Remembering Jutland and a Lost ‘Little’ Cousin

I have been away from my genealogy blog for a few months because, well, life happens. Events interfere and life gets unavoidably busy – even for someone like me whose current day job is to live a life of retired leisure.

Today however is special. Today, May 31st, marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland, the largest (I would be very hesitant to use the term greatest to describe it)  of the naval battles during World War I. It is also, subsequently, the 100th anniversary of my first cousin, twice removed James Little Triggs’ date of death, a casualty of that battle.

James’ grandparents were James Little and Dorothea (Dorothy) Carson of Greenock, Scotland. James and Dorothea were my 2X great grandparents.

This story starts somewhat romantically in Greenock, Scotland where a young Janet Little meets and falls in love with a sailor. John William Triggs was no doubt a strapping young man when he met Janet in Greenock, likely at a time when his ship was in the Greenock dockyard. John and Janet married at 64 Finnart Street in Greenock on December 2, 1898.

Well, almost nine months to the day later, on August 28, 1899, John and Janet welcomed twin boys into their family! The babies were Philip Triggs, named after his paternal grandfather, and James  Little Triggs, named after his maternal grandfather.

There was no time to settle for the family however and John Triggs’ work had them move to Devonport in the southwest of England where in the 1901 Census of England, James can be found living with his parents and Philip is found living, not too far away, with his paternal grandparents, the split likely an attempt to ease the burden of rearing the twins.

It wouldn’t take too long before both boys were eager to follow in their father’s footsteps. In due course, both of the twins joined the Royal Navy as Cabin Boys, at the age of sixteen.


H.M.S. Queen Mary (Photo courtesy of

And so it was that on May 31, 1916, Cabin Boy 1 James Little Triggs was performing his duties aboard the H.M.S. Queen Mary, a relatively new ship, built and launched in 1912. His twin brother Philip was performing his duties on the same day aboard the H.M.S. Iron Duke, a similarly new ship. Both brothers were also in the middle of the Battle of Jutland.

H.M.S. Queen Mary took two direct hits which caused her magazine of ammunition to explode. James Little Triggs, 16-year old Cabin Boy was lost in that explosion along with 1,265 of his shipmates. The body of James was never recovered for burial but he is memorialized at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Plymouth Naval Memorial.

Philip Triggs survived the Battle of Jutland and World War I. Philip later emigrated to Australia where he died in 1967.


Remembering The Events of 9/11 And My Cousin, NYFD Lt. Michael Warchola

The events of that horrific day are indelibly marked in my mind as is the case with most of us. Yet, from the relative safety of my office in Canada, it was too easy to feel somewhat distant and removed. After all, I really didn’t know anyone in New York City at the time.

As I scrambled about the office at work that Tuesday morning, my secretary told me that she heard on the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. “That’s awful,” I said to her in passing, assuming that a small private plane had somehow been unable to avoid clipping the building.

I had no idea of the magnitude of  the events that were unfolding.

Much later in the day, when all the meetings were done, when I had a chance to sit in front of a television and watch the news reports, only then did I understand the tragedy and devastation.

And that awful day hit home when I discovered that I lost a cousin that morning.

A second cousin I had never met.

My cousin was Michael Warchola, or ‘Mike,’ as he was known.

Lt. Michael Warchola, NYFD, Ladder Company 5

Lt. Michael Warchola, NYFD, Ladder Company 5

Mike was five years older than me, born February 20, 1950 in Brooklyn, New York.

