Friday, January 3, 2014

The Mystery of the Two Matthew Harrisons

As part of my family history research I have been dealing with the mystery of two Matthew Harrisons buried at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Cemetery in Wildfield for over 20 years.  

One is my great great grandfather Matthew Harrison born in 1821 in Egton Township, North Yorkshire and baptized at the Roman Catholic Chapel in Egton Bridge.  He died on his farm at Castlemore, Toronto Gore Township, Peel County on January 6, 1887 and was buried in St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Cemetery in Wildfield, Peel County.  Mysteriously there is no death registration for him even though his nephew Nicholas Harrison was the township clerk and the local registrar.  Nor has an obituary been found in any local Brampton papers.

Death entry for Matthew Harrison - Jan 6, 1887
Death Register St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, Wildfield, 

There is however another Matthew Harrison, a mysterious fellow who also appears in the spotty burial records for St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church listed as dying in September 1884 at the age of 89 years.  He most likely signed a petition in Toronto Gore in 1834.  The other Matthew Harrison would only have been a teenager and it seems unlikely that he would have signed.  The signature on the 1834 petition is different than the one on the will of Matthew Harrison who died in 1887 as well indicating that they are two different people.  I do think that he was the Matthew Harrison living on Lot 11, Con 9, Toronto Gore township in the 1850 directory.  

This Matthew Harrison purchased a 50 acre lot composed of the SE ¼ of Lot 11, Con 9, Gore of Toronto on Feb 19, 1845 for £200. One of the witnesses on the indenture was William Harrison (Jr who died in 1849). The other Matthew Harrison would only have been about 24 years of age at the time.  Was this him?  I don't think so.  He later lived on Lot 9, Concession 10 but didn't purchase the lot until March 1, 1854.  This must be the older Matthew as why would Matthew Harrison and Ann Hewgill be living on a rented farm as detailed by her father in a letter in 1856 if he already owned Lot 11, Con 9 Toronto Gore?   Also, this lot appears to have been purchased with ready cash with no mortgage. When Matthew Harrison bought Lot 9, Con 10 he took out a mortgage on the property.  All of this suggests it was the older Matthew Harrison on this lot.   It is therefore a mystery why he does not appear in any census returns from 1852 to 1881; nor is there a death registration for him.  No obituary has been found in any of the local papers either.  If he was indeed 89 years old when he died in 1884 he would be born circa 1795.  

Death entry for Matthew Harrison September 1884
St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church Parish Records

Could this Matthew Harrison have been an uncle of the Matthew Harrison who died in 1887, and a younger brother to William Harrison (1773-1836).  The existing Catholic Records from the Roman Catholic Chapel in Egton Bridge only begin in 1813 so there is a possibility that this Matthew Harrison could be a brother of William Harrison.   Or could he have been from one of the other related Harrison families from Egton Township, North Yorkshire and area?  A check of the local census returns for Egton and area does not find a Matthew Harrison born in the late 1700s in any of the census returns from 1841-1881.

One of the obvious answers would be to check the tombstones in St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Cemetery for any other details. Unfortunately the cemetery was essentially cleared (vandalized in my opinion) in the late 1960s by the parish priest and while some of the early tombstones were placed in a cairn on the site (including many of my family), many of the later ones were simply moved to the bottom of the hill and covered in soil where they remain today.

Does the answer to this mystery lie buried beneath the ground on a tombstone?

Any help solving this mystery would be greatly appreciated.  You can contact me at kikoamoki [at] yahoo [dot] ca.

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