Updated: Nov 19, 2020
It has been said that the study of genealogy confuses the dead and annoys the living. There might be some truth in this.
“Miss, Yes Thompson” is the story of finding a story, specifically my great-grandmother’s story. Her life had many sharp turns, a twist one direction, then another. She had much potential and achieved many things, but she made one disastrous decision and the effect was long lasting.
I grew up knowing about Marjory’s sad legacy, but other hints about my great-grandmother lingered. She kept a witty, colourful scrapbook of a glamourous cruise on the Great Lakes in 1929. I loved to flip through it as a child. She won an award as a university student in an era when women hardly attended university. That memento still survives. The evidence was there.
Personally, Marjory Thompson died long before I was born so I have no memories of her. Even my mother was a little girl when Marjory died so she doesn’t remember very much. My grandmother was the most helpful, but she mostly knew her mother-in-law during the final decade of her life, not earlier when Marjory was young and most ambitious. By the time I started researching this book, my grandfather, George was already suffering from macular degeneration and dementia. His stories ran together—generations overlapping generations, one side of the family mixed with the other side.
Sometimes, he would remember stories—the telegram from Marjory’s mother that was never delivered to her father, or the many hatboxes brought across the ocean, or even that Marjory’s mother was desperately unhappy and died at a relatively young age—and from these stories, I got a picture. But the picture was foggy and there was no evidence, no paper trail.
So, I dug into census records, ship manifests, letters, immigration papers, a book of Marjory’s postcards left forgotten in a trunk, community history books, newspaper articles, yearbooks, a birthday book, war records, and several picture albums. I spoke to former neighbours and distant relatives. I visited the Thompson farm, the Bankburn, Marland and Pilot Mound school sites, and the towns of Oak River and La Riviere. I hunted down the addresses of boarding houses in Winnipeg and Brandon on Google Maps and tried to imagine the street from the early 1900s. I looked at notes tucked into jewellery boxes and I was helped enormously by the volunteers who found Marjory’s daily schedule and attendance records from Pinkerton School in an archive. Even Manitoba’s Department of Education found some records despite the many gaps in their historical files.
The picture cleared and then, between the cold hard facts, I imagined the details. The result is “Yes, Miss Thompson,” a labour of love, a glimpse into the past.