A price beyond rubies

Clark watch imageIn 2010, I visited the town of Rose in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia, to meet the nieces and nephew of Ada Lophemia (Halliday) Clark. Ada was the second wife of my great-grandfather Thomas William Clark of Moncton, New Brunswick. Within the walls of their ancestral home in Rose I heard stories of a great-grandfather who died more than a quarter-century before I was born, a man that my own father only mentioned by name, and whose face is still unknown to me. No photograph is known to exist of my great-grandfather. Nonetheless, through genealogical research and family stories I have been able to draw a picture of what he was like, with a rough sense of his life story.

Thomas William Clark was born at Moncton on 11 October 1877, a son of Joshua and Mary (Tower) Clark. His father worked for the Intercolonial Railway in Moncton, and young Thomas would soon follow in his father’s footsteps and work as a brakeman for the Canadian National Railway beginning on 13 December 1898. He held various jobs for the C.N.R. and was promoted to engineer 17 December 1915. Thomas remained in this position for over the next quarter-century. To the people of Amherst, Nova Scotia, he was known as “Wildcat” Tom Clark for the speed in which he drove the locomotive. The Library and Archive of Canada have partial employment records for Canadian Railway Employees online. The file cards relating to my great-grandfather detail his days as an employee from 1898 until his retirement on 30 September 1941. Sadly, the original case files for these employees were destroyed.

Thomas Clark was first married at Moncton in 1899 to my great-grandmother Bessie Jane Taylor, who died in 1922. My grandmother Margaret Jane (Clark) Lambert was their eldest child. Thomas’s second wife Ada worked as a waitress at the Amherst  Hotel. He married her at the home of the officiating minister at 32 Rupert Street in Amherst on 2 September 1924. Ada’s family remembers him fondly, telling of going fishing with a friendly and loving uncle. After my great-grandfather’s death in 1942, Ada stayed in Moncton and took care of her aged mother-in-law Mary (Tower) Clark until 1950, when she died at the age of 95. Afterwards, Ada moved back to Nova Scotia and lived near her family.

Sometime before her death she passed along one of the keepsakes from her late husband to her brother Arthur Halliday. Before his death this same keepsake was passed along to his son Raymond Halliday. During my visit, I told Raymond’s sister and brother-in-law that I had no photo of my great-grandfather and asked that they let me know if they ever found one. A couple of weeks ago I got a letter telling me they wanted to give me something that belonged to the man I never knew. A name that I had researched since childhood, without a face, without a gravestone, would now become real to me.

Shortly after the letter arrived I received a small package wrapped in cloth. For once in my life I held something that actually belonged to a man who was previously just a name on a chart, the subject  of family stories. The gold railroad engineer’s watch ticked once again after being wound for the first time in years. To hear the ticking of a sound familiar to my great-grandfather’s ears made me pause. Where would this watch, this heirloom, go after I am gone? The scuffed old pocket watch on a chain would mean nothing without a name and the stories attached to it. I can now close my eyes and almost see the face of the man who held this watch each day as he pulled into the station with his train. I can see the man glancing at his watch at the occurrence of the birth of his children or the death of his first wife.

This watch once caught the reflection of my great-grandfather’s face and now reflects that of his three great-great-granddaughters. I plan for each of his living descendants to see and hear this watch. To me this is more than a pocket watch, serving as a priceless sentinel of the history of my family, a time keeper for a man who shall now never be forgotten.

About David Allen Lambert

David Lambert has been on the staff of NEHGS since 1993 and is the organization’s Chief Genealogist. David is an internationally recognized speaker on the topics of genealogy and history. His genealogical expertise includes New England and Atlantic Canadian records of the 17th through 21st century; military records; DNA research; and Native American and African American genealogical research in New England. Lambert has published many articles in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, the New Hampshire Genealogical Record, Rhode Island Roots, The Mayflower Descendant, and American Ancestors magazine. He has also published A Guide to Massachusetts Cemeteries (NEHGS, 2009). David is an elected Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, Mass., and a life member of the New Hampshire Society of the Cincinnati. He is also the tribal genealogist for the Massachuset-Punkapoag Indians of Massachusetts.

10 thoughts on “A price beyond rubies

  1. What a lovely narrative with a satisfying conclusion. A story many can relate to with ancestors we have never “seen.”

  2. That is a great story David but I still believe there is hope for finding the picture of him. That is why I learn to research all that the possible descendants of an ancestral couple. Because of that I was able to get a photograph of my great-great-grandparents that I’d never had before.

  3. Family heirlooms are so precious, meaning a great deal more than their “value.” But you’re right that they don’t mean quite the same thing as a photograph, showing the actual face of the person. There you see the expression, seeing deep into the soul of the person through their eyes, and what time has wrought in the wrinkles of their face if they’re old, the promise of what can come if they’re young. So keep hunting! I have one great grandparent photo still missing. My Waggoner great grandfather, an Illinois farmer, died suddenly of pneumonia in his thirties, so it’s possible that no photo exists. Still, I think I should take Michael’s advice to research all his descendants to see if a living person in a branch I’m not familiar with might have that precious picture. You just never know!

  4. Beautiful, just beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing! When I received the Civil War CDV of my 2x great grandfather in the mail, I was speechless looking at his face and the handwriting (maybe his?) on the back. I told my friends and family that Charles had finally come home.

  5. I work for an online estate sale company and everyday I see people sell irreplaceable family heirlooms. Sad to me being a genealogist.

  6. Absolutely Priceless. Thank you for a wonderful story. It is go great to have a story to go along with the person makes them come alive.

  7. Beautiful story. My great-grandfather came from Granville, Nova Scotia, and there were Hallidays in the family. Perhaps we should pursue this further?

  8. I also constantly seek pictures/portraits of my direct greats. My parents divorced when I was young, and when I started my genealogy, I had only one picture of my father. I’ve lucked out through cousins on obtaining more pictures of my relatives, including my own father. I’m still searching for a picture of his father, but continue to have hope because I haven’t met a lot of cousins and I know some don’t get on the internet or do genealogy. I’m hoping some day I’ll meet them in person and perhaps a picture will show up. A good example of this on my hubby’s line was meeting his aunt, who is not interested in genealogy, who inherited a trunk of pictures when her mother died. When we looked through it, we found a picture of one of his sets of great grandparents, as well as many of his father, grandmother, grandfather and siblings. Through newspaper research, I discovered two pictures of another of his great grandfathers. Before the age of photography, portraits were commonly done among the upper middle class and the rich. I’ve found some direct ancestors portraits in looking at auction websites. For the average middle class, charcoal drawings were not unusual, and some ancestral faces were found in those charcoal renderings. There’s always hope.

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