The Service File Of Peter Gammie

Each month I would check and find nothing but the attestation (enlistment) form for my great granduncle Peter Gammie.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) had a much publicized project underway to digitize and post the full service files for the Canadian Soldiers of the First World War (according to the website, they are about one-third of the way through the digitization project). As batches of these digitized files were completed, they were posted on the LAC website. Available for free for all who were interested.

Long ago, I had paid LAC to photocopy and send me the service file of James Gammie, Peter’s brother. I had great interest in James’, or ‘Jimmie’s, file because his death in the 1918 from injuries sustained in France during combat had triggered the events that lead to my great grandfather, and Jimmie’s half brother, to move the Hadden family to Canada. The move had been at the invitation of my great grandfather and the Gammie brother’s mother Helen.

A distant cousin had once informed me in an email that while James had died in combat, Peter had not seen action in the war. But there was no explanation.

Peter Gammie

Peter Gammie

What was known was that Peter, aged 23, and his younger brother James, aged 21, had enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force together on May 17, 1916 in the village of Aneroid, Saskatchewan. Together, they completed the enlistment form giving their names, dates and places of birth, as well as listing their next of kin. Both brothers listed their mother Mrs. Helen (Shand) Gammie (my 2X great grandmother) as next of kin.

The brothers stated they were farmers willing to serve overseas. They swore oaths to King and Country. They were assigned consecutive regimental service numbers; the younger Jimmie becoming #1010103 and Peter becoming #1010104. Both were found to be medically fit to serve. Both were sent off for training.

For Jimmie, time would see him sent to the front lines in France where he was injured by shrapnel. He spent time in a hospital, recovered from his injuries and was sent back to the front lines. He wasn’t so lucky the next time. On September 28, 1918, Jimmie was killed in action. He was buried in France where an iconic maple leaf adorned gravestone marks his final resting place.

James Gammie gravestone, Bucquoy Road Cemetery, Arras, France

James Gammie gravestone, Bucquoy Road Cemetery, Arras, France

The mystery that surrounded Peter’s military career has now been cleared up.

His service file has now been posted and reiterates what was known. He enlisted with his younger brother and assigned to artillery training with the 229th Battalion. As all soldiers were required to do, on October 20th, 1916 he completed his pro-forma last will and testament, leaving all his possessions to his mother, “Mrs. A. Gammie.”

His medical record indicates that he received his required inoculations and all five feet, nine inches and one hundred and fifty-two pounds of him seemed well and fit. At least until February 1, 1917 when he was diagnosed and hospitalized for 29 days with a severe case of the mumps.

Two months later, on April 24th, 1917 he was again medically examined and was found to have “defective vision and varicose veins,” dating back, although never previously noted, to his pre-enlistment days.

To quote the examining doctor, Peter was “practically blind in right eye – left eye subnormal – varicose veins in right leg below knee.” The vision of the left eye was tested at 20/80 vision.

It is puzzling how a young man, an eager soldier recruit, could be medically examined numerous times by various medical personnel, spend a month in hospital and then, after six months of military service, be found to have pre-existing condition of near blindness in one eye and very poor sight with the other. But, apparently that was the case for Peter Gammie.

The doctor recommended a medical discharge. The medical board agreed and so, on June 7, 1917 Peter Gammie was medically discharged from the army and sent back home to the family farm. Never to see action in the war. Never to see his younger brother again.

52 Ancestors: Andrew Gammie, Sr. (1861-1926) or Why My Family Moved to Toronto, Ontario?

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.

When I became curious about the history of my family, some thirty plus years ago, one of the first people I spoke to was my great uncle Alexander Gaull Hadden, or Uncle Alec as I knew him. Uncle Alec told me what he knew of the family. His paternal grandmother was Helen Shand. She had given birth to his father, my great grandfather Alexander Shand Hadden and then later re-married a man named Gammie. In 1907, she and this Gammie fellow moved to Saskatchewan to homestead. Years later, she contacted her eldest child Alexander and invited him and his family to come join her working on the farm in Canada. In 1923, the Haddens accepted her invitation.  

The family story went a bit further but still lacked detail. Uncle Alec told me that his mother, Jessie Gaull, didn’t like it in Saskatchewan, with it’s bitter cold in winter, so in 1927, the family moved to Toronto, Ontario where Jessie had a brother George Gaull who owned a small grocery store. Uncle Alec also made a comment I wrote down in the notes I made during the family history interview with him and have kept to this day. The comment was that there was some tension between the Gammie boys and his father Alexander. No details. Nothing more said.


