Sunday, January 26, 2014

52 Ancestors: Rosannah Dowds

Amy Johnson Crow of the Nor Story Too Small genealogy blog suggested a weekly blog theme of '52 Ancestors' in her blog post "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks." I decided to take up the challenge of the 52 Ancestors blog theme as a means to prompt me into regularly sharing the stories of my ancestors. So over the course of 2014 I will highlight ancestor, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don't know.

To some her story might be embarassing but to me, she is inspirational! Rosannah or sometimes seen as Rose Ann Dowds was my 3X great grandmother and she lived a tough life. She was far from wealthy, living in a scene from a Dickens novel, as she scratched out a living for herself and her family.

Rosannah Dowds was born sometime around 1835 in County Derry, Ireland, the daughter of William Dowds and his wife Rose McGuire. I do not know yet when she, perhaps with her parents or perhaps alone, left Ireland. What is known from the statutory marriage registers of Scotland is that on 4 September 1855, Rosannah Dowds married James Mitchell, himself a native of County Fermanagh, Ireland, in the District of High Church, located in the Burgh of Glasgow. The marriage record indicates that they both signed the register with their 'X' mark, suggesting that neither could read or write. Both Rosannah and James listed their residence as 3 Parliamentary Road in Glasgow, an address I am currently unable to locate on a map.

James Mitchell is recorded to have been a 22-year old labourer and Rosannah is listed as being 20-years old at the time of their marriage. By 1861 when the census of Scotland was taken, James and Rosannah had established themselves in the village of Baillieston, east of Glasgow, and they had welcomed into their family a daughter whom they named Margaret. 

Margaret was the first of six children that James and Rosannah welcomed into their family between 1859 and about 1870. Then something went terribly wrong - Rosannah went to jail and not for a short time but rather for several years. Sadly, Rosannah is found in subsequent census records as a prisoner or inmate in the General Prison for Scotland. This does mean one long sentence of imprisonment but could result from a number of shorter sentences.

Following the shock of finding my great grandmother in jail, I had to look further into the matter, to find out what she could have possibly been convicted of to warrant such a treatment.

In 2011, I obtained Rosannah Dowds' court file from the National Archives of Scotland and posted a five-part series outlining the case made against her. You can read those posts here:

Rosannah was described in various records as being a 'hawker' by way of occupation, essentially someone who sold and resold whatever articles might have a value. Rosannah plied her trade in the streets and alleys of Victorian-era Glasgow, Scotland. She did what she had to do to provide the means to put food on the table. The justice system she faced did not operate under the expected standards of today. There was no DNA evidence, no fingerprints, just someone saying she was in the area where someone claimed to have suffered a loss of belongings.

I have always thought it interesting that my great grandmother Rosannah spent time as a prison inmate given that I spent a significant part of my work career running prisons. Interesting isn't it that just a few short generations later, our family history had reversed itself so dramatically from one side of the bars to the other.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Death of Tom Knox As Told By His Sister-in-Law Emily Squires in Her Diary

Thomas Elliott Knox was an interesting figure in the history of California and my wife's family history. Photos that I have found of Thomas, from newspaper articles or those that were held and preserved by the family, always show him as a rather starched, dignified individual. I have always, through the years that I have researched Ellen's family, referred to him rather formally as 'Thomas Elliott Knox.' It is a bit hard for me then to see him referred to as "Tom," but that, as it turns out, is exactly how he was known to his family.

Three-year old Olive Theresa Evelyn 'Tess' Latimer (Ellen's mother) stands between 
her grandparents Edward Nelson 'Ned' Latimer (on the left), 
Amy Squires Knox (centre) and 
Thomas Elliott 'Tom' Knox (on the right)

On 19 October 1882, Tom, a native of Huron County (and likely, more specifically, the village of Seaforth), Ontario, Canada, married Amy Jane Knox, a native of Chesterfield, England, in California. Tom was plasterer by trade and had worked his way to California as a young man presumably to find his fortune. Amy had immigrated to California with her parents and seven known siblings as a young girl. Amy's older sister Emily kept a diary and that diary tells the story of Tom's death in a way that can't be captured by a newspaper article. 

