Wednesday, 27 June 2012


George Howson (1790-1879) was listed as a victualler in 1817, living at West St. Helen's in Abingdon, Berkshire.  A victualler is described as either a supplier of  provisions or an innkeeper.  I have no idea which category George Howson fell into to.  I do know when he lived in Thurlow Township, in Ontario he was described as a market gardener.

I thought I would check out the pubs and taverns of Abingdon.  I tried a search for George as a licensed victualler on the National Archives at Kew but didn't find his name.

There is a wonderful website that records historical information about Pubs in England.  Here is the link Dead Pubs in England  There were over 100 pubs listed for Abingdon, must have been a thirsty crowd that lived there.  There were even several listed on West St. Helen's,  no joy there either.

When George Howson died in the Belleville area in 1879, he left a will.  There were 3 executors:  Thomas Cox, Michael O'Neill and Michael Graham.  I think Michael O'Neill may have been a relative of  George's daughter-in-law, Bridget as her maiden name was O'Neill.  There are several Michael O'Neill's listed in the 1881 Census for Belleville, so I'm not sure which is the correct Michael.

However it started me thinking that perhaps the other executors may be related.  I started a Google search using the names of "Howson" and "Cox".  I found  a genealogy forum that mentioned the surnames Abraham, Howson and Cox and Berkshire England.  It appears that a Catherine Abraham born 1756 married a William Howson.  From that family tree there was also a Phillip Cox who married an Ann Abraham.

Here's where it gets interesting.  Phillip Cox had a son also called Phillip.  This Phillip married a Mary Ward and they emigrated to Belleville Ontario about 1832.  Now this is about the time that George Howson and his wife Jane Lay and their 2 sons are reported to have come to the Belleville area as well.  Thomas Cox, the executor, is the son of Phillip and Mary Cox.

I was in contact with a lady who has done quite a bit of research on the Phillip Cox family.  We tried to find a connection but it remains elusive.   She also told me that Mary Ward's father James  married a Teresa Howson as his second wife.  According to this researcher, the Cox family were Roman Catholics and came to Canada to escape religious persecution.  I contacted the Catholic Library in England to see if I could find any information about my Howson and Lay families.  No Howson or Lay names were found.

The Cox and Howson families seems to have been close.  George Howson (1820-1856) and his wife Bridget O'Neill were the sponsors at the baptism of one of Phillip Cox's children at St. Michael's church in Belleville.  Then just to add to the mix with the Meehan side of the family, Ellen Meehan 's (1845-1901) husband Thomas Bolger (1850 - 1910) was the witness at a wedding that connects with the Cox family as well.

I have found some other Howsons in the Oxfordshire area, so for now my search continues.

Saturday, 23 June 2012


When I took my first genealogy research class, I remember the instructor stressing that we must be flexible when searching for our ancestors' surnames.  This was due to many factors.  Back in the day, a lot of people could not read or write and so the concept of how their name was spelled was not a big issue.  In most cases for farm workers or labourers this did not impact their day to day life.

Emigration played a large part of this name game as well.  An English, Scottish or Irish accent changed how the name sounded to the North American ear and therefore how it was written down.  Another factor to be considered is that when the census were taken, the person taking down the information may have misheard the information given and basically guessed at what they thought they heard.

Therefore I thought I was ready to search and try out variations on a name.  I started with my Meehan surname and tried to think of all the different variations I could.  When I started thinking about it there were quite a few:  Meehan, Mehan, Mechan, Meecham, Meighen, Meaghan, Meaghen, Meagher, etc.

Other names such as Howson, had similar variations:  Howson, Hawson, Honson, Houston (this being the most popular), Howard.  The Faulkner surname became, Falconer, Falkner, pretty close to the original.  The easiest name so far to search has been Newton, it seems to have escaped the many and varied spellings that happened to my other surname searches, although I did find a Hewton.

Then there is the added fact that when these census or vital statistics documents are indexed there is another layer of human intervention that can lead to a completely different surname altogether.  So what we have is potentially a name that is taken down incorrectly in the first place being transcribed incorrectly as well.  It's the written equivalent of playing broken telephone.

