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.

James Graham, Innkeeper

I have been enjoying the benefit, yes, benefit, of discovering new leads while proceeding through my genealogy database and citing sources for the wide array of facts that my family history contains that I failed to include when I first entered the fact information. The new ‘leads’ have resulted from chasing down documents that a fact referred to which I should have had a copy of but didn’t or, I had a copy of and had now a chance to review for a second time.


Reviewing and analyzing a family history document for a second time is almost always valuable and eye-opening due to the facts and information that you can see which might have been overlooked for some reason on the first read.

While entering information about Patrick Graham and his wife Catherine (nee McRae), my second great grandparents in my maternal family line, there was information, particularly from census records that provided new leads to deepen my knowledge of the lives of their children.

Patrick, a tailor by trade, had immigrated to Upper Canada (now Ontario, Canada) sometime likely in the 1830’s. Catherine was born in Glengarry County of what is now Ontario in 1822. I don’t know when nor how they met but they married around 1838, according to Roman Catholic marriage registers. Their first child was James, born in 1842. Three daughters were to follow, including my great grandmother Margaret, born in 1854.

The census record for the family in January 1852, (the 1851 census in Canada was delayed) shows the family living in a frame house in the village of East Gwillimbury, north of Toronto, and oldest child and only son James going to school. About ten years later, the 1861 census records show that the family had moved about three miles west to the village of Holland Landing and that James had left school, moved north to the town of Barrie and was an apprentice shoemaker.

Sometime before 1870, James married Mary Ann Duffy and around 1870, they welcomed their first child, William, into their family. James had also taken up a new profession – that of innkeeper. In 1871, James and Mary Ann were living in the village (perhaps hamlet?) of Essa, Ontario, due west of Barrie. No mention is included in the record of the name of the inn that he kept and despite searches through various histories of the area at that time, I can find no mention of James or the inn.

Tragedy struck however on May 17, 1874 when Mary Ann gave birth to their second child, also a boy, and both mother and child died. According to the death registrations, the unnamed baby boy died within “a few minutes” of birth followed soon after by his 25 year-old mother.

Sometime before 1878, James re-married, this time to Mary Guilfoyle. James and Mary had three daughters, Catherine Louise, Mary Isabella, and Anna May. Over the next 25 years, James continued to live in the Simcoe County, Ontario area, occasionally moving between some of the area’s small towns and villages. His profession during this time was always listed as Hotel Keeper. James passed away of heart failure at the age of 61, on June 19, 1903.

Looking at a record for a second time, in this case, a census record, lead to a cascade of new information, and records, connected to this family. My intention is to continue hunting for records about James’ hotel as my gut instinct is that there have got to be some fascinating stories about life in the hotels of that era. The Barrie, Ontario library has an on-line obituary index showing that there are two local newspapers that contained obituaries for James. Unfortunately, other than giving the name of the newspaper and date of the obituary, no other details were available but it may be the best place of start. I can feel a field trip coming on!