Sunday, June 29, 2014

52 Ancestors: Gertrude Ellen (or Ellen Gertrude) O'Neill (nee Foley) 1898-1962

Amy Johnson Crow of the No 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, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don't know.

'Gertie' is my maternal grandmother. Gertie is the name my grandfather, her husband, J. Graham O'Neill called her. I just don't really know if Gertie, short for Gertrude, was her first name or her middle name.

She was born on April 16, 1898 in Toronto, York County, Ontario, Canada. She was the third child and first daughter of John Foley, who listed his occupation as teamster on her birth registration and his wife Mary Jane Fitzgerald. 

Although he became a very successful businessman, John Foley could not read nor write but he did register the births of his children - and signed each birth registration (as he had been taught how to sign his name for business purposes). Because he couldn't read, John Foley signed the registrations even when they had his children's names recorded incorrectly. The family also had the habit of calling their children by their middle names. Eldest son Lewis Fitzgerald Foley was called Gerald, next son William Clarence was called Clarence but his birth was registered under the name William Dorsey!

So was my grandmother Gertrude Ellen or Ellen Gertrude? I don't really know for certain and perhaps, it doesn't really matter. Her birth registration states Gertrude Ellen and her baptismal record states Ellen Gertrude. Her death registration states Gertrude Ellen but my grandfather was the informant for the registration so he was likely stating what he commonly believed to be true. To add some confusion, the 1901 Census of Canada lists her as Ellen G. Foley. Most records including her marriage registration and newspaper announcements about the wedding say her name was Gertrude Ellen so I guess that is what I will go with.

Gertrude Ellen (Foley) O'Neill with her husband J. Graham O'Neill and their first grandchild, Ian Hadden

Gertrude was born at 25 Blong Avenue in an area of the city now referred to as Leslieville. Soon after her birth, she was baptized in St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, the same church in which her parents had married four years earlier. One week before her first birthday however, the family was turned upside down when her mother Mary Foley died of "septic poisoning." 

For the next four years, Gertrude and her older brothers were cared for by housekeepers that her father hired. For example, in 1901, it was Mrs. O'Sullivan, an Irish widow who, along with her two teenage children, came to live with the Foleys and kept house. The family circumstance changed in October 1903 when John Foley married Annie McElroy. Life seems to have not only stabilized a bit but also got more comfortable for Gertrude as her father's business became more and more successful and the family's wealth grew.

On June 23, 1926, wearing a peach coloured georgette gown with matching peach coloured hat, Gertrude Foley married John Graham O'Neill at St. Brigid's Roman Catholic Church, both signing the church marriage register as a soloist sang Ave Maria. At the wedding reception, held at her parent's home on Queensdale Avenue, Gertrude was presented with a white gold wristwatch by the groom. Her father gave the newlyweds a house at 189 Pickering Street as a wedding gift.

They would not live in that house however until sometime in 1937 when they returned to Toronto following the death of Graham's mother. It had been a tough economic time, the Depression era had set in and they had moved with their eldest child to Detroit in 1929 where Graham had been offered a job. Over the eight years they lived in Detroit, Gertrude had given birth to two additional children, a daughter (my mother) and then a second son.

Back in Toronto, Gertrude and Graham settled into life raising their children, seeing each of them marry, and then welcoming grandchildren.

I spent a lot of time with my grandmother Gertrude O'Neill or 'Nanna' as I called her because we lived just two houses away from her. I was her first grandchild and I admit that she put a lot of effort into spoiling me. I can still feel the devastation of July 13th, 1962 when I heard my mother calling across the street to a neighbour and telling the neighbour about my grandmother's death that afternoon. My mother didn't know at the time that I was in that neighbour's kitchen, building model airplanes with the neighbour's son.

Following a funeral at St. John's Roman Catholic Church, Gertrude Ellen Foley O'Neill was interred in the O'Neill family plot at Mount Hope Cemetery where she would be joined years later, to forever rest in peace, by her husband Graham.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

52 Ancestors: Margaret O'Neill (nee Graham) (1854-1937)

Amy Johnson Crow of the No 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, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don't know.

