Holiday Greetings from the Grace Schmidt Room

Xmas postcard012

Christmas Postcard, mailed 24 December 1908.

As 2018 draws to a close, I wanted to extend my best wishes for the holidays and New Year from the Grace Schmidt Room. It’s been a busy year – a new service model, new office mates and many challenges. 2019 will hold many new changes for the Grace Schmidt Room which I hope will continue to serve the needs of customers and researchers.

This year, we said good-bye to Senior Library Assistant, Karen T., who retired in June. I miss her dearly – especially her friendship, wicked sense of humour, flair for words, dedication and steadfast support of the GSR. It was an honour to have worked with Karen. I wish her the best of health and happiness in her retirement and new adventures.

As always, Senior Library Assistants, Ingrid and Valerie, are the backbone of the GSR – their enthusiasm, creativity, and willingness to take on tasks from the mundane to special are what keep me going. Without them, the GSR would not be what it is today.

To all of our volunteers, I want to say ‘thank you’ for your support and work on behalf of local history and genealogy in the GSR. Your efforts and contributions are much appreciated and valued.

The postcard shown above, was mailed on December 24, 1908 by a young woman named “Lucy” in Bridgeport to Pearl Bracey. I love its simplicity – a needed reminder to slow down in the hustle and bustle of the holidays to enjoy the simple joys of life – family, friends, food and quiet. This is the reverse of the image:

Xmas postcard - r014

Reverse of Christmas postcard

Pearl Bracey was born in Bloomingdale, ON, on 24 July 1887, to William Bracey and Louisa Snyder. She lived in Lexington and Bridgeport during her lifetime. Pearl was a member of Trinity United Church, Kitchener and, at one time, served as the organist for Emmanuel United Church in Bridgeport. She died on 19 January 1977 in Kitchener, at the age of 89.

Lucy’s identity is a mystery, but I’ll keep an eye out for her.

Merry Christmas!

Cheers, Karen

Genealogy Fair 2018

Have you taken the plunge into the DNA pool yet?

DNA strings -

DNA Strings – (dna-1811955_1920) by qimono

With the Genealogy Fair on the horizon, I’ve been thinking a lot about how genealogy research and interactions have changed with the introduction of DNA testing.  No longer are we isolated branches of families, but a giant interconnection of cousins and kin. Despite the advances of science and DNA testing, the fundamentals of good research, solid sources, and documentation remain unchanged in genealogy. DNA testing has made the fundamentals critically important in working out relationships and connections.

About two years ago, I took the plunge into the genetic pool via DNA testing through Ancestry DNA and FamilyTreeDNA.  My first motivation to test was to  break the brick wall that I  encountered with researching my Dad’s line – generations of tailors in North Devon, all named John or William Ball. As I worked on my Mom’s line, I realized that DNA might help to solve the mystery of my maternal great-grandfather – someone who never quite fit the genealogical record left behind – and whose identity was clouded in snippets of stories surrounding my grandmother’s birth in England just before the end of the Great War and her subsequent adoption by a Canadian soldier and his British war-bride. I’ve also recently come across the ‘ultimate genealogical nightmare’, on my Mom’s line: a Brown marrying a Smith, the perennial conundrum of the common surname. DNA will hopefully help me chip away at these mysteries.

While DNA autosomal testing hasn’t led me to immediate quick answers, it has made me rethink family. For me, it is no longer defined as a narrow single branch, but interrelated and intertwining branches of cousins, half-relations and the occasional misattributed parentage event (where a parent(s) of record is not the actual biological parent). New matches lead to questions of  ‘how am I related to them?’, a more critical view of records and family trees, and rethinking and retesting my past assumptions about my own family and research. Although, truth be told, I may not be farther ahead on solving the mysteries, but I have made all sorts of discoveries on many family branches and have opened up new avenues of research.

DNA testing can open up a world fraught with challenges – family secrets may be uncovered, lives changed, and unknown relationships revealed. The task of handling those delicate revelations is the tricky part, but it’s the connections that make us family – the good, the bad and the ugly truths that are part of life.

This year’s KPL Genealogy Fair offers something for everyone – whether you are knee-deep in a traditional search through records, databases and family trees, dipping your toe into the genetic pool for the first time or are, like me, looking at pages of DNA matches and wondering, who is the most recent common ancestor.

