Niagara Gazette

February 7, 2014

Who does she think she is? Local genealogists shed light on history of Canadian actress

BY Mia Summerson
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The mysterious death of an ice delivery man in the 1920s, was part of the family history of a Canadian actress uncovered for a TV show by two local genealogists.

While researching the family history of Canadian actress Marina Orsini, Niagara Fallsfamily history researcher, Pete Ames, came across an interesting story about Harold Edwin Young, her great-grandfather. Young died suddenly after attending an underground drinking establishment in Lackawanna.

“The death certificate had one thing listed down for the cause of death, but they had to cross it off because an autopsy revealed that he was poisoned,” Ames said. “Somehow he had ingested potassium cyanide. Someone slipped him a mickey.”

After spending time researching in Buffalo and Lackawanna Ames, along with cousin and colleague Historian Bill Seiner, the pair presented their information to Orsini at the Grosvenor Room at the Buffalo and Erie County Library as part of a French- Canadian television series entitled “Qui etes vous,” which is comparable to the American show, “Who Do You Think You Are?”

“She was very visibly moved by it all,” said Lewiston Public Library Assistant Michelle Kratts of Orsini. “It was interesting, you always wonder if reactions on shows like that are really live, and they are.”

The show, like its American TV counterpart, focuses on uncovering the mysteries that surround the heritage of celebrities. While Ames and Seiner made no mention of the murder ever being solved, the knowledge was something Orsini may have never come across without their help.

A family legend maintains that Young may have had an extramarital affair, and his death may have been the result of actions taken by a jealous husband. However, that has never been proven. But, the geneologists’ research certain provides credibility to the family’s belief about his death. Their research also adds to the shows’ efforts to demonstrate the benefits of tracing family geneology.

“This was partly to showcase an example of tracking down genealogy in different places,” said Seiner. “It’s also a bit of a showcase of local history because there were a great number of Canadians that came to Niagara Falls and Buffalo.”

Prohibition was an especially tense time in this area due to Canada being just across the river. It was especially easy to smuggle alcohol into the country when it was legal just a few minutes away.

During this time there were a seemingly endless supply of “soft drink” establishments that served as fronts for illegal drinking. According to Seiner, one man was ambushed by coast guard officers just for looking suspicious. This resulted in Western New York becoming a leading player in the opposition to prohibition, and is all part of the rich history of the region.

The show aired this fall on Radio-Canada. It was produced in French, with subtitles used for segments filmed in Buffalo, Scotland and Italy. The show was available for Canadian viewers only and is no longer available online, but a DVD may be obtained for viewing through Michelle Kratts at the Lewiston Library by calling 754-4720.  The two Niagara genealogists simply hope that by sharing their story they can show what people can learn about themselves and their families with just a little digging.

“People should be asking their elders about stories like this before they go away,” said Ames. “Once they pass away, that information goes away with them which makes it more difficult. Don’t wait until tomorrow.”