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Toronto Branch monthly meetings are an opportunity to learn and to meet with fellow members. Most meetings have an hour-long presentation as well as a 10-minute presentation from one of our members. Meetings are normally held the fourth Monday of the month at 35 Lytton Boulevard, Toronto  M4R 1L2 from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.

County Maps Project
Jan 23 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm

The Ontario Historical County Maps Project

Speakers: Joan Winearls & Marcel Fortin

This talk will describe a major new mapping and indexing project of the names of landowners on the county maps of Ontario issued by the Tremaine family, H.F. Walling and other mapmakers from the late 1850s mainly to the 1870s. The talk will be in two parts, the first to be given by Joan Winearls, who will cover the county map-making phenomenon, data on the maps, the differences among the maps and their importance for an understanding of rural settlement in Confederation-era Ontario. The second part by Marcel Fortin, the Ontario Historical County Maps project manager, will describe the methods used for the indexing of names, online presentation of the maps and data through the project website, technological aspects and future possibilities for indexing cultural features.

Joan Winearls is the former map librarian of the University of Toronto Library. Her research interests have included the history of cartography and carto-bibliography and more recently genealogy and family history. She is the author of Mapping Upper Canada, 1780–1867 (University of Toronto Press, 1991). She was the invited curator for “Ontario—On The Map”, the inaugural exhibition in the new Archives of Ontario building at York University, in late 2009. In April 2015, she gave the main address “The Maps of Upper Canada and Canada West: Essential tools for Genealogists” to the Ontario Genealogical Society’s Toronto Branch workshop “Finding Your Upper Canada Ancestors”.

Marcel Fortin is the head of the Map and Data Library at the University of Toronto. His research focus includes web-mapping and Historical Geographic Information Systems (HGIS). He has been the librarian responsible for maps and geospatial data at the University of Toronto since Marcel recently co-edited the book Historical GIS Research in Canada (University of Calgary Press, 2014).


Mini-presentation: Ann Rexe, Bryanston (Ontario) Cheese Factory—Finding Records 1880-1900.

19th Century English Gardeners, Horticulturalists, & Nurserymen
Feb 27 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
19th Century English Gardeners, Horticulturalists, & Nurserymen @ Eglinton St. George's United Church | Toronto | Ontario | Canada

Speaker: Ellen Maki

Today many of us think of gardening as a pleasurable pastime, but in the nineteenth century it was a profession in which many men and women were employed. While researching her family, Ellen discovered more than two dozen gardeners and horticulturists amongst her forebears. They held a variety of positions, and their responsibilities varied by employer and by time period. They grew vegetables and exotic flowers, and worked in fields, conservatories and glass houses. Gardeners employed by larger households were considered domestic servants, but often enjoyed a special relationship with the lord or lady of the house. Sometimes highly trained, gardeners may have learned their trade either through a long apprenticeship, on the job, or through a school/college training program. This talk will focus on a few gardeners, some who were ordinary jobbing gardeners and others who were more notable, and will highlight resources that can be used to research the gardeners in any English family.

Ellen Maki holds a doctorate in statistics and works as a consultant in the health care industry. She has been researching her family history in England, Ireland, the U.S., and Canada for 30 years. Her passion for genealogy has led her to study in the University of Strathclyde’s genealogy, palaeography, and heraldry program, where she is currently in her second year of studies. She has taught a genealogy posters course for the Toronto Branch, and blogs about her genealogical discoveries at This presentation allows Ellen to talk about two of her favourite topics: family history and gardening.

Mini-presentation: Ann Rexe and Pat Sheehan, Toronto Branch’s Research Services.


