“Beware of Oral History”
by Ken Millions, Feb 2012
My dad and his siblings firmly believed that the Millions family came to Canada from Grimsby in England, a fishing port in south Humberside, on the North Sea. The city now has a population of around 100,000. Oral history indicated that the Millions were fishermen. As time went by, the story was that they owned a fishing boat and later, a fleet of fishing boats.
I passed this on to our son Keith. When he was studying at the University of Grenoble, France, in 1984–85 he decided to take a few days off and go to Grimsby to look up any Millions who might be living there. In a note he reported that he had not any Millions in or around Grimsby. I thought little of this until sometime later Marlene Kelford née Millions, of Timmons, Ontario, gave me the clue that proved to be accurate. Her information indicated that the Millions had come to Canada from a parish that included the villages of Appleton-le-Street and Amotherby in North Yorkshire.
In checking the church records, they showed that a Matthew Harper (born ca. 1720) and his wife Esther (born ca. 1725) had lived in the parish. Upon Matthew’s death in March, 1757, Esther was left with four children and a fifth was due in August. On July 20, 1759 Esther was married again to John Barker. Matthew and Esther had, among other children, twins Esther and Jeremiah who were christened on April 8, 1753. On November 25, 1786 the twin Esther married William Million who was born in 1754. The marriage took place at Appleton-le-Street before Vicar L. Thompson and witnesses John Hill and William Baxter.
To William Million and his wife Esther was born three children; John who was christened John Million on July 29, 1788, William who was christened William Millions on April 14, 1793, and Esther, who was christened Esther Million April 19, 1795. Note that the “s” was added to the surname of William by whomever was keeping church records. As the Million(s) were illiterate farm labourers, they would not have noted this change.
William, now Millions, married Mary Walker of Settrington, North Yorkshire, on November 25, 1811 when both were 18. Six of their nine children lived to adulthood. Of these, four came to Canada with their parents in 1839 or 1840 to join William’s brother John Million on his farm. This farm was between the settlements now known as Almonte and Carlton Place, Ontario. We know that John had been squatting on this land since about 1819 and received title in 1825 after the district had been surveyed.
So where did the oral legend of the fishing fleet come from? William Millions and Mary Walker were married in the 13th Century at St. Nicholas Church in a tiny village about mid-way between Appleton-le-street and Settrington. In September 1990 this village, in addition to the church, had a vicarage, several private homes, the main building for a race horse stud farm, and the Middleton Arms Pub. The name of the village was North ‘Grimston’, not ‘Grimsby’.
Unverified oral history should always be taken with a grain of salt by the budding genealogist. Relatively Speaking, February 2012 issue. (full-story)
If you enjoyed reading this, you may wish to read more about the rewards and risks of using oral history:
“Oral History: Techniques and Uses”—no author, Winter 1979
“Oral History”—Jane McCracker, Spring 1979
“Oral History”—Roberta Weller, Spring 1981