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A THREE SESSION COURSE: January 26, February 2 and 9 Space is limited. Please register early. Finding your Ontario ancestor’s will or administration can provide vital information to link him or her to other family[...]
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Life on the Farm @ Oakville Public Library, Central Branch | Oakville | Ontario | Canada
LIFE ON THE FARM: YOUR ANCESTOR’S PLACE IN ONTARIO AGRICULTURE February Meeting of Halton-Peel Branch OGS: Speaker Jane E. MacNamara We often think of farming as a traditional occupation—something that hasn’t really changed much. But[...]
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A picture of Ontario farming in 1881

As part of the preparation for my presentation “Agriculture: Was Your Ancestor on the Cutting Edge?” at the Ontario Genealogical Society’s Conference 2016, I spent days reading a government report—five lengthy volumes. Sounds like fun, eh? Actually, I was riveted. Just ask the friends and relatives who happened to talk to me during those days—and were regaled with arcane facts about the benefits of salt as fertilizer, or the ravages of robins in cherry orchards, Holstein hesitation, or the turnip revolution.

We often think of farming as a traditional occupation—something that hasn’t really changed much. But that is not and was never the case. Farmers had to react and adapt to changing conditions like climate, technology, economics, new markets and new competitors. Some farmers did more than adapt. They set out to be the most productive by innovating with new techniques and processes, products, and marketing.open book

The Department of Agriculture and its various predecessor and successor agencies published some wonderfully rich reports on many subjects—evaluations of agriculture in a particular region or a specialized branch of agriculture like fruit growing or dairying.

One of the most important is the 1881 report of the Ontario Agricultural Commission. This is a very detailed account of agriculture across the province. The Commissioners held information-gathering interviews with farmers and other agricultural experts. The sessions were transcribed and show the knowledge and sometimes strong opinions held by the interview subjects. Published as appendices of “evidence”, they are often extensive, including information about immigration and family.

All five volumes of the 1881 report have been digitized and are available free at the addresses listed. I have indexed the names of the interview subjects and other major players. Even if the index doesn’t include your ancestor, I encourage you to look at farmers in the same geographic area or the same industry to understand the challenges they faced. Neighbours and colleagues are frequently mentioned in the interviews.

Ontario Agricultural Commission, Report of the Commissioners, 3rd edition. Toronto: C. Blackett Robinson, 1881. [Volume I]
https://archive.org/details/cihm_61891

Volume II
https://archive.org/details/cihm_61892
Appendix B: Containing returns relating to the soil, climate, topographical features, cultivatable area and products of, and the process and condition of husbandry*

Volume III
https://archive.org/details/cihm_61893
Appendix C: Evidence relating to fruit growing and forestry
Appendix D: Evidence relating to grape culture and wine making
Appendix E: Evidence relating to insects and insectivorous birds
Appendix F: Evidence relating to bee farming

Volume IV
https://archive.org/details/cihm_61894
Appendix G: Evidence related to general farming and management of crops and stock
Appendix H: Evidence related to the various breeds of cattle and sheep and to wool, pigs and pork packing
Appendix I: Evidence relating to grazing, feeding, and shipping cattle and sheep
Appendix J: Evidence relating to dairy farming, cheese factories, creameries, and the butter trade

Volume V
https://archive.org/details/reportofcommissi05onta
Appendix K: Evidence relating to horse breeding
Appendix L: Evidence relating to breeds of poultry and egg production
Appendix M: Evidence relating to salt in connection with agriculture and cognate industries
Appendix N: Evidence relating to the use of gypsum, phosphates, bone dust, and other fertilizers
Appendix O: Evidence relating to special crops, flax, tobacco and beans
Appendix P: Evidence relating to agricultural education*
Appendix Q: Evidence relating to meteorology in connection with agriculture*
Appendix R1: Report of Messrs Wm. Brown, Edward Stock, and A.H. Dymond, on their visit…to the electoral district of Muskoka and Parry Sound
Appendix R2: Evidence taken in the electoral district of Muskoka and Parry Sound
Appendix S1: Report on Manitoulin Island, and the Sault Ste. Marie District
Appendix S2: Report upon observations made during a visit to Great Britain…*
Appendix S3: Report…on agricultural education in Tennessee*
Appendix S4: Report on the productions of the County of Essex*

NOTE: Appendices marked with an asterisk* did not contain enough personal information to be included in the index.