Andrew Gammie (1861-1926)



I first must confess that I am not genetically related to Andrew Gammie Sr. and I am not really descended from him. But Andrew Gammie Sr was the step-father to my great grandfather Alexander Shand Hadden as seen in the snippet below from the 1891 Census of Scotland.




Andrew Gammie was the eldest son in a family of ten known children (five boys and five girls) born to Andrew Gammie and his wife Jane Christie. Andrew was born on 28 Jun 1861 in Huntly, County of Aberdeen, Scotland. Andrew’s father was a successful farmer of 135 acres in Monqhitter, Aberdeen, Scotland, employing two men and a boy according to census records. It is very likely that Andrew worked on the farm and learned from his much from his father.

On the 14th of June, 1890, Andrew married Helen Shand, a domestic servant, in Ythan Wells. As the census record above shows, with Helen came her son Alexander Hadden whom she had raised on her own, supported by her Shand relatives. Andrew was 29 years old and Helen was 25 when they married. A year later, and just a few months after the 1891 census was taken, Helen gave birth to their first child, the first of three sons. They named him Andrew, like his father and grandfather before him.

Sons Peter and James, or ‘Jimmie’ as they called him, would follow over the next four years. Finally, in 1897, they had a daughter whom they named Helen, after her  mother. I’m not certain as to the reason, but Helen and Andrew later adopted a little girl born in 1904 named Whilimena (Williamina) Alexander, known in the family as ‘Minnie.’

Andrew supported his family by working as a farm servant and then as a baker’s van driver and grocer’s carter. Opportunity knocked, at least in Andrew Gammie’s eyes, when the Canadian government offered the chance at land ownership – for free. All that was required was moving half-way around the world to the prairies of Saskatchewan. It was with this promise in mind that Andrew and Helen along with their five Gammie children boarded the Lake Erie in April 1907 for the voyage to St. John, New Brunswick and from there to Stoughton, Saskatchewan where they would wait for their homestead application to be approved and land granted.

While they waited for their land, Andrew moved his family and worked on farms first in Morse, Saskatchewan and then in Anerley, Saskatchewan. Likely the lessons in farming he received from his father now served him well. Eventually, their homestead application was approved and the family settled on and began farming their own land near Aneroid, Saskatchewan.

As in all families, the kids grow up and begin making their own decisions. Such was the circumstance when on 17 May 1916, sons Peter and James enlisted in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force. The two Gammie boys went off to fight in World War I but only one would return. Jimmie would die of shrapnel wounds suffered when the Allies were taking a bridge in Fricheux, France. He was buried not far away in a military cemetery outside of Arras, France.

Land that Jimmie had acquired in Saskatchewan, not far from the Gammie homestead was bequeathed to his mother Helen. It was help with this land that she sought when she invited her first-born Alexander Hadden to come to Saskatchewan. Eventually, Alexander agreed to the move and to help with the farming even though he really had no farming experience. I’m told by a member of the Gammie family that Helen had kept her correspondence and this offer secret and so I suspect it was quite the surprise to the Gammie children when their half-brother Alexander Hadden and his family showed up on the prairies in 1923. It is also likely that there was much that needed to be done so there was not much time to quibble about the new arrivals.

However, on 23 August 1926, at the age of 65, Andrew Gammie died. He also died intestate, meaning he had left no will. I don’t know the reason, but Helen, now a widow, chose the younger of her two surviving sons to be the executor of her husband’s estate. Andrew Gammie’s estate file records that Helen, Andrew Jr. and Helen, the daughter, all renounced their rights to letters of administration which were duly granted to Peter by the Surrogate Court, appointing him as executor.

On 11 January 1927, when Helen Gammie renounced her rights to the letters of administration in favour of her son Peter, she listed her husband Andrew’s survivors as: herself, her sons, Andrew Gammie Jr. and Peter Gammie, and Helen Gammie, then Mrs. Harold Hardement. No mention of step-son Alexander Hadden nor adopted daughter Minnie Alexander Gammie. Son Andrew’s renunciation instrument listed the same survivors.

However, just two and half weeks later on 29 Jan 1927, Peter Gammie signed his affidavit as executor that included an inventory of his father’s estate and a list of the surviving family members to whom the estate would pass. Those surviving family members were: his mother Helen who would receive as required by law one-third of the estate, Andrew Gammie Jr., Peter Gammie, Helen Gammie then Mrs. Harold Hardement, and Whilimena Gammie, adopted daughter. No mention of step-son Alexander Hadden.

