Sunset at Gowanus Bay

Sunset at Gowanus Bay
Sunset at Gowanus Bay, Henry Gritten, 1851

Sunday, March 10, 2013

More Descendants of Jacob Brewer of Chatham, Quebec

After the initial post regarding Jacob Brewer of Chatham, Quebec, a genetic descendant of Adam Brouwer whose Brouwer ancestry has yet to be discovered by traditional genealogical research, I decided to try some more searching using Although I did not find any new clues to Jacob's ancestry, I was able to learn quite a bit more regarding his descendants.

Jacob Brewer of Chatham, Quebec, did not live a very long life. He was dead by 1825, and probably died while in this thirties (his wife, Lavinia Smith, was born about 1795). For someone who lived a relatively short life, he apparently left a terrific number of descendants. Jacob and Lavinia had four children, but those four children left forty-two grandchildren. Their son, John Alexander Brewer, who was married twice, had sixteen children himself.

I tried a new approach in the search for more on Jacob Brewer. I set up a "Family Tree" at, using Jacob Brewer as the "home person," and began filling it in with what I already knew (which wasn't much). Immediately the "hints" (which you are alerted to by the sudden appearance of a little leaf icon) began to appear. Every time one was checked and added to an individual's profile, more "hints" would pop up. It wasn't long before I was getting the full picture of Jacob Brewer's descendants.

Jacob Brewer - Lavinia Smith Tree at

One thing has to be emphasized, the "hints" are just that...hints. They may not always be facts (or events) that pertain to the same person for whom the "hint" was prompted. Many people, after all, have the same name, and one criteria for a prompting of a "hint" appears to be whether or not some other user had previously assigned the fact or event to the same person who you happen to be researching. Many times, others clearly were assigning a fact or event to the wrong person. The trick with the "hints" is to take your time. Review each one carefully before adding it to the profile of the person in your tree.

This new approach (for me) was clearly a terrific time saver. I was able to put together a tree of descendants of Jacob Brewer and Lavinia Smith descendants over the course of a week, working about an hour a day on it. A few years ago a project of this scale would have taken months, would have cost a great deal in dollars as well, and would never have been so complete (Jacob's descendants are spread out across the U. S. and Canada, and one was even married in co. Surrey, England). In this case there were also a large number of terrific photos of many of Jacob's descendants that had been uploaded by researchers who completed their trees on in the past. A great deal of thanks goes out to all who took the time to work on the descendants of Jacob Brewer, and who shared their work publicly (and especially for sharing the photos) on Without their earlier online contributions, filling in Jacob Brewer's descendants would have been near impossible.

The exercise did, however, raise a question regarding Lavinia Smith, that needs to be answered.

