ask everyone to recommend this survey to others. If you have already completed the survey, Thank You. If you looked it over and didn’t find it useful I would very much like to know why. I appreciate everyone’s responses so far.


The survey is hosted on SurveyMonkey:


Surveymonkey (Photo credit: cwasteson)




Sudoku as a Genealogical Tool

Okay, maybe I’m a bit off the wall with this one, but I truly believe that completing Sudoku puzzles is a good way to develop your genealogical skills. To be more precise, this activity is a great way to increase your powers of deduction, logic, and inference. I’ll explain how in this post.

 What is a Sudoku Puzzle?

A Sudoku (pronounced “soo-doe-koo”), if you’re unfamiliar with it, is a number puzzle. Like most things, it has an interesting history all on its own. I won’t go into that here, but it actually didn’t originate in Japan as the name suggests. (Your assignment is to go research the history of Sudoku. There will be a test.)*

The puzzle is a grid made up of a total of 81 squares divided into smaller grids in nine smaller squares of nine numbers each (i.e. the numbers 1 through 9). The numbers are in a 3 by 3 arrangement in the smaller squares. To start, some of the 81 numbers in the larger puzzle grid are already filled in. Your task is to fill in the remaining numbers. The catch is that no number can be used twice in any of the smaller squares, vertical columns or horizontal rows. So how do you solve it with so little information?

First, you have to take a step back and ask yourself what the puzzle is already telling you. Even though it looks like there is no useful information at all (i.e. just a bunch of random numbers plugged in here and there), in fact there are logical inferences you can make from the numbers you have. Take a look at the example here:

Now, this is a major cheat since you would not very likely start off in a Sudoku puzzle with two full lines and one sub-grid filled in. However, I wanted to simplify it a bit for the purposes of showing you how the logical part works. What do you see?

The fact that some of the numbers are repeated more than others might be one thing you notice. The 3, 6, 7, and 9 appear more than the five other numbers. The 6 and 7 appear most often. Therefore, we have more information about the placements of the 6 and 7 than we do about any of the other numbers. This is a good place to start, then.

What do we do with that? If you look at the possible locations of the next number 6, you’ll see there are just too many possibilities to say for certain where that next 6 will go. There are from two to four possible locations for any of the squares that do not yet contain a 6.

Moving on, what about the 7? In the three centre sub-grids, from the top sub-grid to the bottom sub-grid, there are three, five, and five possibilities respectively. That’s not enough information. In the left-centre sub-grid, there are two possibilities for placement. Again, this is not enough information to tell us where to put the 7.

But look at the bottom right-hand grid. There is only one possible square in which to place a number 7: the bottom line, middle square. I hope you see this. You have just used a logical inference.

Why is This Relevant?

In order to complete a Sudoku successfully you need to use logic, inference, and deduction. It is just exactly this kind of careful examination of the clues you have that you’ll use in sorting out the possibilities for relationships in family trees and pedigrees. In order to research your family history you often need to use…logic, inference, and deduction.

Don’t be fooled. A Sudoku is not about the numbers or about mathematics (although there is mathematical theory that applies to it). You don’t have to be a whiz at arithmetic to solve one. I have heard many people say, “Oh, I don’t do Sudokus. I’m no good at math.” You don’t have to be! Solving the puzzle is all about you reasoning effectively.

If you’re already a whiz at Sudokus, but you haven’t started researching your family history, I ask you: “Why not?” You’ll likely be very good at it. The skills you honed while solving Sudokus are exactly the same kinds of skills, among many others, that university history professors spend 3 or 4 years trying to drill into their students’ heads. In other words, these skills are excellent building blocks for learning how to conduct historical and genealogical research.

If you’ve never done a Sudoku puzzle and you’re interested in family history research, start doing a daily Sudoku. It won’t get you any closer to learning your great-great-grandfather’s name, but you will have a good grounding on how to figure out who he is from a dozen others of the same name living in the same county once you do start researching because now you will have the powers of logic, inference, and deduction you’ll need to do that. The rest is finding the resources to apply your new skills to in order to create your family tree. (But that’s another blog post for another day.)

I’m Convinced, Where do I Find One?


Most daily newspapers run a daily Sudoku. In the Eastern Ontario area where I live, we have a weekly free newspaper that always features a Sudoku. You can also buy whole books of Sudoku puzzles at bookstores like Chapters-Indigo or at department stores or grocery stores with magazine sections. So they’re not hard to find.


The CBC website has a daily Sudoku on their website in their Games pages (on the main page, click on “More” then look for the “Games” link under the “Sections” heading; scroll down to find the “Sudoku Daily” link under the “Diversions” heading) . The Open Directory Project has dozens of links to daily Sudoku puzzles at .

[Addendum: Kelly Leary, of K.B. Genealogy & Research in Fort Pierce, Florida, informs me that there is a Sudoku app for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. It’s free!]

So do go and get a Sudoku and start working on it! And let us know how it turns out by leaving a comment!

Contact Pearce Heritage Research at if you need help getting started on your family history research. Tell us that you read our Sudoku blog entry and we’ll give you a half-hour free genealogy consultation (offer good until December 31, 2012). Fill in the message area on our Contact Us page and tell us you read this blog post.