Emily Squires' diary entries show life as it was during a time before the conveniences of automation, gadgetry, and mobile devices. In early 1938, the highlights in her day that she wrote about in her diary included social events, writing, posting and receiving mail, having clothing made, mended and adjusted, and of course, the household finances. She also recorded the health status of family members. The following are my transcripts of extracts from her diary entries:

Wednesday, January 19, 1938

...Tom and Amy are both laid up with heavy colds....

Thursday, January 20, 1938

...Tom & Amy both laid up with colds....

Friday, January 21, 1938

...Tom not so well....

Saturday, January 22, 1938

...Tom suffering from cramps in stomach. They sent for Dr. Hamlin, and he called an ambulance & had him go to hosp. pronto. They fear pneumonia.

Sunday, January 23, 1938

...Tom is in a pneumonia jacket, has been x rayed, but they do not know just what is causing the trouble.

Monday, January 24, 1938

... Tom about the same. Doctor would operate if he were younger & see what it is all about....

Tuesday, January 25, 1938

..Olive and Leila went to see Tom at Prov. Hosp. [Providence Hospital in Oakland, California] this afternoon. I wrote Will & Nellie about him this eve....

Wednesday, January 26, 1938

...Tom seemed weaker to-day....

Thursday, January 27, 1938

Tom has pneumonia and seems to be growing weaker....

Friday, January 28, 1938

...Tom is weaker, and was given a serum this noon, & no visitors allowed. Amy went to Y M [?] to tell me....

Saturday, January 29, 1938

...Dude [Tom and Amy's youngest son] & Amy were with Tom until 11 last night, and were called at 8:30 this A.M. Has been in a comatose condition all day. Practically no hope....

Sunday, January 30, 1938

...poor old Tom went to heaven about eleven o'clock this morning. I hope his spirit has already found Art's. [I believe this is a reference to Arthur Squires Knox, Tom's son who died in 1928] I went to church & heard Dr. Zwemer talk on Islam. Wonderful speaker. Talked with Mr. & Mrs. Davenport and walked home with Auntie. The Beebes and Mrs. Jackson were with Amy & Dude. Amy asked me to write to Mattie & break the news. I also wrote to Mary, Marion, Gertrude Jordan and Ella McCul. Note in S. F. Chronicle of Tom's illness.

Tues, February 1, 1938 (The Funeral)

...Linden took Olive, Emma & myself to Grant Miller's. [Grant Miller Mortuary, 2850 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland] Almost all the family was there - all except Ed & May, Nellie, and our children in the East & at Sacramento. Tom looked handsome.

[Note: A special thanks to Squires cousin, Pam Marino for sharing her great grandmother Emily Squires' diary pages.] 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

52 Ancestors: John Graham O'Neill (1895 - 1979)

Amy Johnson Crow of the Nor Story Too Small genealogy blog suggested a weekly blog theme of '52 Ancestors' in her blog post "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks." I decided to take up the challenge of the 52 Ancestors blog theme as a means to prompt me into regularly sharing the stories of my ancestors. So over the course of 2014 I will highlight ancestor, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don't know.

This week I am profiling John Graham O'Neill, my maternal grandfather. It wasn't wasn't until he had died that I knew his first name was John as he always went by his middle name of Graham. 'Granddad' as I knew him always had personalized Christmas cards printed each year and below the holiday text was his name "J. Graham O'Neill." When I was younger I wondered what his first name might be and imagined that it must have been something quite terrible in order for him to think using Graham was better.

My grandfather was the first child of William Emmett O'Neill, an insurance salesman, and Margaret Graham. He was born on 26 June 1895 in a house on Claremont Avenue (now Claremont Street) in the Trinity Bellwoods district of Toronto, Ontario. He would be joined in 1896 and 1898 respectively by his sisters Kathleen (who in later years became Sister St. Edwin in the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph) and Avila.

According to my mother, sometime in his younger days, my Grandfather lost his left eye when a dart inadvertently was misthrown. I never asked Granddad about his eye, purely out of politeness. As a result, when other young men and likely many of his friends were enlisting to fight in World War 1, Granddad was left on the sidelines.

My grandfather married my grandmother, Gertrude Ellen Foley, on 23 June 1926. According to a newspaper article from 25 June 1926, their wedding reception was held at the home of my grandmother's parents. and my grandfather gave his bride a gift of a white gold wristwatch. Following the reception, my grandparents headed off on a honeymoon trip to Rochester, New York, then to Cleveland, Ohio and finally to Detroit Michigan. When they returned home after the trip, they lived in the home they received as a gift from my grandmother's father (John Foley) at 189 Pickering Street.

