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By Ryan Taylor

Some people have all the luck. Imagine looking for your ancestors' elusive passenger list and finding not only the list, but letters, official records and a diary!

Glenn Wright, senior historian at the Library and Archives of Canada in Ottawa, knew his immigrant ancestors settled near Guelph. Acton Burrows' The Annals of the Town of Guelph (1877) mentions their name and their arrival on the Caroline in 1832.

Further investigation led to an interview given in 1908 by one of the Caroline's other passengers, who was celebrating his 98th birthday. Here Wright found more names and a dramatic description of the ship caught for three weeks in the ice off Cape Breton.

The passengers had been organized by William Cattermole, an entrepreneurial agent who promoted immigration to Canada from Britain. This led Wright to investigate some British government records called Colonial Office 384. He found letters from Cattermole looking for government funding for his emigrants. Again, the Wrights were mentioned.

With his growing interest in the Caroline's other passengers, Wright decided to search for information on the internet. "I knew I couldn't search for Burgess or Hunter," he said, "But I tried Strouts." Among the Caroline's inmates were brothers Edward and Plumley Strouts.

He found three hits - a car dealership in the midwestern USA, a cemetery record from New York state, and a family history website in England. After a little correspondence with the woman who owned the English site, she announced that she had Edward Strouts' diary of the Caroline's voyage. It later turned out that the New York cemetery record was for Plumley Strouts.

With this wealth of information, Wright decided to investigate all the families he knew about. There were 211 passengers on the Caroline, and Wright has only a partial list, but he points out, "The children aren't listed, and there must have been some large families on board." He probably knows the family names of most of them.

Having discovered that the ship landed at Quebec, he looked into issues of the local newspapers for May 1832. In one, he found another partial list of passengers, and in another, the account of a party given honoring the ship's captain. People were grateful to him for having freed them from the ice off Cape Breton.

The situation on the ice-bound ship had been serious. The Strouts diary describes the creaking of the wood as the ice pressed on its sides. Both food and water were starting to run low. In the end expert seamanship brought them safely to Quebec.

Although many of the passengers came to Wellington County, a few (such as Edward Strouts) took a look at Canada and decided to return home to England. They were fortunate in having the funds to do so.

By 1900, almost all the Caroline families had left Wellington, although Wright thinks there is one family of descendants left in Bloomingdale.

Although Wright was lucky in his research, his methods - thoroughness and creativity in deciding where to look - really made the difference in what he found.

Asked if there is a lesson for other genealogists in the Caroline's story, he said, "I think the Colonial Office 384 records are underused. They have lots of names, and letters connecting families in Canada with relatives left behind in England." Although the originals of CO384 are at the National Archives in London, microfilm copies are available at the Library and Archives of Canada in Ottawa. The films can also be borrowed from LAC on interlibrary loan.

Wright's research about the Caroline has been published by Wellington County Branch OGS as The Caroline and Her Passengers ($20 + $3 postage).

Posted November 21, 2003
Column copyright © 2003 Ryan Taylor

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