Stop the digital press–this blogger recently obtained copies of genealogy reports commissioned by William Boyce Thompson that shed light on the family’s distant past. Unfortunately, researchers working for The Magnate ran into the same dead-ends that befuddle family researchers today. That said, The Thompson Reports include some exciting new information.
H.H. Plate, Thompson’s secretary who in 1923 was sent on a fact-finding mission to Cobourg, Ontario, a small shipping town on the shores of Lake Ontario, found several locals who remembered that William Thompson, Sr., came from Scotland as a youth. More important, Plate found a man, William Pratt, who remembered that his father, Thomas, emigrated with Thompson, Sr., from Cupar in Fifeshire, Scotland. Legend has it that the pair were among the lucky passengers rescued from a wrecked vessel.
This was the hottest lead turned up by Plate, who otherwise searched in vain for information that could trace the Thompson lineage back to Scotland. A local attorney first directed her to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where she hoped to find Thompson, Sr.’s tombstone, death or birth records, or anything listing his place of birth or parents. Plate kept a diary of her movements.
“I called on Mr. Denton, warden, who had keys to safe containing church records. He offered to open up the church for me that evening at 8 p.m. Went through the records from 1830 on. Did not find record of marriage of W.T. and M.M.R. [Margaret Maguire Robinson, his wife] but did find record of baptism of their 2 eldest children and the burial of William Thompson [Sr.] on Dec. 2, 1849.”
Unfortunately, the burial record contained little more than a date. The next day, though, the pair set out to find Thompson’s tombstone, hoping it might reveal his place and date of birth. A family Bible, referenced in the report, indicated that William Thompson, Sr., was born in Scotland in 1806.
Unfortunately, Plate discovered that interments were made some 30 or 40 years before to a new St. Peters cemetery, or in some cases to the Union cemetery. Incredibly, the remaining tombstones were taken and used as targets. Those that were returned were left in piles and eventually put in a shed.
“Mr. Denton secured two men to turn over the tombstones stored in the shed, taking entire morning for the job, but the William Thompson stone was not there. Even if it had been it might not have given his birthplace as only six of the several hundred had that information. Nearly all gave only name, date of death and age, and name of husband, or wife or father.”
Next Plate tried to find a record in the St. Peters church of a marriage between William Thompson and Margaret Maguire Robinson, who had been married once before, in Ireland, before she left for Canada. Eleven years before, The Magnate had acquired a copy of the certificate of her first marriage.
”For 1831, only one marriage is recorded after May 26th-Sept. 4, by a substitute minister from Port Hope, the rector being away. The Thompson marriage may not have been entered through neglect. They doubtless were married in Anglican Church [typically referred to as Espicopalian in the U.S. and Canada] as her children by earlier marriage, as well as Thompson children, were baptized and confirmed in that church.”
Plate surmised that, since the rector had been away, the pair may have been married in the next-closest Anglican church in Port Hope. Her intuition proved correct. The next day she found a marriage record of William Thompson and Margaret Maguire Robinson and obtained a certified copy. Unfortunately, it, too, listed little more than a date.
Still hoping to find some indication of where Thompson might have been born and to whom, Plate’s next tried fraternal organizations. She dug through records at local Masonic and Orange lodges. But in each case data for the years needed was missing.
Unable to find documented evidence, Plate began interviewing Cobourg residents who knew the Thompson family. Her best lead came from William Pratt, an old resident who as a child used to play with Hannah Thompson (Ough), the daughter of William Thompson, Sr., when she lived on King Street. The family eventually moved to John Street.
“He pointed out the house on John Street in which the Thompsons lived when Hannah was married,” wrote Plate, who had a picture taken of the house. “He thought William Thompson died there.”
