Monday, April 14, 2014

Reflections on a Great-Great-Grandmother

Catharine Mitcheson Bagg
It was 3 a.m. and I was squinting at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, but it wasn’t just myself I saw. Without my glasses on, I recognized my mother’s eyes looking back at me, and the eyes of my great-great grandmother, Catharine Mitcheson Bagg.

As my mother aged, she had increasingly resembled the large portrait of Catharine that used to hang in my grandmother’s dining room; still, it was a shock to realize that Catharine’s features lived on in me too.

My mother told me she always felt that Catharine, dressed in mid-19th-century finery, stared down disapprovingly from her spot on the wall. Mother’s older cousin Clare had described Catharine as “terrifying.” Clare remembered visiting her in a dark and musty house on Sherbrooke Street, but at the time of the visit, Clare was about three years old and her great-grandmother was over 90, so it is no wonder she felt intimidated.

Catharine was born in 1822 and grew up on the outskirts of Philadelphia with her four siblings. Her English-born father was a merchant, her mother was from Scotland. Catharine’s education included sewing an intricate sampler when she was 10 and painting landscapes. In 1844, she married Stanley Clark Bagg, the grandson of her father’s oldest sister, and she moved to Montreal, where her new husband was a notary.

Stanley owned large tracts of land in the St. Laurent suburb of Montreal that he had inherited from his grandfather, and, although the area was still primarily agricultural, he was starting to sell lots to would-be homeowners and developers. When he died of typhoid fever in 1873, at age 53, the eldest child and only son, Robert Stanley Bagg, a recent law graduate from McGill, took over management of the family real estate business. Over the years, his four sisters expressed opinions about when and what to sell and for how much, but he relied most on his mother’s advice.

A few years ago I came across some letters Catharine had written to son Stanley. I was thrilled. Suddenly this woman whose image I was so familiar with had a voice! They revealed her as a mother who worried about her son’s health, believed in the benefits of sea air and trusted that “all things work together for good in those who love God”.

She described her husband’s death as a calamity for the family, especially for Stanley who was “so young and inexperienced in the ways of the world.” And when Stanley retired after 27 years, she commended him for the “able, honourable and efficient manner” in which he had performed his arduous duties.

Another letter, dated 1889, was written on stationery from a hotel in Kennebunkport, Maine, an area I know well. Stanley and his young family were in Georgeville, Quebec. Catharine wrote, “You and Clara should have gone to some seaside place for several weeks this summer. Georgeville is not a sufficient change in air and scene.” Those words could just as easily have been written by my mother, or by me. 

photo credit: McCord Museum

Research Remarks.  Catharine Mitcheson was born on Jan. 12, 1822, according to her baptismal record. She was baptized at St. John’s Church, Northern Liberties, Philadelphia, and a copy of the church registers is available in the library of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. The record of her marriage to Stanley Clark Bagg, at Grace Church, Philadelphia on Sept. 9, 1844 can be found on Catharine’s brother, Rev. Robert Mitcheson, officiated at the wedding.

Catharine died on Oct. 29, 1914 in Montreal, and the record of her funeral at Christ Church Cathedral is included in the Drouin Collection of church and vital records on Ancestry. She is buried in Mount Royal Cemetery.

A few letters she wrote to her son are in the Abner and Stanley Bagg fonds at the McCord Museum, Montreal.

The portrait of Catharine Mitcheson Bagg, painted in 1865 by artist William Sawyer (1820-1889), now belongs to the National Gallery of Canada.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Never Too Late for Love

Fanny Mitcheson

Anyone who has explored the Notman Photographic Archives at the McCord Museum in Montreal has probably met Nora Hague. Nora has been senior cataloguer of the Notman collection for many years, and she is extremely knowledgeable about the English Protestant families of Montreal who were frequent customers of William Notman’s photo studio in the late 19th century. 

Nora knew that one of my ancestors was Catharine Mitcheson Bagg, a Philadelphia-born member of one of those families. Over the years, she asked me several times about her great-grandfather’s second wife, Mrs. Mitcheson. Finally I figured out who “Mrs.” Mitcheson was: she was Miss Fanny M. Mitcheson, Catharine’s sister.

Nora told me that Mrs. Mitcheson was the companion of Sarah Cousins Hague, wife of banker George Hague. She kept her company at home and accompanied her to social functions. In return, she had a place to live, meals and a small salary. Shortly after Mrs. Hague died in 1900, George announced that he and Fanny were going to be married. Nora says family members were upset, but the wedding plans went ahead.

On March 20, 1902, Mary Frances Mitcheson married George Hague at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. The bride was 70, the groom was 77. The bride’s nephew by marriage, Rev. William Lennox Mills, the Anglican Bishop of Ontario, took part in the service.

According to the March 30, 1902 edition of The New York Times, the newlyweds spent their honeymoon at the Lakewood Hotel, Lakewood, New Jersey, where the weather was so warm and sunny that “the visitors have had to put away the heavy overcoats and fur boas they wore when they came here.”

The Hague plot. Fanny's grave is to the left of the cross, under a bush.
Fanny was born in 1833, the daughter of Philadelphia merchant Robert Mitcheson, originally from Durham, England, and his wife, Scottish-born Mary Frances MacGregor. Fanny was the youngest of five children. Her sister, Catharine, married Montreal notary and land owner Stanley Clark Bagg, in 1844.

Perhaps Fanny came to Montreal to be close to her sister, who had been widowed in 1873. They took a trip to Europe together in 1876, along with two of Catharine’s daughters. I don’t know when Fanny started to work for Mrs. Hague.

George Hague died in 1915 and is buried in Montreal’s Mount Royal Cemetery. After his death, Fanny lived with her niece, Amelia J. Norton, one of Catharine Bagg’s daughters.

Fanny died in 1919 and is buried in the Hague family plot. George Hague’s name is carved on a large cross, and Fannie’s grave is marked by a flat stone nearby, now half-hidden by a bush. When I discovered who she was and where she was buried, I went up to the cemetery to say hello.

Photo credits: Miss Mitcheson, Montreal, QC, 1863
William Notman (1826-1891) 1863, 19th century c. McCord Museum
Cemetery photo by Janice Hamilton

Research Remarks: There were several women named Mary Frances in the Mitcheson family. Mary Frances MacGregor (1792-1862) who married Robert Mitcheson in Philadelphia was the first. The Mary Frances in this story was her daughter (1833-1919). She had two brothers, both of whom had daughters named Mary Frances. Fanny Mary Mitcheson (1851-1937), the daughter of Rev. Robert MacGregor Mitcheson, married Uselma Clarke Smith. Mary Frances Mitcheson (1875-1959), the daughter of lawyer McGregor J. Mitcheson, married Arthur L. Nunns.

The record of the wedding of Mary Frances Mitcheson and George Hague can be found in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Church and Town Records, 1708-1985, on

The website of the McCord Museum has a number of photos of George Hague’s family and his house, Rotherwood, on the slopes of Mount Royal. Go to and enter your search term in the upper right corner. If you can’t find a photo you think should be there, remember that only some of the many photos taken by William Notman have been digitized at this point.