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Gordon W. Turnbull's Account of his family's search for ancestors!


Research of the family lines of the children of Thomas Turnbull (c1774-1814) and Sarah Wood (1774-1834) was started some 70 years ago in 1936 by my father, Gordon W. Turnbull, Sr. (age 30) who grew up in Gouverneur, NY some 10 miles from Oxbow & Rossie. As evidenced by his early notes, he was intrigued by the story of Thomas Turnbull's widow, Sarah Wood Turnbull, leaving Scotland in 1820 with her 9 children, ages 28 thru 7, and spending 8 weeks at sea aboard the sailing ship (Brig) Margaret destined for Quebec City, Canada and a new life in America. He also accumulated much information from family elders about the family of 10 who arrived in Rossie, NY in 1820. The one document he had for guidance to his research was a letter written 10 years earlier in 1926 by then 80 year old John Michael Turnbull (1846-1928), son of Michael Turnbull (1810-1880), and grandson of Thomas and Sarah Wood Turnbull. John Michael's 1926 letter listed the names of Thomas and Sarah's 9 children that were brought from Scotland in 1820, the spouses they later married and their children. My father's research over the years found John Michael's letter to be accurate for eight of the nine children, but he was never able to verify the information that John Michael listed for Isabella [i.e. - that she married a Walter Bryden and lived in Canada with children named Walter and Thomas].

Much of my fathers research in later years was in the form of verifying information obtained from family elders, digging for new information in libraries and court houses, and setting it all down on paper; a difficult task in those early years before computers and present day stricter rules of centralized record keeping! Traveling to England, Wales and Scotland in 1976, he and my mother spent time in the Borders area of Hawick and Jedburgh, Scotland doing Turnbull research. On August 16, 1980, a year before his death, a Turnbull Reunion was held in Oxbow, NY on the original 1837 "homestead" farm of Michael Turnbull (my gg grandfather), then owned by Donald M. Turnbull, a great grandson of Michael. My father proudly presented to the approximately 70 attendees his publication of the Turnbull History as he knew it to be at that time: "A Brief History of Some Turnbulls that came to the USA in 1820". He included all of Thomas & Sarah's 13 children but had only family information through the present on Adam, Michael and Andrew; partial information on Thomas; very sketchy information on Mary, William, Sarah and Janet and only vague information on Isabella (based only on 80 year old John Michael Turnbull's 1926 letter).

After I retired in 1988, I decided to open my fathers files and carry on with his work. My cousin, Donald M. Turnbull, had also inherited his father's (Harry Fletcher Turnbull) collection of bits and pieces of family history (obits, letters, clippings, books, etc., etc.). Donald and I reviewed much of that and started to integrate all that he and I both had and wound up with an even larger family history which we decided to call "The Turnbulls of Rossie, NY since 1820". But, it was still sadly lacking information on several family lines. Suddenly, about 1994, two previously unknown cousins appeared; Julia Moore [Thomas line] and Mary Lynn (Turnbull) Butler [William line]. They were both researching their individual family lines and somehow found each other; and then they found Donald and me. They knew little about the family lines that Donald and I had already researched, and we knew little about their family lines. All four of us exchanged information, and suddenly our Turnbull family puzzle was much clearer. By 1996, we had so many new names on our charts (over 2600), that we decided we had to try and meet some of them and that is how the 1996 reunion came about. The attendees so enjoyed the reunion, many meeting each other for the first time and exchanging information, that we did it again in 2000 and then again in 2005.

In the last 70 years, since my father began his research efforts, many people have contributed to our accumulation of more than 200 years of our Turnbull history, that we now call "The Turnbulls of Rossie, NY since 1820." The success of our research in recent years came from a group effort of hard work by a number of people; especially Julia and Lynn who spent a lot of time digging for civil vital records. Recent discoveries verifying the 1820 trip of the Turnbulls to Canada as well as finally finding Isabella and her Bryden family in Canada, have been exciting breakthroughs. Nevertheless, there are always more mysteries and lots more to do, so the research continues. Lee, as you suggested a while back, "success rejuvenates enthusiasm to carry on!"

ISABELLA TURNBULL BRYDEN As pointed out above, John Michael Turnbull's 1926 letter listed Isabella Turnbull as married to a Walter Bryden and having at least two children, Walter and Thomas. Family stories passed down through the generations suggested that Walter Bryden was from Brockville, Ontario [on the St. Lawrence River some 20 miles north of Rossie, NY] and that the family lived in Canada. For more than 10 years, I searched Canadian records [mainly for Ontario] for any evidence of the existence of this Bryden family. Occasionally I found a clue concerning a Bryden with a given name of Walter, Thomas or Isabella. Once a year, as we traveled across Ontario making our annual trip east to Oxbow, NY, I would wander around Ontario checking out these various accumulated clues; mainly searches of Ontario Cemeteries or library archives that listed a burial or a death of an Isabella, Walter or Thomas Bryden. This made for an interesting trip across Ontario each year but never with any success.

In the year 2000, I ran across a genealogist on the internet that knew that there was a large number of Scots that had settled in the southwest corner of Quebec, Canada [on the opposite side of the St. Lawrence River from Montreal] and directed me to a lady who had collected a number of old Church records for that area, known as the Chateauguay Valley; just north of the border from Chateauguay, NY. I contacted her and learned that her data base included a Walter Bryden married to an I purchased those Church records only to learn that her Walter Bryden and Isabella were too young and his wife Isabella was a Watherston; not a Turnbull. Several of their children had similar names to those commonly used in our Turnbull family but I wasn't convinced and set it aside.