Name Indentifier Town/township County/District Appendix Page
Allan, A. McD. Goderich D 25
Allan, Alexander McD. Goderich Huron C 74
Allan, John Gypsum manufacturer Paris Brant N 27
Allan, McD. Goderich Huron E 103
Allan, Sen. George W. Moss Park Toronto York C 181
Anderson, James Puslinch Wellington H 33
Anderson, James [Guelph] Wellington L 7
Armstrong, John McKellar Parry Sound R2 40
Armstrong, John S. Eramosa Wellington H 28
Arnold, C. Paris Brant D 23
Arnold, Charles Paris Brant C 55
Arnold, Charles Paris Brant E 102
Ashdown, James Humphrey Parry Sound R2 31
Badger, James McDougall Parry Sound R2 45
Ballantyne, Thomas Cheese exporter Stratford Perth J 27
Ballantyne, Thomas Cheese maker Stratford Perth M 20
Barrie, Alexander North Dumfries Waterloo N 12
Beadle, D.W. Fruit Growers Association [St. Catharines] Niagara C 1
Beadle, D.W. St. Catharines D 19
Beadle, W.D. St. Catharines Lincoln E 101
Beall Lindsay D 23
Beall, Thomas Fruit Growers Association Lindsay Victoria C 48
Beall, Thomas Lindsay Victoria F 10
Beattie, John Pork packer Seaforth Huron H 94
Beattie, John Seaforth Huron O 6
Beith, Robert Darlington Durham K 97
Beley, B.S. Humphrey Parry Sound R2 24
Bell, James T. Prof at Albert College Belleville Hastings G 128
Bennet, Mr. Ste Marie Algoma S1 12
Benson, W.T. Cardinal Edwardsburg Grenville G 43
Bethune, Rev Charles J.S. Insect expert Port Hope Northumberland E 22
Bird, Henry J. Woolen manufacturer Bracebridge Muskoka R2 7
Black, James Ramsay Lanark G 110
Black, John Stock buyer Fergus Wellington I 48
Black, Robert Stock buyer Fergus Wellington I 50
Britton, James Cattle buyer Toronto York I 7
Broder, Andrew Butter exporter West Winchester Dundas J 21
Brodie, William Bird expert E 15
Brown Prof at Ontario Agricultural College Guelph Wellington G 166
Brown, James Port Elgin Bruce C 164
Brown, W.H. Saw miller Baysville Muskoka R2 13
Bucke, P.E. Ottawa Carleton C 67
Bucke, P.E. Ottawa Carleton D 24
Bucke, P.E. Ottawa Carleton E 103
Buckland, George Prof at Kings College Toronto York G 155
Cady, Edwin Kingsville Essex C 99
Caldwell, David Nurseryman Elora Wellington G 194
Caldwell, David Waterloo C 136
Caldwell, William C. Lanark village Lanark C 141
Campbell, Neil J. Nelson Halton N 22
Cann, William Huntsville Muskoka R2 19
Cash, Edward Butter buyer Seaforth Huron J 35
Chaplin, W.H. Newcastle village Durham C 147
Chaplin, W.S. Newcastle Durham E 104
Chapman, Richard Korah Algoma S1 12
Clark, Peter Montague Leeds G 108
Clarke, Hugh Brampton Peel H 52
Clay, John Jr Bow Park Farm Brantford Brant G 1
Clements, Rev Vincent Bird expert Peterborough Peterborough E 97
Cochran, Andrew Ramsay Lanark G 112
Cochrane, James Kilsyth Derby Grey G 150
Cockburn, George Baltimore Hamilton Northumberland K 95
Cole, Zachariah Ridout Muskoka R2 12
Coleman, Dr. T.T. Salt manufacturer Seaforth Huron M 5
Courtice, William Darlington Durham H 69
Cowan, James Waterloo Waterloo N 3
Cresswell, G. Edwin Tuckersmith Huron M 22
Daly, Peter R. Thurlow Hastings J 40
Davidson, William Watt Muskoka R2 19
Davies, William Pork packer Toronto York H 88
Davies, William Pork packer Toronto York M 28
Dawson, John Sault Ste Marie Algoma S1 12
Dempsey, M.P.C. Albany [Albury] Prince Edward E 102
Dempsey, P.C. Albury Prince Edward D 22
Dempsey, P.C. Prince Edward F 6
Demsey, P.C. Fruit Growers Association Albury Prince Edward C 35
Dickson, James Tuckersmith Huron G 38
Diermann, Rev. H. Missionary R2 36
Doel, William H. Doncaster Toronto York L 3
Donald, James Sheep buyer Dalhousie Lanark I 59
Donald, James Dalhousie Lanark E 97
Donaldson, John A. Flax expert Toronto York O 8
Dougall, James Windsor Essex C 106
Dougall, James Windsor Essex E 103
Douglas, John Blantyre St. Vincent Grey G 146
Douglass, Donald Percy Northumberland H 68
Dovey, Isaac Medora Muskoka R2 22
Drury, Charles Crown Hill Barrie Simcoe G 24
Edwards, Mr. Tarantorus Algoma S1 12
Elliot, R.W. Wholesale druggist Toronto York I 41
Elliott, Alanson Colchester Essex G 68
Elliott, Andrew North Dumfries Waterloo G 100
Elliott, Andrew Woolen manufacturer Almonte Lanark H 86
Elliott, Andrew North Dumfries Waterloo N 15
Fisher, John McKellar Parry Sound R2 40
Foreman, William Port Carling Muskoka R2 24
Fowke, Thomas Lount Parry Sound R2 36
Fraser, James M. Gordon and Gore Bay Manitoulin S1 7
Garnier, Dr. John H. Bird expert Lucknow Bruce E 99
Geary, John London? Middlesex I 28
Gibson, David North Dumfries Waterloo N 16
Gibson, John Millikens Markham York G 91
Gile, John Bastard Leeds J 44
Gilmour, Joseph Ridout Muskoka R2 7
Girardot, Theodore Sandwich Essex D 12
Govenlock, Thomas Seaforth? Huron I 44
Govenlock, Thomas Salt manufacturer Seaforth Huron M 25
Graham, John Wallbridge Sidney Hastings C 187
Graham, Ketcham Sidney Hastings G 124
Gray, William M. Salt manufacturer Seaforth and Blyth Huron M 16
Gregory, William Medora Muskoka R2 21
Hagaman, J. Oakville Halton E 104
Hagaman, Jeremiah Oakville Halton C 119
Hailstone, Matthew Ferguson Parry Sound R2 45
Hall, Richard Cattle salesman Liverpool, England I 50
Hallam, John Wool buyer Toronto York H 82
Harstone, C. Greville Ilfracombe Muskoka R2 46
Haskins, William Hamilton Wentworth D 3
Hay, Robert Furniture maker Toronto York C 160
Hayes, Martin P. Salt expert Seaforth Huron M 13
Hays, Thomas E. Seaforth Huron M 27
Hettle, John Creamery Teeswater Bruce J 36
Higgins, William McLean Muskoka R2 8
Hill, R.N. Franklin Muskoka R2 16
Hinman, Platt Haldimand or Grafton Northumberland C 144
Hobson, John I. Mosborough Wellington G 11
Holditch, William Croft Parry Sound R2 32
Hood, George Guelph Wellington H 17
Hoskin, John The Dale Toronto York D 16
Houghton, George A. Horse dealer Seaforth Huron K 64
Hunter, James Alma Wellington H 24
Hunter, Joseph E. Croft Parry Sound R2 33
Hurd, William A. McKellar Parry Sound R2 38
Iler, J.C. Colchester Essex G 75
Inglis, John Creamery Teeswater Bruce J 3
Ingram, John [Manitowaning] Manitoulin S1 10
Irwin, Hugh Chapman Parry Sound R2 34
Jardine, J.W. Hamilton/Saltfleet Wentworth H 55
Jones, D.A. Beeton Simcoe F 1
Kelcey, George Hagerman Parry Sound R2 37
Kenney, William McLean Muskoka R2 9
Lamb, Daniel Fertilizer manufacturer Toronto York N 17
Langford, Thomas McLean Muskoka R2 11
Laurens, Father Priest Sault Ste Marie Algoma S1 14
Lawrie, James Malvern Scarborough York H 62
Leslie, George Jr. Leslieville York C 166
Macfarlane, James Dover Kent G 88
Macfarlane, Robert L. Ramsay Lanark G 113
Maitland, James Montague Lanark F 11
Malcolm, Francis Member of the Commission Innerkip Oxford G 191
Matheson, C.A. Perth Lanark G 51
Matthews, Matthew McLean Muskoka R2 9
McArthur, James Ailsa Craig Middlesex I 25
McCain, William Gosfield Essex G 84
McCallum, Archibald Medora Muskoka R2 23
McCrae, Thomas Guelph Wellington H 8
McCulloch, Thomas Korah Algoma S1 14
McDougall, A.J. Butter and cheese dealer Seaforth Huron M 28
McFarland, David Carling Parry Sound R2 42
McKerven, S.R. [Manitowaning] Manitoulin S1 11
McKinlay, J.P. Howard Kent O 3
McMonagle, Dr. P.R. Horse expert [Prescott] Grenville K 3
McPherson, D.M. Cheese maker Lancaster Glengarry J 12
Meighan, Robert Butter exporter Perth Lanark J 37
Merritt, W. Hamilton Manager of Grand River Gypsum Co. Cayuga Haldimand N 9
Middleton, Henry Clark Durham G 137
Miller, John Brougham Ontario G 18
Monaghan, E. Chaffey Muskoka R2 14
Moore, John D. North Dumfries M 29
Morgan, E.B. Cattle shipper Oshawa Ontario I 3
Morris, Edward Fonthill Welland C 130
Motherwell, John Bathurst Lanark G 106
Mowat, J. Gordon Galt Waterloo C 140
Muntz, E.G. Muskoka R2 1
Murray, John R. Cheese maker Kinburn Huron M 19
Myers, Thomas Bastard Leeds J 42
Nelson, David Sr. Spence Parry Sound R2 35
Noble, William Haldimand and Hamilton Twps Northumberland G 136
O’Beirne, P.H. Port Carling Muskoka R2 23
Pardo, T.L. Not given Kent G 89
Parker, William Stephenson Muskoka R2 5
Parkinson, Lazarus Eramosa Wellington H 39
Patteson, Thomas C. Toronto York K 65
Peake, Tmomas Foley Parry Sound R2 43
Pearce. Thomas G. Chapman Parry Sound R2 35
Penns, Henry Korah Algoma S1 12
Perley, Daniel Paris and Ancaster Brant N 7
Peters, Major John London? Middlesex I 33
Peters. Major John London Middlesex K 59
Pettit, A.H. Grimsby Lincoln C 115
Pettit, S.T. Belmont South Dorchester Elgin F 13
Phipps, J.C. Indian Agent Manitowaning Manitoulin S1 10
Platt, Samuel Salt manufacturer Goderich Huron M 9
Plummer, John [London] Middlesex L 8
Pollock, Smith Perry Parry Sound R2 16
Ransford, Richard Salt manufacturer Clinton Huron M 23
Rawlings, Albin Forest Lambton I 60
Rennelson, Richard North Dumfries Waterloo G 96
Rennie, Peter Fergus Wellington I 45
Reynolds, John Manitowaning Manitoulin S1 10
Riddell, Walter Cobourg Northumberland G 130
Rightmyer, Levi Salt manufacturer Kincardine Bruce M 3
Robb, Hugh Pork packer Seaforth Huron M 26
Robertson, Charles Cardwell Muskoka R2 28
Robertson, W. Scott Pork packer

