Tangible results from our Toronto Trust Project

Jane E. MacNamara

It is about a year, now, since our FamilySearch indexing team completed the Toronto Trust Cemeteries project, making some 368,000 names from the burial registers of four major cemeteries available for free to researchers around the world. As we quickly realized it would, it has become an important early step in researching Toronto ancestors who died prior to 1936.

I know that I use it and recommend it almost weekly. This is where you’ll find the Toronto Trust Cemeteries database.

While we really don’t know how many people are finding their ancestors in the database, there have been some very gratifying responses to the blog posts we wrote as the project progressed.

Janet Langdon, historian and walking tour leader for Heritage Toronto, supplied more details about the tragic fire that killed members of the Brooks family that I wrote about in January 2013.

The Enniskerry (Ireland) Local History group tried to help decipher the mysterious place of birth for James Crawford in this post.

In June 2011, indexer Tricia Clark wrote “Killed by Falling Wall” about five young firefighters who died in 1902. In August of this year, a relative of one of the young men (buried in Mt. Pleasant) found Tricia’s article and was able to add to the family history.

Several people have responded to my 2011 post on the Duchess Street Burial Ground. But I was particularly pleased to receive this comment from Wendy Kennedy Davison: “Thank you for your exhaustive work! Duncan Kennedy was my 4th great grandfather and his daughter my 3rd great grand aunt; we have been unable to locate their burial location for years. It’s wonderful the work you are doing to connect families together!”

And “The Curious Case of Dr. Henry Head Gray”. The responses to that post about a young Toronto doctor who died in Montana, have revealed an intriguing story that has led me to archives and libraries around Ontario and in several US states.

If you have had success using the Toronto Trust Cemetery database, we’d love to hear about it. If you have a story to tell about one of those ancestors—that might inspire others to try it, consider submitting it for the blog.

A Single Page from the Registers of Toronto’s Prospect Cemetery

Fifty-two people are listed on page 183 of the register of Prospect Cemetery in Toronto. Fifty-one of them were buried in Prospect from May 2 to 11, 1935. Their ages ranged from 1-month-old Margaret Mech to 91-year-old Frances Hubble. There were four stillborn babies, but very few infants and children—perhaps an indication of improvements in medical care.

The remaining entry on page 183 was for the lower limbs of Alfred Holmes—“amputation by train” listed as the cause.

The 51 all died in Toronto, but only 12 were born in Toronto. They came from other parts of Ontario, England, Ireland and Scotland (of course), but also Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, the British West Indies, and Finland.

Almost all the burial records include a “nearest relative” with their street address. Most also list the name of the plot owner—often a different person. On page 183, plot owners include the Oddfellows and the Last Post Fund.

In all, the deceased people, plot owners, and relatives, add up to 149 names on page 183. That’s 149 names now indexed as part of the Toronto Trust Cemeteries project—the very last names to be indexed—on the very last page of the project!

Volunteers continue to arbitrate the recently completed pages, but the finish line is getting very close!

At this milestone, let’s look at a few approximate numbers for the whole project:

Burial records indexed (names of the deceased) 148,000
Plot owner names (usually a relative, often more than one, good source of married names of daughters) 120,000
Relatives (could be a parent, spouse, sibling or offspring. Later records give addresses.) 100,000

Congratulations to all the volunteers who have participated in the Toronto Trust Cemeteries project since its launch in September 2009—mostly from the GTA, but also from across Canada, the USA, Australia, and the UK.

Thanks also to the folks at FamilySearch Indexing who have helped us along the way—Rose Pierson, Stephen Young, and Rex Peterson.

We’re almost there!

You can see page 183 here.

A Remarkable Page of the Globe

by Jane E. MacNamara

I’ll admit to getting sidetracked from time to time with an intriguing entry in a burial register—hard to resist digging a little further into some of the stories. But sometimes the information is almost too easy to find.

A burial register page for Mount Pleasant Cemetery for January 1911 showed the names of Laura S. Brooks, aged 36, and three young Brooks boys aged 2, 3 and 5 years. All four died on January 21 of suffocation. I had to know more about this sad story.