So join us on 21 April 2018 to discover your roots at the KPL Genealogy Fair! It’s a day-long free event at Central. No registration is required. Doors open at 9am and our keynote speaker, Mags Gaulden, of Grandma’s Genes, will talk about the power of genetic genealogy to connect us all at 9:30am in the Theatre on the lower level. Stay for the day, attend workshops, and connect with local area archives, libraries and genealogical societies that can help you grow your family tree!

Thanks to Ancestry.caFind My PastMyHeritage for the donation of prizes for the Genealogy Fair! Make sure that you fill out a ballot for your chance to win!

I’d like thank the Walper Hotel for generously providing Mag Gaulden’s accommodation and the Waterloo Regional Heritage Foundation for their financial support of this event.

Cheers, Karen



Guest Posts

William Armstrong, the Grand Trunk Railway, and the Breslau Bridge

Grand River Bridge, 1856 by William Armstrong

Grand River Bridge, 1856 by Armstrong, William, 1822-1914 (Local Identifier: P1335 Waterloo Historical Society collection)

Hello readers! My name is TJ—a graduate student from University of Toronto’s iSchool, currently completing a co-op placement here at the Grace Schmidt Room of Local History. Throughout the past few months, I’ve been re-organizing GSR’s framed artwork and photograph collection, digitizing them, and slowly uploading them onto Our Digital World. During this time, I came across a particular watercolour painting that struck me as rather interesting, and through some research, it became apparent that it may actually be a piece by acclaimed Canadian painter, photographer and engineer, William Armstrong (1822-1914). This entry explores a little bit about the painting, Armstrong’s life, and the history and development of the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR)  in the Waterloo Region.

The supposed Armstrong painting depicts a scene in front of the Grand River Bridge in 1856 at what’s believed to be Breslau, ON. This bridge was built in that same year as a part of the Grand Trunk Rail system that was making its way from Toronto through to Southwestern Ontario. Using a fairly dark and muted colour palette, the painting shows the Grand River with two canoes on the water. Seen in the background is the train bridge, with a steam engine passing on the left and several figures walking across. Seated in the canoe in the foreground are three indigenous figures. Perhaps their presence in the painting is an intentional nod to both the changing natural environment in the wake of industrial progress and the negative effects that colonization has forced onto the indigenous communities that were long established along the Grand River.

Interestingly, a very similar image painted by William Armstrong can be found in the collection of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) in Ottawa. This one too depicts the same Grand River Bridge from a similar vantage point, although several elements differ slightly: including a more vibrant colour palette and a richer level of detail. In comparing these two images, it occurred to me that perhaps the painting held in the Grace Schmidt Room at the Kitchener Public Library was created as the initial study that later became the finished piece seen at the LAC.

Railroad Bridge over the Grand River. [Grand Trunk Railway]. by William Armstrong, 1822-1914

Railroad Bridge over the Grand River. [Grand Trunk Railway] by William Armstrong, 1822-1914. Library and Archives Canada, ACC. R9266-8 Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana

According to the Waterloo Historical Society’s annual volume of 1917, the painting was donated to them in that same year. While no artist credit was provided, or any donor information for that matter, a red signature in the lower left corner of the painting, reads “Armstrong ‘56”. While this does not provide definitive proof of it being a genuine Armstrong piece, the similarities between the two images are quite remarkable. And if we dig a bit deeper into Armstrong’s work as an engineer and photographer, surely his work with the GTR brought him to the Waterloo Region.

William Armstrong was born in Dublin, Ireland, and immigrated to Toronto in 1851. Having previously studied art, he also trained in engineering by apprenticing with the Midland Railway in England. Once he arrived in Toronto, he combined his engineering and drawing skills as an employee of the Grand Trunk Railway where he created a series of watercolour paintings depicting railway bridges and other landscapes.

During this time he also developed an interest in photography, and by 1855 he had established the firm Armstrong, Beer & Hume, with his two partners, Daniel Manders Beere (1833-1909) and Humphrey Lloyd Hume (1833-1903). This firm became prominent in the Toronto area for their work as civil engineers, photographers, and draughtsmen. Below are two images taken by Armstrong, depicting the Breslau Bridge from two vantage points. These images are a part of a collection held at Library and Archives Canada, and was generously provided to us by them.

