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Part Qallunaaq
Chapter 8. Finding William Mackenzie Peter


The exhilarating high of discovering William M. Peter in the records of the Aberdeen Town Registry was quickly dampened by certain facts, which seemed immediately to jeopardize the discovery. At age 36 in 1901, this Mr. Peter would have been 62 years old in 1927, the year of my mother’s birth. Furthermore, he was married, and had two sons; David S., age 6, and Charles C., age 2. His wife’s name was shown as Alice C., which highlighted another problem.

Nowhere in this first record was the name, Winifred, to be found. This was the name my mother’s Scottish father had insisted be given her, after his mother, or his sister. This lack of a Winifred in the family had me thinking that we might be barking up the wrong Peter family tree. With no Winifred, this could not be the family I was looking for. Momentarily, Scotland became the largest country-cum-haystack in the world, hiding within it the location of the Peter family.

I was already starting to rationalize the failure of this particular find when the archivist gently made a suggestion, “Let me take another look at this family’s records.” She bolted again into the bowels of the archives before I had any chance to react. She was back in just over five minutes, with a slight smile on her face. This time, she brought back the birth record of a son born to Mr. Peter and his wife, on December 28, 1901.

The son’s name was William Mackenzie Peter; exactly the same name as his father’s, with neither designated Junior of Senior. This Mr. Peter would have been 25 years old in October 1927 when my mother was born. This now made biological sense. This had to be my grandfather, at the height of his virility! I felt the tingling of a summit conquered, a discovery made. Everything brightened up again!

The absence of a Winifred in the records, though, continued to be a large missing piece of the puzzle, which was starting to become a definite picture. This time, I asked the archivist, “Can you please go back and search for a Winifred in this family? An aunt. A cousin. Anybody. But there’s got to be a Winifred!” Off she went again, this time her mandated mission from me being: Searching for Winifred!

When she returned, my Good Helper, the archivist, was beaming! She had found the birth record of a daughter born to the Peter’s in March 1907, whose name was Winifred Talbert Peter! Although simply called Winnie all her life by the Inuit among whom she lived, my late mother was always aware that her full baptismal name was Winifred. Every once in a long while, she would quietly utter it to herself, as if to audibly touch her origins, set by her Scottish father. Now here was the source of her name, written on paper in front of me!


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