We’re very lucky to have the two most prominent Toronto newspapers available online through the Toronto Public Library. The Toronto Star and the Globe are also available through many other Canadian public and university libraries.

Page 8 of the Globe for Monday, January 23, 1911, explained that Mrs. Brooks and her three sons suffocated when their home at 435 Indian Road caught fire. The unique house had a concrete exterior, but the inside was finished with oiled Georgia pine. The story is told in great detail—including a lot of family information—but I’d recommend caution in relying on this early reporting. It is always a good idea to watch for later stories that add corrections. Other newspapers can add a different perspective, too.

But let’s look back to page 8 of the Globe. Remarkably, it includes the dramatic deaths of another five people who appear on the same Mount Pleasant Cemetery register page.

“Two Toronto Men Killed in the West” tells of the deaths of Samuel J. Hunt and Richard A. Chapman in a train wreck near Macoun, Saskatchewan on January 21.

“Injuries were Fatal” refers to “a young German” Izzo Luise who was struck by a streetcar at Bloor and McCaul on January 21. (The register lists him as Sizzo Linse.)

“Dies after a Week: William Armitage Killed by Elevator Accident”. The incident took place at the A.R. Williams machine shop—which explains why the company purchased his burial plot. (The register lists him as Samuel Armitage.)

Page 8 also included the death notices. Of the thirteen notices, only one appears on our register page—Hattie Putnam, also known as Birdie, the eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A.H. Putman who died in the Saratoga Hospital on January 22.

This single page of the Globe has added a remarkable amount of complementary information to the register page—but you’ll have noticed some contradictions in names. Was he Sizzo or Izzo, or William or Sam?

By the way, the Globe tells us the Brooks family were to be buried at St. James Cemetery. We found them in the Mount Pleasant Cemetery register—which notes that they were all moved to Forest Lawn in 1912!

Detail of Toronto Globe 23 Jan 1911

Detail of page 8, showing the beginning of the story about the Brooks family. Click the image to download a pdf of the full page of the Globe.


Heading towards the finish line in 2013

Thank you to all the volunteers who found time to work on the Toronto Trust Cemeteries indexing project in 2012. Every name indexed is appreciated and it has been gratifying to see part of our efforts available for researchers.

In fact, a few grateful researchers are now volunteers on the project.

A snowy Toronto Necropolis. ©Jane E. MacNamara

A snowy Toronto Necropolis. ©Jane E. MacNamara

A special thank you to Barry, Joyce, Verna, Heather, Marg, and Valerie who have each indexed and/or arbitrated over 5,000 records. Quite a contribution to family history accessibility, considering that each record contains at least two names and frequently three or more.

In 2012, we indexed 68,838 records and arbitrated 24,590. Our numbers are down a bit from 2011 (when we indexed a spectacular 81,000 records) but still well above the figures from previous years.

We are getting so close to the end! Let me see if I can quantify just how close.

By my calculations, we have indexed roughly 229,000 records since the project started on September 30, 2009. That number includes both indexers, so the real number is about 114,500 records*.

The folks at FamilySearch tell me that we have indexed about 90% of the images or batches, or about 4,260 of the 4,747 images in total. Now if we divide 114,500 records by 4,260 we have an average of about 27 records per page.

But the batches we’re working on now have considerably more than 27 records—closer to double that—so while that means we’re not at 90% of the records, we’re sure getting close!

Please make indexing one of your new year’s resolutions! Even a page or two will help push us towards the finish line in 2013. If you’d like to help, contact us at fsi@torontofamilyhistory.org.

*In FamilySearch indexing, every record is indexed by two volunteers independently. An arbitrator resolves any discrepancies between the two interpretations.

A Toronto Trust Cemeteries Indexing Project Milestone

We’ve had exciting news from our partners in Salt Lake City today (August 29). Another installment of the index we’ve made with the help of our partners at FamilySearch.org will become live and searchable on FamilySearch.org overnight. (It may take a little longer to update the intro page.)

