Thursday, 18 October 2012

Ancestry has finally finished it!

This morning I switched on my computer to see the following headline on Anglo Celtic Connections:

What good news! 

The two sections of the 1861 census for Toronto that Ancestry have just uploaded are very important. 

The St James’s Ward section covers the northern part of the ward: from a block or two south of Carlton Street north to Bloor Street, and from Yonge over to Jarvis. The people who lived there were, to use their term, in “comfortable circumstances” compared to those living to the south, the west and the east. Many surnames that link with long-lived Toronto businesses will be found there, along with those in academic professions—both the Normal School and the original Medical School run by Victoria University were located there.

The other microfilm reel covers only the westernmost 40 houses in St Patrick’s Ward, but amongst the householders were two sons of the Dension family, one of the earliest to settle in the neighbourhood. The remainder of this reel is titled “Institutions”. What institutions you may ask? First, the ones you might think of: the Jail, the general hospital, the two hospitals for the mentally troubled, and orphanages and convents. But, in addition, are the inhabitants of Toronto Island, the students at the theological colleges, and most important of all from a worldwide genealogical point of view, the soldiers at Old Fort York and the New Barracks. There were more than 400 people listed, not all of them soldiers—many had their wives and children with them. Birthplaces are given and this should allow family historians to trace these families from posting to posting. There are many Gibraltar references, for instance.

Five years ago I transcribed Toronto 1861 myself, I am so pleased that it is now online for all to see.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

We all make mistakes

Some days I work on the census and its associated databases for far too long. Last evening proved to be one of those times.

I have been collecting portions of articles from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography to match against Toronto 1861 census entries. A few days of experimentation had led to a routine and I was just starting on the matches for the third of the seven wards.

It is quite easy to copy and paste portions of the DCB articles into a memo field in my own database--I doubt if my DCB table (or at least this field in the table) will ever see the light of day so I am not really worried about plagiarizing. But I did want to remove the asterisks that followed many names. The DCB uses these asterisks as hyperlinks to other articles. The hyperlinks themselves do not automatically copy into my database, so there is no point in keeping the asterisks that accompanied them. I decided to remove all of them in one "find and replace" operation--temporarily forgetting that an asterisk is a WILD CARD! I was left with 569 entries with blank memo fields--details that had taken two days to accumulate. Aaaarrghhhh!

Fortunately the 56 articles that had already been matched to people in the census had other fields filled in and were therefore identifiable. I am now proceeding to collect the data for these entries from the DCB again.

Why bother with the Dictionary of Canadian Biography? Each biographical article starts with a short paragraph giving the individual's dates and places of birth and death, the names of their parents, and, quite often, marital data as well. If the marital data is not in the opening paragraph, it is quite often found somewhere else in the article. Migration details (something I consider important facts in a person's life) are also there. Other significant relationships where business and family mix are also mentioned. The articles can sometimes hide extensive family trees--sufficient to convey how the Family Compact got its name.

Another tome, available on the web, which also yields the same kind of information is Biographical Sketches of the People of the County of York and the City of Toronto. This book came out circa 1895 and facts were obtained by circulating questionnaires to families in the community. It has its disadvantages: vital dates get omitted; people often go on at length about a single adventure and omit other details which might interest the 21st century genealogist; sometimes it is difficult to know whether the writer is describing his own life or that of his father. All the same Sketches can be useful for people who did not merit inclusion in the DCB.

You Lucky Ladies of 2012

I just matched up the Dictionary of Canadian Biography entry of Michael Willis, minister and prof of theology, to his entry in the 1861 census.

A sentence from the DCB: "The name of his wife is not known."

What did he call her in the 1861 census? "Mrs"

And that was life for a great many women of the middle of the nineteenth century.

ast week I came across Mr Cooney, a blacksmith, whose household list of inhabitants started with himself, proceeded to a female servant and her two children, and then to a married Bridget Cooney and two more children bearing the surname Cooney. Hmmm.

I hope they all knew their place.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Looking at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography

When I recorded the census form of

Rob't C Todd, 52, born England, artist and ornamental painter, married to M A, with four sons aged 11 down to 2.

I found he had not left the reverse of the form blank. He filled in the section

Annual Product of Business or Manufacture:

Quantities: various;

Kinds: various;

Value: from $300.00 to $400.00.

[Further details were not transcribed.]

And ended with the remark, “Toronto is to New and two Poor to suport an Ornamental artist." dated 14 Jan'y 1861.

I felt so sorry. Here was a man for whom the streets of Toronto were not paved with gold. Every time I came across the record I wondered what happened to him. Were things really so bad that he starved, or did he go back to England?

Today I have been checking the people of St Andrew’s Ward against the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, and noting matching entries. Imagine my surprise when I found

TODD, ROBERT CLOW, artist and decorative painter; b. perhaps in 1809 at Berwick-upon-Tweed (Northumberland County, England); he was probably the son of John Todd and Alice (Alison) Clow; d. 7 May 1866 at Toronto, Canada West.

