John Nelson was my 3x great grandfather. I was able to find him after some serious digging into all available records and just by chance, found out that when he came to Ontario he settled about five kilometres from where I reside today.
John was born in about 1798 in County Armagh, Ireland. Given the lack of Irish records available online, I have not been able to determine an exact birthdate nor can I identify his parents. I know he came from that County in Ireland because he stated it on his petition for land in Ontario dated 12 October 1825. In his letter, he says that he arrived in Quebec in June of 1820 and then made his way to Upper Canada shortly thereafter. I have found him listed as a passenger on the Steamboat “Malsham” departing Quebec for Montreal on 25 June 1820. He then made his way further West, petitioning for land and being granted a Crown Patent for part of lot 5 in concession 11, Esquesing Township, Halton County, Ontario dated 7 July 1831. Since I have easy access to the land records held in Halton County and armed with the lot and concession information, I can see a bit of his trail, as it relates to the land.
John was a farmer, as most Ontario pioneers were in those early days. Concession 11 was the farthest concession east in Halton County and butts up against Winston Churchill Boulevard. On the other side of this street is Peel County and at the intersection of Steeles Avenue sits a small community called Whaley’s Corners. This was the little area that the Nelson’s called home. John Nelson had 16 children with two wives. His first wife, Isabella Warren was also born about 1810 in County Down, Ireland and came to Ontario with her parents around the same time as John, as a young girl. Her parents were William Warren and Jane Warren and they were found on land about a kilometre away from John’s land. No record has been found for the marriage of John and Isabella but given the birth years of their 11 children, it appears to have happened around 1826. Their children were as follows: Jane (1827-1877), William (b. 1830), Joseph (b. 1833), Letitia (1835-1869), Isabella (1836-1918), Mary Elizabeth “Eliza” (1837-1918), Susanna (1841-1925), Samuel (1844-1925), John (1846-1917), Louisa Victoria (b. 1853), Thomas George (1855-1922). Their last child, Thomas George, is my 2x great grandfather. Isabella appears to have died in 1855 which coincides with the birth of Thomas George, perhaps her death was due to complications from child birth. Her grave can be found in the Mount Zion Cemetery/Whaley’s Corner. She is listed as “Isabella, wife of John Nelson” but was missed by many researchers because the cemetery is in Chinguacousy Township, Peel County. It is across the road and within two kilometres from John’s land but in a different county!
I have looked into early census’ for this family but the 1842 census for Esquesing Township is not readable and the 1852 census for Halton has been lost. The earliest census that I can find is from 1861 after Isabella’s death. In the 1861 census, John is married to an Ann J, born in Ireland age 36 years. Some of his children are listed including Samuel, Matilda, George, Louisa, James, Christopher and Margaret. After looking into the records of these children, I found that his second wife was Ann Jane Hickerson (or Nickerson) and she was the widow of a man named Crockett. She had a daughter with Crockett who was named Margaret. John and Ann Jane would have five children together including James Edwin (1856-1914), Christopher (b. 1859), Robert Rutherford (b. 1863), Mary (1867-1941) and Ellen Christina (b. 1870). In the 1871 census, the family is found again in Esquesing, Halton County and now all of the younger children are listed as living with the parents but many of the older ones have left the home. But, as of 1881, the family is no longer in Halton County.
The land records show that John sold his parcel of land in August of 1873 but it does not indicate a new location for the family. But, in 1877 when a mortgage was discharged, John Nelson is listed as a resident in Southwold Township, Elgin County, Ontario. I expanded my search to all of Ontario to find the 1881 census. The family was found in Plympton Township, Lambton County. John (85 y) born in Ireland and a farmer, J Ann (44 y), Christopher (20 y), Ann Mary (17 y), Robert (14 y), Ellen (10 y) and Louisa Dougherty (28 y) and a widow. After this census though, I could find nothing on John Nelson or his second wife, or many of their children. It was by random chance and a stroke of luck when I searched the probate records for John Nelson that I happened upon his will and subsequent probate records. In his will, I found a death date for him of 25 September 1882. Unfortunately, no death record has been found to support the date, nor a headstone or transcription. But, the documents contained the names and locations of all of his children which then supported my theories and gave me more leads to go on in tracking his children. It also detailed the court case which sounds like it was a bit cantankerous with the older children fighting with their step-mother about who should be getting the spoils of John Nelson’s life.
From the information that I have been able to gather, it sounds as though John Nelson had a long and productive life. I can only imagine the hardship of losing his young wife and being left with 11 children in his care. It would be great to be able to trace his lineage further back but with a common name like John Nelson and with so few records being available from Ireland, it may be a brick wall forever.