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September 20, 2013

Finding a Black Ancestor Using Circumstantial Evidence, Part 1

Finding a Black Ancestor Using Circumstantial Evidence
1819 Land Petition Jonathan Butler
My husband has a black ancestor, his 4th great-grandfather Jonathan Butler. For the past 5 years I've been struggling to find all I can about Jonathan. I say "struggling" because Jonathan came from the USA to Upper Canada (present day Ontario) before 1824. He then disappears after 1840. So I have a very limited timeframe in which to search. 

For those who haven't searched for early Ontario ancestors, the records are difficult to find -- if they even exist. Ontario was not settled until after the American Revolution so those are early days in our province's history. Thus they are early days for record taking and archiving. What has survived is scattered in various repositories and much of it is not indexed.

Constructing a Timeline

One of the first things I wanted to do was construct a timeline of events for Jonathan. Where was he living during that limited time frame 1824-1840? Could I extend that timeline? I'd so far been unable to find earlier or later records for Jonathan. My hope was to find out where he came from in America, perhaps even where he was born. A year of birth would prove helpful too. 

What I knew about Jonathan was limited. His son Johannes Alexander Allen (known as Allen) was born in Toronto in 1824. [source: Allen's adult baptism  into the Catholic Church January 26,1851 at St Agatha, Wilmot Township, Waterloo County] This record was not clear as to whether or not "Toronto" referred to the city of Toronto or the township and although it seemed far more likely to be a reference to Toronto Township, it was important that I keep this in mind as I carried on with finding clues to aid me in further research.

Early Tax Assessment Records Helpful

Jonathan himself was found recorded on the following census and tax assessment lists for the Queen's Bush, a black settlement area in Waterloo Ontario:

1834 Assessment for Woolwich Township, Gore District as "Negro, Butler" (note that until August 1, 1834 slavery was legal in Canada. Does this have anything to do with him not being recorded under his full name?)
1837 Assessment same place as "Jonathan Butler"
1838 Assessment same place as "Jonathan Butler"
1839 Assessement same place as "Jonathan Butler (Black)"
1840 Assessement same place as "Jonathan Butler (Black)"

He had 100 acres of farm land and I could follow his improvements over those 7 years. But I could not narrow down when he obtained his 100 acres except by estimating how long it would take a man to cultivate 20 acres (which is how much he had cultivated in that 1834 assessment) The 1834 assessment does not provide any information on family members but the 1837 assessment helps somewhat with this information on who was living there:

1 male over 16, 5 males under 16, 1 female over 16, 3 females under 16

It appeared that Jonathan's children were not old enough to be much help clearing land in 1834 and earlier. His owning 100 acres provided some circumstantial "glue" to my theory that he had previously lived in Toronto Township, not the city of Toronto. A farming man would be unlikely to live in the city. 

Part 2 to be posted tomorrow

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