52 Ancestors: Margaret O’Neill (nee Graham) (1854-1937)

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.

Margaret Graham was born on 8 September 1854, according to the records that I have been able to locate about her. Just over 100 years later, I would make her a great grandmother. I know that Margaret was born in the province of Ontario but I have been unable so far to find a record that provides a more precise location, although it is likely that Margaret’s family was living south of Barrie, Ontario at the time of her birth.

By 1861, Margaret can be found in the census records living in Holland Landing with her parents. Her father was Patrick Graham, a tailor from Ireland and her mother Catherine McRae, the Canadian born daughter of Scottish immigrants who were part of the Glengarry settlement. By the time Margaret was a teenager, her father had decided to take up farming and so the family moved to Sunnidale, Ontario, just west of the town of Barrie.

There is no record that I have found nor no family story that I have heard about how my great grandparents met, but on 4 June 1894, a 39-year old Margaret Graham married 45-year old William Emmett O’Neill in St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church on Bathurst Street in Toronto. In spite of their ages at the time, it appears that this was the first marriage for both of them and they set about quickly to have three children in the next four years: first a son, John Graham O’Neill (my grandfather) in 1895, then a daughter Kathleen Marie O’Neill (who became a nun) in 1896, and finally another daughter Avila O’Neill (who never married) in 1898.

Margaret and her husband settled into what was from all appearances a quiet life in Toronto. While her husband William worked in the insurance business, Margaret tended to raising their three children and keeping house. When their son Graham, as he was called, was engaged to marry Gertrude Foley, Gertrude’s father John Foley informed the engaged couple that he was going to give them a house on Pickering Street in Toronto’s east end as a wedding gift. Graham and Gertrude convinced John Foley to instead sell the house to Graham’s parents. Margaret and William were residing in that house in 1924 when William died according to his death registration.


The O’Neill Family gravestone, Mount Hope Cemetery, Toronto, Ontario (photo by Ian Hadden)



Margaret continued to live in the house for a short time until she moved into a house with her daughter Avila at 1739 Dundas Street West in Toronto. She then lived with Avila until her own death at St. Joseph’s Hospital from chronic myocarditis on 2 March 1937. On 5 March 1937, Margaret was laid to rest to rest beside her husband William in Mount Hope Cemetery following a 9:00 a.m. requiem mass at St. Helen’s Roman Catholic Church.

52 Ancestors: Flora McRae (abt 1776-1876)

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.

This week I am turning the spotlight onto an ancestor in my maternal family lineage. Flora McRae (or MacRae) is my 3X great grandmother, the great grandmother of my maternal grandfather, John Graham O’Neill. 

As I was growing up, my mother’s side of the family was the Irish side. You can therefore imagine my surprise when I found Flora McRae, and her husband Finlay, and they were not Irish. No, they were Scottish!

I don’t know who Flora’s parents were but it doesn’t appear that she had to change her name when she married Finlay. According to an Old Parish Register record from the parish of Lochalsh in Ross and Cromarty county, Finlay MacRae married Flora MacRae on 19 July 1800, after their banns had been read, that is their marriage contract announced, on 2 July 1800.

Finlay and Flora set up house in Invernesshire, Scotland where the first five of their nine known children were born. Events, however, that pre-dated their marriage and thousands of miles away from them would eventually have a tremendous impact on the life of their family.

Scotsmen who had years earlier left Scotland for opportunities in New York State were uprooted by the American Revolutionary War, seeking refuge as Loyalists in Glengarry County, Upper Canada (now part of Ontario). The establishment of the Glengarry settlement set off an emigration of Highlanders, most notably from Inverness. It seems that Finlay and Flora caught the tail end of this large emigration, likely leaving Scotland around 1815. 

I don’t know much about Flora’s life in Canada during the 19th century but I do know she was widowed and a small story in the Oriliia Times newspaper, dated 5 May 1876, captured the peaceful, but with a pinch of the dramatic, way she left this world. “Mrs. Flora McRae, of the great age of 100 years, who lived in a house by herself, a few rods from that of her son, Colin McRae, Kirkfield, was last Thursday found dead sitting by the fireside, with her clothes almost completely burnt off her body. She was not severely burnt, but when found life was extinct.”