*Just kidding about the test. And the assignment.

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 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 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!

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

In Part I of The Saga of “Yukon” Cameron, I told you about taking on the task of finding a client’s ancestor. This client remembered his ancestor’s name as “Yukon” Cameron. I also detailed the assumptions I made, based on the family lore my client outlined, that would guide my research plan. In this installment, I’ll tell you about the research outline I put together and how that turned out for me.

My Research Outline

I started with a very basic initial research plan outline :

1. Do a Google search for “Yukon Cameron”.

2. Do a Google search for the old television show, “Gold Trails and Ghost Towns”, and try to locate an episode guide. If found, look for the video to watch and learn more.

3. Search the web for any mention of a mansion in Cornwall, Ontario, for a mansion that became a boy’s school.

Although I did find an episode guide for the TV show, there was no mention in the listings of a “Yukon” Cameron, or anyone at all with the last name of Cameron. YouTube has a number of videos from the show, as well as other videos about the gold rush in BC, but I would have had to watch, literally, hours and hours of video in the vague hope that I would find the episode my client had watched; not a very productive avenue.

After Google largely failed me in the search for “Yukon” Cameron, my next step was to begin educating myself about the Klondike Gold Rush, a subject I knew almost nothing about other than that it took place in the Yukon, Dawson and Whitehorse were somehow involved, and the historical time period was the 1890s.

My memory was more or less true. The Klondike Gold Rush took place during the years 1897-1899. Dawson and Whitehorse were important centres in the day. There are tons of interesting websites, books, TV shows and movies about the Klondike Gold Rush. Nowhere did I find a mention of anyone named “Yukon” Cameron among the many resources listed in the search returns. I was starting to think that my client must have exaggerated his ancestor’s accomplishments. I was so wrong.

My Eureka Moment

One of my favourite parts of researching family history is that Eureka moment. You know that feeling. It’s when you’re struggling with some problem without much success, then suddenly the solution reveals itself. In a moment, everything becomes so obvious. That number 3 in my plan yielded the most amazing results came as a complete surprise to me. That was my Eureka moment.

As I mentioned earlier, part of my plan was to look for any references online that cited a mansion that became a boy’s school. Or a boy’s school that was once a private mansion. I had just googled search terms like “mansion”, “Cameron”, “school”, “Cornwall”, together after numerous fruitless attempts to locate information about “Yukon Cameron”. And then, something amazing happened. In one of the search returns, I spotted the text “John ‘Cariboo’ Cameron’. Not Yukon, but Cariboo. I clicked on the link and found a transcription of a historical plaque located, not in Cornwall, Ontario, but in Summerstown, Ontario, a few miles east of Cornwall.

The plaque transcription read:

“CARIBOO” CAMERON 1820 -1888
Born in this township, John Angus “Cariboo” Cameron married Margaret Sophia Groves in 1860. Accompanied by his wife and daughter, he went to British Columbia in 1862 to prospect in the Cariboo gold fields. That year at Williams Creek he struck a rich gold deposit. While there his wife died of typhoid fever and, in order to fulfill her dying wish to be buried at home, he transported her body in an alcohol-filled coffin some 8,600 miles by sea via the Isthmus of Panama to Cornwall. She is buried in the nearby Salem Church cemetery. Cameron built this house, “Fairfield”, in 1865, and in 1886 returned to the B.C. gold fields. He is buried near Barkerville, B.C.
Archaeological and Historic Sites Board of Ontario

I almost jumped out of my chair with excitement. OMG! My client would be thrilled! Almost every other detail except the nickname fit my client’s remembered family lore. His relative wasn’t “Yukon” Cameron, but “Cariboo” Cameron. I had to resist the urge to contact my client to tell him I had found his ancestor, because I knew I had more work to do. I needed to know more about “Cariboo Cameron”. And I wanted to know as badly as my client did…

End of Part II

Coming up in the next installment of The Saga of “Yukon” Cameron, or How to Fix a Broken Telephone: “My new research plan”.

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

As genealogists, we often are asked to locate information for someone who has a bit of family lore they’d like to confirm. They know a story they heard from a relative, who maybe heard it from another relative as it was passed down through the generations. And, like the proverbial “broken telephone” the story gets “mistold” every time it gets retold.

I’m sure everyone has played the game “broken telephone”, or at least heard of it at some point in their lives. It’s the game where you start with a group of people in a line or circle, whisper to the first person some message and they pass it along to the next person, and that person to the next person after that, and so on, until the message reaches the last person in line. Then, the last person repeats the message out loud to the group. Inevitably, the first person to hear the message repeats what they heard and everyone has a great laugh at the absurd differences between the two messages. Well, genealogical research is very often just like that.

“Yukon” Cameron

A recent client of mine had a wonderful piece of family lore that he wanted confirmed. His great-aunt, when he was a child (he’s now 50-ish), used to tell the tale of her great-uncle, a very successful adventurer and entrepreneur, whom my client remembered as “Yukon Cameron”. According to what my client remembered from the family story, “Yukon” Cameron traveled west during the Gold Rush, struck the mother lode, and returned to Eastern Ontario a very rich man.

