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This family history website is the result of my desire to organize and share the information I have collected on and off over the past 20 years. I first became interested in family history in 1988 through my uncle, Cecil Biglow, who was a member of The Bigelow Society. He started me out with Family Group Sheets and I was hooked.

I quickly had good luck with my maternal line, the Fyfes, who are a relatively small family, and in 1993 self-published From Fifeshire to Canada: A History of the John Fyfe Family. In early 1996, I became the editor of the Bigelow Society quarterly, Forge, a position I greatly enjoyed until stepping down at the end of 2003. During that busy time, I took a break from my own family history research. However, when I retired at the end of 2007, I took it up again with a passion and have not looked back.

I have tried to give accurate details, backed up by documented research where possible. Any information which does not indicate a source was obtained from a relative and has not been verified by me. I hope that you, while browsing these pages, will let me know of any discrepancies or further information you may have.

A special thank-you to my husband, Larry Phillips, and my son, Mark, who did all the technical work on this website.

Threshing panorama 1939

Threshing operation on Biglow homestead near Holland, Manitoba, Canada, autumn 1939. Thank you to Lee (Bigelow) Stitt of London, Ontario for this beautiful photograph.

Bigelow and Biglow – What’s Up With That?

On these web pages, you will see both the spellings of Bigelow and Biglow, often in the same sentence, as in the Overview above. In fact, most of my first cousins spell their name Biglow, while my more distant cousins are Bigelow. How did this confusing situation come about?

When William Henry Bigelow homesteaded near Holland, Manitoba in 1880, somehow the “e” in his surname was dropped. Perhaps it was spelled Biglow on land documents or other legal papers, and that spelling was used from then on. One family story says that the name was changed because in those days every farmer had his surname printed on the burlap bags in which grain was transported, so they could tell whose were whose. As you were charged by the letter, William decided to drop the “e” so there were fewer letters to pay for!

In the 1960’s, my father and his youngest brother decided to legally change their surname back to the original spelling of Bigelow. Thus I have both spellings of Bigelow and Biglow among close family members.

Ancestor Charts

I am the youngest of five children born to George Edward Bigelow and Margaret Irene Fyfe, who farmed south of Crystal City, Manitoba, Canada from 1945 until their retirement in 1975 when they moved right into the village of Crystal City.

The surname links listed at the left of this website are all main branches of my family tree. To see my ancestor charts, and how the family names at the left are connected, please click on the following links:

Bigelow Ancestor Chart

Fyfe Ancestor Chart

Genealogy Links

Following are links to some websites you may find useful if you are researching that particular surname or area:





British Columbia Vital Statistics

Manitoba Vital Statistics

Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid

Port Hope / Hope Township

Origin of Surnames

While human history has been recorded for some six thousand years, the system of surnames as we know it has been in place only as recently as the 12th century CE. Up until that time, people were known by a single name and if further identification was needed, a descriptive epithet was added, such as John the miller. Often people were referred to with their father’s name following their own given name, such as Charles, John’s son. If Charles moved to a new locality, he was distinguished by being called Charles of London, or whatever town he came from.

Several historical events brought about the need for better personal identification. The most important of these was the breakdown of feudalism, when serfs became free men and were no longer the property of their nobles. A record became necessary for no other reason than that they were now subject to taxation and eligible to own land. The Church and the Reformation were also important influences in the development of names and the keeping of records. As families were freed and became more mobile, it was necessary for sacraments, such as baptism and confirmation, to be recorded so that when a family moved, they could take a record of these events with them to their new priest or minister. Also, with the fracturing of the Church after the Reformation, each sect had to keep good records of exactly who was a member and who was not.

As surnames developed, they were derived from four major sources. The first of these was from places: Charles of London became Charles London. Many other surnames came from the occupation of the person: miller, sawyer, etc. The third source was the father’s name or patronymic: here Charles who was John’s son became Charles Johnson; in Scotland, Donald’s son became MacDonald; in Spain, Sancho’s son became Sanchez. The fourth source of the surname was the nickname. If John was small in stature, he might have been called Little John. At the particular point in time when a surname became required, Littlejohn would have been chosen.

It is also important to remember that the spelling of a name is not set in stone. Until the 19th century, very few people were able to read and write. The spelling of their names in church or civil records depended upon the way it sounded to the minister or clerk writing it down. The name Barkwell, for example, has appeared in records variously as Barkwill, Balkwill and Beulkwell over the centuries; Bullied has been found under Bulleid, Bulled, Bullard and its original, Bulhead.

Naming Pattern in Scotland

As my maternal ancestors are all Scottish, it is worthwhile to mention the naming pattern used with amazing regularity for given names in Scotland from approximately 1700 to 1875:

First son – was named after the father’s father
Second son – was named after the mother’s father
Third son – was named after the father
Fourth son – was named after the father’s eldest brother

First daughter – was named after the mother’s mother
Second daughter – was named after the father’s mother
Third daughter – was named after the mother
Fourth daughter – was named after the mother’s eldest sister

This pattern has been a great boon for genealogists, as it helps to support proof of parentage during a time when written records were few and far between.


Anne Bigelow