Cheese maker

Seaforth Huron M 22
Robinson, Walter Scott Butter exporter [Seaforth] Huron J 33
Rosamond, Bennett Woolen manufacturer Almonte Lanark H 87
Ross, W. Mackenzie Harwich Kent C 112
Ross, W. Mackenzie Chatham Kent E 103
Roy, William Sarawak/ Owen Sound Grey C 149
Rudd, George Eramosa and Puslinch Wellington H 13
Russell, James Richmond Hill York H 59
Saunders, Wiliam Insect expert E 61
Saunders, William E. Bird expert E 3
Scott, Isaac Ste Marie Algoma S1 12
Shaw, William Ferguson Parry Sound R2 39
Shuttleworth, E.B. Manufacturing chemist Toronto York N 23
Simmons, C.S. Lobo and Delaware Middlesex I 16
Sirett, Ebenezer Humphrey Parry Sound R2 30
Sirett, William F. Humphrey Parry Sound R2 28
Smellie, David Concord Vaughan York G 141
Smith, A.M. St. Catharines and

Drummondville

Lincoln and Stamford C 125
Smith, Dr. Andrew Veterinarian Toronto York K 79
Smith, John Harwich Kent I 34
Smith, W.R. [Manitowaning] Manitoulin S1 11
Snell, John C. Edmonton (now Snelgrove) Peel H 47
Spencer, William H. Monck Muskoka R2 3
Spring, Albert Draper Muskoka R2 2
Sproat, George Tuckersmith Huron M 12
Stedman, Reuban Drummond Lanark G 103
Stone, Frederick W. Guelph Wellington H 1
Strain, Francis Foley Parry Sound R2 46
Telfer, Andrew South Dumfries Brant N 6
Thompson, A.J. Cattle buyer Toronto York I 11
Thomson, James Brooklin Ontario G 139
Toll, James C. Raleigh Kent C 134
Toll, James C. Raleigh Kent D 11
Tookey, James Macaulay Muskoka R2 6
Trouten, William Watt Muskoka R2 20
Tumlin, George C. Horse dealer Toronto York K 40
Usborne, John Arnprior Renfrew C 142
Walker, Hiram Walkerville Essex I 39
Walker, Hiram Walkerville Essex K 62
Wallbridge, Louis Belleville Hastings F 15
Watt, John Salem Wellington H 36
Wattie, John Brunel Muskoka R2 10
Westland, H.W. Ridgetown Kent C 93
Westland, W.M. Ridgetown Kent E 103
White. Stephen Charing Cross Raleigh Kent G 57
Wilcox, William Foley Parry Sound R2 44
Willet, Andrew Gore Bay Manitoulin S1 5
Williams, W.H. Sports writer Toronto York K 87
Wilson, David D. Egg merchant Seaforth Huron L 10
Wilson, James Cardwell Muskoka R2 25
Winter, John Sinclair Muskoka R2 15
Wiser, J.P. Rysdyk Stock Farm Prescott Leeds G 116
Wiser, J.P. Distiller

Rysdyk Stock Farm

Prescott Leeds I 65
Wiser, J.P. Rysdyk Stock Farm Prescott Grenville K 42
Yuill, Joseph Creamery [Almonte] Lanark J 39
Yuille, Joseph Ramsay Lanark H 66

 

Salt Lake City in September

We’re headed west to Salt Lake City—and the amazing Family History Library—on September 4, just before Labour Day.

I’ve been to Salt Lake City many times. This will be trip 22—eek! For the first trips, it was an opportunity to have microfilmed records at my fingertips that otherwise were only available by arranging for their loan to my local Family History Centre. This involved the postal system, and waiting time, and making appointments—and a lot of distractions in between.

Today, many of the same records have been digitized and are available online. That’s a huge change. The one thing that hasn’t changed—or perhaps has increased—is the distraction factor. I now go to Salt Lake City to have an island of time to devote to digging into those records and putting them together into a story.

One of my favourite places in Salt Lake City: Red Butte Gardens

One of my favourite place in Salt Lake City: Red Butte Gardens

I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to do some of my own family research—with the odd diversion to some of the rogues and rebels I’ve found in other people’s families. (My ancestors were—so far—distressingly well behaved.)

I’m also looking forward to sharing the experience with friends who have travelled with the group before and introducing new group members to the Library and the intriguing city.

Maybe you’d like to join us? We will arrive in Salt Lake on Sunday, September 4, 2016, for one or two weeks.