When I was researching my Meehan family, I was looking for the marriage for Teresa Meehan and Norman Dunne O'Leary on the Ancestry website.  What I came up with was Teresa Mechan and Roman Dunne Breaw.  That one stumped for a while and I did have difficulty finding the marriage record until I took out most of the information in the search box and just left the parents names.  Even then George Meehan was recorded as George Mechan and his wife Emma Howson became Emma Teresa Danson Mechan.  Not too far off for the Meehan surname, but how in the world can you transcribe Breaw for O'Leary?  The only part of Norman Dunne O'Leary's name that was correct was the middle name Dunne.

My latest search for George Howson is even more bizarre.  I knew that George Howson died, at the age of 85 years, in March 1879 in Belleville, Ontario, as I had his burial record from St. Michael's Church in Belleville.  I realised I didn't have his death certificate recorded.  Easy peasy I thought and went to Ancestry to do a search.  No George Howson appeared.  I then tried New Family Search and  I found him.  Unfortunately New Family Search does not have images.  But it does have the certificate number.  So I went back to Ancestry and searched in the Belleville deaths for 1879 and found the certificate number I was looking for.  George Howson's  name was recorded as Genya Snorton, aged 0.  Of course how silly of me!

Now I'm wondering how many more Roman Breaws and Genya Snortons are out there waiting for me to find them?

Monday, 18 June 2012


George Howson is my 3x great grandfather and was born about 1790 - 1795 in England.  I think he came from the County of Oxfordshire, but this is still a work in progress.  He married Jane Lay in October 1816 in Abingdon, Berkshire.  The county boundaries have changed since then and Abingdon is now considered part of Oxfordshire. Jane was also born about 1790 - 1795 in England.

The Oxfordshire reference comes from a book "Commemorative Biographical Record of the County of York" (Canada) published in circa 1905.  There is paragraph  about George Plant who married Georgianna Adelaide Howson (granddaughter of George Howson)   " ...George Howson, who was born in Oxford, England where he married Jane Lay. In 1832 they came to Canada settling at Belleville, where Mr. Howson was a market gardener...."

I contacted the Oxfordshire Family History Society (FHS)  to see if I could find any more  information.  They found a few things for me:
  • George Howson and Jane Lay married in Abingdon, St. Helen 20 October 1816
  • Thomas Howson baptised in Abingdon, St. Helen 15 June 1817
  • Thomas Howson  buried in Abingdon, St. Helen 17 June 1817
George and Jane are listed as living on West St. Helen's Street and George's occupation is victualler.

I know that George and Jane had 2 other sons namely :
  • Thomas Howson born abt 1818  England
  • George Howson born abt 1820  England
These 2 sons came to Canada with their parents around 1832.  Unfortunately, their baptism records were not located within the Oxfordshire FHS records.  There was no record of George Howson (1790) being baptised in that area either.

I had a little more luck with Jane Lay.  According to the Oxfordshire FHS there were 3 Jane Lays baptised around that time period:
  • Jane Lay baptised 1795 Eynsham, Oxfordshire, parents Thomas & Christian
  • Jane Lay baptised 1796 Appleton, Oxfordshire, parents Daniel & Mary
  • Jane Ley baptised 1799 Abingdon, St. Helen, parents Dr. Hugh & Mrs. Eliza
Now the question is which (if any) is the correct Jane Lay/Ley?  I had high hopes for the Abingdon family, as that is where the marriage took place and it is often in the bride's home parish.    The family forenames also seemed to fit in with the information I had on the Howson family.   After researching this family I found that Jane Ley married some one else named Whitmore Smart  in Cornwall.  There was quite a bit of information on this family as there was a disputed will and land distribution involved.

George and Jane settled in Thurlow Township, Hastings, Ontario which is now part of Belleville Ontario.  The 1861 Census shows them on Concession 2 Lot 9 and George is listed as a Gardener.  Their older son Thomas was a tinsmith.  He  married Rebecca Reynolds and they eventually settled in Morrisburg, Ontario.  George (1820) married Bridget O'Neill and they lived in the Belleville area.  Sadly, George died quite young at the age of about 36 years, in 1856 in Belleville. 

