Life began on the plains of Saskatchewan, in the then-tiny town of
Shaunavon in the year 1932.
I reached the age of five and a half , there was very little to
distinguish our family of five from others in the area. I was the
youngest of three children, all of whom were born in December, but
each eight years apart.
On June 25th of the year 1938, our
mother died of pneumonia, which she contracted after an even then,
simple goiter operation. It was at this point that our family unit
began to disintegrate, due in part, I am sure, to my father's
occupation with Canadian National Railways.
My sister Inez, though 21, was married
by this time and starting a family of her own. My brother Raymond went
to live with his father in Wolf Point, Montana. (It wasn't until years
later in 1951, that I discovered they were my half brother and sister;
mother had been married twice.)
(R to L) My father Angus Gillis MacDonald, me at one
year, my mother Rose Anna and my sister Inez
For the next two years, I lived with
friends of my father's, then placed in foster care of the Saskatchewan
welfare department. This took place in the summer of 1941.For the next
seven years I was shuttled between foster homes and the orphanage in
Regina Saskatchewan, Canada. During this time period, I had heard of
my father just one time in 1944, when he had tried to get me released
to his care. This was according to Mr. and Mrs. Hodgins , who were
caring for me at the time. I never heard from him again. To this day,
I have no idea what happened to him, nor does my family, whom I found
through the internet on February 15, 1999.
Now one may ask: Why wasn't I adopted? It
seems I was adamant about retaining the MacDonald name, as believed if
my name changed, I would never locate my family!
In 1941, I was living with the Hodgins
family, when one night I had a premonition about my sister Inez, and
ran into their bedroom, yelling that my sister lived in Los Angeles
and had two children a girl and a boy.
The Hodgins couple calmed me down,
saying it was just a dream. But I never forgot about this incident. In
1950, I contacted the Salvation Army in Regina and asked them to check
for an Inez Van Slate, who worked for Safeway Stores in Los Angeles.
My uncle Archie and my cousins Jeannette, Alex and
Jack, with our grandfather Sheman Angus MacDonald
I took this path after I had contacted the
Sheriff's Department and numerous other entities of Los Angeles County.
About a year later in 1951, the Salvation Army contacted me saying that
luckily, my sister Inez accidentally overheard the Salvation Army worker
asking about an Inez Van Slate.
This was the second time the Salvation Army
had checked at this store. It seems that Inez had remarried and her last
name was now Rubly. And she did indeed have two children, a boy and girl,
born in 1946 and 1947, respectively. She had also moved to Los Angeles in
Neither she nor my brother knew anything of
In 1951 I married, but continued the search
for my father by writing to census bureaus in the United States and
Canada, and vital statistics organizations in every Canadian province and
most U.S. states as well.
I wrote to hundreds of MacDonalds to no
avail, hired private investigators in Nova Scotia or wherever I heard or
read about an Angus Gillis MacDonald, my father. There is an old Cape
Breton proverb that reads, "If mistakes were haystacks, we'd all have a
cow!" Well I'd made plenty, but I kept searching!
Five years ago I purchased my first
computer and started an internet search. I believe I left queries at every
genealogy site I found, and even contacted LDS sites and libraries.
Then on the February 14 of this year, I was
checking Family web pages at Cape Breton Genealogies when I decided to
research one that I initially passed by. This one was called the Thorpe
Family (a long way from MacDonald) but there were MacDonalds listed.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained I mused,
so I typed a short note to William Thorpe asking if he knew of an
Angus Gillis MacDonald. The following day I received a reply: "Hey
cousin, I have found your family!"
It seems the Thorpes were researching this
ClanRanald branch of the Creignish MacDonalds for years. Bill then put
me in touch with my cousins, Kay and Alex, who live in Halifax, Nova
Scotia. From that moment, I began to realize just how large a family I
had been privileged to be a part of.
My father was the second eldest of 24
children. His father Shemin Angus (my grandfather) had been married
three times, and my grandmother's name was Mary Ann Gillis, thus my
father's name of Angus Gillis MacDonald.
We gathered at Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. (L to R)
Uncle John Macdonald, Aunt Mary (his wife), Aunt Eleanor, Uncle Tom
and his wife Shirley; I am standing.
I'll never forget a story one of my cousins
told me. When she was a little girl, she asked her mother, Mama why
doesn't Grandpa smile?" Her mother replied: "He must have smiled a few
times, you have 23 aunts and uncles!"
Imagine me going from the so called titular
head of my family of six, to one of over 1,500 ancestors and relatives. My
delight never ceases. Our ancestors came from Eileen Shona in Scotland to
Prince Edward Island (PEI) first in the late 1700's, and then moved to
In August of this year, 1999, I flew to
Halifax to meet with relatives for the first time. It is with deep
regret that in March I lost an uncle who was 87 and a cousin who died
of cancer in April; she was only in her thirties. In May, we lost the
eldest sibling of my father, Flora, who was born in 1902, the same
year as my father.
Meeting with my uncle Dougald
for the first time was an experience I'll never forget. He was waiting
for us outside his residence in Port Hawkesbury, resemblance was
startling. Dougald is the one remaining sibling of my Grandfather's
first marriage. Needless to say, our meeting for the first time was
one of tearful joy.
I was greeted Halifax Aiport by some 30 cousins,
including Janice; Alex and his wife Jessie; and Jeanette with husband
Dougald Passed away on 11 10 2002, All of the first Family are now
deceased. Dougald would have been 93 in January of 2003.
On the August 21, 1999, I met with many
more aunts, uncles and first cousins, of which there are 52 at last
count. All welcomed me with open arms and love. As there are many more
to relatives to meet, and hopefully I will meet most of them.
After almost six decades of searching, I can only reiterate how
astounding it feels to know one's roots. But more than this is the
realization that one is accepted as a family member without any
reservation. I must also mention that Cape Bretoners as a whole are a
wonderfully warm people.