Brenda Hutchinson has been working on a puzzle for over six years.
The pieces are snippets of historical information linking the people who sailed from Scotland to Pictou on the ship Hector to their descendants scattered across the world.
It starts with a skeleton. The bare bones are the birthdates and names of the people she wants to search for. Using these, she adds details to bring out the lives of these people and follows their children through time.
Hours are spent on genealogies, journals and cemetery records.
“It’s really a big headache trying to put the individuals together,” she said.
Now, Hutchinson and fellow researcher John Ashton are collaborating on a book highlighting dozens of Ship Hector descendants who have gone on to make their mark on the world.
Ashton said he was amazed at some of the descendants’ significant accomplishments.
“Wherever they lived, they seemed to excel in hard-working Scots,” Ashton said.
Hutchinson said her interest in the project began in the fall of 2015, when she moved to Pictou County and began volunteering at the McCulloch House Museum. Shortly after starting, she gained access to a collection of passenger information from the Hector ship.
She was intrigued and immediately began trying to update the information currently available.
“I worked in time,” she said. “Most people go back in time. Very often I match what people found going back in time to what I found going forward in time.
The people she found are an impressive group that includes everything from farmers and shipbuilders to politicians and corporate presidents. Also in the mix are authors, artists and ministers. These people helped found the towns and villages of Pictou County and even some of the current municipal leaders of Pictou County are among the descendants. Stellarton Mayor Danny MacGIllivray, whose town has roots in the passengers of the Hector ship, is among those who trace his family tree back to the Hector.
While many of the people Ashton and Hutchinson write about died, they also found many of their descendants alive.
“There are thousands of descendants all over North America,” Hutchinson said. “I have been in contact with almost 300 confirmed and almost a few hundred more who have not yet been confirmed.”
Ashton and Hutchinson hope that when the book is completed, it will provide these parents with a better understanding of the past and the legacy of their ancestors.
“I think it helps people understand who they are,” Hutchinson said. “I think it’s really important to know our history and understand what our ancestors sacrificed and the challenges they faced before us.”
The aim is to have over 100 profiles in the book to be published before the 250th anniversary in 2023. Each will be between 300 and 600 words and, where possible, include photos to accompany it.
Ashton said one he wrote recently was about a man named Alexander Blakie Fraser. Fraser was born in Green Hill in 1830 but left for the United States at age 19. He lived a busy life that involved everything from fighting for the Confederates in the American Civil War, trying to take the first boat over Panama, and serving as a city councilor in the newly incorporated city of Forth Worth, Texas. .
He said it’s gratifying to be able to discover these connections.
Hutchinson said she enjoys sharing information about their ancestry with her descendants.
“Many descendants don’t even really know their ancestor was famous,” she said.
In addition to the book, Hutchinson has shared information on a Ship Hector Passenger Descendants website she created (www.shiphectordescendants.ca) and on Facebook (www.facebook.com/shiphectordescendants), and she and Ashton will also share some their profiles monthly in The News starting in February.
They hope with their words to bring the past to life.
“We don’t want this to be an obituary book,” she said. “We want it to read as much of a story as we can.”
If you believe your family is descended from a passenger on the Hector ship, we encourage you to connect with the project via the website, Facebook page or email at [email protected]