After Mike graduated from high school in Brooklyn, he shuffled off to Buffalo where he graduated from university in 1976.
Although he had a teaching certificate from university, in 1977 Mike joined the New York Fire Department like his older brother Dennis had done some time earlier.
After 24 years, Mike had risen to the rank of Lieutenant in the Fire Department. Perhaps more importantly, he had just two shifts to complete before retirement. The paperwork was all done and travel awaited. The first trip was going to be to Australia.
On Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001, Mike was the officer in charge of NYFD Ladder Company 5. Mike and his team of firefighters answered the call. They not only responded to the World Trade Center site, Mike lead his team into the North Tower.
Mike knew that he couldn’t save everyone but he was determined to make a difference and save one life. He made it to the 40th floor where he assisted someone, a “civilian,” experiencing chest pains. He was on his way back down, on the 12th floor, when the evacuation order for all firefighters was given.
On the 12th floor landing of the North Tower ‘B’ stairwell, Mike was continuing to help his ‘civilian,’ a young woman experiencing chest pains. When that call went out to the emergency responders to evacuate the building, Mike was seen by other firefighters still tending to the woman, promising that he would soon also evacuate.
Then the unthinkable. At 10:28 a.m.
Like the South Tower before it, the North Tower collapsed. Somehow, fourteen people in the ‘B’ stairwell survived the collapse. Mike was heard over the NYFD radio following the collapse, “Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is Ladder Company 5, mayday. We’re in the B stairwell, 12th floor. I’m trapped, and I’m hurt bad.” Mike was able to call out two additional maydays but his would-be rescuers were unable to reach him due to impassable debris.
On Friday, September 14th, the body of my cousin, Lt. Michael Warchola was recovered from that debris. He was carried out of the rubble by surviving members of NYFD Ladder Company 5.
The world had lost one of it’s heroes.
Learning that a cousin, one of my cousins, was there, on that infamous day and, that he died saving the lives of others in his role as a ‘first responder’, a role he undoubtedly loved and worked hard at, makes the tragedy of the day hit ‘home’ that much harder.
I never met Michael but wish I had had the chance. I have learned from a number of tributes posted about Michael that he enjoyed history, especially stories of the strange and bizarre, a passion reputed to have developed from reading British tabloid newspapers at his grandmother’s house. Michael was a Golden Gloves boxing champion who went to university in Buffalo around the same time I was in university in Toronto, just a 90-minute drive away. Mike and I both graduated from university in 1976 and we shared a common ancestry leading back to Greenock, Scotland.
Each year, as the 9/11 date rolls around, as I watch the inevitable television documentaries that capture the events of that day, I cannot help but think of my cousin and feel profound sadness for the loss of his life yet also feel profound pride knowing that Michael Warchola is part of my family.

Sentimental Saturday – Granny

I’m posting photos from my collection of family photographs on Saturdays with a brief explanation of what I know about each picture.

This is one of my favourite family photos. It is a picture of Agnes (Little) Hadden. To me, she was Granny.

Agnes (Little) Hadden (1908-1958)

Agnes (Little) Hadden (1908-1958)

Although I remember my paternal grandmother, the memories are a little foggy and faded as I was very young when she passed away.

Granny stood only four feet, ten inches but was always described to me as quite the ‘fireball.’ She certainly kept a close eye on her children and, like most mothers, she seemed to know what they were up to even when that seemed an impossibility.

Born in Greenock, Scotland, Agnes immigrated to Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1928. Granny was famous in the family for her expression, with her strong Scottish accent,  “Me tongue is me passport.”

52 Ancestors: James ‘Jimmy’ Little (1889-1944)

Amy Johnson Crow of the No Story Too Small genealogy blog suggested a weekly blog theme of ’52 Ancestors’ in her blog post “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.” I decided to take up the challenge of the 52 Ancestors blog theme as a means to prompt me into regularly sharing the stories of my ancestors. So over the course of 2014 I will highlight an ancestor, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t know.

Greenock, or in the Scottish Gaelic Grianaig, is located on the south shore of the River Clyde. Historically, shipbuilding has been one of the primary industries in Greenock, taking advantage of the town’s location close to the Firth of Clyde and the ocean beyond. 

And so, it was to Greenock that James and Dorothea Little moved in order to allow James to find work in the shipyards , first as a labourer but eventually as an iron driller, when his work as a forester had come to an end. It was also here, in Greenock that most of their six children were born, including their second son and my great grandfather James.

James, or Jimmy as he was commonly known, was born on 3 January 1899 at 51 Crawford Street. The row house at this location now has an address of 51 East Crawford Street, something I find unusual as I can find no West Crawford Street so for now the street name change is a mystery. 

James was the fifth child and second son for James (Sr.) and Dorothea. With the exception of their first child, a daughter named Margaret, they followed the traditional Scottish naming convention as each of their children were born. Their first son was named John after, in this case, both grandfathers so when their second son was born, he received his father’s name.

My great Grandfather, Jimmy Little, appears to have lived a stable life. Records show that he went to school as a child, and then followed in his father’s footsteps and found employment in the shipyards as an iron caulker, apprenticing in that trade as a teenager.

It was also in his teens that Jimmy found love with a young lady named Margaret ‘Maggie’ Mitchell. Maggie also lived in Greenock, about a mile away from Jimmy’s Sir Michael Street home. When Jimmy was just 17-years old and Maggie only 16-years old, they discovered they were going to be parents. They married on the 22nd of March 1906. Their first child, a son they named Edward Sweeney Little was born four months later in July. 