Part of the story was that Cameron’s wife passed away while they were “out west” and before she died she begged her husband to return her body to Eastern Ontario for burial. According to my client, Cameron fulfilled his wife’s dying wish and eventually returned her body to Ontario, traveling down the west coast of North America, and crossing at Panama, then traveling north up the east coast and back to Canada. He traveled with the coffin, and the coffin contained not only the body but a good weight in gold as well.

Once he’d returned to Ontario, Cameron built a huge mansion. This mansion, exact location unknown to my client, was later lost to the Cameron family and was turned into a “boy’s school”. That is pretty much the whole story as my client knew it. Compellingly, my client also remembered watching on TV one Sunday afternoon in the 1990s a program called “Gold Trails and Ghost Towns” and, lo and behold, “Yukon” Cameron was one of the featured prospectors in the show. So my client set me my tasks: Could I discover any additional details about “Yukon” Cameron, confirm the story, and find out where he built his mansion? I promised to find out what I could.

Making Assumptions

Now, if you’re new to genealogy, there are some very important elements in the story my client related to me that I should point out to you. These elements would guide me in my research. To start with, I would have to make a number of assumptions. But here’s an important tip: Assumptions can be deadly to your research efforts. In research of any kind, you have to be constantly alert and be prepared to abandon your initial assumptions in a heartbeat.

Here are the assumptions that I made based on my client’s telling of the story, and the important story elements (remember, they’re not yet “facts”) that I would start with.

Assumption #1: Cameron’s nickname was “Yukon”; therefore the family must have known that, when he went west, he went to Canada’s Yukon Territory. Yukon Territory-Yukon Cameron; the connection made sense.

Assumption #2: Gold figures prominently in the story. The Gold Rush in question must be the Klondike Gold Rush, since the Klondike Gold Rush happened in the Yukon. It took place in the late 1800s as I remembered.

Assumption #3: If “Yukon” Cameron was my client’s great-aunt’s great-uncle, she might even have met him, so the story might arise from original, first-hand knowledge.

Assumption #4: My client said the mansion was built in Cornwall, Ontario. I assumed he was correct.

Assumption #5: The story of “Yukon” Cameron must have some grain of truth to it for it to be featured on a television show.

Given all these assumptions, it’s amazing that I learned anything about Yukon Cameron at all. But I did. In spite of myself.

End of Part I

Stay tuned for the next exciting installment of The Saga of “Yukon” Cameron, or How to Fix a Broken Telephone!

Why study family history?

I’ve been following the PBS series “Finding Your Roots” for the past few episodes. The most recent episode features Kevin Bacon and his Quaker ancestors. Kevin Bacon is a Quaker?! Who knew! [Dare I say that gives a whole new meaning to “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon“. Just who doesn’t have some kind of relation to this guy?]

Anyway, aside from Kevin Bacon’s seeming ubiquity, he said something interesting on the show that started me thinking, something along the lines of: “I’ve always liked history. I never thought of history as my own family history.”

Think about that. What a powerful statement about the importance of knowing your own family history. We, all of us, don’t just exist in the present day, we also exist as a part of all of human history because of our families. Our own family heritage is history, too.

Studying your family history gives you the opportunity to contribute to the historical record. Our ancestors often embarked on wild and crazy adventures, like jumping onto leaky brigantines and sailing across the storm-tossed waves of the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. Wouldn’t you like to learn what wild and crazy things your ancestors did?

And it doesn’t matter how “ordinary” your ancestors were. They are a part of a multi-chapter story of history that’s made up of much more than just well-known military conflicts like the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Civil War, WWI and so on. History is more than just “The” eras recognized by historians like “The Enlightenment” or “The Industrial Revolution” or “The Atomic Age” or “The Information Age”. You and your ancestors were actually there, through all of that, living those “ordinary”, extraordinary lives.

So if you’ve been kicking around the idea of getting started on your own family history research, there’s no better time than right now. There are so many resources available to you to help you get started: digitized census and other legal records, libraries, archives, museums, genealogical societies, and even companies offering DNA services. [I’ll have more about DNA in future posts.]

As a professional genealogist, of course, I strongly recommend that you start by consulting someone like me. If you don’t have time to do the research yourself, we genealogists are only too happy to help. If you want to get started but aren’t sure where to start, we can help you by directing you to some great resources and save you a lot of time; time you’d rather be spending researching, not looking for resources! Who knows, maybe you are related to Kevin Bacon. You won’t know until you start your research.


Welcome to the Pearce Heritage Research blog. As Chief Family Historian of Pearce Heritage Research, I hope you will find this a useful portal to genealogical and historical research. In coming posts, you will be able to read more about some of the resources available to you and read tips and tricks for making your research easier,  more productive, and, above all, enjoyable.  Whether you are a novice family historian or a seasoned researcher, I hope you will find these posts informative, entertaining, and useful. I look forward to many interesting and fruitful discussions.

–Brenna Pearce