Rachel and Kayleen McAdams featured in this week’s Who Do You Think You Are? and the episode primarily focused on military clues to their family history. The McAdams sisters’ adventure started and ended in Canada, and as they traveled along their historical journey, the audience got a taste of the life of a Loyalist during the American Revolution. A side of the story we do not often hear about, as the political tension increased between the colonists and the Crown, residents of this new land were forced to make extreme decisions, often at the risk of persecution from their friends and neighbors.
James Gray, once a resident of the Lake Champaign area in New York and Vermont, was forced north to a Canadian refugee camp outside of St. John, in Ontario. One of several such camps, the family would have lived in horrid conditions, and at some point, James Gray joined the fight as a Loyalist Ranger. By 1781, there were more than 1300 people taking shelter at these camps, including 55 families at St. Johns. James Gray was mustered out in 1784, having already been reunited with his family, and they almost immediately sought to take advantage of the opportunities his service – and his loyalty – provided to him.
As part of the reward for remaining dedicated to the Crown, the men and their families were gifted land in Canada. Available to more than one generation of the family, they became some of the earliest permanent settlers in Upper Canada and are regarded today as some of the founding families. Finding an individual’s military service records is a helpful start to understanding if your ancestor was a part of this unique community in Canadian history. You can find avariety of records on Findmypast, including Regimental & Service Records such as this one for John Pearson.
John Gray certainly wasn’t the only man in uniform in the McAdams family. They also discovered that at least two generations of the Gale family were active in both the Royal Navy and the Air Force. Could W.H. Gale, a Rigger in 1914 be the same William H. Gale mentioned in the episode? With a bit more information about the serviceman himself, it is certainly a possibility. This makes the family interview so very important; gaining as many details from your living relatives as possible to be able to make informed theories based on the records you find.
Identifying your ancestor’s military past can be extremely beneficial to learning more about the history of your family. Once you have identified their individual role, expand your search to learn more about the engagements their unit was involved in, the men and women who served side by side with them. Even if you do not locate your specific family member, you can access diaries, memoirs, unit histories and other material that will give you a day to day look at their experiences.
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