J. Graham O'Neill was a sports fan and a raconteur. I loved listening to his stories, hearing about the city of Toronto as my grandfather experienced it at the turn of the 20th century and listening to his anecdotes about the many people he had come to meet and know well. I think to my mother, her father's stories were too fantastic to be taken seriously but as I researched my grandfather over the years I have only been able uncover evidence that his stories were all based in truth.

Some of my most cherished memories involve my grandfather and sports. He regularly took me to 'old' Maple Leaf Stadium to watch the International League Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team games featuring a team that baseball Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson played for and managed. Maple Leaf Stadium, with it's multi-billboard outfield fence, was located on the shore of Lake Ontario. From the stands, I would watch the game and if we were there over the Labour Day weekend, it was a great venue for watching the annual Canadian National Exhibition air show. I soon learned that if I went to the top row of the stadium, I could look out onto Fort York, the historic site from which soldiers defended Canada so many years earlier.

I also owe some of my love for hockey to my grandfather. You see, my parents really were not hockey fans, so on Saturday night, "Hockey Night in Canada," I would walk the two houses over to my grandfather's house and watch the games of my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs, winners of multiple Stanley Cups in those days. Granddad always sat in his deep green armchair while I occupied the matching green sofa under the front window. My placement on the sofa was somewhat strategic on my grandfather's part as he knew that I usually would not be to stay awake until the end of the game, so the sofa became my bed.

I really wish I had taken the time to talk to my grandfather more about the changes he witnessed in his lifetime throughout the 20th century. Most regrettably though I wish I had told him that he was going to be a great-grandfather. My late wife, Karen and I found out in early December 1979 that we were expecting our first child. We decided to wait until Christmas to tell our immediate families. My grandfather passed away a week later on December 10, 1979 before I could tell him the news. I still wish that I had made that telephone call to him to share the news and swear him to secrecy. His first great grandchild that I never got to tell him about was named John Graham, partly in tribute to him.

Even in death, J. Graham O'Neill was making stories to endure when the hearse carrying his remains got separated from the funeral procession and was lost for several long minutes in the streets of Toronto while on the way to Mount Hope Cemetery and my grandfather's final resting place. He would have loved that and told the story to all who would listen, repeatedly.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

52 Ancestors Sunday: John Foley (1863-1927)

Amy Johnson Crow of the Nor Story Too Small genealogy blog suggested a weekly blog theme of '52 Ancestors' in her blog post "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks." I decided to take up the challenge of the 52 Ancestors blog theme as a means to prompt me into regularly sharing the stories of my ancestors. So over the course of 2014 I will highlight an ancestor, on a weekly basis and usually one of my direct ancestors, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don't know.

I am going to start with my favourite ancestor, one of my maternal great grandfathers, John Foley.

One of the catalysts to my family research research was the death of my maternal grandfather. He was unfortunately for me the last possible link to someone who knew John Foley and might have been able to tell me about him. As a result, all I know about John Foley comes from family stories and the many records I have found that document his life and death.

According to his gravestone, John Foley was born February 16, 1864 and died January 13, 1927. He died before my mother or any of her siblings were born. His gravestone also records that he was the husband of Annie McElroy (born May 5, 1864; died March 5, 1950). The gravestone is located in Mount Hope Cemetery in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

My mother told me that John Foley was a wealthy and successful businessman - a teamster and developer who built homes. According to the family story, John Foley was from Barrie, Ontario and that he had been orphaned at a young age. According to the family story, John died suddenly in Florida having gone there to sell some land he owned. The family story also holds that John could neither read nor write but that he had learned to sign his name, a necessity for business purposes.

John Foley's birth pre-dates civil registration in the Province of Ontario, Canada (civil registration commenced in 1869). As a result, it took some time and a fair amount of tedious digging to find his baptism registration. The family story was correct in that John Foley was from the Barrie, Ontario area. According to his baptism registration, he was born on February 16, 1863 (note that this is one year earlier than the date on his gravestone) and he was baptized at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Roman Catholic Church in Barrie on February 21, 1863. In the church baptismal register his surname is misspelled as 'Froley.' (Source: Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Roman Catholic Church (Barrie, Simcoe, Ontario, Canada), Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, Page 71, No. 706, Birth and Baptismal Record for John Foley (misspelled as 'Froley' in register); digital image, Family Search ( : digital image 21 January 2012).

