52 Ancestors…Newsworthy…is this my Mr. Spong?

This week’s 52 Ancestors prompt caught my eye when I got Amy’s weekly email. For a few months now I’ve been meaning to write about a news article I found back in June when MyHeritage had a free day for its newspapers collection. Here’s my perfect opportunity.

As I’m sure most of us do when using a newspaper site, I searched for specific people first, the ones I know have been in the news, and then broadened my parameters using just various family surnames. When I entered Spong, a new hit popped up, that included the words “Spong” and “Pathetic flight to New Country”. Curious, I clicked on the link and as I read through the article, I grew more and more excited. Coincidentally enough, the newspaper in question is The Ottawa Citizen, which is still in print, and to which we subscribed for years while still living there. As luck would have it, I was able to find it in the Google News archive, which is free, so I can link to it for others to read.

I have transcribed the entire piece (the scan wasn’t a great one, hence the ?? at the end of each line), but here’s the section that intrigued me:


Now, you might be thinking I’m just grasping at straws here, given that no first names are used in the story and Canada is a big country, however, I happen to know already that my 2nd great-uncle, Edwin Spong, had emigrated with his family in 1913.[2] Born in 1863,[3] he had married Jessie Angela West in 1885,[4] and started a family almost immediately. By 1913, they had, you guessed it, eight children (click image to enlarge).


Of course, this could still all be a coincidence, however, there’s another tidbit in the story that leads me to believe the reporter is indeed referencing Edwin, Jessie, and their children. On the 1911 census, Edwin declared his occupation as “grainary labourer” and the industry/service as “omnibus company.”[5] It’s hard to judge what he meant by labourer, and we must never forget that people would often aggrandize their occupation, and one can see that in this case, Edwin migh have a good reason to do so.

Even so, with all this, I knew that it was circumstantial. His arrival records do note that he is destined for Hamilton,[6] and I know for a fact that he died there in 1926.[7] But what about the time in between? Clearly more evidence is needed, not only that he lived there during that entire period, but, more importantly, were there other families there with the surname Spong?

Looking back through my RootsMagic database, I found I had recorded the marriages of several of his children, all indicating that they were in Hamilton. So far, so good. But there’s still the question of others with the same last name. Fortunately, a quick Internet search yielded a 1919 directory that included residents. Holding my breath, I navigated to the relevant page and found the following:

                                                     Spong, Edwin, lab, h 250 Balmoral n
                                                           ”  Edwin W G, carp, h e s Fairfield[8]

So, who is the other Edwin Spong? The oldest son of Edwin and Jessie, Edwin William George.[9] They are the only two people listed in the 1919 Hamilton directory with the Spong surname. And Edwin Jr’s baptismal record provides another link to the transportation industry, with his father’s occupation noted as a “tramway conductor”.

An omission in Edwin Sr’s timeline then caught my eye – I didn’t have a 1921 Canada census entry for him. Very puzzling. I did the usual searches of Ancestry and Library and Archives Canada (FamilySearch and FMP doesn’t have the 1921 Canadian census), but found nothing. I knew they had to be there and finally found them by searching by location, narrowing down to the general area I knew they lived. Their surname had been mistranscribed as Soong (see the search result at Library and Archives Canada). What this tells me, however, is that as searches for Spong in Hamilton in the 1921 Census turned up zero results, and the odds of two separate families having the surname incorrectly, there was only one Spong family in Hamilton at that time. Coupled with the directory result from two years earlier, I am fairly confident that the newspaper article is indeed about Edwin and Jessie.

The timing of the newspaper story also supports my hypothesis – it was published on May 31, 1913[10] and the family had arrived in Canada only a couple of weeks earlier.[11] My husband is a journalist (and fellow historian) and he said it didn’t surprise him in the least that a story written in England a few weeks earlier would be appear at the time it did. Even if the reporter had called it in the following morning, it wasn’t like it was earth shattering news. Human interest stories were published when there was room.

The newspaper piece mentions the East End Emigration Fund, which I had encountered last year while reading The Cowkeeper’s Wish: a genealogical journey by Tracy Kasaboski and Kristen den Hartog (you can also read about it in Tracy’s blog post “The Degenerate Cockney“). The last location I had for Edwin and Jessie was in Battersea,[12]which isn’t in the East End, however, they could have a) moved in the intervening two years or b) applied regardless of their location, because: “What started out as a small local charity became a highly functioning emigration promoter, facilitator, and processer that helped not just East End families emigrate but those suffering in other parts of the capital and beyond.”[13] The Spong family was one of 11,454 people sent to Canada through the work of the joint committee of the East End Emmigration Fund and the Charity Organization Society.[14]

What else do we learn about Mr. Spong? He was one of those left unemployed after omnibuses changed from being horse-drawn to being motor-powered. As so often happens, while for many, advances in mechanics and technology are helpful and positive, there are always those who suffer as a result of the changes. His reason for emigrating says it all: “There is no chance h(ere for) the likes of me–but o(ver) there I ?? there is.”[15] I will be honest and say I’m not sure what happened between Edwin and his family that he ended up in this position. By this point, his father, Daniel, and sister, Emma, were living in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, while older brother George (my great-grandfather), owned at least two houses in Kingston-on-Thames (though I believe initially he may have been renting them, as the family remained in Battersea for a few years). Another question I will likely never be able to answer.