Margaret Graham was born on 8 September 1854, according to the records that I have been able to locate about her. Just over 100 years later, I would make her a great grandmother. I know that Margaret was born in the province of Ontario but I have been unable so far to find a record that provides a more precise location, although it is likely that Margaret's family was living south of Barrie, Ontario at the time of her birth.

By 1861, Margaret can be found in the census records living in Holland Landing with her parents. Her father was Patrick Graham, a tailor from Ireland and her mother Catherine McRae, the Canadian born daughter of Scottish immigrants who were part of the Glengarry settlement. By the time Margaret was a teenager, her father had decided to take up farming and so the family moved to Sunnidale, Ontario, just west of the town of Barrie.

There is no record that I have found nor no family story that I have heard about how my great grandparents met, but on 4 June 1894, a 39-year old Margaret Graham married 45-year old William Emmett O'Neill in St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church on Bathurst Street in Toronto. In spite of their ages at the time, it appears that this was the first marriage for both of them and they set about quickly to have three children in the next four years: first a son, John Graham O'Neill (my grandfather) in 1895, then a daughter Kathleen Marie O'Neill (who became a nun) in 1896, and finally another daughter Avila O'Neill (who never married) in 1898.

Margaret and her husband settled into what was from all appearances a quiet life in Toronto. While her husband William worked in the insurance business, Margaret tended to raising their three children and keeping house. When their son Graham, as he was called, was engaged to marry Gertrude Foley, Gertrude's father John Foley informed the engaged couple that he was going to give them a house on Pickering Street in Toronto's east end as a wedding gift. Graham and Gertrude convinced John Foley to instead sell the house to Graham's parents. Margaret and William were residing in that house in 1924 when William died according to his death registration.

The O'Neill Family gravestone, Mount Hope Cemetery, Toronto, Ontario (photo by Ian Hadden)

Margaret continued to live in the house for a short time until she moved into a house with her daughter Avila at 1739 Dundas Street West in Toronto. She then lived with Avila until her own death at St. Joseph's Hospital from chronic myocarditis on 2 March 1937. On 5 March 1937, Margaret was laid to rest to rest beside her husband William in Mount Hope Cemetery following a 9:00 a.m. requiem mass at St. Helen's Roman Catholic Church.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Calling All Merners - The 62nd Annual Merner Family Reunion Is Set

The date is set for the 62nd Annual Merner Family Reunion! The reunion is being held again this year at the Seaforth (Ontario) Golf and Country Club on Sunday, July  13th beginning at 1:00 p.m. and includes nine holes of golf for those interested or family games at a nearby park for the non-golfers. The reunion is capped off by a social hour with a cash bar and a family barbecue. Cost for the dinner is $15 (Cdn) per adult and $7.50 per child 5 and under.

The reunion is organized by Ellen's cousins Marg Nicholson and Liz Bartliff, whom like Ellen are descended from Jacob Emanuel Merner and his wife Susannah Schluchter. Ellen and I attended the reunion last year and had a great time. Of course, it was also great to meet so many previously unknown cousins.

Cousins Liz Bartliff, Ellen (Wagner) Hadden, and Marg Nicholson at the 61st Annual Merner Family Reunion in 2013

If you are connected to the Merner family, not too busy, and want to enjoy a great afternoon with great people, whether you golf or not, I encourage you to make the trip into southwestern Ontario for this family reunion. You can contact me at for more information on how to reserve a spot at the reunion.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

52 Ancestors: Andrew Gammie, Sr. (1861-1926) or Why My Family Moved to Toronto, Ontario?

Amy Johnson Crow of the No 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, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don't know.

When I became curious about the history of my family, some thirty plus years ago, one of the first people I spoke to was my great uncle Alexander Gaull Hadden, or Uncle Alec as I knew him. Uncle Alec told me what he knew of the family. His paternal grandmother was Helen Shand. She had given birth to his father, my great grandfather Alexander Shand Hadden and then later re-married a man named Gammie. In 1907, she and this Gammie fellow moved to Saskatchewan to homestead. Years later, she contacted her eldest child Alexander and invited him and his family to come join her working on the farm in Canada. In 1923, the Haddens accepted her invitation.  

