the Tax Rolls to Fill in Gaps in Research
Paul J. McGrath, OGS 23947
the launch of the new Toronto Branch publication, Toronto
in the 1850s: A Transcription of the 1853 Tax Assessment Rolls and Guide
to Family History Research, I thought it might be a good time to discuss
some of the reasons why the tax rolls can help fill in gaps in your research.
Or in some cases, open up more areas for research.
I begin the story by explaining the players I will use in my example:
Samuel Pearsall, my great-great-great- grandfather was married to Amelia
Lewis. One of Amelia’s brothers was Daniel Lewis, with a wife named
Elizabeth (surname then unknown).
There was another person in the story—Elizabeth Hutchinson. Members
of my family resided with this woman for over fifty years. I concluded
that she was either the world’s greatest landlord, or she must somehow
be related. It was the latter.
When I began my research, all I knew was that Samuel had died by drowning
about 1853, according to a biography in History of Toronto and County
of York, by C. Blackett Robinson (Toronto: 1885, Vol. II, p. 127).
That same biography told me he had two sons, named Louis Halliburton and
Lerux, who died with their father on that day. So I began my journey trying
to prove Samuel’s death.
Since there was no surviving 1851/52 census for Toronto, I turned to the
1842 returns. After much searching, I found Samuel and his brother-in-law,
both blacksmiths, living on Duke Street (now Adelaide Street East), with
a woman named Elizabeth Hutchinson as their landlord.
There being so few resources for the period of 1840 to 1860 for Toronto,
I turned to the City of Toronto Tax Assessment Rolls (available
at the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2000, Series 612). Tax rolls for
the city exist from its creation in 1834 to the present. Between the years
1836 and 1851, I found Elizabeth Hutchinson on Duke Street, often with
one or more of my relatives living with her.
In the 1853 Tax Rolls, now online through the Branch’s Web site
or on my Web site at www.ontarioroots.com,
I found Amelia Pearsall (nee Lewis), widow. She had then recently purchased
a piece of land on King Street, just east of Parliament. She was one of
15 per cent of the owners in 1853 who were women! With her status listed
as widow, I had thus confirmed that Samuel did die before 1853.
I had a suspicion that Amelia’s brother Daniel also might have died
in the boating accident which took Samuel’s life, even though he
was not mentioned in any stories of this drowning. Daniel disappears from
the tax rolls at the same time as Samuel, leading to my suspicion.
With this additional proof of the drowning, and the possibility that both
Amelia’s husband AND her brother died in the accident, I expanded
my search. I found an article in The Daily Colonist (April 21,
1852) which confirmed that Samuel had drowned as his body had washed up
near the Humber River a few days earlier. He had drowned “…in
the bay months ago … ” according to the article. I found an
article in The Globe (June 1, 1852, page 2) which confirmed my
suspicion that Daniel had also died, as his body washed ashore after the
Checking the Potter’s Field Cemetery book, I found an entry for
Samuel with a death date of November 17, 1851, and one for Daniel which
said he died November 18, 1852. (I know this was wrong, since his body
washed up in April of 1852.) Checking the Toronto Necropolis records,
I found that Daniel’s body was re-interred there when Potter’s
Now with a more accurate date of death, I located an article in Mackenzie’s
North American (November 21, 1851, page 2) which gave details of
the duck hunting accident. It goes on to explain that their skiff fell
through the ice and all four men—Samuel Pearsall (blacksmith), Daniel
Lewis (blacksmith), Mr. Halliburton (tanner), and Mr. Low (Lerux?) were
It turns out that the previous biography was totally wrong: Halliburton
and Lerux were NOT sons of Pearsall; they were grown men, as was he. And
the biography did not mention the rather important fact that a fourth
man, Samuel’s brother-in-law, also died in the accident.
With further research I was able to find a surname for Daniel Lewis’s
wife—she was Elizabeth Hutchinson (daughter of the woman landlord).
Elizabeth Hutchinson (the mother) was born Elizabeth Charleton and came
to Toronto around 1817. Her husband, Isaac Hutchinson, and his business
partner, George Hetherington, received the contract for the first public
well in what was then the Town of York. They were paid the sum of £40
to dig a well at the Market. This was a considerable amount of money in
those days; Isaac was able to buy a piece of land from the Ridout family
and build a stone house on Duke Street between Ontario and Berkeley Streets.
This flagstone house stood from 1819 until about 1920, when it was finally
By using the tax rolls I was able to confirm the death of my great-great-great-grandfather,
as well as his brother-in-law. I was also able to find a new family, the
Hutchinsons, that I had not realized before were connected.