You’ll find prices and more details about the trip here. Our blocks of airline seats and hotel rooms are limited, so I’d advise booking soon. There are a handful of “repeat” travellers already on the list.

The Search for Alban Leaf: Notes

My presentation “The Search for Alban Leaf” demonstrates the use of many English record types—in a period well before census and civil registration. The search for the subject of this case history, Alban Leaf (1681–1756), took me from manorial records and parish registers in Yorkshire, to an ancient church in London, to manors in rural Essex, to intriguing records of inheritance in all locations.

Following are brief notes about some of the sources and reference tools that I think will be useful to other researchers. No single source is the answer. It is a matter of following clues and creative thinking about sources in hand and others yet to be found. And it is such fun…

Alban Leaf held an under-lease of the York waterworks in 1739.

Londoner Alban Leaf held an under-lease of the York waterworks in 1739.

City of York and District Family History Society: Always a good policy to connect with the local family history society that covers your area of interest. http://www.yorkfamilyhistory.org.uk/

Genuki: A longstanding reference and gateway site maintained by volunteers. Regional coverage varies. http://www.genuki.org.uk/index.php

Family History Library Catalogue: An excellent source for English records on microfilm and sometimes digitized. Links to the FamilySearch wiki. https://familysearch.org/catalog/search

FindMyPast: Search indexes and see digital images of many records. Fee required. http://www.findmypast.com/

Ancestry: Search indexes and see digital images of many records. Fee required. http://www.ancestry.com/

Parish Finder: A longstanding tool to find parishes within a specified radius. Bear in mind that the distances are calculated from the centre of what might be a very oddly shaped or non-contiguous parish. http://www.parishfinder.co.uk/

FamilySearch England & Wales Jurisdictions 1851: A fabulous map tool that shows parish and other jurisdictional boundaries overlaid on old ordnance survey and current maps.   http://maps.familysearch.org/

Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York: The official depository for Yorkshire parish registers and many other records: https://www.york.ac.uk/borthwick/

Guild Hall Library/ London Metropolitan Archives: A vast array of London parish registers and other records. http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/london-metropolitan-archives

Manorial Documents Register: The official index to English and Welsh manorial records in public and private hands. The index for many counties is online. For other counties, visit The National Archives or contact them for a look up. http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/manor-search and http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documents/mdr-map-16.pdf

Hull University Archives: Manorial records may be in an archives far from the manor. The only manorial records for Ryther are here. http://www.hullhistorycentre.org.uk/

Yorkshire Wills: This FamilySearch wiki page is a good place to start. https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Yorkshire_Probate_Records

Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills: Are at The National Archives.

Wikipedia page for St. Bartholomew the Great: Wikipedia is usually a pretty good place to start for any prominent parish. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Bartholomew-the-Great

Parish site for St. Bartholomew the Great: http://www.greatstbarts.com/

Flickering Lamps: A wonderful long-form blog that talks about places in London and England generally. https://flickeringlamps.com/

Spitalfields Life: Another great blog, concentrating on London’s East End. http://spitalfieldslife.com/

British History Online: An online library of key sources. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/

Essex Record Office: http://www.essexrecordoffice.co.uk/ with a very good online database here http://seax.essexcc.gov.uk/ and lots of images of parish registers and wills available for a timed subscription.

Mr. Pepys’ Small Change: 17th Century London Trade Tokens
https://c17thlondontokens.com/

Georgian London, a blog by author Lucy Inglis: http://georgianlondon.com/

London Lives 1690 to 1800: searchable index of 240,000 manuscripts from 8 archives and 15 datasets. You can register and link documents in a personal workspace: http://www.londonlives.org/

Names and Descriptions of the Proprietors of Unclaimed Dividends on Bank Stock, which became due before the 10th October 1780, and remained unpaid the 30th September 1790. London: Bank of England, 1791. https://books.google.ca/books?id=D7hjAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA3#v=onepage&q&f=false

Big indexes to consider for every Ontario ancestor

Tried and true genealogy research techniques tell us to start with what we know—and to make previously done research and indexed records a priority. But more records are being indexed almost daily, and it is hard to keep track of what’s out there. This list was compiled for a session at the Ontario Genealogical Society’s Conference 2015. The indexes all cover a wide swath of Ontario, if not the whole province.

There are other indexes! If I’ve missed one you think should be included, please add a comment at the end of the post.

Most of the indexes are online, some are databases, others are digitized images organized alphabetically. All the websites mentioned are free except for Ancestry.com and ProQuest, which you may be able to access through your local public or university library or Family History Centre. I’ve also included some resources that you’ll have to find in a library or purchase.

In all cases, be sure to check variant spellings of the names. Many of these indexes were created from handwritten records, so be open to creative interpretation of handwriting. Sometimes it is a matter of “teasing” the information from the index.

ONTARIO GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY RESOURCES
These indexes were created by genealogists—for genealogists. They are growing and getting better all the time.

TONI: The Ontario Name Index (more than 3 million names linked to published or pay-per-view sources)

OGS Library catalogue (superb cataloging of names)

Family Charts Collection (not presently online, available only at North York Central Library)

MANUSCRIPTS
Whether or not you ancestor left personal or business papers, he or she may be mentioned in a manuscript collection from their community or circle of acquaintances. These resources help you search many collections at once.

Archeion.ca (includes holdings of 170 archives in Ontario)

Archives Descriptive Database (Archives of Ontario)

ArchivesCanada.ca (holdings of 800 archives across Canada. Some links may not function, but it should be easy to find a current link to the repository.)

Guide to the Manuscript Collection in the Toronto Public Library (a guide published in the 1950s. The collection has greatly expanded since then, but this is the only online listing.)

Union List of Manuscripts in Canadian Repositories (printed volumes available in major libraries)

LAND
No one comprehensive index to Ontario land records exists, but these indexes to late 18th and 19th century land records come close when used together.

Index to Upper Canada Land Books (OGS publication by Susan Smart)

The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project (McGill University)

Ontario Land Records Index ( a fiche index at the Archives of Ontario and other libraries)

Upper Canada Land Petitions (Library and Archives Canada)

Second Heir and Devisee Commission case files (Archives of Ontario)

NEWSPAPERS
Newspaper research is a time-consuming, fascinating task. These tools use optical character recognition to—with a little luck—jumpstart your search.

Globe and Mail – ProQuest Historical Newspapers (available through many libraries)

Google News (very few of the Ontario papers are every-word searchable, but the images are good)

Ontario Community Newspapers (ourontario.ca)

Toronto Star – ProQuest Historical Newspapers (available through many libraries)

VITAL STATS
Be sure to check these big indexes to births, marriages and deaths.

District Marriage Registers & District Vital Records, 1786-1870 (published resource, pdfs of the indexes to each volume are available online at this site)

Ontario Vital Statistics: Registers of Births, Marriages & Deaths (FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.ca)

Wesleyan Methodist Baptismal Register master index (OGS publication)

Toronto Trust Cemeteries (FamilySearch)

OTHER LISTS
An assortment of big indexes and smaller, but easy to miss, indexes.