Despite life’s early introduction to marriage and parenthood, they persevered and enjoyed what appears to be a good and stable life together, Jimmy working in the shipyards, Maggie rearing their five children.

The block of houses on Sir Michael Street in Greenock, Scotland where James and Margaret Little resided with their children (from Google street view screen capture)

On the morning of 9th of June 1944 in Larkfield Hospital, Jimmy died as a result of chronic nephritis and myocarditis. He was only 55 years of age at the time of his death.

52 Ancestors: Dorothea Carson (Abt 1847-1916)

Amy Johnson Crow of the No Story Too Small genealogy blog suggested a weekly blog theme of ’52 Ancestors’ in her blog post “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.” I decided to take up the challenge of the 52 Ancestors blog theme as a means to prompt me into regularly sharing the stories of my ancestors. So over the course of 2014 I will highlight an ancestor, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t know.

This week I am turning the spotlight on one of my paternal great-great grandmothers, Dorothea Carson.

At the corner of Patrick and Ardgowan Streets in Greenock, Scotland, there stands a small church. Looking down Patrick Street, you can see the mouth of the River Clyde and the various Greenock shipyards along it’s banks. It was in this church that on 6 April 1869 that Dorothea Carson stood beside her maid of honour Margaret Forrest and married Thomas Commisky. 

The marriage record of the event describes Dorothea as being 22 years of age. Both she and her 21-year old groom Thomas recorded that they lived at 4 Sir Michael Street in Greenock. Thomas listed his occupation as contractor’s carter. He appears to have learned his carting trade from his by then deceased father Terrence who is listed in the marriage record as having been a master carter. Dorothea’s parents are listed as John Carson, a contractor, and his wife, Sarah Ann Jones.

As happy as the wedding day was for Thomas and Dorothea, it wasn’t to last long. Just four months later, on 11 August 1869, Thomas died of smallpox. Dorothea was left a young widow with a baby girl, a daughter that she and Thomas had in January 1869 before they were married. They named their daughter Annie. 

I don’t know what happened to Dorothea following the death of Thomas as neither she nor Annie appears either under the name of Commisky or Carson in the 1871 Census of Scotland. But Dorothea may have been used to tough times. Dorothea was born between 1846 and 1848 in Ireland, at a time when the infamous famine was ravaging that country. Dorothea first appears in the Scottish records in the 1861 census as a young teenager, working alongside two presumed Carson sisters as cotton mill workers. Dorothea and her presumed sisters, Susan and Janet, were boarders in the home of an Irish farmer in Bridge of Weir, Renfrew, Scotland.

It is known, however, that on 30 April 1878 Dorothea married for a second time in Kilbarchan, a small village outside of Bridge of Weir in Renfrew County. Her new husband was James Little. Although the record of this marriage states that James was a 30-year old forester, it is more likely that he was closer to 37-years of age.

Over the years, James and Dorothea settled into life together with James working in the nearby shipyards and Dorothea working working as a confectioner. On 2 April 1911, when the enumerator came to their door conducting the 1911 Census of Scotland, they recorded, I suspect with some pride, that they had been married for 33 years, had seven children (I know the names of six) of whom five were still alive. Just one week later however, James Little died. Dorothea followed James in death on 18 December 1916, a victim of Brights Disease.

52 Ancestors: Agnes Little (1908-1958)

Amy Johnson Crow of the No Story Too Small genealogy blog suggested a weekly blog theme of ’52 Ancestors’ in her blog post “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.” I decided to take up the challenge of the 52 Ancestors blog theme as a means to prompt me into regularly sharing the stories of my ancestors. So over the course of 2014 I will highlight an ancestor, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t know.

Agnes Little was ‘Granny’ to me. My paternal grandmother, she was as her surname implied small in stature at just four feet, ten inches in height, but a giant force in her family.

Agnes was born, according to her birth registration, at 6:10 AM at 1 Harvie Lane in the West District of Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland. She joined her young parents, James Little, an 19-year old apprentice iron caulker (better known now as a riveter), and his wife Margaret Mitchell, an 18-year old mother of one, that is Agnes’ older brother Edward Sweeney Little. Agnes’ parents had married in March 1906 when they were just 17 and 16 years old respectively. Over the next few years, Agnes would be there to welcome two additional brothers and a sister into her parent’s family.