The family story went a bit further but still lacked detail. Uncle Alec told me that his mother, Jessie Gaull, didn't like it in Saskatchewan, with it's bitter cold in winter, so in 1927, the family moved to Toronto, Ontario where Jessie had a brother George Gaull who owned a small grocery store. Uncle Alec also made a comment I wrote down in the notes I made during the family history interview with him and have kept to this day. The comment was that there was some tension between the Gammie boys and his father Alexander. No details. Nothing more said.

Andrew Gammie (1861-1926)

I first must confess that I am not genetically related to Andrew Gammie Sr. and I am not really descended from him. But Andrew Gammie Sr was the step-father to my great grandfather Alexander Shand Hadden as seen in the snippet below from the 1891 Census of Scotland.

Andrew Gammie was the eldest son in a family of ten known children (five boys and five girls) born to Andrew Gammie and his wife Jane Christie. Andrew was born on 28 Jun 1861 in Huntly, County of Aberdeen, Scotland. Andrew's father was a successful farmer of 135 acres in Monqhitter, Aberdeen, Scotland, employing two men and a boy according to census records. It is very likely that Andrew worked on the farm and learned from his much from his father.

On the 14th of June, 1890, Andrew married Helen Shand, a domestic servant, in Ythan Wells. As the census record above shows, with Helen came her son Alexander Hadden whom she had raised on her own, supported by her Shand relatives. Andrew was 29 years old and Helen was 25 when they married. A year later, and just a few months after the 1891 census was taken, Helen gave birth to their first child, the first of three sons. They named him Andrew, like his father and grandfather before him.

Sons Peter and James, or 'Jimmie' as they called him, would follow over the next four years. Finally, in 1897, they had a daughter whom they named Helen, after her  mother. I'm not certain as to the reason, but Helen and Andrew later adopted a little girl born in 1904 named Whilimena (Williamina) Alexander, known in the family as 'Minnie.'

Andrew supported his family by working as a farm servant and then as a baker's van driver and grocer's carter. Opportunity knocked, at least in Andrew Gammie's eyes, when the Canadian government offered the chance at land ownership - for free. All that was required was moving half-way around the world to the prairies of Saskatchewan. It was with this promise in mind that Andrew and Helen along with their five Gammie children boarded the Lake Erie in April 1907 for the voyage to St. John, New Brunswick and from there to Stoughton, Saskatchewan where they would wait for their homestead application to be approved and land granted.

While they waited for their land, Andrew moved his family and worked on farms first in Morse, Saskatchewan and then in Anerley, Saskatchewan. Likely the lessons in farming he received from his father now served him well. Eventually, their homestead application was approved and the family settled on and began farming their own land near Aneroid, Saskatchewan.

As in all families, the kids grow up and begin making their own decisions. Such was the circumstance when on 17 May 1916, sons Peter and James enlisted in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force. The two Gammie boys went off to fight in World War I but only one would return. Jimmie would die of shrapnel wounds suffered when the Allies were taking a bridge in Fricheux, France. He was buried not far away in a military cemetery outside of Arras, France.

Land that Jimmie had acquired in Saskatchewan, not far from the Gammie homestead was bequeathed to his mother Helen. It was help with this land that she sought when she invited her first-born Alexander Hadden to come to Saskatchewan. Eventually, Alexander agreed to the move and to help with the farming even though he really had no farming experience. I'm told by a member of the Gammie family that Helen had kept her correspondence and this offer secret and so I suspect it was quite the surprise to the Gammie children when their half-brother Alexander Hadden and his family showed up on the prairies in 1923. It is also likely that there was much that needed to be done so there was not much time to quibble about the new arrivals.

However, on 23 August 1926, at the age of 65, Andrew Gammie died. He also died intestate, meaning he had left no will. I don't know the reason, but Helen, now a widow, chose the younger of her two surviving sons to be the executor of her husband's estate. Andrew Gammie's estate file records that Helen, Andrew Jr. and Helen, the daughter, all renounced their rights to letters of administration which were duly granted to Peter by the Surrogate Court, appointing him as executor.

On 11 January 1927, when Helen Gammie renounced her rights to the letters of administration in favour of her son Peter, she listed her husband Andrew's survivors as: herself, her sons, Andrew Gammie Jr. and Peter Gammie, and Helen Gammie, then Mrs. Harold Hardement. No mention of step-son Alexander Hadden nor adopted daughter Minnie Alexander Gammie. Son Andrew's renunciation instrument listed the same survivors.

