My mum’s family always said that mum’s grandmother, Illa Lloyd, was Native or Metis. “They all look like Indians in those old pictures” someone would say, or “Your aunt looks part Native because our grandmother was probably Cree, from Saskatchewan.” Illa was a huge brick wall in my family tree research. What my mother told me: She died in the 1930s, when my grandfather was 6 or 7. Her name was spelled “Ila.” She was little and dark, Saskatchewan First Nations.
Based on that, I started with the 1916 census of the Prairie Provinces. A quick search on Ancestry.ca didn’t turn anything up, so I went downtown to the Vancouver Central Library, and pulled out a roll of microfilm for the Indian agencies of Saskatchewan. There were no Ilas, Islas, Ellas, Illas, Idas, or Aylas the right age to be the one I wanted.
Then I tried the 1911 Canada census index on automatedgenealogy.com, hoping for any number of things: That a transcription error on Ancestry or mistake by the enumerator in the original had made her hard to find in the 1916 census; that she wasn’t from Saskatchewan, but had moved there later; that she was a different age than I originally assumed.
There were Ila and Ida Lloyds in Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario. The one that looked most promising was the Manitoba family:
Ila lived in the Prairies and was born in 1911 (the right age to have been married young and have a child by 1930). But what was this?
The census records the nationality of each person enumerated. Here, Richard is listed as English, Cassie as Irish, and the two girls, Ila and Eva, as English.
I looked at it with a different eye. Each person’s nationality is determined by their father’s ancestry. This opens up several possibilities: This is not the family I am looking for. Or, this is the right family, and they do have Native ancestry from one of the grandmothers. Or there is no Native ancestry at all, and my Mum was mistaken.
I sat on this for a while, and moved on to easier research in other lines. Finally, I came to the conclusion that I had been approaching finding Illa the wrong way, with secondhand oral information from people who had never met her. Finding someone who knew her was going to be a problem. Her son William, my grandfather, had died in 2001. He and Grandma had separated when Mum and her sisters were little, and they weren’t particularly close to him and didn’t know that much about that side of the family. That left Grandma, who had been married to William in 1950. She must have met some of his family in the years they were together.
Grandma had met them. “They lived outside of Arborfield (Saskatchewan), and I guess they were pretty well established there. Her older sister was named Enid, and a bunch of other brothers and sisters, George and Gordie or Geordie or something like that, and Bernice. One of Bill’s uncles was a redhead and he was adopted. Larry, maybe?”
Could Enid have been misheard by the census enumerator as Eva? I was a little doubtful. Besides, these Lloyds were nowhere near Arborfield. After combing through the Arborfield census returns for 1911 to make sure I hadn’t missed someone there (I hadn’t), I left the Lloyds behind until I could get my hands on Illa’s death certificate.
It was entirely by chance that I found the missing connection. I had been using ourroots.ca to look through old town histories in Saskatchewan. It seems like every small town has to put out a book with family histories and the stories of old timers. I had plugged in a search for books about Arborfield, to see if I could find anything about Illa’s husband’s sister, who had married a farmer in the area. (As it turns out, Sarah and Jesse Meachem hadn’t stayed long in Arborfield. They appear on the 1916 census there, but one of their sons was born in Rossland, BC, in 1922.) In a book called “Pioneer Ways to Modern Days: History of the Town of Carrot River and the Rural Municipality of Moose Range” was this:
I pulled up the 1911 census, and realized that what I thought might have been “Eva” could also be “Ena.” And siblings that matched what Grandma said! First hand account! I may have pumped my fist in the air and looked like a complete nerd to everyone around me.
It still didn’t conclusively answer the question of Illa’s ethnicity, but at least I had enough clues to find the previous generation. Score one for persistence and questioning indirect information!