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.