Friday, March 5, 2021

Insight: A spotlight on the past, a guidepost for the future

By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

In our family, since I was very young, I’ve always been the curious one who asked about the people in old photographs and for my parents to tell me more about them.

The rumor was we were somehow connected to John McIntosh, the 18th century Scottish-Canadian farmer who discovered the McIntosh Red apple growing wild on his property near Matilda Township in Ontario. My mother’s grandmother was born with the last name of McIntosh, so about 10 years ago I started to explore through genealogy if there was a genuine family connection to John McIntosh and my own ancestral roots.

I began my search by hiring a genealogist from California who was not very good. I found out more about our family’s origins through online research than he was able to learn during the span of a month’s time. I let him go and proceeded to hire another genealogist, this time one who lived in England and was adept at tracking immigrants to North America coming from Scotland, Ireland and Great Britain.

John McIntosh and his wife, Isabella Rutherford 
McIntosh emigrated from Scotland to Canada in
the 1830s. One of their six children, James
Rutherford McIntosh, Sr., moved to America in
1867 to find work as a mechanic. He was my
great-great-grandfather. COURTESY PHOTO 
She helped tremendously and was able to establish that yes, our family is related to John McIntosh, just not in a way I had envisioned. As it turns out, John McIntosh’s family originally hailed from Edinburgh, Scotland and he was born in the Mohawk Valley of New York in 1777. By the time he found the apple trees, he had moved to Canada and created his own farm at the age of 20.

Word apparently spread of his good fortune all the way back to Edinburgh and eventually his Scottish relatives decided Matilda Township sounded like a great place to live. One of John McIntosh’s cousins, also named John McIntosh, emigrated with his wife Isabella to Matilda Township (Now called South Dundas, Ontario) in the 1830s, joining other McIntosh family members who had moved there.

The original McIntosh apple trees continued to produce fruit until a devastating fire in 1894, but by then their discoverer, the original John McIntosh, had passed away in the fall of 1845.

His cousin, the other John McIntosh, was a carpenter by trade and had married Isabella Rutherford in 1835 before leaving Scotland for a new life. The couple had seven children, five of whom survived into adulthood.

One of their children, James Rutherford McIntosh, Sr., was born in Caistor, Ontario in 1840. He wasn’t interested in becoming a farmer like many other members of his family and showed an aptitude for fixing machinery. In 1867, he moved to America and settled in Rochester, New York where he landed a job as a mechanic at the Bausch and Lomb factory where eyeglasses and precision microscopes were manufactured.

James Rutherford McIntosh, Sr. married Ellen Agnes Duffy, who had moved to Rochester to find work in a factory after growing up near Plattsburgh, New York. The couple had six children, one of whom, Harriet Elizabeth McIntosh, was born in 1874.

Harriet McIntosh was married twice. Her first husband, Frederick John Baker, was a master carpenter by profession and the couple had three sons together. One of those sons, Bernard W. Baker, was born in 1897. He was blind from birth, but married Myrtle Kirby in 1918. Bernard and Myrtle Baker had three children, and they chose to name one of their daughters, who was born in 1923, after Bernard’s mother, Harriet.

Somehow over the year an extra “t” was added to her first name and she became known as “Harriett.” Harriett Elizabeth Baker was my mother and she passed along to me the family story about how we were somehow descended from the farmer who had discovered the McIntosh strand of apples.

Part of my quest to find my roots was because of my mother. She had been suffering from macular degeneration when I started looking into genealogy and I thought it would help to lift her spirits to find some answers to puzzling family heritage questions. I would call and update her through each ancestral discovery made and I was able to outline for her much of our family tree before her death at the age of 95 in 2018.

In each family there are some who seem destined to find their ancestors and try to breathe life into those who have gone before. In a way, I found that genealogy is much like journalism because it is really about telling a compelling story, just a little more personal. <

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