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Article posted: October 13, 1998

Every Family Has A Few Skeletons
By: Ryan Taylor, Biography and Archived Articles

In my lectures, I have said repeatedly that genealogists with any experience know this, and it doesn’t worry them. In every family, there are illegitimate babies, hasty marriages and men who run off to Alberta with red-headed women.

I had even told myself that, when it came to genealogy, I was unshockable. I was wrong. I recently was lucky enough to obtain an account of Sam Taylor’s drowning in November 1894. It was dramatic and certainly will add colour to the family tree. But the part that caught my eye was the observation that Taylor’s death had ‘certain pathetic circumstances’ because his wife was in jail for ‘shockingly and brutally’ mistreating their children.

These people are my great-grandparents and we had always felt sorry for Sarah Taylor, who was widowed at 40 and had to give up two of her children to an orphanage.

We were not sure what to think. I hastily obtained the newspaper accounts of her trial. In 1894 it took a lot to have someone charged with mistreating their children. Sarah had repeatedly come to the attention of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children for leaving her children unattended at home or in the streets, hungry, cold and unfed. She spent her time with her friends, drinking. The worst point was that her youngest child, who was dying anyway, had been left alone in agonizing thirst. The little girl was sent to hospital and died two weeks later. That made the Society charge Sarah.

The details were gruelling for someone who knew the individuals involved. The part I found hardest to deal with was the idea of my five-year-old grandfather, a kind and gentle character, having his new shoes sold so his mother could buy booze. We can understand why he always said that going to the orphanage was the best thing that happened to him.

Sarah went to jail for three months, and both newspapers reported that the crowd cheered when she was sentenced. Her habits must have been well known in the town.

I still say that genealogists should be prepared for anything. Also, this story goes into my family history with every detail intact. We don’t suppress history. I still believe in absolute honesty in genealogy, but some days it does take a little more strength to cope with it.

Books By Ryan Taylor

Across The Waters, Ontario Immigrants Experiences 1820 - 1850 - by Frances Hoffman & Ryan Taylor, 1999. Riveting first-hand accounts of the immigration and settlement experience, taken from the diaries and letters of 150 immigrants.

Routes To Roots, The Best of Ryan Taylor's columns from the Kitchener Waterloo Record, by Ryan Taylor 1997

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Norway Bay United & Anglican Cemetery
(Pontiac County, Quebec)

The Merivale Cemeteries
(Protestant - Ottawa area)