Grand Trunk Railway bridge over the Grand River, ca. 1858

Grand Trunk Railway bridge over the Grand River., ca. 1858. Photo credited to William Armstrong, 1822-1914. Library and Archives Canada.

In 1854, the first railway service came to Waterloo County, but it was not until 1856 that the Grand Trunk Railway line was built westward from Toronto through to Waterloo County, reaching Sarnia by 1859. The Grand Trunk was the only railway providing a direct link from Montreal and Toronto to Chicago and the American Midwest. The construction took over two years, but by mid-1856, the bridge over the Grand River at Breslau was opened to traffic. July 1st, 1856 marked the date of the first train to run between Toronto and Berlin. After the rail line opened, the population of Breslau began to grow. Children would use the rail bridge to get to the Breslau school located on the Kolb farmstead on the other bank of the river, but dangerous conditions crossing the bridge later prompted Waterloo Township to construct a passenger bridge over the Grand River.

Aerial view of Breslau and the Grand River Trunk Bridge, 1952 - from Waterloo Trust calendar (P9073)

Aerial view of Breslau and the Grand River Trunk Bridge, 1952 – from Waterloo Trust calendar (P9073 WHS collection)

Above is an aerial photograph of Breslau that appeared in the 1952 Waterloo Trust and Savings Co. calendar . Both bridges can be seen in this image. Below is an image of group of men standing in front of a train wreck in Breslau from around the 1890s .

Train wreck near Breslau, ON, 1890s (P1499 WHS Collection)

Train wreck near Breslau, ON, 1890s (P1499 WHS Collection)

And lastly, below are two GTR-related images found in our collection. The first is a postcard of the Grand Trunk station in Berlin, ON dated 1908  and the second is a hand written, first-class ticket stub issued from Waterloo, date unknown.

Postcard of the Grand Trunk Railway station, Berlin, ON (P5081 KPL Collection)

Postcard of the Grand Trunk Railway station, Berlin, ON (P5081 KPL Collection)

Grand Trunk Railway ticket - issued from Waterloo, ON

Grand Trunk Railway ticket – issued from Waterloo, ON

Although, Armstrong was known for his photography and engineering work, it was through his paintings that he gained most of his recognition. By the 1880s he began painting full-time, winning several awards and had pieces belonging to many prominent collectors. Up until his death in 1914, he devoted himself almost exclusively to travelling and recording landscapes, the monuments of the industrial age, and the effects that the pursuit of progress had on both Native populations and the scattered communities of settlers across Canada. His paintings today can be seen as a testament to his efforts in capturing Ontario before it changed through the wake of rapid development and colonial advancement.

If anyone has any further information, corrections, or clarifications regarding the painting held in the Grace Schmidt Room, please leave a comment to let us know.

For further information about Armstrong read: William Armstrong, 1822-1914 by Janet E. Clark, Thorold J. Tronrud and Michael Bell (Thunder Bay: Thunder Bay Art Gallery, 1996).


Tronrud, Thorold J. “William Armstrong, 1822-1914, Artist and Engineer.” Thunder Bay Art Gallery.

“The Grand Trunk Railway.” Walter Bean Trail

Who Were the Photographers?City of Toronto.

Genealogy Fair 2018, KPL Genealogy Fair 2018

Are You Ready for the 6th KPL Genealogy Fair?

Kitchener Public Library Genealogy Fair 2018

Kitchener Public Library Genealogy Fair 2018

I am extremely happy to announce that the slate of speakers, workshops and participants for the 6th Kitchener Public Library Genealogy Fair is now available on our fair webpage. The Fair will be held on Saturday 21 April 2018 at Central from 9am to 3pm. It’s a free event and no registration is required.

If you are thinking of taking the dip into the DNA pool to help breakthrough your genealogy brickwalls, this event is for you! This year, we are exploring genetic genealogy and the new opportunities that DNA testing offers.

And, if you are not into DNA testing, no worries! We have other workshops to help you in your genealogy journey – like British Home Children, writing your family history, land records research, finding 20th century Canadian ancestors and much more!