It seems Edwin’s gamble paid off, because I noticed in reading through his 1921 census entry that he owned the home he was living in, though, when he was enumerated, he was unemployed.[16] Several of his children had already married, so there were fewer mouths to feed, his boys had fought for Canada during WWI and survived, and at least two of the three still living at home were working, so there would have been income for the household. In an odd coincidence, the house he owned was on Battersea Avenue, likely named after the area in which Edwin lived for at least a decade. Sadly, as I mentioned earlier, he died very early in 1926, as a result of injuries suffered during a car accident. Despite expecting to find a newspaper account of the incident, to this date I haven’t, even after writing to the Hamilton Public Library and asking them to check their historical newspapers.

Edwin’s story fits in well to the Newsworthy theme, not only because it gives me insight into the reasons he and his wife decided to take a chance on a life across the ocean in Canada, but because it brings into focus the extent of poverty in London during the pre-war period and the measures which philanthropic and charitable organizations undertook to help alleviate it. My research tells me that assisted immigration had been occurring since the 1860s.[17] I’ve listed a couple of resources below for anyone who might find the details helpful for their own family history work.

Finally, I noticed earlier this week that DiAnn Iamarino, who blogs at Fortify your Family Tree, had written a post about using directories to help find ancestors on, or between, censuses. How lucky I was to find a directory for Hamilton in the period that I needed one. Her advice goes further and I hope you enjoy reading it.

England to Canada Emigration Resources
“East End Emigration Society.” Immigration; Library and Archives Canada. Last modified November 2, 2015. https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/immigration/immigration-records/home-children-1869-1930/home-children-guide/Pages/east-end-emigration-society.aspx : accessed June 20, 2020.

Glynn, Desmond. “‘Exporting Outcast London’: Assisted Emigration to Canada, 1886-1914.” Histoire Sociale: Social History 15, no. 29 (May 1982): 209-238.

Kohli, Marjorie. The Golden Bridge: Young Immigrants to Canada, 1833-1939. Toronto [Ont.]: Dundurn, 2003.

Scott, Elizabeth A. “Building the ‘Bridge of Hope’: The Discourse and Practice of Assisted Emigration of the Labouring Poor from East London to Canada, 1857-1913.” Doctor of Philosphy, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 2014. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

——————–. “‘The Ill-Name of the Old Country’: London’s Assisted Emigrants, British Unemployment Policy, and Canadian Immigration Restriction, 1905-1910.” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association / Revue de la Société historique du Canada 26, no. 1 (2015): 99–130.


1. The Saturday Evening Citizen. 1913. Pathetic flight to new country: how some of England’s poor are seen off on way to Canada. Ottawa Citizen. 31 May.; p. 2h. ©PostMedia. Collection: Google News Archive (https://bit.ly/2Wt84gT : accessed 20 June 2020) Note: The article is part of an unnumbered section that includes the comics. A Mr. and Mrs. Spong, with eight children, heading to Hamilton, Ontario, are referenced – Mr. Spong had lost his employment as an omnibus driver with the advent of the motorized-omnibus. In the 1911 census, Edwin worked as an omnibus labourer.

2. Travel records. Canada. 14 May 1913. Spong, Edwin (age 49, farm labourer) Line: 19; Ticket Contract No.: 22030. Passenger list for SS Canada, White Star, arriving in Quebec, 14 May 1913; citing: Passenger Lists, 1865–1935. Microfilm Publications T-479 to T-520, T-4689 to T-4874, T-14700 to T-14938, C-4511 to C-4542. Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Series: RG 76-C; Roll: T-4795 and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 1374. Collection: Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935 – digital image (#832 of 1864). Ancestry (www.ancestry.ca : accessed 19 February 2020) Note: On this manifest, Edwin’s age is recorded correctly as 49, while his destination is Hamilton, Ontario. The family was recorded on the form for steerage passengers. ///// Travel records. Canada. 19 Aug 1918. Spong, Edwin (age 55, returned Canadian) Line: 19; Ticket Contract No.: 252484; citing: Passenger list for SS Tunisian, Canadian Pacific OS Ltd., arriving in Quebec, Quebec, 19 Aug 191; citing: Passenger Lists, 1865–1935. Microfilm Publications T-479 to T-520, T-4689 to T-4874, T-14700 to T-14938, C-4511 to C-4542. Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Series: RG 76-C; Roll: T-4795 and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Roll: T-4817. Collection: Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935 – digital image (#8 of 33). Ancestry (www.ancestry.ca : accessed 19 February 2020) Note: On this manifest, Edwin is recorded as having been in Canada for five years and his destination is, once again, Hamilton. His family isn’t with him. His father had died in March of that year, so perhaps he had returned to England to pay his respects. Given the dangers of crossing the Atlantic during the war, something important must have motivated him to make the journey.

