Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mazo de la Roche, Part 1

by Anita Mae Draper

Posting the 1911 Courtship Letters on my Author Memories blog involves hours of research, yet it's one of the most enjoyable aspects of genealogy. I'm always surprised though when I'm reading a newspaper from decades ago and find items of interest relevant to me. One of those items was this snippet in the Newmarket Era where I find most of the information to corroborate what is happening in the Courtship Letters:

Newmarket Era (Newmarket, ON), 14 Jul 1922

I recognized the name Mazo de la Roche like a smack to my head. That was quickly followed by the thought of a TV series, The Whiteoaks of Jalna, which was based on Mazo's 16 book series. And then I remembered that a few months earlier I'd read in the Social column of the Era that Mazo de la Roche had spent her summer(s) at one of the many beaches along Lake Simcoe. This was exciting because my husband, Nelson, was born in Newmarket, and then lived at Willow Beach on the southern shore of Lake Simcoe as a youngster. It's also within a few minutes drive of Keswick, the location of my Christmas Cheer story, as well as being a stone's throw from Belhaven, the family home of Ethel Nelson, author of half of the 1911 Courtship Letters.

That got me wondering if I could find the census records of this famous Canadian author on the huge Ancestry website (which by the way, was free again last weekend). So I did a simple search for Mazo de la Roche, and the location as York County which took in Newmarket, and most of the South shore of Lake Simcoe, and all the way down to include Toronto. Here`s what I found:

1881 Canada census for Newmarket, Ontario - Lundy and Roche

I`ve enlarged and cropped the census for clarity, but I draw your attention to the highlighted line in the transcription for Alberta Roche who has a husband, William, a salesman, and a daughter, Maryo who was born about 1879 in Ontario. At least the transcriber thought it says Maryo, but it showed up on my search because the Ancestry computers believe it is Mazo. The census also shows the Roche family living with the Lundy family.

My initial questions were: Is this really her? Who is the Lundy family?

The first thing I did was check her birth year against known records and found the following sources:
- Wikipedia: January 15, 1879 – July 12, 1961
- SFU Biography: de la Roch, Mazo: 15 January 1879 - 12 July 1961
- Find-A-Grave: St. George's Anglican Church & Cemetery, Sutton, Ontario: Jan. 15, 1888 - Jul. 12, 1961

All the dates matched except for being 9 years out on her headstone. Nine years is a big difference. But if she wasn't born until 1888, then it wouldn't be her on the 1881 census. I looked back at it and saw that Ancestry hinted there was a possible birth record, so I pulled that up.

Although I've cropped this single record from the six listed on the full page, it clearly shows that Mazo Louise, female, was born on 15 January 1879 to W. Richmond Roche, merchant, and Alberta Louise Lundy. It further shows that W. R. Roche, merchant, of Newmarket, was the one who informed Dr. Patterson on 14 February 1879 that his wife had delivered a baby at home.

So not only has it confirmed Mazo's birth, but it shows her mother's maiden name was Lundy which explains why they were living with the Lundy family on the census.

A few weeks ago when I decided to write this post, I happened to be perusing a local used book store and the author's name of Mazo de la Roche jumped out at me from the spine. I snatched it up thinking it was a Jalna book, and was pleasantly surprised to find it entitled, Ringing the Changes: An Autobiography by Mazo de la Roche.

And right there on page 2, Mazo wrote, ...My father's father I never saw. Whereas my mother's father, 'Grandpa Lundy', was very near and dear to me. 

Proof positive that the census record above is Mazo de la Roche, author of the Jalna series.

I find that each time I pick up Ringing the Changes, I am drawn in to her life. Much speculation has been made on her private life, especially as it pertains to her relationship with her life-long companion, Caroline, who was her cousin in real life, but whom she felt was her sister. Actually, as I read her autobiography, I keep thinking of Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables and how she and Diana were kindred spirits.

I skipped portions of the book however, as I searched for evidence that Mazo had indeed lived near Lake Simcoe, and when I found the passage, I was simply riveted. Yet, I don't have room to tell you all that happened, but I came to the part where it's like one of those jokes where you go home to find your parents have moved while you've been away. Except this was no joke. Neither was it quite as severe, for she wrote,
...four days later I arrived in Toronto, the manuscript of my story safely under my arm. It was Exhibition time. The windows of the greengrocers were blazing with ripe peaches - the streets seething with visitors from out of town. I telephoned the Studio. Mrs. Reid's voice answered. She told me that at the end of August my family had moved to a cottage they had taken for the remainder of the season at Lake Simcoe...

She goes on to explain how their message must have been lost and how she had to stay that night in a hotel room without a lock. She improvised with a washstand and two chairs which sounds so flat, but the way she tells it is quite humorous. The next morning she...caught an early train to Lake Simcoe and found the cottage, standing among apple trees. 

Mazo's autobiography is written sequentially, with her writing experiences part of her daily life. There is not one without the other. However, I am so impressed with her attitude as a writer that I'm going to write another post specifically on this topic. Although her autobiography doesn't give actual dates, she wrote that she began writing when she was 12 yrs old and sent in her first story shortly after. She follows this with a statement that she didn't know what she was or wasn't supposed to do until later, so she did what came naturally at the time.

Jalna by Mazo de la Roche
Here's where I admit that I've never read any of Mazo's books, nor have I watched her 1972 CBC TV mini-series, The Whiteoaks of Jalna. Apparently, the books have been re-published, but CBC has not released the series in any form.

While researching for this post however, I found a free download:

Jalna, by Mazo de la Roche - Project Gutenberg Canada.

