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.
In investigating the lives of our ancestors much can be inferred from the tax assessment rolls. In researching the Flemings of Derby Township we can see acquisition of acreage, clearance of forests for pasture and crops, and the growing value in real property. Five of Alexander’s sons (James, John, Alexander II, Donald, and Charles), and his son-in-law (James Agnew) became established as farmers. William, the sixth son, left his farm and moved to Owen Sound in the early 1880s.
Assessment rolls were completed annually by the township in order to determine taxes payable by its residents.
Assessment rolls are used to record information about a resident’s property in order to determine the amount of taxes payable on real property. The following information is recorded: land and building value; status as residence or business, religion (for school taxation purposes), age, and occupation of head of household and number of people living on the property. Other information is collected from time to time reflecting local or provincial requirements. [Source: Finding Municipal Record, Research Guide 209, Archives of Ontario]
The trail began when we read in the young Roy Fleming’s diary an entry for July 3 1891 : “I hear that Florence Fleming has gone out of her mind. They read it in the Times.” Roy was only 12 years of age; his cousin Florence was 28. The Times article, titled “A distressing incident” was on microfilm in the Owen Sound Public Library. In as sympathetic a manner as possible, the Times journalist reported that Florence, the “accomplished” daughter of Donald Fleming, on a voyage back from Manitoulin Island to Owen Sound, had attempted suicide by drowning.
Donald had already suffered a great deal. In May 1882 he had admitted his wife Esther Flower to the Asylum for the Insane Toronto on Queen St W. Melancholia ran in the family. Esther’s father Samuel Flower had been considered insane, though there is no record of his being admitted to a hospital. Now Florence had succumbed to delusions and violent reactions – her father had no choice but to have her admitted as well. Eventually she was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic.
The Archives of Ontario holds some patient records for the Queen Street Mental Health Centre. The series RG 10-271 provided summary information about Esther and Florence. No other details could be found. However, Florence was transferred to the asylum in Penetanguishene in August 1904 where clinical records and some entries have survived in RG 10-303 Mental Health Centre Penetanguishene.
Florence died in September 1939, at age 75, after spending over half her life confined to an asylum, and crazed by delusions. Fortunately, the records indicate she was fairly well cared for at Penetanguishene and had some contact with family. A fuller account of her life is given in Florence Alice Fleming: Patient [Word document].
To learn more about the lives and care of the mentally ill in Ontario from 1870 to 1940, see Geoffrey Reaume’s book, Remembrance of Patients Past: Patient life at the Toronto Hospital for the Insane, 1870-1940. University of Toronto Press, Toronto 2010.