CHAPTER V

 

FINDING AUNT MARGARET  HELEN

 

Jumbo the Elephant statue on hill overlooking the entrance to St. Thomas, Ontario where Margaret grew up

 

 

About Margaret

 

Margaret was dad's only sibling, born May 5th, 1894 in Detroit and baptized Margaret Helen at Peter and Paul Jesuit Roman Catholic church on Jefferson Ave. This was the same church that dad was baptized in and is in a  neighbourhood  immediately north and west of the Detroit-Windsor tunnel. Corktown was just east of the tunnel, which of course did not exist in those days. It was in this northwest area that Annie and Michael as well as Catherine and her other children Andrew, Mary and James were found to be living in the city directories from 1895 to about 1920. The neighbourhood does not seem to have had a specific name.     

Baptism record from micro-film of Margaret at St. Peter and Paul church Detroit-Diane's Genealogy

The sponsors or godparents for Margaret were an Albert Edward who is not known, but her godmother Margaret Saunders was Michaels older sister, born in Quebec City in 1859.  More interesting is the fact that Margaret had married a John Johnston in London July 2, 1883 and had at least one child with him in April 1884.

In one of Catherine Murphy's 1919 obituaries, an A Saunders is listed as a surviving daughter living in Chicago, meaning that her husband John Johnson must of died and she remarried an A Saunders. The above finding indicates that Margaret had already remarried by 1894 and that her first husband John would of died between say 1884 and 1993. The Author has no interest in pursuing Margaret's family history, but is intrigued by these findings as an example of how difficult it would of been to trace her life without them, as well as how far a field people can end up even at at that historical time.

Margaret Helen first appears in the St. Thomas city directory in 1913 as Marguerite, then in 1914 as Margaret. In both cases she is a bookkeeper working at the Grand Central Hotel and  living with her mother at 7 Penwarden. She continues to live there through 1918 shown as Margaret. In 1920 she is listed as a stenographer, no listed  employer, but is  shown as Marguerite in both 1920 and 21, then as Margaret again through 1925, the year her mother Annie dies. After 1925 she does not appear in the St Thomas directory again and is believed to have moved to Toronto.

Margaret's existence had no reality to the Author growing up and while dad may have referred to a sister down east he maintained no contact with her during those years. In later years and in particular while doing this history she became more of a curiosity primarily through the recollections of the Authors brother Ted  in Souris, as well as wondering whatever happened to her. Ted remembers when growing up on his grandfathers farm outside of Souris how Margaret would send presents to him via our father who was teaching nearby. He also recalls a story to the affect that as Ted's mother had died shortly after childbirth, Margaret at some point had volunteered  to come west to look after him. This never came about, probably because Ted 's  grandparents were there to look after him while dad taught school nearby. Eventually these presents stopped coming, perhaps when dad remarried in 1938 and moved to Winnipeg.

Dad's last known contact with his sister was on August 19th, 1931 in Toronto when he had supper with her at the Imperial in Toronto. Dad was returning from a long car trip though the states to Boston and New York and the Maritimes with a school teacher friend Frank Fox. He had kept a daily journal an entry from which appears below in his handwriting.

Dad records supper August 19th,1931 in Toronto with his sister Margaret

 

In the late Spring of 2003 after considerable success in finding Murphy ancestors, but while still looking for Michael the Author decided to make a first effort to try and find a death record for Margaret in Toronto. This initiative was prompted by the finding on an Ontario Government website the opportunity to make formal requests to the Office of the Registrar General for a death certificate of a relative. This had to be a close relative and immediate family with proof, but with Margaret being the Authors Aunt and the Author a living relative, this seemed to offer strong  possibilities of success.

For a fee of about $15 they would undertake a 5 year search. The Author had no idea when Margaret died so the plan was to start with 5 year intervals beginning with her likely death year and work backward 5 years at a time. It was anticipated that a search cycle would take about 3 months and the fee amount was minor so it would take a little time that was all. Dad had died at age 76, so it was assumed Margaret as a women should live 5 years longer to 81 ,making the most likely latest death date to be 1975 given her 1894 birth.

The website contained down loadable forms and so the first request was dispatched  by letter about May 2003 for the 5 year period 1971-1975. About three months later A reply dated September 9th was  received, which while to a certain extent was positive was also disconcerting. The letter is  reproduced below and left one in a quandary as to how to proceed further! Firstly the name Helen in the letter is spelled with two l's, which makes one think this is not the right person. Secondly how to go about replying.

Letter regarding  Margaret's death from Ontario Register General

 

 

It was finally decided to submit a second request using all of Margaret's names including Marguerite which she often used and both Helen with one l and with two. This was dispatched in October 2003 and was not replied to until May 18th, 2004.   The form letter said that the record was in the Ontario Archives which of course was nonsense, the privacy release date then being only up to 1931. A whole year had been spent in accomplishing nothing and the conclusion was drawn that this incremental request strategy, so brilliantly conceived the year before  was not going to work and was abandoned. A big part of the problem was the incredible slowness of the  Register's office, their  confusing or  misdirected correspondence and the  inability to get anything but a  wait in line  response on their phone line.

No further action was taken on this pending some insight on how to proceed further. A glimmer of hope arrived in the fall of 2004 when one of the OGS Branch newsletters that the Author received  advised that the Toronto Star newspaper now had a searchable database online where you could search their records for the actual obituaries carried in their daily paper back to when they started publishing. This seemed to be just the perfect opportunity, so several attempt were made to search on line starting with the year 1975, with the intent to work backwards. Unfortunately while the search system worked,  it was slow and cumbersome to operate and after a few attempts the Author gave up, realizing it would take many months of full time searching to follow this approach.

