Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Blogoversary Road Trip

Today marks the 4th Blogoversary of Digging Down East. Thanks to all my faithful readers over the past four years for indulging my passion for documenting, recording, and writing about my family.

As you read this, I am on my way down east for my annual vacation/research trip. I'm looking forward to spending some much needed quality time with my wonderful mom (and research assistant extraordinaire).

I'll visit the usual spots where my Maine and New Hampshire ancestors lived, including Bridgton, Harrison, Portland, South Portland, Whitefield, Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough, and Gorham, as well as the Maine State Archives in Augusta.

I'm looking forward to meeting the great folks I've met online from the Greater Portland Chapter of the Maine Genealogical Society, and will join them for a wonderful House Island tour on Casco Bay.

The highlight of this past year of blogging was hearing from Gary and Deb LeMons, complete strangers, who had found a 1930 Portland High School ring belonging to my Great Aunt Flora Parsons. If you missed it, you can read it here.

As my fifth year of genea-blogging begins, another complete stranger, Arthur Brooks, Jr., has contacted me because my cousin Mary Arletta Curran was his dad's birth mother, at the tender age of 15!

Hang On...It Promises To Be an Exciting Ride!

photo credit: x-ray delta one via photopin cc

Monday, July 22, 2013

Maritime Monday ~ James McCain and Wife Board the "City of Boston" at Halifax

James McCain arrived in Carleton County, New Brunswick, at the tender age of 18, in 1829, well before many of his countrymen and their families would follow as a result of the Potato Famine in 1847. He had left County Donegal, seeking a better life for himself, and soon found it five years later, with the arrival of 19 year old Isabella Ferguson in May of 1834. 

By the 1851 Census of Simonds Parish, he was a 40 year old "Farmer (Prop)" with Isabella as his wife and the mother of their eight children. He owned the land he farmed, as opposed to being a tenant farmer.1

Beginning with the birth of daughter Jane in 1835, and for the next 27 years, the McCain family lived in rural Carleton County, farming the land and raising three sons and six daughters.

The Carleton Sentinel sadly noted Isabella's passing, however, in their July 26, 1862 issue:

"d. Simonds (Carleton Co.), 4th inst., Isabella McCain w/o James McCain, age 47, left husband, nine children."2

Left a widower with a large family, the 57 year old James did not hesitate to take a second wife, the 58 year old Alice Patterson, and it was the two of them who would perish together aboard the ill-fated mail steamer "City of Boston."

City of Boston, Inman Steamship

Numerous accounts detail the story of the loss of the SS City of Boston in February of 1870. Built in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1864, she is the largest vessel to disappear without a trace off the coast of Nova Scotia.

Belonging to the Inman Line, she departed New York on January 25th and headed for Halifax to pick up mail, coal and more passengers. James McCain and wife Alice went aboard as steerage passengers (the cheapest rate, the lowest deck, and the worst traveling conditions). Clearing Halifax on the 28th, the ship was carrying 207 passengers and crew, including a number of prominent Halifax businessmen and military officers. She was due to arrive in Liverpool on the 6th of March.

Typical Steerage (Between Decks)

There were many theories as to the cause of the ship's loss, one being that she may have been overloaded. Besides the 207 human lives, her cargo included: 390 tons of beef, 200 barrels of flour, 486 bales of cotton, 12 cases of sewing machines, 18 tons of oil cake (livestock food), 189,700 pounds of bacon, 10,376 pounds of wheat, 82,672 pounds of tallow, and 36 bales of hops. By August, a libel suit would be filed by the Inman Steamship Company asserting that the "City of Boston" was as sea-worthy a ship as any plying the seas.

A more likely cause, given the Inman track across the Atlantic, as well as the time of year, was a winter gale or a collision with an ice berg. If her steam-powered engine had suffered a malfunction, and she had had to rely on her sails, she would have been at the mercy of any fowl weather the North Atlantic offered up. So many steam ships were traversing the ocean during this period, that, were she in distress, it is likely some other ship would have seen her rockets (assuming she was able to fire them off).

There were numerous false reports of its eventual safe arrival in Queenstown (present-day Cobh), Ireland, like this one from the March 19th Fredericton Colonial Farmer:

"A telegraph was received at the News Room on Wednesday morning to the effect that the "City of Boston" had arrived at Queenstown. It turned out, however, to be an error, the "City of Antwerp" having been mistaken for her."3

By November, all hope had long since been relinquished, and the family and friends of those lost at sea clung to the report in the Halifax Citizen, which described a bottle washed ashore at Shediac, New Brunswick, containing five pieces of envelopes, on which were written in pencil:

"We are lost...City of Boston...we are all sinking...goodbye...
I should like my..."

James McCain was my 3d great-grand uncle.

