I was given one of my best birthday gifts ever on January 21, 2012 (my 60th birthday) when my wife and two kids purchased my own 90-day subscription to www.ancestry.com. Here’s what I found out about my ancestry through the site, plus information that my mother and other family members uncovered through conversations and letter writing etc. over the years…
I actually traced my Wyatt line back more than 300 years to Philip Wyatt (1692-1721) and Joan Wyatt (1697-1748). Both were born and raised in Buckland St Mary, Somerset County, England and married there in 1718. They lived and died there. They were my great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents. Now, let’s move ahead to their great-grandson and my great-great grandfather, William Wyatt III (1798-1867), a lawyer by trade, who had married twice and had 13 kids total. Whew! Big families back then. Up until the mid-1800s, the Wyatts had remained in that same part of England. But William’s kids soon changed everything. It was this generation that was bitten by the adventurous bug because most left Buckland St Mary for North America, never to return. My great-grandfather Arthur Percy Wyatt (1850-1938), born to William and his second wife, Grace, was the one who started my line of Wyatts.
Arthur, it turned out, first came to Canada in his late teens with his brother Charles (who eventually settled in Ontario to stay), a couple years after the American Civil War ended in 1865. They both found work, but Arthur had to return to England several months later when his father had died. It seems, Arthur was the executor of the will. It apparently took years to settle all the legal matters. I’m reading in between the lines here… it may have taken a long time to iron things out because the older half-brothers and half-sisters were probably displeased with this younger whipper-snapper sibling being the executor. Just a thought. Anyway, Arthur stayed in England and from what I acquired from family sources, he took to “lawyering.” Sort of. He settled down, married Fannie Trump and had three kids, Charles, Mabel and Percy, my grandfather. Arthur supposedly didn’t like desk work, taking to gardening and turning the soil instead. With a new, determined spirit in him, he returned to Canada in 1884 with his young family, worked in Ontario for a year, then headed West—Go West Young Man—to the Territories as they were called then, to where the present town of Broadview, Saskatchewan is today to become a wheat farmer. Six more kids came along, then Fanny died in 1895 giving birth to their last. Twelve years later, in 1907, a woman named Florence Ball came over from England to marry Arthur.
Now here’s our skeleton in the family. I’m sure every family has their own rough spots. From what I’ve heard, Arthur and Florence weren’t exactly the best natured people. In fact, my father told my mother on more than one occasion that he and his five siblings did not have a good relationship with their grandparents, especially Florence. Both were grumpy, miserable individuals. Too bad, because I grew up loving my three grandparents. (My grandpa Wyatt died before I was born). Without going into any details, it seems that Florence was a real capital B. She didn’t like the climate or the people. When Arthur died in 1938, she returned to England shortly after. I bet the Wyatt family couldn’t get to the train fast enough to wave Bon Voyage.
Within a few short weeks of accessing the website, I came across distant cousins (descendants of Arthur’s siblings) throughout Canada, the US and Australia. Most of us stay in touch, too. They call my line the Saskatchewan Wyatts. During my ancestry research I also came across something interesting. There are stories out there handed down through the generations that the Wyatts of England are descendants of Admiral Adam Guyot, the man whom William the Conqueror hand-picked to lead his fleet of ships across the English Channel during the Norman-French invasion of England in 1066. Marrying one of William’s daughters and residing in England after the defeat of the British, as these stories go, Guyot changed his name to Wyot. Over the years, the family name then became Wiot, Wiat, Wiatt and finally Wyatt.
In support of this, I found a book in the local library entitled English Surnames by Charles Wareing Bardsley, published by Charles E Tuttle Co Publishers, Rutland, Vermont, USA, 1968. On page 36 is the following…
‘Guy’ or “Guyon” dates from the ‘Round Table,’ but it was reserved for the Norman to make his name so familiar to English lips. The best proof of this is that the surnames which it has left us are all but entirely formed from the Norman-French diminutive ‘Guyot,’ which in England became, of course, ‘Wyot.’ …The descendants of these, I need scarcely say, are our ‘Wyatts.’
Well. Who knows? It’s speculative.
In the last year or so, I’ve come to the conclusion that the English are excellent record keepers. As for my mother’s ancestry, it doesn’t go back as far as the Wyatts because her roots are from mainland Europe. My mother’s maiden name is Oancia. Her father was Romanian, her mother was Austrian. Like Arthur Wyatt, my mother’s family took to wheat farming. Their part of the province was near Stonehenge, Saskatchewan. Her side can only be traced back to the early 1800s. Having to deal with all the wars and the communist Iron Curtain, many European birth and marriage records had been destroyed. And that’s a shame.
Nevertheless, her side is quite noteworthy. Two brothers in particular, Steve and David Oancia, both born and raised in the Stonehenge district (second cousins to my mother), are famous to a certain degree. Steve was a World War II bomb-aimer with RAF 617 Squadron , more commonly known as the Dambusters. Numerous books, movies and articles on those brave boys. The younger David was an overseas newspaper correspondent. While residing in China and working for the Toronto Globe & Mail, David was the first Western journalist to be allowed an in-depth interview with China’s communist leader Mao Tse-Tung some years after he had taken office. My mother told me once that in their prairie country school, while she and the other kids would spend recess outdoors, the non-athletic David used to stay inside and read, sometimes the dictionary. He didn’t like sports at all. He wasn’t very good at it, either, according to my mother. “But look where it got him,” she added, grinning.
Who says history is boring? I am proud of my Western roots. Good, hard-working people came before me to set excellent examples. Farmers. Tough men and women who put up with a lot over the years. Dust, drought, crop failures, freezing cold, two World Wars. Those who moved to the city, as my parents did, fought for better working conditions and wages for them and my Baby Boomer generation to come. My parents didn’t tolerate lazy kids. If we didn’t have work, then we were to go out and find it. The government didn’t owe the Wyatts a living. Something my wife and I live by today, and so do our two kids. My dad once said, “Wyatts never give up.” In general, we Baby Boomers and the next generations to follow are reaping the benefits of the past generation’s examples.
History is all around us. We just have to go looking for it. For example, just this year I discovered another side note to the Wyatt family from some family memoirs that my mother put together in the 1980s. My grandma Wyatt, born Bessie Deeley in 1889, came to this country in 1910 from England with her parents and a sister to settle in Broadview. A year later, she married my grandfather Percy. The ship they had sailed on was the ocean liner RMS Empress of Ireland. On May 29, 1914, this same passenger ship--owned and operated by Canadian Pacific Steamships and on her 96th run between Liverpool and Quebec --was struck by the SS Storstad, a Norwegian collier while steaming down the St Lawrence River. The Empress sank in only 14 minutes, killing 1,012 persons of the 1,477 aboard. The sinking is still the largest Canadian Maritime accident in peacetime. But the story doesn’t end there. When I found out that my grandmother sailed on this ship, I called my dentist, Steve Brooks, here in Burlington, Ontario. Steve is a scuba diver and for years now has had artifacts from the Empress of Ireland placed under glass in his business waiting area…artifacts that he was given permission to remove from the site. On the phone I started out by saying, “Hey, Steve, guess what? My grandmother came to Canada…”
And that’s as far as I got. Interrupting, he answered, “On the Empress of Ireland. No kidding?” He then informed me that I was the only patient in his almost 40 years of practice whose family member had sailed on the historic ship.
I urge everyone to research their own family background. It’s good to know where we came from. Why we are the way we are, and what happened within our families decades and centuries before us. Why? Because so much of the past has led to shaping our lives in the present day. Check out your ancestry. What’s waiting to be discovered in your family tree?