What Lies Beneath
Mar 27 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
What Lies Beneath @ Eglinton St. George's United Church | Toronto | Ontario | Canada

Speaker: Sherilyn L. Bell, BSc UE

This lecture will provide an overview of a genealogy covering the early 1900s.  The subjects are not relatives of the speaker.  What started as a brief distraction from regular lunch-hour genealogical research soon escalated into an ominous looking family history.  The facts took shape in Coboconk and Toronto roughly a century ago and after a while, the question arose “Is this just bad optics or can some people literally get away with murder?”  The research path included the usual census returns and vital statistics, but also led to interviewing a Fire Marshal Investigator and accepting an invitation to a “practice house-burning”.  This presentation will also touch upon the decision-making process and the occasional ethical dilemma that can pop up unexpectedly.

Sherilyn Bell received her BSc in Biology in 1986 from the University of Toronto and periodically speaks on genetic genealogy.  As part of an anthropology course, she assembled her family’s pedigree and never stopped, joining the Ontario Genealogical Society in 1989.  Sherilyn met fellow genealogist Jeff Stewart at the Archives of Ontario; they eventually married in 1993.  Naturally, they honeymooned in Salt Lake City.  She researched a specific branch of her family back to their Loyalist immigration, earning her UE designation.  She currently works at The Centre for Applied Genomics, The Hospital for Sick Children.

Mini-presentationInaugural Brick Wall Buster Session, featuring expert researcher James F.S. Thomson.

Ontario’s Second Wave of Settlers
Apr 24 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm

Ontario’s Second Wave of
19th Century Settlers:
One Family’s Story

Speaker: David Corkill

By 1840 Upper Canada was a flourishing agricultural society. Along the lakeshores and on the Niagara Peninsula many mature communities were developing. Villages and towns served farmers needs with mills, roads and even regular stagecoach services carrying passengers and mail. Urban merchants dealt with distant cities in England, Europe and the US linked by lakes, rivers and canals.

Still, many poor immigrant families continued to pour into the country. To find land they could afford they needed to push away from these communities into the wilderness beyond. Unfortunately, much of this land was very poor for agriculture. The initial enthusiasm of living off the land was soon dispelled as these newcomers faced clearing the land, building shelters, and sowing crops in desolate, remote locations with poor soil. They had to find other ways to facilitate their survival in this harsh environment. One source was the Canadian Shield itself that they were living on. It was found to contain many riches with which eventually many could sustain themselves. Railways began pushing into the interior, greatly helped them exploit these resources. This is the story of one such family and how their ingenuity and hard work allowed them to survive and prosper and eventually escape the toil of the farm.

David Corkill was born in Toronto and was the third generation to graduate as a Mining Engineer from Queen’s University in Kingston. David worked at various mines in Ontario and across Canada including Wawa Ontario, a town well known to people from the 60’s.  An interest in workers’ health and safety led him to a regulatory role in Ottawa.  He retired to Vancouver Island but felt a call to family and Toronto where he now resides. He maintains an interest in geology and the history of mining in Ontario and in recent years he has become very involved in family history research.


Life on the Farm
May 29 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Life on the Farm @ Eglinton St. George's United Church | Toronto | Ontario | Canada

Life on the Farm: Your Ancestor’s Place in Ontario Agriculture

Speaker: Jane E. MacNamara

We often think of farming as a traditional occupation—something that hasn’t really changed much. But that is not and was never the case. Farmers had to react and adapt to changing conditions like climate, technology, economics, new markets and new competitors. Some farmers did more than adapt. They set out to be the most productive by innovating with new techniques and processes, products, and marketing. Farm journals and business records survive in many archives. Farmers may have had help and encouragement along the way from agricultural associations, community groups, government agencies, or private patrons. Digitization of many of the records of these pro-agriculture organizations has made them a viable source to help us understand the changes that were happening around our farming ancestors—and whether they were leading the way or following the pack.

Jane E. MacNamara, Toronto, is the author of Inheritance in Ontario: Wills and other Records for Family Historians (OGS/Dundurn, 2013) 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 Toronto Branch OGS, most notably hands-on courses about Ontario records. She leads regular trips to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and is the organizer of Genealogy Summer Camp, an innovative program that brings out-of-town researchers to Toronto for a week of tutorials and hands-on research. As a trained graphic designer, Jane creates WordPress-based websites and helps clients with book projects.