Census (FamilySearch, Ancestry, Library and Archives Canada)

City directories (Toronto Public Library, Archive.org, Library and Archives Canada)

Dictionary of Canadian Biography

Index to pre-1858 Estate Files (Archives of Ontario)

The Héritage Project

Toronto Emigrant Office Assisted Immigration Registers database (Archives of Ontario)

Exploring the Lennox and Addington Archives

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to visit the new Lennox and Addington County Museum and Archives in Napanee. I’d been asked to do a presentation for the local historical society there, and well, who can resist an archives!

I have no ancestry in the area, and although my interests in Ontario history are broad, I can’t claim to have any current research projects from that neck of the woods.

Steps and ramp to a limestone archway in the courtyard wall.

Entrance and courtyard of the Lennox and Addington Museum and Archives, Napanee. ©Jane E MacNamara

I looked at the Archives website about a week before my trip so I could contact the staff ahead of time to let them know I was coming. (Always a good idea for a small archives.) I also asked if a tour was possible—since I’d planned to write this article.

The website noted above lists 14 finding aids for the collection. These are pdf scans of collection inventories done mainly in the late 1980s, but searchable. The inventories, in many cases, briefly describe fonds of a similar nature or creator.1 So the 14 finding aids represent a much larger number of fonds. For instance the “Municipal Records” finding aid encompasses school, jail, law enforcement, court, and assessment records, licenses, minutes, bylaws, voters lists, and public utilities—for all levels of local government—towns, townships, county, and the Midland District.2

As a sample fonds for this article, I looked at the “Private Papers” finding aid and selected the “Elsie Parks Papers”. The inventory for this fonds ran to just over two pages, and showed that the collection was divided into to six files. More about Elsie and her papers later.

Archivist stands between rows of compact shelving with large bound ledgers and archival boxes of various sizes.

Archivist Shelley Respondek showing the wide variety of material in the Lennox and Addington Archives records vault. ©Jane E MacNamara

The Lennox and Addington County Museum and Archives have been located in the old limestone county gaol since 1976. To celebrate the County’s sesquicentennial in 2014, a beautiful new archives wing was added, and the doors were opened last August.

Archivist Shelley Respondek was my guide. We started in the records vault where compact shelving units now allow proper storage of just about every shape and size of document and register book. Efforts are ongoing (and perhaps never-ending) to get new acquisitions housed and organized.

The reading room is bright and airy, with lots of table space and wifi. One glass wall separating the reading room from the corridor, provides a view of the museum’s limestone wall, currently with a colourful display of WWI posters. Out the windows opposite, trains go by at regular intervals.

A third long wall houses the extensive research library—local and family histories and lots of Loyalist material, as well as more than 2,000 unique family files.

These family files have been compiled over the years from researchers’ donations and correspondence with researchers. For example there are three files for “Parks” families including pedigree charts, typed biographies, and photocopies of original documents.

The fourth and final wall of the reading room houses the microfilm area—three readers/scanners and cabinets—and the archivist’s work area. There is also a card index to several local newspapers.

Tables and chairs with bookcases in the background.

Reading room at the Lennox and Addington Archives showing the local history books and file drawers for more than 2,000 family files. ©Jane E MacNamara

Back to the “Elsie Parks Papers”. The finding aid provides no biography of Elsie, but the fonds includes documents about her training and employment as a teacher in Napanee. There is much correspondence—with family members in California and St. Catharines, and a series of letters about “black Minorca chickens” with various parties in Ontario and eastern Canada.

Elsie’s files include letters, certificates, and ephemera from several generations of her family mostly from the Napanee area. There is a business journal from A.C. Parks of Hay Bay. Most material dates from the mid 19th century up to about 1930, the most recent being about 1960.

But I was really surprised and excited to find an original surveyor’s diary covering the dates April 1796 to May 1797. The diarist didn’t write his name in the book, so his identity or connection to Elsie Parks is unknown. He wasn’t working in Lennox and Addington, but in York and the Home District, east along Lake Ontario to Burlington Bay, and on the Grand River. He specifically mentions investigating locations for a bridge over the Credit River and working in the area around Castle Frank.

Handwritten book with archival weight holding it open.

The 1796-1797 surveyor’s diary from the Elsie Parks Papers at the Lennox and Addington Archives. The right-hand page records work at Castle Frank. ©Jane E MacNamara

Now, for those not immersed in Toronto history, Castle Frank was the summer home of Upper Canada’s first Lieutenant-Governor, John Graves Simcoe and his family. Named for their young son, Francis, and sketched by Elizabeth Simcoe, its exact location on the Don River has always been a contentious matter for historians.

Perhaps there is a clue in this precious surveyor’s diary, kept safe by Napanee schoolteacher Elsie Parks during her life, and now by the Lennox and Addington Archives.

 


NOTES

1. For an explanation of archives terminology, see The Archives of Ontario: How do I find what’s in it for me?

2. The Lennox and Addington Museum and Archives website has a good listing of holdings in its “Genealogy” section including links to other resources of interest. Some 57 fonds have also been listed on Archeion.

Genealogy “Summer Camp” 2015

I’m pleased to announce that after a one-year hiatus, “Summer Camp” will return this year, starting with a get-together on Sunday evening, June 7, and running until Friday, June 12.

Genealogy Summer Campers are on the move every day of this innovative week long program. Each day, participants will travel as a group on public transit to an archives or library—where you’ll be met with a tour or a tutorial on the records available at that institution. Some days there will be a second tutorial during the afternoon. The balance of the day will be devoted to your own hands-on research, with lots of help from local experts.

We’re very lucky to have a wonderful cluster of archives and libraries in Toronto that welcomes our Summer Camp groups. Participants will have the opportunity to visit the Toronto Reference Library, Canadiana Department of North York Central Library, Archives of Ontario, City of Toronto Archives, and a choice of the archives of Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Presbyterian Church in Canada, and the United Church of Canada’s Central Ontario Conferences.

Genealogy Summer Camp buttonSpace is limited. We keep the number of Campers small so we can provide individual help with your research.

You can help us plan and move forward by registering early. We already have several people signed up.

You’ll find more information about the program and accommodation, and the online registration form here.

Toronto Customs House Records

As mentioned in the previous post, the Archives of Ontario holds more than 2,600 collections or fonds of private documents—some amazing, fascinating things that I love to dip into from time to time.

