Tag: Scarborough ON

Another Year, Another Post

As Writing Up the Ancestors approaches its fourth anniversary and I approach the end of my summer vacation, it is time to look back at last year’s posts and look ahead to the coming season. 

Some blogs assess their success from the number of hits they get. That is not the case with Writing Up the Ancestors. For one thing, every now and then the stats go through the roof. For some reason, hundreds of computers in Russia hit on my blog for days or weeks at a time, making the stats that Blogspot provides completely meaningless. 

But every now and then, I get an email from someone who turns out to be a distant relation or who is doing research on one of the people I have written about. That means Writing Up the Ancestors is finding its audience, mainly through Google, and that is very satisfying. 

This past year I broke through a huge brick wall. My paternal grandmother’s grandparents were a missing generation, so I hired a professional genealogist to look through records in the Bay of Quinte, Ontario region where they lived. She helped uncover a family secret: they were not married, and they were probably first cousins. (See “The Ancestor Who Did Not Exist”, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2017/04/the-ancestor-who-did-not-exist.html and “Martha J. Rixon’s Short and Difficult Life”, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2017/05/martha-j-rixons-short-and-difficult-life.html.)

The problem with writing their stories was that they were complicated, and I may have buried my great-great-grandmother’s heartbreak in my efforts to explain the genealogical research steps I took to solve the mystery. Oh well, that doesn’t mean the article must remain a failure: I can always rewrite it.

Many of my ancestors are buried in St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Scarborough, ON.

I also researched several other lines on my father’s side last year. My Hamilton, Glendinning and Stobo ancestors came from the Scottish lowlands to Scarborough, Ontario around the 1820s, and the Whiteside family arrived from Belfast at about the same time. I looked at these extended families to see where they were from, who immigrated and who stayed behind, and what happened to that first generation in Canada. These were all large families with many descendants, so my hope is that other researchers will find their stories useful. This research did not make for great story-telling, but it was nevertheless important. 

In the coming years, I plan to tackle another branch of my family tree that will present similar problems: my mother’s ancestors who settled in Massachusetts and Connecticut around 1630. Puritans in belief, they were mostly farmers and they had large families. My four-times great-grandfather Phineas Bagg, who left Massachusetts and settled in Quebec around 1795, was the fourth generation of his family born in North America. 

A great deal of research has been done on this American colonial population. In many cases, it is known where these people came from in England and which ship they traveled on. Marriage, baptismal and death records are all available, as are probate records, land records, military service records and so on. It will be impossible to learn much about their personalities, so it may be challenging to write anything beyond dry facts, however, there are numerous books about colonial culture and religious beliefs. I hope to shed light on their lives by describing those practices, and the historical events of their times. 

Another goal for the coming year is more research on my Irish immigrant ancestors, the Mulholland, Whiteside, Workman and Shearman families. I still know very little about them, but we are thinking about a trip to Northern Ireland next spring, so that motivates me to learn more.  

As in the past, I will try to follow Genealogical Proof Standards and to cite my sources. Without clarity and accuracy, Writing Up the Ancestors would not be worth my time, or yours.

Settling in Scarborough

The Scottish settlers of Scarborough were known as heavy drinkers, but not so Robert Hamilton. My great-great grandfather, who settled in this Upper Canadian farming community in 1830, was a “pioneer total abstinence advocate,” and his opposition to alcohol almost prevented his barn from being built.

Between 1796 and 1826, the government granted land in Scarborough to Loyalists, military officers and a few other settlers. Most were absentee landowners, however, and the population only began to grow after 1815, with the end of the Napoleonic wars. The height of immigration occurred in the 1820s and early 1830s, with a huge influx of settlers from England, Scotland and Ireland.

Most of the Scarborough’s Scots came from lowland counties such as Lanarkshire and Dumfriesshire. Many had friends or relatives who had already settled in the area and encouraged others to follow. Robert was no exception: he was a weaver from Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, and his in-laws, the Stobo family, were said to have been the first Lanarkshire settlers in Scarborough in 1824.

Robert and his wife, Elizabeth Stobo, and their six children stayed with the Stobo family when they first arrived. Soon they found a farm of their own, lot 25, concession III, and started to clear the trees so they could plant crops. 

Felling trees wasn’t as easy as it looked, however, as the Hamiltons learned. In 1832, three weeks after arriving in Scarborough, Robert Rae, Robert Hamilton’s brother-in-law, was helping clear the Hamilton farm when he was killed by a falling tree. The widowed Agnes Hamilton Rae brought up four children alone and eventually managed to purchase thirty acres of her own.

One of the traditions the settlers brought from Scotland was the custom of holding “bees,” in which neighbours helped each other with major projects, such as barn raisings. The person whose barn was being erected normally provided whisky to the volunteers, so when abstainer Robert Hamilton refused to serve any alcohol, the volunteers refused to help with the barn. The deadlock was broken when Robert gave the head carpenter the authority to oversee the barn-raising as he saw fit, and the carpenter approved the whisky.

Eventually, alcohol was no longer so central to the social lives of Scarborough’s Scots. Rev. James George, of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, founded the first recorded temperance society in the community in 1834 and, by the turn of the 20thcentury, no liquor was allowed at barn raisings.

Research notes: When I started to research this post, I just wanted to find out more about my ancestors’ lives, and I was excited to find references to Robert Hamilton on the website of The James McCowan Memorial Social History Society, www.beamccowan.com. This website gives an account of Robert Rae’s fatal accident. I wanted to learn more, so I ordered a couple of the booklets published by the society. When I read the footnotes, I realized that the McCowans are descendants of Robert and Agnes Hamilton Rae – and therefore distant cousins of mine!

Another excellent resource for the early history of Scarborough is The Township of Scarboro, 1796-1896, edited by David Boyle, Toronto, 1896, available online at http://www.archive.org/stream/cu31924028900970/cu31924028900970_djvu.txt. Written to celebrate Scarborough’s first centennial, this is the source of the story of the barn-raising.

Scarborough produced another book to celebrate its second centennial anniversary. The People of Scarborough: A History, by Barbara Myrvold, published by the City of Scarborough Public Library Board, 1997, gives a comprehensive overview of the community’s history. It is also available as an online PDF at static:Torontopubliclibrary.ca/da/pdfs/238353.pdf.

Finally, I discovered that Robert Hamilton took part in a curling match between Scarborough and Toronto on a frozen Toronto Bay in 1836. This little anecdote didn’t fit into my article, but I wanted to mention it anyway because it led me to a charming painting of Toronto Bay (now called Toronto Harbour) in winter: http://www.distilleryheritage.com/snippets/49.pdf.

See also: https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2013/12/from-lesmahagow-to-scarborough.html