Much can be learned from the announcements in newspapers for births, marriages, and deaths. For marriages, in addition to the names of married couple, the location, and name of the presiding minister, the notice might mention the number of guests and names of attendants. Birth notices were much less informative – limited in most cases to the father’s name, the date, and the gender. Obituaries vary widely, from a sparse statement of name, date, place, to more effusive ones with a brief biography and names of immediate family.
For the Fleming families of Derby Township and Owen Sound we turn to the papers published in Owen Sound from 1850 onward. Thankfully, the Bruce and Grey Branch Ontario Genealogy Society has transcribed these announcements to CD ROMs that may be purchased from the branch or may be viewed at the Toronto Public Library, the Owen Sound Public Library, and perhaps others. [Price list: https://brucegrey.ogs.on.ca/?page_id=62 ]
From The Comet, April 29, 1853, we read that, “At the residence of the bride’s father, Mr. James Fleming, second son to the Laird of Springfield, Derby, to Miss Grace Robertson, eldest daughter of Mr Robt. Robertson, 9th Concession of Derby …” In this marriage announcement the family’s pride of land ownership shows through, and understandably so since just ten years earlier the family had emigrated from the Highlands of Scotland. Now, Alexander Fleming, father of James and formerly of Logierait, Perthshire, is a laird in the new land.
Many years later in the obituary for James’ wife Grace, it is revealed that Grace had had a stroke, a fact not recorded in family papers and which accounted for her poor health. “Deceased has been greatly afflicted, having suffered a stroke of paralysis some thirty years ago, in consequence of which she never recovered the power of speech”. [The Advertiser, April 29, 1899]
Other times, much is concealed, as in the tragic death of Lyda Warren Fleming, wife to Charles, in which the specific diagnosis of mesenteric tuberculosis is never mentioned. However, the obituary does refer to the scourge of “la grippe”.
Died: Kilsyth Item: It is our sad duty to chronicle the death on Thursday, the 12th inst., of Mrs. Fleming, wife of Chas. Fleming, Postmaster of this village. A severe attack of la grippe last spring left the deceased in a weakened and shattered state of health, from which she never recovered. The best medical skill proving unavailing, a change of climate was decided on and a trip taken to Marquette, Michigan. The change, however, wrought no improvement, and as a last hope Mrs. Fleming was removed to the Battle Creek Sanatorium in Michigan, where she continued to suffer until relieved by death last Thursday. The deceased, who was a consistent member of the Disciple church and a sincere Christian. She leaves a husband and five children to mourn her loss. The remains, were brought home for interment, to the Owen Sound cemetery by a large number of relatives and friends on Tuesday. [The Advertiser, March 24, 1891]
The obituary for Donald, who died in 1896, reported that he died of dyspepsia, when it was actually marasmus, an emaciating disease; and the item revealed nothing of his wife Esther’s death. “Nine of a family are left to mourn their parents’ removal, their mother having died only nine months ago” [The Times, April 9, 1896]. Esther had died of heart failure in the Toronto Asylum for the Insane.
For some there is written a very respectful summation of the life of the deceased – as was done for Jean Stewart Fleming, “A native of Perthshire, Scotland, but many years of patient, Christian life were spent in Canada, having reached the age of 85 years.” [The Advertiser, 30 August 1888]
Marriages are more joyful and usually include at least the names of the wedding party.
Married: Kilsyth Item: Wedding Bells: “Ivy Hill Cottage”, the residence of Mr. John Fleming was, on Tuesday night, the 18th inst., the scene of a pleasant and interesting social event, the marriage of his daughter Melissa J., to Mr. Samuel H. Brown, son of James Brown, Esq., of Derby. The ceremony, which was performed at 7 p.m. by Elder J. Lister, was witnessed by a large circle of relatives and friends. Miss Vickey Fleming, sister of the bride, acted as bridesmaid, while the role of ‘best man’ was filled by Mr. Robt. J. Brown, brother of the groom. [The Advertiser, December 27, 1888]
We read a very pretty depiction of a wedding in this announcement of Annie Fleming (Charles Fleming’s daughter) to Charles McKinnon.
Married: McKinnon – Fleming: A very pretty wedding took place on Wednesday afternoon at the residence of the bride’s aunt, Miss Jennie Fleming, Boyd St., when Miss Annie Warren Fleming, daughter of Mr. Chas. Fleming, was united in marriage with Mr. Robert L. McKinnon, of the firm of McKinnon & Howitt, Guelph, and son of Mr. and Mrs. John McKinnon. The ceremony was performed by a personal friend of both bride and groom, Rev. Amos Tovell, of Guelph. Mendelssohn’s wedding march was played by Miss Helen McLeod. [Owen Sound Sun, June 7, 1907]
Into the 1920s and later, marriage announcements came to be embellished with descriptions of dresses, flowers, and honeymoon plans.
Birth notices were usually very succinct, with no name given for the child or mother – such as this for William’s daughter, Olga.
Birth – In Owen Sound, on the 15th inst., the wife of Mr. William Fleming, of a daughter. [The Times, October 26, 1878]
Aside from family history, the columns provide a view – especially in the obituaries – of social conditions and concerns. In this next example, the obituary points to mystery and mishap.
Died: Was McGarvey Murdered? The Keppel murders of years gone by have been recalled by the recent burial in the Oxenden cemetery of the body of Wm. McGarvey, an old man, who was found near McNeill’s spring on Wednesday of last week, with a bullet through his brain. McNeill’s spring is just outside the limits of the village. Everything pointed to suicide, but relatives of the dead man are inclined to believe that he was murdered. [The Advertiser May 23 , 1899]
These compilations by genealogical societies of notices for birth, marriage, and death afford fascinating and essential reading when researching family history: important for the occasional fact not revealed elsewhere or perhaps for what is not said, for the remembrance of the person, and for the social context of the announcement.