This year, we are also offering a family album scrapbooking workshop for your kids and grand-kids in the Grace Schmidt Room at noon  (Children in Grades 4 and up). Bring in some favourite family photos and we’ll supply the mixed media materials. Why not pass along your love of genealogy to the next generation?

Are you ready to learn, share, grow and take your genealogy further? Then join us for the 6th KPL Genealogy Fair on 21 April 2018! Be sure to check the fair webpage often for updates. The schedule for the day will be posted in mid-April.

Accommodations for Mags generously provided by the Walper Hotel

Walper Hotel

Thanks to the Waterloo Regional Heritage Foundation for their financial support of this event.

WRHF logo

Looking forward to seeing you at the fair!

Cheers, Karen

Christmas, New Year

New Year Wishes

1910 New Year postard

A New Year’s postcard for 1910 sent to Pearl Bracey of Bridgeport, ON

As we open a new calendar for 2018, here’s a look back a New Year’s postcard sent in late December 1909 to Pearl Bracey of Bridgeport marking the start of 1910. This lovely postcard hints at the festive season with its holly leaves and points to the year ahead with the 1910 half-year calendar pages.

Reverse of New Year postcard to Pearl Bracey, Bridgeport, ON

Reverse of New Year postcard to Pearl Bracey, Bridgeport, ON

The message reads “Wishing you all a very Merry Xmas & a Happy New Year. Oliver & Bertha”.

From all of us in the Grace Schmidt Room, I’d like to wish everyone a very Happy and Healthy 2018. We look forward to sharing the treasures of the GSR with you and hope that you’ll drop by to see us in the New Year.

Cheers, Karen


Merry Christmas from the GSR

1909 Christmas postcard

1909 Christmas postcard from Carrie Vollmar to Pearl Bracey of Bridgeport, ON

This lovely 1909 Christmas postcard was sent by Carrie Vollmar of Berlin, ON, to Pearl Bracey of Bridgeport, ON, on 22 December 1909. Pearl Bracey was born in Bloomingdale, ON, on 24 July 1887, to William Bracey and Louisa Snyder. She lived in Lexington and Bridgeport during her lifetime. She was a member of Trinity United Church, Kitchener and, at one time, served as the organist for Emmanuel United Church in Bridgeport. She died on 19 January 1977 in Kitchener, at the age of 89.

Carrie (Caroline Marie) Vollmar, the sender of the postcard, was born on 12 July 1884 in Berlin, ON, to Daniel and Catherine Vollmar. She married Henry O. Knechtel on 9 June 1917, at the age of 32, in Kitchener. She and Henry had one child, Esther Catherine Knechtel (married name Boyer). Caroline passed away on 25 December 1945, at the age of 61, in Kitchener.

1909 Christmas postcard - reverse side

Reverse of 1909 Christmas postcard from Carrie Vollmer to Pearl Bracey of Bridgeport, ON

The postcard features a colourized photograph of skiers enjoying a winter afternoon. It made me think of the many Christmas Days that I have spent walking, tobogganing and exploring with family and friends. From sledding with my daughter, walking with my Mom and grandmother, to a magical moonlit hike through silent fields with my uncle and cousins, Christmas Day has always been a special time to connect with family, friends and community.  I hope that everyone is able to enjoy the holidays and reconnect – with the things, people and activities that bring them joy.

From all of us in the Grace Schmidt Room, we would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and the Happiest of Holidays.

Cheers, Karen.

Genealogy Fair 2018

6th KPL Genealogy Fair – Join us!

August Boehmer, Sr. family

P007001 August Boehmer, Sr. family. For more information about the photograph, click here

Join us on Saturday April 21, 2018 at the Central Library for the 6th KPL Genealogy Fair!

If you would like to participate as an exhibitor, vendor or workshop leader, please contact us at for more information and an application form. The application deadline of Sunday December 17, 2017 is fast approaching!

Do you have a DNA story or other genealogical expertise to share?  We’d love to hear from you and welcome your workshop proposals.

Mags Gaulden of Grandma’s Genes is our keynote speaker and will kickstart our day with her insights into how genetic genealogy connects us all. Mark your calendars for this exciting event! We hope that you can join us!

Cheers, Karen

Gen Fair 2018 - Poster.cdr