The Toronto Customs House fonds (F 214) is one of these private fonds. The Archives Descriptive Database tells us that the Lt.-Gov. of Upper Canada authorized the building of customs houses in designated ports in 1803, although William Allan [1] had served as Collector of Customs at York from August of 1801 until 1828. The York (later Toronto) Customs House concerned itself only with shipments from the USA. European goods would have cleared customs at Quebec or Montreal.[2]

Worn hardback register books

The two registers that comprise the Toronto Customs House fonds F 214 at the Archives of Ontario

The Toronto Customs House fonds consists of two bound registers of manifests of goods arriving in Toronto by ship from April 17, 1836 to July 8, 1841. This covers, approximately, the period that the Collector’s job belonged to Thomas Carfrae, Jr.[3] Each record gives the name of the vessel, the date and wharf of arrival, the name of the importer, and a detailed list of what was being imported.

I’ve transcribed a portion of one particularly interesting manifest from June 1, 1836[4] that sheds light on the business activities of a Toronto merchant named Silas Burnham, and on the goods that were available for purchase in 1830s Toronto—somewhat more exotic then we might expect. The list (below) appears in the order in which it was originally written. Does the mention of some items, like raisins, several times on the list reflect the fact that the items were being fished out of the nooks and crannies in the hold where they had been stowed for the voyage?

Watercolour of a one-storey brick house

Artist Frederic Victor Poole’s impression of the Toronto Custom House, painted in 1912 from a drawing published in January 1889 in the Evening Telegram. (Toronto Reference Library, JRR 510)

The customs register book for 1836 began on April 17 (presumably when the lake was clear of ice) and continued until December 1. The Customs House at this time was a small one-storey building on the north side of Front Street east of Scott Street.[5] The register shows that virtually all goods were brought ashore at either Brown’s wharf or McDonnell’s/McDonald’s wharf. The vessel that brought Silas Burnham’s goods, the Robert Burns, appears to have come to Toronto only once that season, but Silas received about a dozen shipments from the USA on various ships, including a “thrashing machine” on August 12.

The importer, merchant Silas Burnham, may have started his retail life with a market stall,[6] but by 1836 he was operating a general store at 67 King Street East. At that time, King, Toronto’s principal commercial street, was numbered from east to west; 67 was on the south side between George and New (Jarvis) streets. He appears there in the 1833/4 and 1837 directories,[7] and in the assessment rolls[8] from 1834 to 1839. However, in the assessment rolls for 1840, the building is empty. Has Silas moved to a different Toronto location, or has he left the city? A thorough search of the 1840 and later assessment rolls should provide the answer.

Handwritten list, transcribed below

Detail of the list of goods shipped for Silas Burnham, 1 June 1836

We do know that he eventually left Toronto—and Upper Canada. In an intriguing letter written May 22, 1843, in Kingston, to his wife in Toronto, Samuel Peters Jarvis expresses surprise at a rumour that Silas Burnham has committed fraud and fled the country. Jarvis writes, “If the report should prove true it will cause quite a panic among the Good Citizens of Toronto.”[9] Not having consulted court records, I won’t hazard a guess about when or why Silas moved across the border. However, his estate file, proved in the Court of Probate on July 20, 1849, reveals that he died on May 7, 1848, in Centreville, Wayne County, Indiana. He left a son Erastus, aged 13, a daughter, Mary Louisa, aged 5. His widow Clarissa Jane Burnham returned to Upper Canada, and was living in Port Hope, shortly after Silas’ death.[10]

Should you consult the Toronto Customs House fonds? If your family lived in or near Toronto during 1836 to 1841, the registers will give you, at least, a glimpse of the activity at the harbour. Many individuals—not just merchants—received goods that are listed. On the same day that Silas Burnham’s shipment arrived, the Robert Burns also brought cargo for Messrs Rigney and Brent, Rev. D. McAuley, and three bales of hides for tanner Jesse Ketchum. We see William Lyon Mackenzie importing type and a printing press later that summer. [11] While the Toronto Customs House registers are not indexed, they are very legible, and a fascinating read.

June 1, 1836 / Importer: S Burnham / Wharf: McDonnel / Vessel: Robt Burns
3 boxes of ware
1 box medicine
1 box paper
3 bags of spice
4 tierces of rice[12]
4 casks of mittens[13]
29 kegs of tobacco
20 dry barrels
6 boxes of chocolate
4 dry kegs
18 1/2 boxes of raisins
6 boxes of pipes
3 boxes of ware
1 case
1 box of [goods]
2 boxes of bitters
1 basket of oil
1 rocket
20 drums of raisins
20 drums of figs
4 boxes of ware
4 bags of nuts
2 boxes of prunes
1 box cocoa
1 box capers
1 box syrup
2 small boxes
10 bales of goods
40 boxes of raisins
21 kegs of tobacco
1 box of goods
11 boxes of candy
2 boxes of pepper sauce
2 boxes ware
4 bags of nuts
16 boxes of scythe stones[14]

NOTES

[1] Two customs account books created by William Allan during his tenure survive in the William Allan fonds, S 123, Series 1, Vols 1 and 2, Baldwin Room, Toronto Reference Library. They cover the period 1815 to 1830.

[2] Armstrong, Frederick H. Handbook of Upper Canadian chronology, revised edition. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1985. pp 217, 225.

[3] ibid. p 225.

[4] Register entry for S. Burnham, June 1, 1836, Register of Manifests, Toronto Customs House fonds, F 214, Box MU 2991, Archives of Ontario.

[5] Martyn, Lucy Booth. The face of early Toronto. Sutton West, ON, and Santa Barbara, CA: The Paget Press, 1982. p 31. The Customs House is also marked on the 1834 Alpheus Todd Engraved Plan of the City of Toronto.

[6] Silas Burnham appears in a list of vendors who rented market stalls in York in 1831 in Appendix to Journal of the House of Assembly of Upper Canada 1831. p 172 (available at http://eco.canadiana.ca/view/oocihm.9_00942_7)

[7] York commercial directory, street guide and register, 1833-34. York, U.C.: Walton/Dalton.
City of Toronto and the Home District commercial directory for 1837. Toronto: Walton/ Dalton & Coates.

[8] City of Toronto assessment rolls are at the City of Toronto Archives, and available on microfilm at the Archives of Ontario and through FamilySearch.org.

[9] Letter from Samuel P. Jarvis (Kingston) to Mary Jarvis (Toronto), 22 May 1843, Samuel Peters Jarvis and William Dummer Powell fonds, F 31, item 362, microfilm MS 787, reel 2, Archives of Ontario.

[10] Estate file for Silas Burnham, merchant, Toronto, 20 July 1849, Court of Probate, RG 22-155, microfilm MS 638, reel 41, Archives of Ontario.

[11] Mackenzie received printing equipment on June 17, 26, and July 12, 1836. (Register of Manifests, Toronto Customs House fonds, F 214, Box MU 2991, Archives of Ontario)

[12] A tierce was a cask that held 42 US gallons of liquid or about 159 litres.

[13] I have found several instances of mittens and gloves shipped in casks. Here is one from a manifest of goods shipped to Boston on the Renown in 1776.