However, just two and half weeks later on 29 Jan 1927, Peter Gammie signed his affidavit as executor that included an inventory of his father's estate and a list of the surviving family members to whom the estate would pass. Those surviving family members were: his mother Helen who would receive as required by law one-third of the estate, Andrew Gammie Jr., Peter Gammie, Helen Gammie then Mrs. Harold Hardement, and Whilimena Gammie, adopted daughter. No mention of step-son Alexander Hadden.

The estate that they divided consisted of land valued at $7,000, the property described as West Half, Section 1 in Township 8, Range 11, West of the 3rd Meridian. The remainder of the estate consisted of a stove, kitchen cabinet, table, chairs, bed (valued at a combined $100), a wagon, two plows and a set of harrows (combined value of $135), and 6 horses at $60 per head (total $360). The total estate value was $7,595 of which Andrew's widow Helen received $2,351.66.

And so, the Hadden family, just four years after leaving their home in Scotland appear to have been stranded, at least by circumstances on the prairies of Saskatchewan. Was this the cause of the tension my uncle had told me about? If it was, it seems entirely understandable to me. With apparently nothing for them in Saskatchewan, was this the reason the family moved to Toronto where at least there was some family support available? It seems entirely likely to me. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

52 Ancestors: Margaret Wagner Bean (nee Hailer) 1831-1918

Amy Johnson Crow of the No 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, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don't know.

Over the past several weeks I have been highlighting one of my direct ancestors. This week, I am stepping away, just a little, from that practice. Rather than one of my direct ancestors, I am turning the spotlight onto one of my wife Ellen's direct ancestors, her great great grandmother Margaret (or Margaretha) Wagner (nee Hailer).

Margaret Wagner Bean (nee Hailer) in 1906

The reason for this variance is simple. A week ago, Ellen and I were in the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo, Ontario to attend a family funeral. While driving to our hotel, I pointed to a street sign and Ellen's eyes lit up as she knew the significance of the street name.

Margaret Avenue street sign (at intersection with Bridgeport Street East, Waterloo, Ontario)

Margaret Avenue runs roughly north from Kitchener's downtown core, beginning at Queen Street North, to it's termination just south of University Avenue in Waterloo. Margaret Avenue is also named in honour of Ellen's great great grandmother Margaret Wagner (Fear, Jon, Flash from the Past: Many a train passed under Margaret Avenue Bridge, Kitchener Waterloo Record, 17 Dec 2010).

Margaret was born Margaretha Hailer, the eldest child of Johann Jacob Hailer and his wife Margaret Riehl. She was born in 1831 in Chippewa (now Niagara Falls), Upper Canada. Her parents, Jacob and Margaret Hailer settled in Chippewa soon after they married in 1830 but, not long after the birth of their first child, they moved to Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario. According to author and biographical sketch compiler A. J. Fretz (born 1849), Jacob and Margaret Hailer were the first German born settlers in the town of Berlin (Fretz, A. J.. A genealogical record of the descendants of Christian and Hans Meyer and other pioneers : together with historical and biographical sketches. Harleysville, Pa.: News Printing House, 1896, page 122).

Margaret grew up in Berlin with her four sisters - Catherine, Harriet, Marion, and Caroline - and their one brother, the youngest of the children, Jacob. In 1849 Margaret married Jacob Wagner, a minister in the Evangelical Association. Following their marriage the young couple set up house near Buffalo, New York where Jacob's ministry as a preacher was headquartered. It was here that Margaret and Jacob were joined by their two children, Catherine, or Kate  as they called her, in 1851 and Louis Henry, who later followed in his father's footsteps becoming a minister, in 1857. Life on the road was hard for Jacob and his health suffered as a result. So in November 1857, he decided to give up preaching and entered into a business partnership with his best friend Phillip Ludwig 'Louis' Breithaupt, a Buffalo tanner. Louis Breithaupt was also Jacob's brother-in-law, having married Margaret's sister Catherine after Jacob had introduced the two to each other. Each of them would contribute between $3,000-$4,000 dollars as capital to start a tannery operation In Berlin.