Perhaps it was a sense of adventure but more likely, it was a desire to find greater opportunity under the Empire Settlement Act of 1922 that lead Agnes to leave Scotland in 1928. And so, on 16 Jun 1928, with her one-way, third class ticket in hand, Agnes boarded the ship ‘Regina’ of the infamous White Star Line in the Port of Greenock bound for Quebec City in Canada. Her immigration records show that Agnes had been working as a domestic servant in Greenock but planned to work as a “Ward Maid” in Toronto, Ontario where she had accommodation waiting for her at the Salvation Army Hostel.

I can’t imagine that I have ever had enough of a sense of adventure nor the bravery that I think was needed to make this kind of move. As my children know, my sense of adventure has a much smaller geographic reach, larger than that of my parents, but still incredibly minute when compared to my grandmother. And, Agnes relocated thousands of miles from the only home she knew with only $10 in her possession!

Before leaving Scotland, Agnes was told that when she arrived in Toronto, she could look up the Haddens, a family of Scots who had emigrated to Canada just a few years earlier. Agnes did as she was told and by October 1929 she was married to the youngest Hadden son, John.

Agnes died at the too young an age of 50 on 18 Nov 1958 and is interred at Pine Hills Cemetery in Toronto. 

While I remember her, I admit the memories are now vague but my mother loved to recall for me how Agnes, two weeks before she passed away and in spite of the debilitating anguish of the cancer that would claim her life, mustered up the strength to hide from me and feign fright when I visited her to show off my Halloween costume. 

And of course, my mother never failed to remind me of Granny’s favourite expression, spoken with her best Scottish brogue, “Me tongue’s me passport.”

52 Ancestors: Margaret ‘Maggie’ Mitchell (1889-1976)

Amy Johnson Crow of the No Story Too Small genealogy blog suggested a weekly blog theme of ’52 Ancestors’ in her blog post “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.” I decided to take up the challenge of the 52 Ancestors blog theme as a means to prompt me into regularly sharing the stories of my ancestors. So over the course of 2014 I will highlight an ancestor, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t know.

Margaret ‘Maggie’ Mitchell was one of my paternal great grandmothers. She is high on my list of “If Only I Had Known Then What I Know Now” ancestors. As far as I know, I am the first of her great grandchildren and more importantly, she was the only one of my great grandparents living at the time I was born. Potentially, I could have had a chance to meet and get to know her a little. Sure, there were obstacles in the way of that meeting, like an ocean of distance separating us, but most significantly, I didn’t know she was still alive as I grew up likely because I never asked instead, I just assumed that she like all my other great grandparents had passed away years before I was born.

Maggie was born on 22 April 1889, the second child and daughter of William Mitchell and Agnes Sweeney, in the middle district of Greenock, Renfrew, Scotland. At the time of her birth, the Mitchell family was living at 3 West Quay Lane in Greenock. Her father, William, listed himself as a shipyard labourer in Greenock when he registered her birth on 24 April 1889.

Life in the working class of the late 19th century could be tough and that is how I imagine it likely was for Maggie and her family. At some point in the 1890’s, likely around 1895, William abandoned his family.  In an 1899 birth registration for her daughter Agnes, Agnes Mitchell listed herself as “wife of William Mitchell who, she declares is not the father of the child, and that she has had no personal communication with him for 4 years.” In the 1891 Census of Scotland, Agnes can be found living in Greenock and recorded as working as a shopkeeper. Also living in her household, was Joseph Branchfield who Agnes married in 1905 and with whom she had additional children. During this tumultuous time, Maggie and most of her siblings were sent off to live with their maternal grandmother, Helen (or sometimes seen as Ellen) Sweeney (alternate spelling is Sweenie).

In 1906, some calm seems to have been restored to Maggie’s life as she married James Little, an apprentice iron worker, on 22 March at 48 Kelly Street in Greenock. Maggie was only 16 years old when she married but James, her new husband, was a much older, mature 17 years of age. In spite of their youth, it appears that they achieved some stability as their family grew to include five known children: Edward Sweeney Little (born 1906), Agnes Little (my grandmother, born 1908), James Little (born 1910), John Little (born 1913), and one of my favourite grandaunts (Aunt Jennie) who I did have the great pleasure of meeting, Janet Triggs Little (born 1920).

It seems clear to me that Maggie and James honoured their ancestors in choosing names for their children. For example, Edward Sweeney Little named after Maggie’s maternal grandfather and Janet Triggs Little named after James’ aunt Janet (Little) Triggs.

In 1944, James Little passed away while Maggie lived until 1976 when she too passed way in her beloved Greenock.