Genealogy has always been an interest of mine and when I was asked to write a blog post about using the City of Edmonton Archives’ collection, I decided to research my maternal great-grandfather. This process was divided between two separate visits to the Archives. My first experience began by filling out a Research Request form which gave reference archivist Lynn McPherson a sense of my topic and resource needs.
Lynn suggested that I begin with the Henderson Directories. Published between 1895 and 1987, these volumes recorded an individual’s name, address and occupation. When I was not able to locate my relative within these books, I began to feel a growing sense of defeat. It was at this point that it occurred to me that I might be misspelling his name. Such proved to be the case when I quickly found my great-grandfather listed under Magee, not McGee. From these records, I discovered that Henry Hugh Magee began working as a Canadian Pacific Railway fireman in 1913. He became a locomotive engineer in 1925 and retired by 1950. I even found his daughter Florence, my grandmother, listed as a stenograph operator in 1950!
From the address listed in these books, I located his house in the fire insurance maps. He lived at 10943-77 avenue and his home was constructed mainly out of wood.
I also searched through the Archives’ physical and online catalogues for pictures of my great-grandfather, his house, workplace and neighborhood. While I did not discover any items directly connected to him or his address, I gained a sense what Edmonton was like during his life. His house, for example, probably looked similar to this one located at 10921-76 avenue.
Henry might also be part of this group of CPR engineers pictured here in 1947. The only person identified in this picture was James Wilksam, who was retiring and shown “with friends.”
A search for my great-grandfather’s final resting place in Edmonton Municipal Cemeteries showed that he was buried on October 12, 1968 in Mount Pleasant cemetery. An online picture of his grave marker was discovered with the help of Digital Archivist Elizabeth Walker. We were surprised to find someone named Isabella buried with him. I knew Margaret was his wife so we surmised that this might be his mother.
I was not able to investigate the connection between Henry and Isabella until my second visit to the Archives. The Reference Archivist on duty this day, Melissa McCarthy, helped me find out that Isabella Wilson (nee Magee) was interred on November 22, 1946. With this date in mind, I used the Archives microfilm collection to search for her obituary in the Edmonton Journal. I had to comb through over a weeks’ worth of papers before finding her in the November 20th issue. From this listing, I discovered that she died on November 18, 1946 at the age of 80 years. She was survived by her husband, James R. Wilson and two sons, Henry and James Magee. Mystery solved!
Now I know a bit about a man I never had the pleasure of meeting. This bit of information and contextual evidence held in the Archives’ collection, makes the person pictured here with my grandmother all the more real. Perhaps I will one day donate this image along with the album it is from to the Archives for future genealogists.