Three years later, the trail was still cold. So, I decided to look again at the Brydens in Quebec. By this time, the Chateauguay Valley Historical Society [Quebec] had completed their project of surveying all the old Church records in that small area of the Chateauguay Valley in Quebec and published the transcripts on their website. I searched their new website for Brydens and suddenly found 37 of them!.....all related; parents, children and grandchildren! And, among them was listed Isabella Turnbull [wife, mother and grandmother]! Wow...what a thrill! However, after sorting out names and dates, I discovered Isabella Turnbull married a John Bryden [his father in Scotland was named Walter Bryden] and they had children named [in traditional Scottish order] Walter [John's father], Thomas [Isabella's father], John [father] and Sarah [Isabella's mother]. So, John Michael had everything right in his 1926 letter, except that Isabella Turnbull married a John Bryden [not Walter], but had a son Walter! As it turned out, the Church records, that I had purchased two years earlier for a Walter Bryden, were for John and Isabella's first born son Walter who later happened to marry an Isabella [last name Watherston]! Finally, after more than 10 years, perseverance [not wisdom] paid off.....I had finally found Isabella Turnbull and her Bryden family.

Later in 2003, we traveled east and spent several days in Ormstown, Quebec checking the few sketchy records that exist. Just as with Isabella's siblings in the USA, there wasn't much documentation in the early 1800's, especially in Canada which did not evolve into a nation or confederation until 1867 when the British and French finally settled their differences. Laws were then finally passed requiring civil records to be kept. The first Canadian Census didn't take place until 1871 and then only 3 more were made available to the public; the last being 1901. Just as in early Scotland, the only records kept before then were Land Records and Church Records. I saw transcripts of the original Church records which are kept in the Quebec Archives in Montreal and I have read the original Land records from about the 1840's forward. Land records and many Land grants before that period are kept in the Quebec archives in Montreal, but I have not gone there to research them. Some of the information on this Bryden family is recorded in books and maps which I bought and have on my book shelf. Many of their Church records are poor at best because they were left to the individual discretion of each Church. The Presbyterian Church of Ormstown, where the Brydens attended, is an example. Their old Cemetery was behind the Church next to the Chateauguay River. No burial records were ever kept as they believed the inscriptions carved in the stones was record enough. Over time, severe flooding of the river washed away many of the older graves. Finally, in the 1890's, long after Isabella and John Bryden died, they moved what was left of the cemetery to higher ground at the edge of town to a new Union Cemetery. For another 100 years, they continued to not record on paper, the burials or locations, still believing that the stone carvings were permanent record enough. It wasn't until 1996 [10 years ago!] that they finally decided to survey the cemetery and keep paper records of burial locations. Although the deaths of Isabella in 1870 and John in 1879 are recorded in the old Church records, unfortunately, no Bryden grave stones were found in the "new" cemetery and none among the few stones left in the original cemetery, and so we can only conclude that they did not get moved and likely were washed away by the river.

A history of this small corner of Quebec was published in 1888 by Robert Sellar titled "The History of the County of Huntingdon and of the Seigniories of Chateauguay & Beauharnois". This book lists John Bryden as an "original settler" on Lot #31, 3rd Concession of Ormstown, having resided there since the mid 1820's. Next door, was listed their neighbor, none other than Michael Turnbull, on Lot #30, which was most likely Isabella's brother [my g-g-grandfather], also listed as "an original settler". We knew from other sources that Michael spent a few early years in [c1830] in the lumber business in Canada before he returned home to Rossie, NY and began working with his brother Thomas in the Wegatchie Sawmill; married in 1835; and then began acquiring land for his Oxbow farm beginning in 1837. The Ormstown, Quebec area is low, flat and very fertile farm land. However, the history books tell us that when the land was first surveyed and sold to the 1820's settlers, it was covered with trees and swampy. With the city of Montreal just across the St. Lawrence River, lumber became a big business in those early years until the land was completely cleared and drained. Today, beautiful crop and dairy farms cover the area with many of the original Lots [84 acres in size] still existing. Through some local help and an old map, I was able to locate and visit both Lot #30 and#31 in the 3rd Concession of Ormstown and also obtained a list of landowners up through the present day owners. Today, there is a beautiful home and farm on John and Isabella's Lot 31 and another smaller farm on Michael's lot 30. However, after reading the history books, you can use your imagination and visualize what it must have been like in the mid 1820's when John Bryden and Michael Turnbull first lived there and began clearing the trees.

John and Isabella Bryden lived all their married life on Lot 31, 3rd Concession of Ormstown. Son Walter b.1830 married Isabella Watherston in 1851, fathered 12 children and died in Valleyfield, QC [10 miles away] in the mid 1870's. Son Thomas b.1833 lived in Ormstown but we find no record of him after age 21. Son John b.1834, married Agnes Selkirk in 1865; fathered 7 children and died in Mersea, ON in 1913 at age 79. Daughter Sarah b.1836 married John Douglas in 1860, had 5 children and died in Perth, ON in 1872 at age 36. According to 1864 land records, John and Isabella retired and deeded their 84 acre farm to their son John Bryden and wife Agnes with the stipulation that son John was to provide for his mother and father in their retirement. Six years later in 1870, Isabella died at age 73. Nine years after that in 1879, John Bryden died at age 78. Two weeks after the death of John Bryden, son John, Jr. and wife Agnes sold the farm including livestock, tools, furniture, etc. and moved their family to Mersea, Ontario where they resided for the rest of their life.



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