The Journey Home: My Trip to PEI (pt. 2/4)

I traveled to Prince Edward Island for the first time in hopes of learning more about my newfound ancestors. Below is an excerpt from my travel diary, which I send to my family.

Day 2: Charlottetown
Today I planned to explore the capitol city of Charlottetown, but I wasn't feeling all that well, so I took it a little easier than expected. My day started with a walk down University Ave, which turns into Great George St. I have a postcard from Paul and Hilda with a picture of this spot. I was very excited to see it in person. Nothing about it has changed, really.

A view of Great George St. from behind the famed war memorial statue. I should have tried harder to recreate the original..

I planned to eat at one of the revered seafood spots on the water, but as I mentioned, my appetite was shot from not feeling well, so I ducked into a cafe instead. It was incredibly muggy outside and the cafe wasn't much better. I took my sandwich to-go and decided maybe I would get back an appetite later. The shopkeep talked to me briefly about the unusual weather. Later, he spotted me as he was driving through Charlottetown while I was walking somewhere, and he waved out the window of his car excitedly. Haha. I love small places where everyone remembers you.

I walked down to the water, where the Visitor Center is, on Prince St. There was a huge cruise ship dwarfing the island. Literally, I feel like there may have been more people on that ship than in the entire town.

Founder's Hall: A glorified indoor brochure stand. 

Apparently there are no general museums on PEI, or Scot museums, as I found out, so that ended mostly being a scrapbook grab for brochures :)

I walked back to Great George St and got down to business-- the famed Public Records and Archives center. Inside a beautiful old brick building on the fourth floor is a crowded little library with enough index drawers to make your head spin. I got a brief guided tour of where everything was, grabbed a drawer, and started reading.

You don't search with computers here. Nope. You search with your hands. Through hundreds of index cards. Handwritten. Knowing this would be my only opportunity to ever get my hands on these cards unless I came back for another visit someday, I read every single card I touched. I took pictures of every mention of lot 42. I made it through one drawer out of three after two hours. My heart sank. I clearly needed way more time and they were closing at 4 PM.

This is my life now.

I noticed something odd about the index cards. A peculiar number of them had their source listed as "The Maple Leaf: Oakland, California". What would an Oakland magazine be doing in a PEI library? So I took my drawer to the front desk and asked.

"The Maple Leaf was kind of an oddity." The clerk said. "Someone from PEI moved to Oakland and started up a sort of newspaper that kept up on the people in PEI. I think it was sourced mainly through people they knew. It ran from 1907 to 1947."

I stood there with my mouth hanging open.

"Guess where my family moved to from PEI." I said.

He laughed and brought me a binder with a biography on the author of the Maple Leaf Magazine, Michael Ambrose McInnis. I have no idea whether he is related to us, but I'd be willing to bet he was a friend, and used Ralph and Angela as sources.

Thinking of different strategies- since I hadn't found anything definitive on the John D McKinnon fam in drawer 1- I decided to ask the clerk for a history of St. Peter's Bay and the Goose River/McAskill River areas. There was no such thing, but they did have four folders full of citizen-created family biographies and information for the McKinnon family.

Sadly, not a single thing in the donated citizen history folders appeared to be about the John D McKinnon family. I did, however, find handwritten notes from Marie Moreau Donohoe, Ralph's niece. Imagine my surprise to see at the bottom of the page that she checked the box "Visitor", as in, she had been in that library, writing those notes in person. Chills.

Like a letter from beyond the grave.

A kindred spirit! Marie had been to PEI and documented her research on Ralph's (her) side of the family. She had been to Goose River and talked to the families there. She wrote down who to talk to if you visit, but my heart sank because I knew she had passed away in 1990. I checked the date on her notes. 1979. The chances of anyone she referenced in her recommendations still being alive was slim to none.

There was another letter from Marie Moreau Donohoe. This one was a family story to be published in some sort of article. She went on to mention she was strongly considering moving to Charlottetown from Seattle. I don't think she ever went through with it, but there was such a ghostly feeling about reading letters from someone I recognized and seeing her care about it as much as I did. I'm sad to say she had no children. I'm not sure what happened to the rest of her research. I hope it was passed down to a niece or nephew, but I don't know if I'll ever find it.

So Ralph's family was the only family in the folders. Strike 2. My last strategy was to ask for maps of Lot 42 from the old days. The clerk wasn't willing to pull maps this late in the day, so I searched through an 1881 map book that was laying out on the table. I took pictures of the maps of Lot 42 and now I'm comparing them to the census to see if I can trace the enumerator's path well enough to call out where Angus and Sarah are on the map.

Good ol' Meacham and his atlas.

After the archives office closed, I organized my research, took a quick nap, then headed down Queen St, which is where most of the shopping is. I bought a ticket to Anne of Green Gables, the musical. It was the perfect way to end the evening. Many of the actors and orchestra are from PEI. The story is about a "homely" little freckled orphan (ring any bells? haha). Seriously, though, the story is about an orphan from Nova Scotia who gets adopted by a brother and sister that need help around the farm in PEI. Between the brother-sister duo raising a child who isn't their own, and the freckley orphan, I felt like there couldn't have been a more serendipitous play to see.

Confederation Centre of the Arts, where Anne of Green Gables is put on.

Time is flying by so fast here. My plan was to head to St. Peter's Bay tomorrow, but I feel so ill-prepared. I wish I had a twin here with me to speed up the research. There's no way I'll see even the tip of the iceberg of everything in that library and I'd be really depriving myself if I didn't get out there and see what the island is like. I wish I could do it all.