In the 1871 Census of Canada, John can be found living with his parents and siblings in Barrie, Ontario. However, in the 1881 Census of Canada, John is found living in Vespra, near Barrie, with three of his siblings. His parents cannot be found in the census records lending credence to the story of John having been orphaned at a 'young' age. Further research found that John's father, William Foley had died in 1880. I have been unable to find John Foley in the 1891 Census of Canada.

By 1894, things were going much better for John. The banns were read so that on April 25, 1894 John married Mary Jane Fitzgerald at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Toronto. The marriage was recorded both in the church's marriage register and with the province. The local newspaper, the Toronto Evening Star (as it was then called, now the Toronto Daily Star) even contained a small story in the next day's edition about the wedding stating, "Mr. John Foley and Miss Fitzgerald were quietly married yesterday evening in St. Joseph's church, Leslie street, by Father Fagan [it was actually Father William Bergin who officiated at the marriage]. After the ceremony an adjournment was made to the residence of the bride's parents, Brooklin avenue, where supper was served and the happy couple received the congratulations of their friends."

By 1899, things were going well for John and Mary. They had a home at 25 Blong Avenue where they were raising their three children, two boys and a girl. However, that all came crashing to a halt when on April 9, 1899, following a three week illness, Mary Jane died at the age of only 31 of septic poisoning. John's youngest child, my grandmother Gertrude, had turned one year of age only a couple of weeks earlier.

Eventually John Foley was able to once again bounce back from his tragic loss and on October 14, 1903, John married Annie Teresa McElroy, a native of Thornhill, Ontario. John became a father for the fourth time in 1905 when his third son, and only child with his wife Annie, John Joseph 'Jack' Foley was born.

John and Annie settled with the four children into the biggest house on their street in Toronto's east end and remained there until John was in his 60's. John retired and he and Annie then did what we would call 'downsize' when they moved to 249 Queensdale Avenue in Toronto. It was at this residence that a 'bon voyage' party, complete with a small orchestra, was held prior to the start of John and Annie's 1927 trip that commenced on January 4th. 

John Foley died on January 13, 1927 in Los Angeles, California. His remains were returned to Toronto where his funeral mass and internment took place on January 18, 1927.

John Foley left an estate valued, at current values, of more than $1 million.

I have no photos of John but would love to receive one. I have an image in my mind of my great grandfather and I am certain that there were likely many photos taken of John and his family members. I just don't know where they might be and those family members I have asked, don't seem to know either.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Anne Margaret (O'Neill) Hadden - In Memoriam - She Left Us 20 Years Ago Today

Anne Margaret Hadden (nee O'Neill), 'Mom' to me, left us 20 years ago today, on January 8, 1994, a victim of cancer. She left behind a husband, her children, and perhaps most important to her, her beloved grandchildren.

Anne (also known as 'Anna', 'Mom', and 'Granny') was born in Detroit, Michigan, USA. Her parents had moved to Detroit from their home in Toronto, Ontario because work was available for my grandfather - and finding work in the Depression era of the 1930's was important. My mother's older brother, Edwin ('Ed') had been born in Toronto a couple of years prior to the family move and a couple of years after my mother's birth, the family expanded again in Detroit with the birth of William ('Bill') O'Neill.

Following the 1937 death of my mother's paternal grandmother in Toronto, the family moved back to the Toronto east end house my grandfather had inherited. The same house became my parent's home after they married in 1953 and was the house that I was raised in through my early childhood years.

My mother graduated from Notre Dame High School in 1948 and entered nursing school as it was referred to then at St. Michael's Hospital in downtown Toronto. She graduated as a Registered Nurse in 1952. My mother loved nursing but took a hiatus from her work from the mid-1950's through the early 1960's during which time she gave birth to five children in six years, only three of whom survived to adulthood. It wasn't until I became a parent that I could even fathom the anguish my parents must have experienced at the deaths of my brothers Brian (1956-1957) and Stephen (1957-1959).