Pratt recalled that his father, Thomas Pratt, had come from the same place as William Thompson, Cupar in the County of Fife, a town that at the time was about the same size as Cobourg. ”He thought they came on the same ship which was wrecked on the shore (did not know where) and they had to stay there six weeks (presumably while repairs were made to the ship) before going on to Quebec. He could not tell me the name of the boat but said he would try to remember it.”
Pratt had another productive exchange with Mrs. P. Ewing (Jennie Ough), the sister-in-law of Hannah Thompson Ough. “She told me that the Thompsons rented the house on King Street for several years before selling it; that they then lived in Baltimore or Roseneath, coming to the house on John Street when Hannah T. was a young lady (she was nine when her father died). The house on John Street belonged to her father, Benjamin Ough, and Hannah T. and her mother moved in as soon as it was completed, having occupied a house across the street for a short time.”
Part of this story–the part about moving to Baltimore or Roseneath–was disputed by Plate’s next acquaintance, Mrs. Williams, a “delightful old lady in possession of all her faculties. She said she was an intimate friend of Hannah’s. She told many little anecdotes, Willie Thompson with cat and canary; Hannah’s little finger.
“She said that she does not remember Wm. T. very distinctly except that he was quite a home-loving man. She said he was not distinguished in any way, but was highly respected. Said the family was poor, as nearly everyone in Cobourg was at that time. Crops were bad and money was scarce. (Mr. Hewsom said Cobourg at that time issued its own scrip.)
“Mrs. Williams says she distinctly remembers that at Mr. Wm. T’s funeral the Orange men carried his casket on their shoulders to the cemetary. She says Mrs. Ewing was mistaken in thinking they lived at Baltimore. Never were out of Cobourg. Went from the little house on King Street to the double house on John and then across the street to the Ough cottage. She said the house on King Street was a little double house also. She said Wm. T. and the Oughs were all carpenters.”
Plate’s next stop, the offices of the “Star” newspaper, was a big disappointment. She hoped to find a death notice in the newspaper’s archives, only to discover that records from 1849 had been stolen. The Star was the only local paper published at the time.
Undaunted, the Magnate sent researchers to Scotland to run down the Cupar, Scotland lead. They spent 10 days in the Registrar-General’s office in Edinburgh, where all parish records prior to 1854 had been gathered, looking through data covering 50 parishes in and around Edinburg and Cupar. They found six William Thompsons born in an around Edinburgh in 1806, though none in Cupar. The information given was complete–it include the father’s name and the father’s business. But without William Thompson’s date of his birth or the name of his parents, it was impossible to determine which record was his.
The researchers then turned their attention to ship records, hoping to find the boat that carried William Thompson to Canada. Unfortunately, none of the shipping lines had passenger records going back to 1828.
Efforts to trace the lineage of Margaret Maguire were more successful. In Canada, Plate found a record of William Thompson’s marriage to Margaret Maguire Robinson in the parish register of the Church of St. John the Evangelist, an Episcopal church in Port Hope, dated December 29, 1831. The couple had four children, including a first Hannah who died early.
According to a September 25, 1923 letter from William Boyce Thompson to Hannah Ough, Margaret Maguire had previously married John Robinson in Belfast, Ireland on March 31, 1815.
“Margaret Maguire’s marriage to John Robinson, a tailor, was objected to by her family and it is supposed that she never wrote to her people after reaching Canada,” the Magnate wrote. Or maybe his secretary wrote. “They had six children, none of whom is living, and the only living grandchild is Ralph Robinson, son of James Campbell Robinson.
“The Maguire family was well-known in Enniskillen, but Margaret is supposed to have been born in Belfast. Her father was a wholesale butcher and operated a tannery while one of her brothers was a wholesale boot and shoe manufacturer. One of her brothers was an officer in the English Army, and an uncle, a retired English officer had a large estate either in Scotland or Ireland, according to information furnished by John C. Slater, who married May Ough, the daughter of Hannah Thompson, William Thompson’s second daughter.”
But efforts to trace the Maguire family in Enniskillen and Belfast proved unsuccessful.