Margaret must have been elated at the prospect of having her husband home all the time, especially since the new business was to be established in Berlin, not far from her parental home. On April 1st, 1858, Jacob Wagner and Louis Breithaupt finalized their partnership agreement for what would become the Eagle Tannery. Jacob Wagner was established as the partner responsible for running the operation.

The good fortune did not last long however. Jacob died suddenly on 19 April 1858. Margaret's parents were there to comfort and support the young widow, ensuring that Kate and young Louis went to school. In 1862, Margaret met and married Daniel Bean (Biehn), a school teacher and farmer from Blandford in neighbouring Oxford County. On marrying Daniel, Margaret left her son Louis in the care of her father so he could continue his education, at least until young Louis convinced his grandfather Jacob Hailer and uncle Louis Breithaupt that what he really wanted was to apprentice in the tannery business, a career that didn't last long.

Margaret moved around southwestern Ontario with her husband Daniel as he moved between school teaching jobs. During their marriage, Margaret and Daniel had six known children. In 1885 Margaret was again widowed when Daniel died in Mildmay, Ontario. Now on her own and in her mid-50's, Margaret moved back home once more where she lived in a house with her two youngest children Jacob and Margaret 'Alma" Bean. When Alma married Alfred Bender in 1907, Margaret moved into a house with them.

On the morning of Sunday, July 7, 1918, Margaret (Hailer) (Wagner) Bean was found dead. Dr. J. F. Honsberger, the coroner, would determine that the cause of death was apoplexy (or stroke). Margaret was laid to rest on 12 July 1918 next to her first husband Jacob Wagner and beside her parents and Breithaupt in-laws in Kitchener's Mount Hope Cemetery.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

52 Ancestors: William Emmett O'Neill (1849-1924)

Amy Johnson Crow of the No 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, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don't know.

William Emmett O'Neill, one of my great grandfathers, entered this world on 26 February 1849 in Barrie, Ontario, Canada - or as it was known at the time of his birth, Canada West. He was the son of Irish immigrants, John O'Neill and his wife, Mary Murphy. They were a Roman Catholic family who lived in a one-storey log house on land that John farmed.

When William was a young man of twenty-two, he found work as a labourer in Tay Township, close to Georgian Bay. By the time he was thirty years of age, he was caring for his widowed mother in Barrie, Ontario while working as a store clerk. William continued working for others in the Barrie, Ontario store into the early 1890's and then decided, through an unknown inspiration, perhaps the death of his mother, that it was time to strike out on his own.

He moved to Toronto, found work again as a store clerk, but also found love. He met and married Margaret Graham on 4 June 1894 in St. Mary's Church. Neither William nor Margaret were 'spring chickens.' William was 45 years old when he married, although he claimed to be only 42 perhaps in an effort to be closer in age to his bride Margaret who was 39 when she married. William and Margaret didn't let age deny them the opportunity to have a family and so in 1895, just more than a year after their wedding, they welcomed their first child, and my grandfather, John Graham O'Neill into the world.

Two daughters would subsequently join the family. First, Kathleen Marie O'Neill, who would later join the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph and be known by her religious name as Sister St. Edwin, in 1896, and then Avila in 1898.

Early in his married and family life, William would change careers. No longer content working as a store clerk, he became an insurance agent, the source of employment for the remainder of his life. He moved his family into a house on Claremont Street in Toronto from where my grandfather told me, they would push their children in a baby carriage through muddy roads to attend the annual Canadian National Exhibition, a little over a mile away. Later, William and Margaret moved to a house further west in the city on Golden Avenue.

On 24 July 1924, at the age of 75, William Emmett O'Neill died in St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. His cause of death was listed as "uremia" or kidney failure. At the time of his death, William and Margaret were living at 189 Pickering Street in Toronto, a home they had purchased from their son's father-in-law John Foley. This was the same house that I would live in for the first nine plus years of my life. On 26 July 1924, William Emmett O'Neill was laid to rest in Toronto's Mount Hope Cemetery where he would eventually be joined in the family plot by his wife, youngest daughter, son and daughter-in-law, and their infant son.

As a tribute to his father, my grandfather named his youngest son, one of my uncles, William Emmett O'Neill. Uncle 'Bill' as he is known to me, has told me often how creepy it is to visit the cemetery and see the headstone at the family plot bearing his name.