The DCB went on to say

Robert Clow Todd spent his youth as a painter of arms on carriages in Edinburgh and London before immigrating to Lower Canada about 1834. He lived in Quebec City and in suburban Montmorency before moving to Toronto in 1853 where he spent the rest of his life. Todd advertised himself during his stay at Quebec as a painter of signs, carriage insignia, and ornamental work, and in Toronto as a “Banner, Herald, Sign, and Ornamental Painter.” He may also have carved and gilded figures in wood. …

Todd is remembered mainly for his oil paintings dating from his Quebec years. These are principally portraits of horses commissioned by local sportsmen. Some picture horses and sleighs posed with their owners before the Montmorency Falls in winter. Typical is The ice cone, Montmorency Falls, now in the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. All these paintings are characterized by a vibrant linear quality and overtones reflecting an interest in genre. This same interest is found in works of such contemporaries as Cornelius Krieghoff and James Duncan. Other known Todd paintings give views of the Quebec lumber docks and Montmorency Falls in summer. One copy of an English print has been located. Allegedly he executed murals in at least one civic building in Toronto. …

How wonderful. He may not have lived another decade, but his work has been remembered. He wasn’t just another carriage painter.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Murdoch's Mysteries again

The episode of Murdoch’s Mysteries that has intrigued me most was Episode 6 in Series 4, entitled “Dead End Street”. An autistic young woman who was incapable of speaking had created a model of the street on which she lived and in one house a man is pointing a gun. This leads Murdoch to wonder if a murder had occurred in the neighbourhood even though one had not been reported. What interested me was the location of the drama—one of the little residential streets at the east end of St Lawrence’s Ward. The backdrop used on the set included St Paul’s Catholic Church rising high above the houses in between. The story was based around a series of events that took place during an Orangeman’s Day Parade on the 12 July—a parade that proceeded along Queen Street and all the inhabitants of the street had gone up to the top of their road to see it pass.

The episode had two links to my census work. First, I had been working on that part of St Lawrence’s Ward in the week before seeing the TV show. The area was not densely poplulated in 1861, but maps of the time indicated that it was shortly to become so. The picture of the street as seen on television will always be the vision of that part of Toronto in the latter half of the nineteenth century for me, no matter how true an image it is. Secondly, I recalled transcribing a census form produced in St John’s Ward. The form asked for reports of deaths during 1860 and one poor widow with twin infant boys reported that her husband had died after playing the fife in the Orangeman’s Parade. I really didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The census--all life is there.

R & R for the Old Census Scribe

Shortly before 9 pm last evening I shut down the computer and resolved to spend the time until bedtime relaxing in front of the television. On offer last night was the general bill of fare: soaps, comedies, celebrity competitions, house renovations. BBC2 was offering a dramatization of Dicken’s Edwin Drood which I had thought of watching, but as I switched on I decided I wasn’t in the mood for it. But, on our cable channel that offers nothing but repeat crime series, Murdoch’s Mysteries was about to start.

Yes, Murdoch’s Mysteries is available here in the UK. I came across it first about five years ago and since then have watched a number of episodes, but I don’t put it in my diary for watching week after week. Toronto in the 1890s was probably quite different from Toronto circa 1861, but it is still a lot closer to the 1860s than Toronto as it is today. I view each episode with a fair bit of skepticism, always on the lookout for some point in the story line where the writers forget what year it was supposed to be. Surely Dr Ogden is a complete anachronism, but there has to be some love interest in the story. Besides they chose a name for the character that comes from nineteenth century Toronto—I hope the writers were paying tribute to Uzziel Ogden and not just picking a name from thin air.

Last night’s episode started with the discovery of a body of a man who had been murdered in 1862. “Aha!”, said I, “this one is going to be interesting”. Actually, it was very involved and concerned Canadian-American politics in both the 1860s and the 1890s. They even wrote Sir Wilfrid Laurier into the script.

Since I can’t keep my hands still while watching television I opened my new tablet computer to play a game or two. This is something I haven’t really got the knack of yet, so during the ads I downloaded Google Books. Four were being offered for free: Pride and Prejudice; Frankenstein; The Seventh Report from the Select Committee of the House of Assembly of Upper Canada on Grievances, published November 1831 by W L Mackenzie; and Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada by Anna Jameson. You would almost think these had been selected for me personally.

Some day I might read Pride and Prejudice. Up to now I have satisfied myself with seeing both the film and the television adaptation more than once. Frankenstein is not my cup of tea. The Seventh Report…. is something I really ought to look into beyond the table of contents and the index that I glanced at last night. Winter Studies… is a book I have never come across before. I certainly was aware of it, and understood it to be a good read, but this was my first opportunity to open its covers. I could hardly wait for Murdoch to solve his mystery before getting down to it.

Mrs Jameson travelled to Toronto from New York in December 1836—that meant up the Hudson River by a steamer armed with an ice cutter on its prow, across country from Albany to Niagara by stage coach, and across Lake Ontario on a ship that managed to sail between storms that would have made the voyage impossible. On arrival in Toronto she had to make her way on foot to her house on Adelaide Street West—one of the five brick houses on the corner of York Street that I mentioned in my blog just before Christmas.

She settled into the cold, cold like she had never come across in England, and into the life led by “Toronto society”, a life which she admitted she had previously avoided. I was very taken by a paragraph in which she described all the different types of sleighs in use. The diary has its peculiarities: in her day-to-day life she mentions no one around her, neither family or servants, although they must have existed.

Today I “googled” and “wiki-ed” Anna Jameson and found out a bit about her life from the outside, and about where those summer rambles would lead her once that cold winter was over. I am going to read more of it, and I’m not going to spoil the story for you if you want to do the same.