The estate that they divided consisted of land valued at $7,000, the property described as West Half, Section 1 in Township 8, Range 11, West of the 3rd Meridian. The remainder of the estate consisted of a stove, kitchen cabinet, table, chairs, bed (valued at a combined $100), a wagon, two plows and a set of harrows (combined value of $135), and 6 horses at $60 per head (total $360). The total estate value was $7,595 of which Andrew’s widow Helen received $2,351.66.

And so, the Hadden family, just four years after leaving their home in Scotland appear to have been stranded, at least by circumstances on the prairies of Saskatchewan. Was this the cause of the tension my uncle had told me about? If it was, it seems entirely understandable to me. With apparently nothing for them in Saskatchewan, was this the reason the family moved to Toronto where at least there was some family support available? It seems entirely likely to me. 


52 Ancestors: Helen Gammie (nee Shand) 1864-1951 – "The Strongest Woman I Ever Saw"

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.

Helen (nee Shand) Gammie was described to me by my grand uncle Alexander (Alec) Hadden as “the strongest woman I had ever seen.” Helen was Alec’s paternal grandmother and he had watched her strain and toil, carrying heavy loads long distances as she worked the Gammie homestead lands of southwest Saskatchewan, Canada. 

Helen Shand was born 20 Sep 1864 at Hillhead of Aucharnie in the Parish of Forgue, Aberdeenshire. She was the daughter of John Shand, an agricultural labourer and his wife Isabel Morrison. All was well for the working class Helen, or Nellie as she was called. She worked as a domestic servant, a maid in a local home, until the day she met was smitten by John Hadden, an assistant shopkeeper to his father Alexander Hadden who ran a general merchandise shop in Insch, Scotland. 


Helen ‘Nellie’ Shand



John and Nellie were both teenagers when they found out that they were going to be parents. And so, on 6 Sep 1883, just before her nineteenth birthday, Nellie gave birth to a baby boy. Following the Scottish naming convention, John and Nellie named their son after John’s father Alexander and they included Nellie’s surname as the baby’s middle name. As they were just teenagers, John in fact was even younger than Nellie and he likely had no real means by which to support Nellie and their son, they decided not to marry. Nellie kept the baby to raise on her own.

A few years later, Helen met and married Andrew Gammie, a local farm servant who is recorded in the 1891 Census of Scotland as the head of his small household and step-father to Alexander, who was then recorded as being seven years of age. Helen and Andrew soon started a family of their own children, three half brothers and two half sisters to Alexander.

When the Canadian government began offering free land as part of an initiative to settle the western prairies, Andrew and Helen decided to leave Scotland and become landowners in the far off land that had been made to sound so attractive. On 22 Apr 1907, Andrew, Helen and their five children arrived in Canada on board the ship “Lake Erie.” According to the Gammie family in a commemorative local history “Ponteix Yesterday and Today” (Ponteix and District Vol. 2), the family rented some land while their homestead application was being processed. In 1910, they made the last part of their journey by horse team and wagon to their land, described as W 1/2 of 2-8-11-W3rd south, where they lived in a sod hut until a two-story frame house was built.

When Helen’s son James Gammie was killed in World War I, land that James had owned was transferred to Helen as next-of-kin. I’m told that Gammie family members knew Helen was corresponding with someone whose identity she did not divulge. That someone was her first child, the son she left in Scotland as a young man, Alexander Shand Hadden. Helen convinced Alexander to bring his family to Canada and join her working the land. And so, the Hadden family arrived late in 1923 on the Canadian prairies, only to move away in 1927.

Helen’s husband Andrew died the year before the Hadden family departed and she continued living on her land for many years before she too passed away at the age of 86 on 2 Apr 1951 in Ponteix, where she was buried next to her husband.





52 Ancestors: John Gaull Hadden – The Milkman I Knew

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 coming a little bit closer to home and profiling my paternal grandfather, John Gaull Hadden.

John Gaull Hadden, aged about 18.



His beginnings were much like much of his life – quite humble. John Gaull Hadden was born on 9 Mar 1910 in a little dwelling at 9 Pirie’s Lane in Woodside, Aberdeen, Scotland, the son of Alexander Shand Hadden and Jessie McKenzie Gaull. He was the fourth son born to the couple in six years. Sadly, the brother born immediately before John, a boy named Lewis, died eleven months before John’s arrival. John would later name his own first son after the brother he did not have a chance to know.