Jane Lay died in Thurlow Township in 1876 and George Howson  senior died in 1879.  They are both buried in St. Michael's Cemetery in Belleville.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012


During the  1950's  the O'Leary sisters was a popular Country & Western singing duo.  The duo consisted of Mae O'Leary and her sister Theresa.  Mae played acoustic guitar and Theresa played the double bass and they both sang.  It should be noted that Theresa was quite short and the bass was about a foot taller than she was.

They appeared on a weekly radio programme called the Hayloft Hoedown on CKEY radio in Toronto.  The actor Lorne Greene was a radio announcer at the station and took quite a shine to the sisters, especially Mae.   They performed on WWVA radio in Wheeling, West Virginia on  the Wheeling Jamboree. They also performed in Chicago on the National Barn Dance. They were offered a 15 minute weekly radio program in Chicago and were told the next stop would be Nashville, but they turned it down.  Here's a recording of Mae and Theresa as the O'leary Sisters

My father James Meehan used to brag that he was related to the O'Leary Sisters.   His aunt had married an O'Leary and he claimed the O'Leary's as kith and kin.

My great  aunt Theresa Brigid Meehan (1886 - 1946) was born in Belleville Ontario. The family moved to Toronto between 1896 and 1901. She is recorded on the 1901 Census living with her parents George Meehan and Emma (Howson) Meehan at 373 Queen Street East.

Theresa married Norman Dunn(e) O'Leary in Toronto in 1909. Norman's parents were John O'Leary and Maria Dunn(e).   Norman was born in Lindsay, Ontario in 1886.

In the 1960's we moved to Silverbirch Avenue and guess who also lived on the street?  The O'Leary Sisters plus some of the rest of the family.  The sisters came from a large family, I believe there were 12  brothers and sisters.  I became friends with 2 of their nieces as we were all the same age.

We've tried to find a connection to the O'Leary's but we can find none so far.  The parents of the O'Leary Sisters were John Joseph O'Leary born 1890 in Toronto and Charlotte Lawrence.  They lived in the east end of Toronto as did Norman and Theresa O'Leary.  The families were both Roman Catholic and at some point both lived on Caroline Avenue in Toronto.  But that's as close as we've come to connecting the families.  My two friends and I still jokingly refer to us being related.

I think the connection is tenuous at best.  Once we moved to Silverbirch Avenue, I didn't hear my dad mention the connection again.

Monday, 4 June 2012


Belvie Meehan was my aunt.  She died of dyptheria when she was just 18 years old, in 1926.   I never knew the details of her death until a few years ago.  But I did know it cast a shadow on the family for many many years.

A couple of years ago, my cousin mentioned that Belvie had been in an ice boat and the boat hit open water. Belvie and her friends fell in the icy water.  She contracted dyptheria and died a month after the accident.

I decided to do some research and see if I could find her obituary and any details that might have been published at the time.  The story was reported in both the Toronto Star and Globe & Mail Newspapers.  It was front page news.

The headline from the Toronto Star, Front Page on Thursday February 18, 1926 reads:


According to the article 2 young men and 2 young ladies borrowed a friend's ice-boat and went sailing on Toronto Bay.  They made a semi circle around the bay looking for "fast" ice, but they hit open water instead.  The boat tipped over and they all went into the frigid February water of Lake Ontario.  One of the men Reginald Helston drowned.  The other man Carl Crockett got the two girls, Belvie Meehan and Mabel Hescott back in the boat.    They shouted for help, but there was no one to hear them.  Carl Crockett then got himself on solid ice and went for help.  Land was about a mile away.  He managed to get to the Dominion Sugar warehouse at the foot of Bay Street to get help.  Police and ambulance services were then called.

This took well over 45 minutes before the girls could be rescued and a search for Reginald Helston could be started.

Belvie and the other 2 were taken to hospital.  The two girls were released and Mr. Crockett was kept for several days with pneumonia.

Belvie developed dyptheria and never recovered, she died March 19, 1926.  There was a private funeral and she is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, in Toronto.