[14] More about scythe stones.

The Archives of Ontario… How do I find what’s in it for me?

While most family historians are comfortable—or at least familiar—with libraries and their filing systems, archives are very different matter. Many of us will have never visited any archives before we became family historians.

Libraries, museums and archives have complementary roles. Generally, libraries collect published material (books, microform, published sound and visual recordings, and digital publications). Museums collect artifacts, and archives collect unique documentary material (manuscripts, photographs, artwork, sound and visual recordings). We must acknowledge the fact that there is overlap—many libraries hold some archival material and perhaps artifacts; museums often hold some documents and published material that supports their collections of artifacts; and the Archives of Ontario, for example, has a fine library and quite a few fascinating artifacts.

How are archival records organized?

Because of the diverse nature of their collections—and the varied users who need to access them—archivists deal with records quite differently than librarians.

Librarians work with published material, written or compiled by an author who has given the item a title, and probably explained the contents in an introduction. The library catalogue must include the title, author, publishing information, and some subject listings drawn from the book itself.

But an archivist may have none of these things. They must come up with a name for each collection of material or “fonds”; determine what person or organization created the records and when they were created; understand and evaluate the different types of records within the fonds; and, finally, decide how best to make the material available and useful for researchers. Almost like the author of a book, the archivist creates what amounts to a title, author, chapters, a table of contents, an introduction—and in the right circumstances, an index.

Rather than cataloguing, like a librarian, an archivist “describes” records. And it is important to consider this process to understand the best ways to locate just what you want.

The collection of records from one creator—an individual, a family, a business, an organization, or a government body—is designated as a “fonds”. It is given a name, usually that of the creator or collector, but sometimes more descriptive of the fonds’ contents. The archivist then writes a general description of the fonds and its creator. If the fonds is small, or consists of all the same type of document, the “description” may stop there. Many fonds at the Archives of Ontario have only a “fonds-level” description.

Archives of Ontario reading room with the reference desk in the foreground. The rotunda, which houses the microfilm scanners, is behind the photo wall on the left.

Archives of Ontario reading room with the reference desk in the foreground. The rotunda, which houses the microfilm scanners, is behind the photo wall on the left. (photo: Jane E MacNamara)

Most fonds, however, must be described in greater detail. For instance, a fonds created by a business might contain accounting records, correspondence, catalogues, and personnel records. Each type of record within a fonds is called a “series”. If a series is large or varied, it also may be broken into a number of logical “sub-series”. Many fonds at the Archives of Ontario are described to the “series level”.

A series (or a sub-series, if it has been broken down) is made up of “files” or “items”. These can be as small as a single page or as large as a 300-page ledger. A group of papers kept together in a file, for instance, would also be considered one item. A relative few fonds at the Archives of Ontario are described at the “items level”.

To summarize, every collection of documents at the Archives of Ontario will be described at the fonds level. The majority of those fonds are further described at the series and sub-series levels. Many fewer fonds are described at the “files and items” level.

What’s in the Archives of Ontario?
The collection includes more than

  • 105,000 metres of paper records
  • 4.4 million photographs
  • 5,000 documentary artworks (paintings, drawings, caricatures, and posters) from as early as the 1790s
  • 2,500 original works in the Government of Ontario Art Collection
  • 350,000 architectural drawings
  • 85,000 maps
  • 30,000 hours of film, video and sound recordings including government films, home movies, and oral history recordings
  • more than 1,500 gigabytes of electronic records

The Archives is a part of the Government of Ontario, and its main purpose is to look after the records of government. Approximately 70 percent of the holdings are Ontario government records. These government records are designated with a fonds number prefaced by the letters “RG”. Some of the most important fonds for genealogists are RG 80: Office of the Registrar General, RG 22: Court Records (which includes estate files), and RG 1: Crown Land Department Records.

The other 30 percent are private records—“private” by this definition meaning simply not generated by the Ontario government. These include records created by individuals, families, businesses, organizations and municipalities. The Archives of Ontario holds more than 2,600 fonds in this category. Private fonds are given a number prefaced by either an “F” or a “C”. The Archives of Ontario private fonds include an amazing array of material for family historians, depending on the area of the province and time period—including many municipal and religious records.

Beyond government and private fonds, is the “diffusion” collection. These are copies, usually on microfilm, of Ontario records at other institutions. The majority of this material is from Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. Some of the most important items for genealogists are the films of census records for Ontario, and early land records, including the Upper Canada land books and petitions.

And although it does not fall strictly within our definition of what should be in an archives, the Archives of Ontario Library holds about 80,000 books, pamphlets, periodicals and government publications.

How do I find records?

Once an archival fonds is processed, its description is added to the Archives Descriptive Database (ADD), available on the Archives of Ontario web site (www.archives.gov.on.ca). Look for the “Accessing Our Collections” button. Then choose “Archives Descriptive Database”.

You can search the full fonds descriptions in the ADD by keyword (Option 1 on the search page). In most cases, this option will be the best choice to start with. Option 3, “Advanced Search”, will give you three options: clicking “Groups of Archival Records” will let you search the fonds, series and sub-series levels; choose “File/Item Descriptions” to cover those fonds described in greater detail; or search by “Record Creators” to find fonds linked to the creator. You’ll find an excellent orientation linked to the Help button on the main ADD search page.

Your ADD search results will lead you to the location of the records—either original documents or on microfilm. The records have not been digitized. Any records that are not on film can be ordered and viewed in the Reading Room.

More than 20,000 photos, maps, architectural drawings, and documentary artworks are available in the Archives of Ontario’s Visual Database, although this just scratches the surface of the more than five million images at the Archives. The Visual Database is also available on the Archives web site. Look for the “Accessing Our Collection” button. Try the keyword search first, with a few variables, but you may also find the (somewhat idiosyncratic) subject search and the advanced options useful. You can use the Reference Code you find to look for more details (and perhaps more images) in the ADD.

Man standing in front of metal sheles filled with books.

Archives of Ontario library with librarian Frank van Kalmthout (photo: Jane E MacNamara)

The Archives of Ontario Library is invisible. Researchers can’t visit the Library, but must access holdings through the BiBLION catalogue. You can request material on site, or via email in advance, and you books will be delivered to the Reading Room.

Archives staff members have created many other wonderful research guides, in the form of online and on-site finding aids to specific records, and online exhibits that function as thematic guides. Links on the “Accessing Our Collection” page will lead you to all of them.

This article was written to accompany the lecture “The Archives of Ontario… What’s in it for me?”.

I’ve written a number of other posts about research at the AO. To find them, click on “Archives of Ontario” in the word cloud at the right of this page, or on the tag at the bottom of this post.

 

Salt Lake City in February: Join us!

This beautiful city—and the amazing Family History Library—has me hooked. I’ve been to Salt Lake City many times. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to do some of my own family research—with the odd diversion to some of the rogues and rebels I’ve found in other people’s families. (My ancestors were all very well behaved.)