An image of 6 Pirie’s Lane, Woodside, Aberdeen, Scotland from Google’s Streetview


When John was thirteen years old, on 9 Nov 1923, he boarded a ship named the ‘Metagama’ in the Port of Glasgow. John was with his mother Jessie, oldest brother Alex and younger sister Edith as they began a voyage across the Atlantic ocean to join John’s father and his brother Andy, who had made a similar voyage a few months earlier, in Canada. They sailed in the third class section on the ship would take them to Quebec City where they would transfer to rail cars, eventually making it to their final destination of Aneroid, Saskatchewan, just in time for their first experience of winter on the Canadian prairies.

The records that document their passage make it clear that this was intended as a permanent relocation. Saskatchewan however provided only a temporary home for the Hadden family. In 1927, on the death of Alexander Shand Hadden’s step-father, Andrew Gammie, the Hadden family needed to relocate one more time.

The second relocation took the Hadden family, minus brother Andy who decided to remain in Saskatchewan, to Toronto and the east end neighbourhood that became ‘ground zero’ for the family as it is known today. Canadian census records, voters lists, and city directories show that for the next several decades, the family and its members lived in a number of houses and that all residences were east of the central Toronto dividing line of Yonge Street.

John married Agnes Little, who was also a recent immigrant from Scotland, on 29 Oct 1929. Together they had to struggle through the Depression era when finding work to provide for the family’s sustenance was extremely difficult. John’s employment opportunities were a series of short term jobs until 17 Dec 1935 when he was hired by Silverwood Dairies as a “Milk Route Salesman.” That’s the company’s official name for the position but to everyone else, John became a Milkman, delivering milk and other dairy products on his prescribed route, initially by horse drawn wagon.

When I was young, one of my great thrills was helping my grandfather balance his milk route receipts. My grandfather, in our family tradition was known to me as ‘Pop’, just as my father has been ‘Pop’ to my children and now, I am ‘Pop’ to my children’s children. Pop would pick me up, usually on a Sunday afternoon and take me to the dairy building where I would operate the large adding machine by punching in the numbers he would call out to me, pulling the large lever on the side of the machine after each number and with one final level pull, getting the total of the receipts. My reward for all of this effort, a carton of chocolate milk. Knowing the reward, was all I needed to motivate my efforts as a six year old.

I am fortunate that I began researching my family’s history 30 plus years ago and as a result, Silverwood Dairy had no privacy related policies or concerns when they provided me with a full report on my grandfather’s employment history with them. The report shows that John received a couple of promotions, first in 1947 to Milk Route Inspector and then in 1953 to Milk Route Foreman.

John Gaull Hadden in 1985


In August 1970, John was involved in a serious automobile accident, documented in the Silverwood’s report, and as a result he was off work for an extended time to recover. Finally in February of 1971, unable to return to work, he retired. John’s retirement years saw his health slowly decline but he never lost his Scottish brogue and that little twinkle in his eyes that I remember so well. John died soon after his 89th birthday, hopefully at peace following a very hard life.

Minnie Has Been Identified!

Back in November (2012) I posted a photograph that had been sent to my paternal grandmother, Agnes Hadden (nee Little). The photograph of a young woman included an inscription on the back “To Agnes from Minnie with Love.” I had no idea as to who Minnie might be and what connection she had with my grandmother.



Minnie (seen above in the photo sent to my grandmother) turns out to be Wiliamina ‘Minnie’ Gammie. Minnie was identified by my cousin David Hadden of Florida.

Here’s what I know of Minnie: she was born Williamina Alexander in 1904 in Aberdeen, Scotland. In 1905, she was adopted by Andrew and Helen Gammie (Helen Gammie was Helen Shand when she gave birth to my great grandfather Alexander Shand Hadden in 1883). 

There were four Williamina Alexanders born in 1904 – 1905 in Aberdeenshire and as I don’t know the names of either of her birth parents, I can’t pinpoint nor document her exact date of birth. In April of 1907, Minnie, as she was referred to, boarded the ship ‘Lake Erie’ and immigrated to Canada with her Gammie family consisting of parents Andrew and Helen, brothers Andrew, Peter and James, and sister Helen Ruby ‘Ella.’ The ship’s passenger list that documents the journey records that the family arrived in Saint John, New Brunswick and was bound for Saskatchewan.

Minnie married George Loken in 1927 and passed away in Swift Current, Saskatchewan in 1986.

I am unsure as to the connection with my grandmother but can theorize that Minnie may have met my grandmother while visiting the family when travelling through Toronto and they struck up a friendship.

Many thanks to my cousin David and for those of you who offered great suggestions on how I might try to identify Minnie.

British Columbia, Canada Showing The Way With Free Online Records

Searching for many of my Canadian ancestors has been facilitated by them having lived for many generations in the province of Ontario. Records in Ontario for births, marriages, and deaths have been available through the Ancestry site. The Ontario records are indexed and there are digital images available of the records that can be saved on a personal computer. But, it is not free. Access to these records requires a subscription to the Ancestry site.

