An organization of family historians, some with Toronto roots, others who live in Toronto, we have ancestors around the world.

Uncovering Unusual Lives

June 16, 2021 @ 7:30 pm – June 24, 2021 @ 4:00 pm
$20 OGS members / $25 non members


This June, we invite you to join us for a special four-session lecture series. In Uncovering Unusual Lives, four seasoned researchers explore the stories of intriguing and uncooperative subjects. They’ll tell you about the sources they used and how they found their way around twists and turns and roadblocks (sometimes deliberately set). Four good stories, well told.

Three sessions will begin at 7:30 pm EDT and on June 24, Eamonn O’Keeffe will speak to us from England at 2:00 pm EDT. Each session will consist of an hour-long presentation and an opportunity to ask questions.

We’ll be recording the sessions so paid registrants can time-shift and watch whenever it is convenient—or watch a second time.

June 16, 17 and 23 at 7:30 pm, and June 24 at 2:00 pm EDT
$20 OGS members / $25 non-members


June 16, 7:30 pm EDT: Misbegotten, Misled, Mistaken—Paul Jones

The presenter’s grandfather, C.W. (Charlie) Jones, was born out of wedlock in Dorset in 1891. The mystery father was not identified in records, and family lore focused on face-saving, not facts. After 30 years of breakthroughs and missteps, Y-DNA finally clinched the identity of the father—who had in turn been born out of wedlock in 1870. For this new man, there aren’t even misleading family tales to get us started. Is all lost? No way!

Speaker: Paul Jones, Toronto, is a regular speaker at Toronto Branch events and has been the “Roots” columnist for Canada’s History magazine for the past decade. He is a graduate of the National Institute for Genealogical Studies, a former chair of the Branch and a co-founder of the Toronto History Lecture. He also chaired the 2016 OGS Conference and served two terms as a director of Canada’s History Society.

June 17, 7:30 pm EDT: The Curious Case of Dr. Henry Head Gray—Jane MacNamara

The year is 1891. An adventurous young doctor from Toronto heads west to Montana, meets an untimely demise and is returned to Toronto for burial. Or did he die? Who was the Oklahoma doctor of the same name to die under mysterious circumstances in Kansas City in 1914? Who is buried with Dr. Gray’s family in Toronto? Revel in the intrigue as the story is revealed through census, directories, newspapers, military and college records, and finally, long lost relatives.

Speaker: Jane E. MacNamara, Toronto, is the author of Inheritance in Ontario: Wills and other Records for Family Historians (OGS/Dundurn) and writes about genealogy at A long time member of OGS, Jane lectures about research methodology, Ontario, and English family history to genealogical and historical groups throughout southern Ontario. She teaches courses for the OGS Toronto Branch, most notably hands-on courses about Ontario records.

June 23, 7:30 pm EDT: FAKE News! Read all about it!—Guylaine Pétrin

In 1880, newspapers all over North America carried the story of how Mary Mink of Toronto had been sold into slavery by her dastardly husband, and how many years later she died a pauper in Chicago. The story included many details about the life of her father in Toronto. The only problem was the story was completely fabricated. Newspapers would not carry fake news, would they? This case study will discuss the many steps needed to verify or in this case disprove a newspaper story. While proving a story can be easier, disproving can be very difficult and it requires a lot more work.

Speaker: Guylaine Pétrin, Toronto, is a Toronto librarian, genealogist and historical researcher who has numerous publications to her credit including, “The Myth of Mary Mink: Representation of Black Women in Toronto in Nineteenth Century” in Ontario History. Guylaine is a long-time member of Toronto Branch who specializes in Upper Canada history and York County.

June 24, 2:00 pm EDT: The 1815 Murder behind Toronto’s Oldest Ghost Story—Eamonn O’Keeffe

The 1815 murder of J.P. Radelmüller, keeper of the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, forms the basis of Toronto’s most enduring ghost story. In this webinar, historian Eamonn O’Keeffe will share his research into the case, separating fact from fable. He will explore Radelmüller’s early life as a servant of royalty, consider the circumstances of his untimely death, and identify the soldiers charged with his murder. The webinar will devote extensive attention to the sources used to discern the truth behind one of Toronto’s oldest mysteries, ranging from court records and newspapers to British military muster rolls. By sharing his research methods, Eamonn will provide insight for genealogists and historians interested in researching the inhabitants of colonial York and life in early-19th-century Upper Canada more generally.

Speaker: Eamonn O’Keeffe, a Toronto native, is undertaking a PhD at the University of Oxford on military musicians during the Napoleonic Wars. He has published several academic articles and appeared as an expert on the BBC’s hit family history show “Who Do You Think You Are?” Eamonn has served as a trustee of the Society for Army Historical Research since 2016 and previously spent eleven years volunteering and working at Fort York in Toronto.

Note: All lectures will be recorded, so that registrants who can’t attend all the live presentations may watch at a more convenient time.