Sometimes the bald information in records of the past can conceal stories of human suffering and loss. But those bare bones of birth, death, marriage and census details can also be used to give structure and meaning to half-remembered family stories and newspaper reports from days gone by.

Deseronto’s Tribune  newspaper of August 31, 1888 reported the death of Philip Gaylord, a man who was working for the Rathbun Company, in the following (rather graphic) way:

Fatal Accident

On the afternoon of Saturday, 25th inst., Philip Gaylord, an employee of the Cedar Mill, was the victim of an unfortunate accident which was followed with fatal results. He was employed as a teamster and was engaged in hauling cars loaded with refuse from the mill to the yards. About the middle of the afternoon he left the mill with a loaded car and had almost reached its destination in the yard east of the Chemical works. It happened, however, that one of the pieces of stuff on the car projected too far from the load and as the car proceeded along the track between two piles of wood, this piece was caught and as the horses moved on it was swung about, throwing Gaylord from the load.  He fell on the rails, and the loaded car passed over him, the wheels mutilating him in a dreadful manner.

Railway tracks behind the cedar mill in 1907, with refuse burner chimneys in the distance (HMR1-06-79)

Mr. Donaldson, the foreman of the yard, witnessed the accident and ran immediately to his assistance.  He was conveyed at once to Dr. Newton’s surgery where it was found that his right arm was nearly cut off, the bones being shattered to the very shoulder, while the right leg was also fearfully mangled.  Dr. Newton immediately amputated the arm at the shoulder joint, and the leg above the knee; he also amputated the great toe of the left foot which had also been crushed.  The young man bore the operation well, but the terrible shock was too great and after midnight he began to sink rapidly and he expired at an early hour on Sunday morning.

The funeral took place on Sunday afternoon and was numerously attended.  The deceased, who was 21 years of age, was the son of Levi Gaylord, of the township of Arden.  He was a steady young man and had gained the good will and respect of his companions and fellow workmen.  His sudden cutting off is rendered more sad by the fact that he was to have been married in the course of two or three months.  His last words, somewhat indistinctly uttered, expressed a message which he wished to be conveyed to his betrothed.

The obituary was discovered on this blog by a researcher who was trying to find out about the parentage of a woman called Minnie May Penny who was born in January 1889. The family story had been that she was adopted by Charles and Emma Penny in Arden after one of her parents was killed in a railway accident that spooked some horses. Marriage and census records show us that Emma Penny’s father was Levi Gaylord and that she was therefore the sister of Philip, the man who died in Deseronto in August 1888.The similarity of the family story and the information from the obituary strongly suggests that the soon-to-be-wed Philip was Minnie’s father. Minnie’s date of birth was January 4, 1889 and in the 1891 census we find her living with the Pennys in Arden and carrying their surname, which bears out the family story that she was adopted by them. Now we know from the information in the newspaper story that the Pennys were her paternal aunt and uncle.

But who was Minnie’s mother?

We had a date of birth for the child, but no name for her mother apart from a family story that it might have been Haws or Boomhower. This time, it was the Ancestry website which was the best source of information. A search on Minnies born in Ontario on January 4, 1889 brought back a likely match: Minnie Hawes was born to Ida Hawes of Olden Township, Frontenac County (not far from Arden) on that day. No father’s name is given on her birth registration, but the matches between the family stories and the records mean that Philip Gaylord and Ida Hawes are highly likely to be Minnie’s parents and that Philip’s ‘indistinctly uttered’ last words had been meant for Ida, the woman he had planned to marry.

Mystery solved!

Ontario’s marriage records show us that Ida went on to marry a man called Stephen Dolan in August 1892, by which time Minnie was living in Arden with her aunt and uncle. Minnie herself married a man called Robert Loyst in 1905 and by 1911 the couple had three children and were living in Nipissing. We can hope this was a happy ending to a life which had such an unfortunate beginning.

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