The new records will be:

  • York General Burying Ground (Potter’s Field) 1826 to 1855
  • Toronto Necropolis 1877 to 1935 (1850 to 1877 were already available)
  • Mount Pleasant Cemetery 1876 to 1903

This is exciting stuff. The more recent records include plot owners and next of kin names and full addresses. All indexed.

You can also search by year or place of birth or death. Just as a test tonight, I found 26 people born in Chicago, 210 born in Montreal, and 8 born in Todmorden. Think of the possibilities this type of access opens up!

Congratulations to all the volunteers who help make these records available to researchers around the world.

There are more records in progress: Mount Pleasant Cemetery 1904 to 1935, and Prospect Cemetery 1890 to 1935. A lot of names.

A Mount Pleasant musical note

One of our FamilySearch indexing volunteers, Vera Reed, came across a familiar name while working on the burial registers of Mount Pleasant Cemetery for the Toronto Trust Cemeteries project. Vera writes:

Luigi Von Kunits was born in Vienna in 1870 and died in Toronto in October 1931. He is buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. He was a musical prodigy—at the age of 11 he was invited by Brahms to play second violin in one of the composer’s quartets.

His travels took him to the U.S. with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; and for 14 years he was the conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

After another sojourn in Vienna he came to Toronto. Here he founded the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and was its conductor until his death. There is a bust of Von Kunits in the lobby of Roy Thomson Hall.

Vera Reed is an Ontario Genealogical Society member from Toronto and has been a very active member of our Toronto Trust project right from the start.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Fifth Season 1926–27, conducted by Luigi Von Kunits (Toronto Public Library)

A Family of Mariners, a Remarkable Ship

By Jane E. MacNamara

While arbitrating a page of the Mount Pleasant Cemetery records, today, I came across Captain James K. Harbottle. James Keith Harbottle died on April 1, 1897, age 37 years, 11 months. He was buried in plot C 17 12.

Harbottle was the popular master of the steamer Chicora*, a vessel that took passengers from Toronto to Niagara Falls for some 36 years. His death made the front page of The Evening Star of April 1.

Chicora had earlier been captained by his father Thomas Harbottle. Thomas had emigrated from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Buffalo, and then to Toronto about 1850. He plied the Great Lakes in a number of different vessels until he took on Chicora in 1876. In 1882, he was appointed Inspector of Hulls and Equipment for the Port of Toronto. Thomas died suddenly in 1894 at the age of 73. The father of 16 children, six of his sons served as his pallbearers.

Our Captain James K. Harbottle’s sailing siblings included Harry G., Thomas E., Neville, and George (also a druggist). You can read more about their careers at Maritime History of the Great Lakes.

*The steamer Chicora’s 74-year history is remarkable. Built in Liverpool as a Confederate blockade runner in 1864, she left Charleston after the war for Halifax. Purchased for use in Toronto in 1867, she was brought to Quebec where she was cut into two sections for passage up the canals. Chicora served as a troop ship during the Northwest Rebellion, and was refitted as the vice-regal yacht for Governor-General Lord Dufferin, all before her Toronto-Niagara career. Read more about  Chicora in the Toronto Marine Historical Society’s Scanner.

The steamer Chicora in 1903. Photo by Rowley W. Murphy (Toronto Marine Historical Society)

January’s Indexing Efforts

Our Toronto Trust Cemeteries project volunteers pushed well past the target of 6,000 records for the month to index more than 7,500 records in January. Each of those 7,500 records—all for Mount Pleasant Cemetery—represent two or three names: the deceased, the plot owner, and the next of kin. What an amazing boost this will be for genealogists with ancestors in Toronto!

As we work chronologically through the records, we’re also seeing Toronto grow and develop. In the records we’re working on now, street addresses are included. We’re also seeing the rise of elegantly named apartment residences. Indexer Gwyneth Pearce has discovered some interesting information about one of them.

After a bit of a struggle, Gwyneth deciphered the nearest relation address for an entry as “St George Mansions Cor Harbord & St George St”. She writes, “Looking this up, I found out that this has been described as Toronto’s ‘first official apartment building’. See this Citytv News story,  and p. 13 of this paper from the University of Toronto’s Cities Centre. I think it’s the building on the right at the back of this City of Toronto Archives photo.”

