Two cousins, halfway around the world from each other, are on a quest to solve a complicated trail of documents and details for an ancestor they share. Carol, from Alberta is the Grand Niece of Maxwell Bigelow, (born in Bracebridge, Ontario about 1888 or 1889), and Maxine, from England, is his Great Granddaughter. The two women recently discovered their connection when Carol reached out to Maxine after seeing details of her family tree on a web site.
At first glance their family tree looks straightforward…
Over a hundred years ago, Washington George Bigelow journeyed from Bracebridge, Ontario to claim home on the prairies near Pontrilas, SK. Along with him he brought his wife, Anna Eva (nee Fuller) and eight of his nine children, Cora, Wellington, Edward, Joseph, Lillie, Mary, Ellen, and Kendal. His eldest son, Maxwell Bigelow, who had by that time, already left home to start his own family back in Ontario.
On October 27, 1913, Washington made an application for a land grant for a quarter of land west of Pontrilas and southwest of Codette that would become his family farm.
Their farm was located in the same section of land that, in 1911, their neighbour Henry Schmidt became the first Postmaster for the historical Spooner Post Office.
Carol and Maxine have uncovered extensive documents showing them where all of Washington and Annie’s children went, birth records, death records and burials for most of them were found.
But Maxwell’s story has a bit of a twist;
On February 24th, 1909, Ontario marriage records show Maxwell Bigelow, married Annie Bateman on February 24, 1909 in Bracebridge Ontario. Their only daughter, Maxine Ellen Bigelow, was born March 9th, 1909 and their son William Ormond Eldres Bigelow was born on December 11th, 1911.
The next record either of the cousins could find of Maxwell, was the 1916 Census records for the Bigelow family in Pontrilas where Maxwell was listed as living with the family there on the farm. In the Census record, Maxwell was noted as being single, as opposed to married or divorced.
The confusing part is the record of a man named Mac Murdoch. A member of the 48th Highlanders, Private Mac Murdoch was killed in a train accident on Thanksgiving Monday, October 28, 1912 when a train carrying 700 troops returning from a sham battle, crashed into the “Detroit Flyer”, a passenger train bound for Detroit Michigan.
A newspaper clipping from the Lethbridge Herald shows a photo of Private Murdoch and also mentions his family in the Prince Albert District, specifically his mother Mrs. Washington Bigelow.
These details fit very well with the story that Maxine, Maxwell’s Great Grandaughter, had grown up hearing from her grandmother. She was told that after he died in the train accident, the family left Ontario to settle in Saskatchewan. Her grandmother also recalled her mother, Annie Bateman, receiving pension benefits for herself and her brother Ormand in the name of Murdoch.
In December of 1919, Annie Bateman remarried and on those Ontario marriage records she used the name Annie Murdoch and the record showed her as a widow.
In the 1921 Census, Maxwell’s daughter was listed as living with her mother, Annie while his son Ormand appeared to be living with Annie’s parent’s but listed as their son, instead of as their grandson.
All the evidence so far suggests that, at some point between December 1911 and October 1912, Maxwell Bigelow changed his name to Mac Murdoch.
Had it not been for the pension Annie had received in the Murdoch name, and the newspaper clipping citing Mrs Bigelow, her great granddaughter Maxine, may have dismissed the possibility that Maxwell Bigelow had become Mac Murdoch.
Maxwell’s family went on to reside in the Pontrilas and Nipawin area for many decades. Carol’s Grandparents, Edward and Alice, had a home in Nipawin for the winter months. Maxwell’s mother, Annie(Anna) Eva (Fuller) Bigelow, his father, Washington Bigelow and at least one sibling, Louis, are laid to rest at the Elk Hill Cemetery in Codette, with other family members buried in nearby cemeteries in Nipawin, Aylsham and Carrot River. As well there are numerous other likely relatives of the Bigelow family that settled in Pontrilas a century ago, also laid to rest in Codette’s Elk Hill, and other cemeteries nearby, but confirmed connections are still to be documented.
After decades of searching for more evidence though, Maxine and Carol are anxious to find documents that might explain what really happened to Maxwell Bigelow.
So Many Unanswered Questions
- If Mac Murdoch is Maxwell Bigelow, when did he change his name and why?
- If Maxwell Bigelow was killed in 1912 on that train, why would his own mother, 4 years later have listed him as living in Pontrilas and working with his family on the farm in the 1916 Census?
- If the Mac Murdoch story is just a red herring, full of coincidences, what really did happen to Maxwell Bigelow?
Can you help?
Maxine and Carol are searching to answer those questions. If you have information, particularly relating to Maxwell’s family that settle near Pontrilas over 100 years ago you can contact me on the website contact form and your information, along with your email address will be forwarded to Maxine and Carol.
Local History and Genealogy on Nipawin News
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