I’m also looking forward to sharing the experience with friends who have travelled with the group before and introducing new group members to the Library and the intriguing city. Maybe you’d like to join us? We will arrive in Salt Lake on February 10, 2015, for one or two weeks. Most of the group will depart from Toronto, but we can accommodate other starting points.

The Salt Lake Temple, focal point of Salt Lake City's Temple Square (photo: Jane E. MacNamara)

The Salt Lake Temple, focal point of Salt Lake City’s Temple Square (photo: Jane E. MacNamara)

The first few days of the trip, February 11 to 14, will be buzzing with two big family history conferences—FGS 2015 and Rootstech 2015—that have combined forces for a one-time special genealogical event. But if you’re anxious to hunker down and get your nose into those old records right away, that’s OK. The Family History Library will be fully staffed and open extra long hours.

You’ll find prices and more details about the trip here. Our blocks of airline seats and hotel rooms are limited, so I’d advise booking soon. There are a handful of “repeat” travellers already on the list.

The Neglected Gooseberry

It is the middle of July, and in Ontario that means just about everything is ripe. Saturday morning at the market there were flats of perfect strawberries, early raspberries, glossy red, black and yellow cherries, translucent red currants, and tucked away on just a couple of farmer’s tables, a few pints of unassuming green gooseberries.

Gooseberries in pressed paper pint container.

Tiny green gooseberries at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, July 2014. Photo ©Jane E MacNamara

Unloved, or just forgotten? Certainly out of fashion.[1]

It wasn’t so for our ancestors. There are gooseberries native to Ontario. Catharine Parr Traill, who settled near Lakefield, mentions wild gooseberries in several of her books, and describes three varieties—wild smooth, thornberry or prickly, and small swamp gooseberry—in her 1885 Studies of Plant Life in Canada. In the 1857 Canadian Settler’s Guide (7th edition), she advises transplanting some wild varieties to a cool shady spot in the garden.

In his 1873, Toronto of Old: Collections and Recollections, Henry Scadding remembers dense thickets of “wild gooseberry bushes and wild black-currant bushes” in the lower Don Valley. In a Toronto horticultural exhibition described in the Globe in July 1849, Mr. Turner won first place for his gooseberries.[2]

Gooseberries were an essential part of a northern household garden. Like currants (a close relative), gooseberries are very high in natural pectin, the ingredient that thickens jam and jelly. They could be mixed with fruit like strawberries or rhubarb which won’t set on their own. They could also be the featured ingredient in gooseberry jam or a tangy relish to eat with meat.

But back to the meager offerings of gooseberries this weekend at the market. There were two varieties, both un-named as far as the growers could tell me. The bushes had been fending for themselves for as long as they could remember.

Pint basket of gooseberries beside a pint of currants.

Larger, bulbous green gooseberries and red currants at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto in July 2014. Photo ©Jane E MacNamara

But that was certainly not the case in 1876, when the Ontario government sent displays of the province’s products to the “Centennial Exposition” in Philadelphia celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

One of the displays was the “Fruits of Ontario.” This was, apparently a massive exhibit, occupying 200 feet of table space.[3] Secretary of the Fruit Growers’ Association of Ontario D.W. Beadle wrote a fascinating report[4] about how the samples were gathered and the quantities involved—well worth a read if your ancestor was a fruit grower. Beadle’s closing words explain that the aim of the exhibit was to “dissipate a very prevalent impression that we dwell in a cold, frozen, most inhospitable region of snow and ice”. He felt that the effort had done more to “break down unfounded prejudices” then could have been done by “an army of Emigration Agents, or a whole circulating library of books of information on the climate and productions of Ontario.”

Part of this impressive 1876 exhibit, were samples of 25 varieties of gooseberries!

VARIETY GROWER(S)
American Seedling Wm. Saunders of London
Arnold’s Seedling Charles Arnold of Paris
Black Naples P.E. Buck of Ottawa, J. McMullen of Ottawa
Downing Allen Moyer of Indian Station, Charles Arnold of Paris, P.E. Buck of Ottawa, Wm. Saunders of London,
Early Red R. Kettlewell of London
Early Yellow John Arnold of Paris
English D. Arnott of Arva, H. Beltz of London
Hart’s Seedling Charles Arnold of Paris
Houghton’s Allen Moyer of Indian Station, P.E. Buck of Ottawa, Wm. Saunders of London, M. Kelly of London
Hybrid Wm. Saunders of London
Phoenix John Carnie of Paris
Ploughboy J. Lamb of London
Read’s Canada W.H. Read of Port Dalhousie
Read’s Gem W.H. Read of Port Dalhousie
Read’s Pear-shaped W.H. Read of Port Dalhousie
Read’s Purple W.H. Read of Port Dalhousie
Read’s Yellow W.H. Read of Port Dalhousie
Roaring Lion R. Kettlewell of London
Sulphur Yellow J. McMullen of Ottawa
Warrington R. Kettlewell of London, J. McMullen of Ottawa
White Smooth John Carnie of Paris, J. McMullen of Ottawa
Whitesmith R. Kettlewell of London, J. Lamb of London
Wild Prickly Wm. Saunders of London
Wild Smooth Wm. Saunders of London
Yellow Jacket Charles Arnold of Paris

Mr. Beadle noted that the summer of 1876 had been particularly hot and dry. This had damaged or diminished crops in some part of the province—accounting for the dominance of places like London on the gooseberry list.

So what happened to all this diversity of gooseberries[5] in Ontario? Why did their popularity wane? Was it a change in culinary styles? Did another fruit or product take their place?

Do some of these varieties survive on family farms? Does a descendant of grower R. Kettlewell of London still have some Roaring Lion bushes?


[1] Well maybe they’re not completely out of fashion. Martha Stewart grows gooseberries on her farm and you’ll find several recipes on her web site. Be wary that she’s not referring to “cape” gooseberries with a papery covering, which in Ontario we’d call ground cherries.

[2] The Globe, 21 July 1849, page 4.

[3] Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture (Chairman of the Advisory Board of Ontario,) on the Products, Manufacturers, etc., of Ontario, exhibited at the International Exhibition, Philadelphia, 1876. Sessional Papers No. 33. Legislative Assembly: Toronto, 1877. (The Google Book version starts on digital page 187.)

[4] Beadle’s report to the Commissioner of Agriculture starts on page 85.

[5] Charles Darwin wrote about the varieties of gooseberries developed in England by examining lists published in horticultural show catalogues from 1573. He credits the close to 300 varieties and increase in berry size to the existence of a network of “fanciers” from the late 1700s that held many annual gooseberry shows. Darwin himself grew some 54 varieties of gooseberry. The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, 2nd edition, Vol. 1. New York: D. Appleton, 1876. pages 376–378