One thing to note about the printed book series is that she has written them out of order. I never realized until I discovered NLS Minibibliographies: The Jalna Series; or, The WhiteoakChronicles by Mazo de la Roche which states that Mazo's first book, Jalna, is actually the seventh book in the storyline, however, the website lists them in order as well as explaining how she imagined the complete series in her head before any words were written.

To finish this first post on Mazo de la Roche, I'll leave you with this Historical marker which I found, along with directions and a map to its location, at Ontario's Historical Plaques.

Mazo de la Roche 1879-1961 Ontario Historical Plaque. Courtesy of

As for the actual writing of the millions of books de la Roche has sold around the world, I'll leave that for the next post.

Have you read a Mazo de la Roche novel? What did you think?


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and the youngest of their 4 kids. She writes cowboy stories set in the Old West, and Edwardian stories set in the East.  Anita Mae  semi-finaled in the ACFW's 2011 Genesis contest, and finaled in the Daphne du Maurier, Fool for Love, Duel on the Delta and the Linda Howard Award of Excellence contests.  Anita Mae's short story, Riding on a Christmas Wish is published in A Christmas Cup of Cheer, Guideposts Books, October 2013.  Anita Mae is represented by Mary Keeley of Books & Such Literary Agency. You can find Anita at


  1. I love genealogy, Anita. I long for the day when I can get back to it. And I love all the little research paths it takes me down.

    1. Oh good, you understand, then. Because I could have just used information found online instead of spending hours of writing and research.

      Except everything needs to be checked, doesn't it? Even the info on Wikipedia,, etc. Personally, I'd rather did up the truth myself.

      And yeah, there's a certain satisfaction in finding birth, census records, etc. :)

  2. What fun, Anita! I, too, look forward to being able to dig back into my family history again. It's fascinating stuff.
    Those old census records always crack me up. The names are never right... my g-grandmother's name was Gypsy Estelle. Census records list her as, variably, Stella, Stella G., and G. Stella. It makes the search much more challenging!

    1. Challenging, yes Niki, but sometimes so frustrating when I'm short of time.

      But I have to give a Shout Out to all those people who volunteer their time transcribing the records because without them, I would be bawling.

  3. Wow! When you research something, you really do a thorough job! Way to go!
    Years ago, when I visited Pier 21 in Halifax, NS Canada, I was able to locate the ship records from when my maternal grandparents immigrated to Canada. It took some doing. I did know the year but, again, the first name listed for my Grandpa wasn't what I knew him as but we did find it!!

    1. That's great, Elaine. I'm glad you found it. Ships passenger lists are some of the hardest things to nail down.

      Even when the names are correct though, I find myself wondering if it's really them. It's uncanny how so many people have same names, birth years, occupations, etc. That's something to be said for today's unique names - at least it will be easier t find someone in 100 years... if the Rapture hasn't arrived.

    2. The archives or library or whatever it was at Pier 21 was very helpful. And it was easy to verify as it listed my grandparents and my aunt. I knew that is who travelled together.

    3. Oh, that helps, Elaine. I found my Finnish grandmother on a Swedish passenger list although she was travelling alone, but she has a unique name, Tyyne, and she was the only one heading to Ontario's Cochrane District.

      But I'm trying to find John Nelson and his brothers and there are dozens of them and all of them seem to be travelling alone. Same with the Glovers and Greenwoods, and other common British names. Never mind the Muirs and Deverells from Scotland. Och!

      Why were you in Halifax? Did you go specifically for research?

    4. Oh wait - the Deverells are from Ireland. Nelson's Irish ggrandma Deverell married an Englishman named Draper and both names are so common in the British Isles, we can't find out who her parents are. :(

    5. I was in New Brunswick for a conference a few years ago and spent four or five days in Nova Scotia visiting a friend. I went to Pier 21 while my friend went in to work!

    6. I hadn't planned on looking up my Grandparents - it was a whim when I realized I had time to spare!

  4. Fascinating post as always, Anita. I'm eager to read what you learning writing wise.

    What does the historical marker say?

    1. Never mind. I enlarged the picture. Very interesting. Thanks! :)

    2. I was going to transcribe it, but assumed that one click with make it bigger. Was it automatic? Or did you have to enlarge manually?

      Writing wise - small pearls mixed in with humor.

    3. Yeah, it was just a one-click deal. Should have tried it first. Thanks, Anita!

  5. The "first" book as seventh in the series messes with my head! ha ha! She sounds like a fascinating person. How wonderful it would have been to have met her during her very long life. Thanks Anita
    Do you pronounce her name with a short or long A?

  6. I have no idea as I've never heard it pronounced. The National Film Board of Canada sponsored an award-winning film on her last year, but there's only a short clip available for viewing free and I don't want to buy the film. Mostly because it seems to speculate on her relationship with Caroline instead of concentrating on her books.

    I've been reading more of her autobiography in preparation for the second part of this post and unlike what the NLS website said, she doesn't seem to have the whole series planned out - or if she does, she's not giving it away.

    I've also been checking book sites like goodreads, amazon, etc, and the books are very liked. They've been compared to the Forsythe Saga, but 50 yrs earlier.

    I'll have to keep an eye out for the series because like you, I don't want to start at #7. :)

  7. My surname's very rare- I've encountered various suggestions of its origin- from French or German to even Hungarian, or most recently from someone knowledgeable at languages, Yiddish or Irish.
    I found someone with the name on a database of service records of the Hundred Years War- a man-at-arms in 1375 in the service of Edward III's son. Maybe an ancestor?


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