A Common Headline from the Past: Lost at Sea

Genealogy research had uncovered my grandmother’s grandparents: Martha and William McDonald. They had at least one child: my great-grandfather William Aaron McDonald.

Little is known about this family, just a few names and dates. The further in time one travels, the less information surfaces about individuals and the more questions arise, such as what was Martha’s maiden name and what happened to William Sr.?

A few years ago, a genealogist from a far-flung branch of the McDonald family tree, who researched William Sr., wrote to say William had been ‘lost at sea’. To be exact, William had drowned 160 years ago today on October 7, 1860, when the fishing schooner he’d been aboard floundered.

The Charles had sailed out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, under Captain William Geddes and had been fishing the Gulf of St. Lawrence when the tragedy occurred. William left his wife and six children to mourn his death and, as we know all too well, to survive the following years with no head of the household to bring in money to support the basic needs of the family.

There’s little doubt his older boys would have been taken out of school, if they attended, and put to work in the woods or fishing. The oldest girls may have been hired out as domestic help to other families. There are no records that Martha remarried, so she carried the weight of seeing her children to adulthood.

This set off a search for the Charles to see if more could be learned. Given the date, I found nothing. No mention of the schooner, William’s death or the fishing outing.

This is the way it was for many said to have been lost at sea; they were also lost to time where records were poorly created if created at all. With no body, there was no funeral and that meant no entry in church records, leaving genealogists with no immediate source to search.

Many of our Maritime ancestors met the same fate at sea.

Contributed by Diane McGyver

The Sea, Our Home

The sea has been kind and it has been cruel to those who live along it and make their living upon it. These are the stories Quarter Castle Publishing hopes to capture within the pages of its short story collection The Sea, Our Home.

For more information about this Call for Submissions, visit The Sea, Our Home page.


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