Lavinia Smith and Jacob Brewer were married on 14 March 1815 at Chatham, Lower Canada (now Quebec). Their four children were born between 1816 and 1823. In 1826, Clarissa, the daughter of Lavinia by her second husband, Samuel Dodge, was born. From this we assume that Lavinia married Samuel Dodge sometime in 1825, although no record of marriage has been found. Lavinia and Samuel Dodge also had a son, William Dodge, born on 26 May 1836. This is according to a source (member submitted, found at that cites William's record of baptism at St. Stephen's Anglican Church in Buckingham, Quebec. The baptism, however, did not occur (or perhaps was not recorded) until 14 August 1870. (I would note that there is a nine year gap between the births of Clarissa and William, which tells me that Lavinia and Samuel Dodge may have had other children that have not been discovered).
On 24 June 1845, Lavinia Dodge, is recorded as having received a grant of 100 acres of land at Buckingham. We assume here that Samuel is deceased and she is widow.
Descendants, however, make the claim that Lavinia was married to her third husband, John Shoswood Donaldson, and had children Margaret Lavinia Donaldson, born in June 1837, and George Robert John Donaldson, born 7 November 1839. With this information we have to note that there is only a thirteen month gap between the births of Samuel Dodge and Margaret Lavinia Donaldson. That is a rather unusually short period of time for a woman to have two children by two different husbands. Also, if married to John S. Donaldson by June 1837, why is Lavinia referred to as Lavinia Dodge in the record of her land grant of 1845?
Furthermore, the same member submitted source at cites another St. Stephen's Anglican Church record which states:
 "This third day of April one thousand eight hundred and sixty nine John Shoswood Donaldson, Bachelor and Farmer of Buckingham, and Lavinia Dodge, widow, (nee Smith) of the same place were married by me under authority of the Governor General's Licence.  S.S. Stong.  This marriage was solemnized between us as above - John S. Donaldson  Lavinia (her X mark) Dodge."
If this record is correct, then Lavinia did not marry John S. Donaldson until 1869 and therefore is not the mother of his children Margaret Lavinia and George Robert John Donaldson. The source posted at, however, does not include an image of the original record, which we really need to locate to confirm that this date is correct.
Another source to consider was the Canadian census records. In 1871, the household of John Donaldson, age 67; Elvina Donaldson, age 77; and George R. J. Donaldson, age 29, is found in Buckingham, Ottawa Centre, Quebec. In 1861, the household of John S. Donaldson, age 55;  Lavina Donaldson, age 64; George R. J. Donaldson, age 19; and Margaret Donaldson, age not included and name crossed through, is found at Buckingham, Ottawa County, Canada East (Quebec). I had hoped to find Lavinia's children named Dodge with the family in 1861, but that was not the case (William Dodge, age 24 and single is enumerated at a lumber camp, and Clarissa had married in 1848). Unfortunately the 1851 Canadian census for the town of Buckingham was destroyed some years ago and cannot be considered. This would have been the best chance for finding the Dodge children in a Donaldson household.
From all of this there are two possiblities:
1- The marriage record of John S. Donaldson and Lavinia Dodge, as relayed by the member source at is incorrect with regards to the date, and the couple were actually married in 1836 or 1837 and they are the parents of Margaret Lavina Donaldson and George R. J. Donaldson.
2- The date on the marriage record is correct, but the notation that John S. Donaldson was a bachelor is in error, and he was previously married to a woman, who by chance was also named Lavinia, and she is the actual mother of his two children, and is the Lavinia Donaldson found on the 1861 census.

What we need to see here, first hand, are the records of St. Stephen's Anglican Church at Buckingham. The originals need to be consulted. The church, according to one source, was not organized until 1845, and it may be that the date reported for John and Lavinia's marriage (3 April 1869) was not their actual marriage, but simply a date at which the marriage was later recorded (alternatively they may well have lived together as an unmarried couple for many years, and only later in life were "officially" married). Unfortunately, the church records are not available online (as far as I have been able to discover) and the Family History Library has not filmed them. It might take a personal visit by someone to get a copy of the marriage record.

With this, we still have Jacob Brewer's ancestry as unknown, we have a new problem to solve regarding the later marriages of his wife, Lavinia Smith, but we also have discovered numerous descendants of Jacob Brewer and Lavinia Smith. Any direct male descendants of Jacob Brewer are encouraged to join the Brewer DNA Project.


  1. Some time back I was in touch with a Brewer/Smith researcher and questioned the marriage date of John Donaldson and Lavinia Smith. He says that Samuel Dodge did not die until 1868,but in 1845 he had left the land to his wife and John Donaldson, by whom she had the two children, Margaret and George Donaldson Do not know the reason for this unusal,(for that time)seperation of a married couple.

  2. Valerie, thanks for the additional info. The scenario you described is certainly possible, and I get the impression (in general and from researching many different families) that separation (since legal divorce was nearly impossible) and common-law marriages (those for which no civil or church institution granted) were much more common than we, today, realize. Despite the legal encumbrances that are sometimes erected by church and state, people still had to live their lives.


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