My mother often displayed an off-beat, quirky sense of humour. While in high school, she and a friend would pass a local funeral parlour while walking home from school. They started making it a habit to stop in and visit the funeral parlour each day - just to see who was there! The anecdotes from her professional life working in a hospital ranged from technical medical procedures to the bizarre. Her favourite however was always 'The Chocolate Cake' story.

St. Michael's Hospital, or St. Mike's as it is locally known, operated in an older part of the city not known for glitz and glamour. As such my mother's patients were often those that suffered from alcoholism and mental illnesses. My mother worked on "1D", a first floor unit that was close to the street and all that the rundown neighbourhood had to offer. She worked with a close-knit team of nurses and they used any occasion to brighten otherwise tough days.

One such occasion was the birthday of a colleague unit nurse. Mom's best fiend, Marie (known in our house as 'the tall blonde') baked the birthday cake and spread far more chocolate icing on it than was required. As Marie was carrying the cake into work for the birthday celebration, the cake fell out of it's box, landing on the floor of the hospital's first floor lobby. My mother and Marie quickly assessed that with the excess icing, the cake could easily be salvaged by re-spreading the icing that remained.

A short time later as my mother was walking through the lobby, she encountered two nuns dressed in their full black habits (the hospital was run by the Sisters of St. Joseph religious order). The nuns, thinking that someone had defecated on the floor, called to my mother and pointed out the brown lump. Without missing a beat, my mother told the nuns not to worry and promptly put her finger into the 'lump' then put her finger bearing the brown goo into her mouth, proclaiming "Ummmm, it's wonderful!" The shocked nuns hastily left to report that a nurse was having some kind of breakdown.

In her retirement years, my mother shopped, a lot. She explained to me that she was simply exercising her "God given right to spoil" her grandchildren.

My mother died at home, just as she wished. My father arranged for a hospital bed to be installed in her room, affectionately referred to as 'The Nest.' As an experienced and knowledgeable nurse, she knew that her body was failing. So, a few weeks before her death, she asked me, as I was a church musician, if I would sing at her funeral. When I agreed to her request, she asked if I thought I would be able to given the emotion of the time. I told her that I didn't know how I would do as I had never sang at her funeral before. She smiled and asked me what song I would sing. I quickly replied that the first thing to come to mind was Ding, Dong, The Witch Is Dead from the Wizard of Oz. Our laughter at that moment is still a precious memory and I won't repeat the name she called me.

Her death came quietly, as it is said, 'like a thief in the night.' Our whole family had been gathered around Mom throughout the day on January 7th. We all left the house late at night to put our own children to bed in their respective homes. Within two hours of leaving, my father called to summon us back to our parental home. I drove my sister to our parents' home that night through a raging blizzard and when we entered the house, our father looked at me and with the slightest shake of his head, I knew we were too late. Hours later, my father and I stood in the doorway to the house as Mom left her house for the final time, now in the care of the funeral directors.

                                         Anne (O'Neill) Hadden with 5-month old Ian Hadden

Our rather large church was filled to capacity for her funeral on January 11, 1994. A fitting tribute to a wonderful woman who gave so much of herself to those she loved and cared for. And, I sang!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Amy (Squires) Knox And The Red Cross Of Livermore, California

My wife Ellen's cousin, Pam Marino of California, has kindly provided the photo below which shows Ellen's great grandmother Amy (Squires) Knox in her role as Chairwoman of the local Red Cross in Livermore, California. The photo is dated as being taken in 1918.

Amy Knox was the wife of Thomas Elliott 'Tom' Knox, the Mayor and Postmaster of Livermore, California in the early 20th century. Tom was nominated and appointed to the position of Postmaster by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903.

The occasion and location of the photo was not noted in the photo's back, just Amy's name as "Mrs. T. E. Knox Chairman Livermore Red Cross." The man standing beside Amy bearing the U.S. flag appears to be a member of the Livermore Fire Department based on the "L F D" insignia on his peaked cap. It is possible that the photo was taken at the first Livermore Rodeo. in 1918, with World War 1 raging, the Red Cross was in desperate need of funding and so each California city and town was assessed $1,200. A man named John McGlinchey devised the idea to hold a fund raising rodeo. That first rodeo was successful in raising the needed funds for the Red Cross and the tradition of the Livermore Rodeo was born.

My thanks to Pam for sharing the photo in all of its historic glory.