Photos used with permission and with credit to:


11851 Census of New Brunswick, Simonds Parish, Carleton County, population returns, Parish of Simonds, schedule L, p.14 (penned), Eastern Section of the Parish of Simonds, in the County of Carleton, N.B., fronting on the St. John River, James McCain; digital image, Automated Genealogy (  : accessed 21 July 2013)

2Daniel F. Johnson's New Brunswick Newspaper Vital Statistics, 1784-1890, Vol. 19, No. 2454. Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB, Canada. ( Accessed 14 July 2013)

3Daniel F. Johnson's New Brunswick Newspaper Vital Statistics, 1784-1890, Vol. 28, No. 1693. Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB, Canada.( Accessed  21 July 2013)


Inman Line, City of Boston, Captain J.J. Halcrow, from New York January 25th 1870, Halifax January 28th 1870, for Liverpool, TheShipsList.

The loss of the CITY OF BOSTON 1870, Old Mercey-Times.

City of Boston - 1870. Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Marine Heritage Database, On The Rocks: Find A Wreck.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Travel Tuesday ~ The Canadian Pacific & Grand Trunk Railroad OR How My Great Grandfather Became a British Subject

The early years of my great grandfather Mark Leighton's life seem to have been turbulent at best. The 1900 Portland, Maine, Census lists him, at 14 years old, living at home on Sherwood Street, in East Deering, but also lists his 16 year old cousin Alice Lovell at the same address. Five years later, he was marrying Alice, in order to give my grandmother's birth, in January 1906, legitimacy.

A more thorough investigation into Mark's life turned up a curious chapter, and one which I could not let go of.

Amongst all the birth, death, marriage, and census records, I found the following on

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); Washington, D.C.; Indexes to Naturalization Records of Federal Courts, Portland, Maine, 1851-1955 (M2083); Microfilm Serial: M2083; Microfilm Roll: 2.

I knew this was my great grandfather, by the address, but why would he have to apply for citizenship? All indications were that he was born in Massachusetts in 1885. My next step was to contact the regional office of NARA to get the full record. Unfortunately, the "full record' contained simply his Declaration of Intent from 1916, which only added another layer to the story.

Mark Samuel Leighton declaration of intention (1916), naturalization file no. 1470, District of Maine.

Buried in the handwriting on Mark Leighton's first papers was the following:

"I emigrated to the United States of America from Bow Island, Province of Alberta, on the Canadian Pacific & Grand Trunk Railroad, na [sic] Montreal, P.Q.; my last foreign residence was Bow Island, Province of Alberta, Canada.
Petitioner was naturalized and became a British subject in the District Court, District of Letherbridge, Province of Alberta, Canada, Dec 31, 1912."

To further substantiate this information, I returned to the 1910 Portland City Directory, on, and, sure enough, he had, in fact, left for Canada:

The Canadian Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad was in expansion mode in the early 1910's, endeavoring to extend their lines to the Pacific Ocean. Construction had begun in the Canadian Prairies in 1905, the same year the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were established. However, the GTPR never realized the traffic potential its developers had hoped, and it became obvious by 1919 that it was not paying its way. It eventually defaulted on repayment of all of its construction loans, was nationalized, and taken over by the Canadian government.1

So perhaps my great grandfather was taking advantage of an offer of steady employment far away from home and the troubles he wanted to leave behind. It was probably quite an adventure for a young man in his mid-20's, from Portland, Maine, to work on the railroad in the Canadian wilderness.

There is no evidence to suggest that Mark Leighton ever followed through with his application to become, again, a United States citizen, although he did serve in the United States Navy during World War I.  But that's a blogpost for another day.

Bottom photo credit: Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the BPL via photopin cc

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Wedding Wednesday ~ Ed Noyes and Mary Hamilton

Edward Kent Noyes and Mary Ellen Hamilton
Married in Portland, Maine
December 28, 1904

Mary Ellen Hamilton was the older sister of my great grandmother and her two sisters who married the three Bustin brothers (see above tab entitled "3 Brothers Marry 3 Sisters") She did beat all three sisters to the altar, however, by marrying Ed Noyes, of Falmouth, Maine.*

Courtesy of 2d Cousin, 1x removed, Peter Noyes Greeley's Public Member Tree on

They were married at the home of Rev. John A. Watersworth at 72 Auburn Street in North Deering, with brother of the groom, Wilbert Edson Noyes, and cousin of the bride, Maria Jayne Deyarmond, as witnesses.


*Melvina married Fred Bustin in 1907, Nessie married Ben Bustin in 1910, and Cassie married Tom Bustin in 1918.

Record Source:
Maine.  Record of a Marriage (28 Dec 1904), Edward K. Noyes and Mary E. Hamilton;  Maine State Archives, Augusta; photocopied from microfilm July 2, 2012.