A Story Debunked – The Case of Margaret (Graham) O’Neill

Margaret Graham was born on September 5, 1854 in Canada West (previously Upper Canada and now the province of Ontario). As her birth was before civil registration commenced and as I have not yet checked the Roman Catholic records for area churches, I suspect her birth occurred in Simcoe County, north of Toronto as that is where the Graham family can be found in subsequent Canadian census returns.

Margaret was a student at the school in Holland Landing, Ontario when she was 6 years old according to the 1861 Canada Census. Her father, Patrick was a tailor from Ireland who had met and married her mother Catherine in Ontario. By 1871, the family had moved a bit further north in the province, settling in Sunnidale, Simcoe County, Ontario. It seems that by 1890, Margaret had had enough of life in mainly rural area in which she lived and so she she headed south to the city of Toronto.

It was here that met and on June 4th, 1894, she married William Emmett O’Neill. According to their marriage registration, neither had been previously married. I mention this fact as they married a little later in life than most. William was 42 years old and Margaret was 38. Oh, how their lives must have changed when over the course of the next four years, Margaret gave birth to a son (my grandfather John Graham O’Neill) and two daughters (Kathleen and Avila).

Although the family resided primarily in the west end of Toronto, they eventually moved to a house they purchased from their son’s future father-in-law, John Foley, at 189 Pickering Street in the city’s east end. This is where a family story passed on to me from my mother begins and now ends.

The house at 189 Pickering was not only lived in by my great grandparents through the 1920’s and 1930’s but was passed on through the family eventually becoming my parent’s first home when they married in 1953. The house is small by today’s standards, a two bedroom semi-detached home that was functional but could be cramped at times. According to my mother, Margaret (Graham) O’Neill died in the ‘master,’ front bedroom of 189 Pickering Street in 1937. When I lived in the house the story didn’t really bother me but later in life, as I began documenting my family’s histroy, I thought it a little creepy that I might have conceived in the very room that my great grandmother died in.

But she didn’t! As a result of re-checking databases (in this case the Ontario death records on Ancestry), I found Margaret’s death certificate. Margaret died on March 2, 1937 at St. Joseph’s Hospital of chronic heart problems, a long way from my first home on Pickering Street. In fact, according to Avila O’Neill, who was the informant listed on the certificate, Margaret and Avila were residing together at 1739 Dundas Street West prior to Margaret’s hospitalization. The funeral arrangements were made through Ryan and Son Undertakers on Dundas Street West and Margaret was buried alongside her husband William in Mount Hope Cemetery in Toronto on March 5, 1937.

A ‘creepy’ family story debunked and a lesson to re-check already mined databases learned!

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