Backtracks Genealogy

The only other option available at that time was to see if a contract researcher from Toronto could be retained to do the Toronto Star search in person where it would be far easier using micro-film, as well as to check local directories etc.. This had worked well in Detroit with Michael, so maybe it could also work here.

An internet search led to Backtracks Genealogy operated  by Michael Russell in Toronto.  As luck would have it he lived near Mount Hope cemetery where Sarah and William Deverell were buried, as well as only a few blocks from the Authors son Bryce on Eglington East. Michael was contacted in mid November 2004 and was at work on the assignment within a few days. Several possibilities were found over the next few months but each one was eventually ruled out.

Then in May 2005 Michael found a Margaret Helen previously missed who died at age 58 in 1954 and was buried  at Mount Hope in a public plot having died indigent on Oct 2 ,1954 at Western Hospital. Further research was done with the hospital, cemetery and local funeral homes but no further information could be found. While the circumstances of her demise seemed strange, it was felt both by Michael and the Author that this was very possibly our Margaret, the age being very close at 58 versus the actual of 60. Accordingly a copy of the hospital death record was obtained and a decision made to apply to the Ontario Registrar General for the death certificate in hopes of finding additional information.

Death record for Margaret Helen from Toronto Western Hospital

A request was sent to the Registrar General on May 07, 2005 for a copy of Margaret Helen's death certificate of Oct. 2nd 1954. A reply was received dated July 15 consisting of a form letter essentially asking for prove of relationship. On Aug 15th the Author sent a covering letter explaining the circumstances of the search and providing copies  of Margaret's  baptism, the 2001 census /immigration linking her to her mother Annie Murphy and brother Joseph( dad) as well as dad' s baptism affidavit certificate and the Authors own, all as proof of her status as the Authors aunt.

December 2005 came without any kind of reply, so an attempt was made to follow up by calling their 1-800 number only to be advised by an automated voice that the number did not work outside Ontario. At least two further attempts were made to call the regular number, but after 10-15 minute waits without a live voice the calls were ended fearing a very large telephone bill. On Dec 7th an email was sent to the email address of the Thunder Bay office, but no reply was received. Failure was not an option, so on Dec 14th the author took the unusual step of asking Michael Russell if he would make this call from Toronto where there would be no long distance cost, as an extension of his research work..

Michael made the call on December 20th, taking 28 minutes to get through. The lady advised that because of the information request of July 15th the file was delayed indefinitely. When advised that the requested  material had been sent Aug 15 and that the author had been waiting seven months, the lady advised that she would put somebody on it and that something should be heard within two weeks. On Dec 29th a reply was received from a Sharon Blanco that the information would be processed and a death certificate search initiated which could take up to 8 weeks. Approximately mid January a copy of Margaret Helen's death certificate was received by mail. It appears below

Ontario death certificate of Margaret Helen Murphy

 

The main finding from the certificate was that Margaret lived at 83 Albany Ave. Michael Russell followed  up on this in the City directories and found a Helen Murphy living at this address in 1954, occupation nurse. The house was owned by a Harry Speers and their were two other people with different names meaning that it was likely a boarding house. She was not living there in years prior to 1954, but in 1952 and 1953 a Helen Murphy, occupation nurse who worked at St Michael's, a Catholic hospital nearby was living at 14 Shorncliffe  It was felt that this was the same person as this  street was just a short distance from Albany and in the same area of the city. While there is no information available to suggest our Aunt Margaret was a nurse, it is entirely possible that given the complete lack of contact after 1931 she could have become one without dads knowledge. Michael Russell also advised that it was not unusual in the Toronto directory to see women listed as  hospital clerks one year and nurse the next or vice versa.

On January 26th Michael visited the Human Resources office at St. Michaels hospital to see if he could gain access to 1954 employee records if they still existed. He was advised that they had a strict privacy policy, but was able to get the name and address of the Director of Employee Relations and Human Resources, Nelson Fryer, to whom the Author could write to make a formal request for information. Accordingly a letter was dispatched on January 30, 2006. There was no reply received so after many weeks of waiting the Author looked up Mr. Fryer's email address and on April 25th sent an email referring to the letter and seeking an acknowledgement and response. The next day a reply was received from Sandra Amato at St Michaels advising that no old records were available. Her reply appears below and while reference was made to possible further communication, none has occurred, effectively closing this matter.

Reply from St. Michael's Hospital regarding Margaret Helen's employment.

 

In May of 2006 the Author, his wife Jackie and son Bryce visited Mount Hope cemetery in Toronto during our fifth genealogical field trip east. Margaret Helen's burial location was located through the office staff and visited and photographed.

Margaret Helen's grave is in the open unmarked space immediately beyond the two big trees

 

Epilogue: Whither Aunt Margaret Helen

The research undertaken in order to try and discover the death and burial location of dad's sister Margaret Helen was as exhaustive as modern genealogical searching allows, especially in the last year given the privacy laws that exist today. Our contract researcher Michael Russell of Backtracks was interviewed by the Author for a documentary on the subject during our visit in May 2006 and stated that he was 98% certain that we had found our Margaret given the exhaustiveness of his search, and that he had not turned  up a single alternative prospect. The nature of this women's demise is sad and tragic and it will probably never be known with certainty whether this is Aunt Margaret.  The nature and privacy limits even of modern genealogy  means that we will have to settle for a 98% certainty or whatever we may individually choose, and rest comfortably in the knowledge that this Margaret rests in a beautiful location in a Catholic cemetery.