3. Births index (CR). England. St. Giles District, London. Q4; Vol.: 1b; Page: 453. England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes; London, England: General Register Office. Collection: FreeBMD, England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915, digital image (#71 of 103). Ancestry (https://bit.ly/37TE2Y3 : accessed 16 May 2018) ///// Baptisms (PR). England. St. Giles in the Fields, Middlesex. 18 Oct 1863. Spong, Edwin (b. 25 Sep 1863), son of Daniel, grocer, and Elizabeth Hannah. Page: 137; Entry No.: 1096. Board of Guardian Records and Church of England Parish Registers; London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: P82/GIS/A/02. Collection: London, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1917, digital image (#220 of 453). Ancestry (https://bit.ly/3fBd61Y : accessed 16 May 2018)

4. Marriages (PR). England. St. Mary’s, Marylebone, Westminster, Middlesex.06 Apr 1885. Spong, Edwin (age 21, compositor, son of Daniel, grocer) and West, Jessie Angela (age 21, da. of William West, chair maker). Page: 14; Entry no.: 27; citing: Church of England Parish Registers; London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: p89/mry2/083. Collection: London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1932 – digital image (#08 of 252). Ancestry (www.ancestry.ca : accessed 27 Aug 2019) Note: No member of Edwin’s family signed as a witness – this is unusual.

5. Census returns. England. Northwest Battersea, Battersea, London. 02 Apr 1911. Spong, Edwin (age 47, grainary labourer – ominbus company); citing: Class: RG14; Piece: 2189; Enumeration District: 01 ; Schedule No.: 205; line: 01; Census Returns of England and Wales, 1911, The National Archives of the UK (TNA). Collection: 1911 England Census – digital image (# 412 of 563). Ancestry (www.ancestry.ca : accessed 19 February 2020)

6. Ibid. Travel records, 1913.

7. Deaths. Canada. St. Joseph’s Hospital, Hamilton, Ontario. 11 Jan 1926. Spong, Edwin (age 62, laborer, son of Daniel Spong and Annie Sinkins) Page: 21; No.: 036437; citing: Registrations of Deaths, 1869-1948 (MS 935, reels 1-694), Archives of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.Archives of Ontario. Registrations of Ontario Overseas Deaths, 1939-1947; Collection: MS935; Reel: 342. Collection: Ontario, Canada, Deaths and Deaths Overseas, 1869-1948 – digital image (#20 of 778). Ancestry (www.ancestry.ca : accessed 27 January 2017)  Note: Cause of death, primary – meningitis following infection of face and right eye from injury; cause of death, contributory – automobile accident to laceration of face and right eye; duration of illness – 11 days. Informant was Mrs. Spong, wife, residing at 186 Belmont Avenue. He was buried on January 13, 1926, at Woodland Cemetery. The death certificate also reveals that the physician, B.C. Sutherland, attended him from December 30, 1925 through January 11, 1926.

8. Directory entries. Canada. Hamilton, Wentworth, Ontario. 1919. Spong, Edwin (labourer, 250 Balmoral) City of Hamilton Directory; Page: 735; in Vernon’s City of Hamilton 46th Annual Streeth, Alphabetical Business and Miscellaneous Directory; Hamilton: Henry Vernon & Son, 1919; citing: Vernon Directories, The Ontario Genealogical Society. Collection: Canada, Ontario, Wentworth, Hamilton, Directories – digital image (#721 of 825). FamilySearch (www.familysearch.org : accessed 05 March 2020)

9. Baptisms (PR). England. St. Mary, Lambeth, Surrey. 27 Sep 1885. Spong, Edwin William George, (b. 24 Aug 1885) son of Edwin (Tramway conductor) and Angela Jessie. Page: 252; Entry no.: 2011; citing: Board of Guardian Records and Church of England Parish Registers. London Metropolitan Archives, London; Reference Number: p85/mry1/377. Collection: London, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1917 – digital image (#429 of 478). Ancestry (www.ancestry.ca : accessed 23 May 2018)

10. Op. cit., Saturday Evening Citizen.

11. Op. cit., Travel records.

12. Op. cit., 1911 census.

13. Scott, Elizabeth. “‘The Ill-Name of the Old Country’: London’s Assisted Emigrants, British Unemployment Policy, and Canadian Immigration Restriction, 1905-1910.” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association / Revue de la Société historique du Canada 26, no. 1 (2015): 99–130; parag. 17, online version: https://www.erudit.org/en/journals/jcha/2015-v26-n1-jcha02610/1037231ar/.

14. Ibid.

15. Op. cit. Saturday Evening Citizen, “Pathetic Flight…”

16. Census returns. Canada. Sub-district 53, Hamilton, Ontario. 01 Jun 1921. Spong, Edwin (age 58); citing: Sixth Census of Canada, 1921; Reference Number: RG 31; Folder Number: 98; Census Place: 98, Wentworth, Ontario; Page: 10; Line no.:08; Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Collection: 1921 Census of Canada – digital image (#11 of 20). Ancestry (www.ancestry.ca : accessed 14 July 2020) Note: He owned his home at 48 Battersea Avenue (columns 4-6), and had been employed as a labourer, in the general category (columns 30, 31, and 33).

17. Op. cit. Scott.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.