The index we’re creating will provide opportunities for historical research well beyond genealogy. I can’t wait to see what happens.

About indexing place names

As volunteers on the Toronto Trust Cemeteries project, we’re creating an index to some wonderful records. Generally, we transcribe words exactly as we see them, including abbreviations—so Wm or Eliz don’t become William and Elizabeth.

But in indexing the places of birth, death, and addresses of the nearest relative, we have the opportunity to use our local knowledge to expand and correct the place names. This can be really helpful to a researcher who isn’t familiar with Toronto and Ontario. However, we never add a place designation that is not in the original record.

Here are some examples:

  • Port Hope Ont should be expanded to Port Hope Ontario
  • Tor Gen Hosp should be expanded to Toronto General Hospital
  • Gen Hosp should be expanded to General Hospital (don’t add Toronto)
  • Eglington should be changed to Eglinton
  • York Tp or Twp should be expanded to York Township
  • London should never have either Ontario or England added unless in the original record

If we’re not absolutely sure that there is an error or the meaning of an abbreviation, we’ll always transcribe the record exactly as it appears. With luck, the researcher who finds the entry in our index will recognize the place—and we won’t have led them astray by guessing.

We’ve also collected a list of many of the places we’ve found in the records as a reference for indexing volunteers to refer to for puzzling entries.

The FSI program has some wonderful tools to aid in reading the handwritten registers by enlarging the image, adjusting the contrast, etc. I’ve written more about that here. But sometimes the best thing is another set of eyes, and we can let another indexer have a look. More about “sharing a batch” here.

One more thing. We’ve discovered that many of these dearly departed were moved one or more times. For example, in a page of 46 burials in Mount Pleasant Cemetery from January 4 to 27, 1887, folks were moved to Lakefield, Ontario and Trois Rivières, Quebec, as well as to Prospect Cemetery and St. James Cemetery in Toronto.

If a person was moved within the same cemetery, it is likely they were reunited with other family members, so we record only the more recent burial location but the original burial date. If the person was moved to another cemetery, we don’t include that new location, but rather retain only the burial location in the Toronto Trust cemetery and the original burial date.

The details of any reburials will be available to researchers when they look at the digitized image of the register page, as well as officiating minister, undertaker, cause of death, etc.

Some family historians will be amazed at how mobile their ancestors were—even after death!

Just where was James Crawford born?

As family historians we know that we should look at multiple sources for every fact we add to our tree. Three sources is a good rule of thumb, but “a reasonably exhaustive search” is required by the Genealogical Proof Standard.

A place of birth in the Toronto Necropolis burial register that puzzled volunteer indexer Marg Kelliher is a great example of why multiple sources are very necessary.

Birthplace of James Crawford in the Toronto Necropolis register

James Crawford, age 78, died in Toronto on July 5, 1919. Cause of death was senility. Here’s an image of his place of birth from the Necropolis register:

Digital images of Ontario death registrations for 1919 are available on Ancestry.ca so we could easily consult James Crawford’s death record to help solve the problem. Here’s an image of his place of birth:

Birthplace of James Crawford in the 1919 Ontario death register

Huh? We were still mystified.

The gravestones in the Necropolis were transcribed by OGS Toronto Branch and published in 2002. The transcription shows that James, his wife Margaret Henderson and six family members are commemorated on markers on plot L 147. James Crawford’s place of birth is carved in stone as: Enniskillen, Ireland.

Obituary for James Crawford of Toronto, in The Globe, July 8, 1919.

But is that what the burial register and death register were trying to say? Were those records providing more specific—or perhaps conflicting—information?

An obituary in The Globe on Tuesday, July 8, 1919, provides more clues to follow up but no resolution to the place of birth question.

If you can decipher (or even hazard a guess) about either bit of handwriting—or if you can add to the story of Mr. Crawford—we’d love to hear from you.

Would you like to join the crew of indexers working on the registers of Toronto cemeteries? Read more about the project here.

You can find the page of the Necropolis register where James Crawford appears here.