ELLIE JANE WILKINS has always been a favourite. A little girl marked by and orphaned at the age of two but who, by all appearances, was deeply loved by the grandparents, aunts and uncles who raised her — and until recently almost a complete mystery.
As I wrote in my first post about Nellie when I finally discovered she’d married Charles Ashwood, it set in motion a domino effect. Over the course of a couple of hours I found she’d immigrated to , had had a son named Murray, that Charles had been killed in the and that she remarried to Leason Keirstead in 1918. A welcome flood of new information after years of fruitless research but one which still left a lot of unanswered questions.
Now with the help of the 1921 Canada Census and the discovery of her death certificate, several more pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place.
A Theory Disproved
Though I knew Nellie & Charles had married, I still didn’t know when and where. I formed the theory that since Charles was single and living in in 1911 and that he’d subsequently enlisted in the C.E.F. in in 1915, perhaps he’d travelled to to meet Nellie when she immigrated. And perhaps they had married there and decided to stay.
No documentation could be found to support any of this but now, thanks to the 1 So Nellie likely arrived in Canada sometime in 1911 or perhaps early 1912 depending on Edward’s birth date (unknown). After clearing immigration she boarded a train to Calgary where she was reunited with family and a wedding very quickly ensued.I know what really happened. There’s still no record of Nellie’s but the 1921 reveals Murray (born in 1916) was actually Nellie and Charles’ second child. Their first was Edward born in Alberta in 1912.
Why and exactly when Nellie and Charles decided to migrate back east to New Brunswick is still a mystery — neither had family ties there nor was there any kind of economic boom drawing people — but migrate they did and it’s where Nellie spent the rest of what turned out to be a short life.
Another Early Demise
The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick online database offers free downloadable birth, marriage and death certificates. My first visit in search of Nellie’s death record returned a goose egg but a recent second visit struck gold. As excited as I was to find this document it was tempered by the discovery of yet another early death — this time by what appears to have been eclampsia.2
I knew nothing of this condition, had never even heard the term until, of all things, Lady Sybil of Downton Abbey fame perished from the same condition. An unexpected connection but if it hadn’t been for that bit of fictional drama I might never have deciphered the cause of death on Nellie’s certificate. The handwriting is poor resulting in wide strokes of ink that obscure the letter shapes. In fact, there’s a word preceding eclampsia I still haven’t figured out (possibly preeclampsia?). It is, however, very clear that Nellie was 7 months pregnant and just 34 years old when she died on September 14, 1925 — one of three of the Wilkins family who would die in their early thirties as did Nellie’s first husband.
I confess it brought a lump to my throat to think that this young woman, of whom I’ve grown so inexplicably fond, hadn’t gotten the chance to grow old and gray. But after so many years of knowing next to nothing about Nellie it’s wonderful to finally be able to tell her story if only in the broadest strokes.