There are some means that can be used to obtain the same records for free but none of those opportunities mean staying at home. You could visit the Archives of Ontario or a Family History Centre to search through microfilm reels and print copies of the records you want, or perhaps your local public library has an institutional subscription to Ancestry, allowing you to find the records and save them to a USB key. Those research trips can be fun but still are not free with the cost of transportation and most importantly, time.

The province of British Columbia (B.C.) however, is leading the way by becoming the first Canadian jurisdiction I am aware of to post their vital records online and for FREE! As was reported by Dick Eastman on December 2nd, B.C. has posted more than 700,000 digital images attached to their fully indexed vital records.

My research has been halted, or at least slowed at times by what seems to be the inevitable migration of families to the west. So for example, a family living in Ontario during the latter half of the 19th century is attracted to and leaves Ontario for the chance at greater prosperity, often with free land awaiting, in the Canadian prairies. Eventually, family members venture a little further west into Alberta and B.C. That is certainly the migration pattern that I have seen with my wife Ellen’s family.

I’ll use Ellen’s paternal grandfather, Louis Jacob Gordon Wagner (pictured to the right) to illustrate this point. Louis was born in Ontario in 1886 but by the early part of the 20th century, Louis had moved to Saskatchewan where he married Ellen’s grandmother, Charlotte (‘Lottie’) Faulkner in 1912. By the end of his life, Louis was in B.C., living near his son Gordon in Comox on Vancouver Island, where he died in 1968.

BC has made available their records for births (1854 – 1903), marriages (1872 – 1936), deaths (1872 – 1991), colonial marriages (1859 – 1872), and baptisms (1836 – 1888). The records, as stated, are indexed and can be searched using a basic search or advanced search screen.

Here is what the search result looked like when I searched for Louis Wagner’s death record.

In addition to basic data being provided in the listing such as gender, age, date and location of event, the listing includes a link to the digital image of Louis’ death certificate. Louis’ death certificate is typed so it is easy to read with the exception of the attending doctor’s certification as to cause of death which is hand written and may be difficult to decipher.

With this record (and several others for other family members in both my family and Ellen’s), I was able to enter additional facts with source citations included in my RootsMagic database and attach the record digital images to the events that each supported.

I’m hoping more Canadian provinces follow the lead of BC in making these records available and easy to access. As a Canadian researcher, life would be so much better.

Opening Up Canada’s West

One of the challenges that I have faced researching both my family lines as well as those of my wife, Ellen, is the relative young age of Canada. This is especially problematic due to the involvement of our family branches in Canada’s western, specifically the prairie provinces.

My Hadden family ancestors first immigrated from Scotland to Saskatchewan around 1907 when Helen ‘Nellie’ Shand and her husband Andrew Gammie took up a homestead near Aneroid, Saskatchewan. I have recounted previously, how in 1923, my great grandfather Alexander Shand Hadden answered his mother’s call for some help and he left Scotland with his wife and children and put down Canadian roots that I can now call my own.
I have not yet found Helen and Andrew in the 1911 census records but they appear in the 1916 census records of the Canadian prairie provinces.
Saskatchewan only became a province on Sept. 1, 1905, meaning that are only three publicly available set of census records – 1906, 1911, and 1916. As my family was still in Scotland in 1906, I’m limited to the two remaining record sets.
But (!) thanks to a stalwart group of volunteers, additional Saskatchewan information for genealogists is becoming available – one plot at a time! I have found through the Saskatchewan Cemeteries Project website a small treasure trove of burial locations, date information and numerous gravestone photos of many Latimer ancestors (Ellen’s family). A special thanks to volunteer Val Thomas who photographed and indexed the Benson Cemetery, the final resting place for several of Ellen’s relatives.
The Saskatchewan cemeteries site contains the transcriptions of more than 1,000 of the province’s more than 3,300 cemeteries so while there is still lots of work to do before the ‘project’ is complete, great work has already been done and made available. The site provides a listing of the transcribed cemeteries along with the municipality to which they are associated.
More than just cemetery transcriptions, the site also includes an obituary index with links to the obituary text that unfortunately does not seem to allow the ‘copy and paste’ function. This technological aspect is in my opinion not helpful. However, the obituaries, if you find one connected to your family as I did with Ellen’s Latimer relatives, are typically full of great information about family members but also about the deceased and their life in the community.
Keep up the good work Saskatchewan Cemeteries Project volunteers!