William Irvine Gives America a Try

While I am able to trace many of my family lines back to The Great Migration, and even to the Mayflower, my maternal grandfather Jack Irvine‘s side of the family includes many genealogical “brick walls.” The furthest back I can go with any certainty is William Irvine (1801-1866), my 3rd great grandfather.
Irvine tree

The earliest record I have of William Irvine is the June 19, 1824, publication of his marriage to Domitille in Montreal. Below is an image of the church record with a rough translation.



“… Monsigneur Bishop ___ …. for the marriage of William Irvin(e), saddler and resident of this parish, legal age son of John Irvin(e) and the late Marie Buchanan (“of the County of Glengary?), on the one part and Miss Marguerite Domitille Lebert, under age daughter of Sieur Jean-Baptiste Lebert, master butcher and of Marguerite Cardinal, _______ of this parish on the other part, were married … in the Holy Church in the presence of Mr Francois Nietzehler (Nietzchler?), Mr J-B Lebert, father of the bride and many others who have signed along with me. (signatures) Domitille Lebert, Wm Irvin, Francois Nietzler,  JB Franchere, Victoire Lebert, B  Le Saulnier, priest




A few facts can be gleaned about William from the marriage record: William’s parents were John Irvine and Mary Buchanan; Mary may have been from Glengary County in Ontario, Canada; Mary had died before 1824. That is all I’ve been able to trace about William’s parents, thus far.

At some point in the early 1850s, William brought his family to America. The 1855 Massachusetts Census lists William & “Matilda” living in Boston with 5 of their children: Arthur, Ephraim, Albert, Balsamie and Mary Ann. William had other children, Marie Celestine (b. 1836) and Oston Peter (b. 1838). Marie may have died as a child; Oston Peter, or “O.P.,” apparently came to America with the family but immediately struck out on his own. What caused William to migrate to America is unknown; presumably, to offer his sons more opportunities.

As in the record of his marriage, William’s occupation is listed on the 1855 Massachusetts Census as “saddler.” This census record contains the first idea of when and where William was born: about 1801 in Canada. Later family stories claim William immigrated from Scotland, but it’s more likely that his father, John Irvine, came from Scotland.
1855 MA census-Wm and Matilda1855 MA census

At some point before 1860, William had given up on Boston and made his way west to Rochester, NY. An Irvine relation living in Rochester, Tellsford Irvine, had died the year before, leaving behind his wife and young son (see my post on Phebe Monaghan). Perhaps William decided to assist the young widow?

Tragically, William himself would suffer loss in Rochester. Matilda passed away in August, 1859. An account of the sad event was recorded thus:

SUDDEN DEATH. – Coroner BROWN was called yesterday morning to visit the residence of Mr. WILLIAM IRVINE, on Romaine street, whose wife DONATILE IRVINE, a middle aged woman, died very suddenly during the previous night. She has been ailing for some time, but was able to be about her household duties, and Wednesday evening went to bed as well as usual. Sometime in the night she awoke her husband, complaining of a difficulty in breathing, and, he assisted her to rise. She died a few minutes afterward while he was supporting her in her seat. Dr. HALL made an examination and ascertained that the cause of death was disease of the heart. – The Coroner dispensed with the formality of an inquest under the circumstances. (Rochester Democrat and American. 15 Aug 1859)

The 1860 U.S. Census shows William living in Rochester with four of his children: Alphonsine (i.e. Mary Ann), Arthur, Ephraim (incorrectly listed as Ivo) and Albert. By this time, his oldest daughter, Balsamie, had returned to Montreal where she married Jean-Baptiste Ovide Lauzon in 1859. While Arthur was working with his father in 1860, within the coming months he made his way to Chicago where he was a machinist apprentice. When the Civil war broke out, Arthur signed up with the regular Army in an artillery unit.

1860 US Census
After Matilda’s death, William moved from the Romaine St. location to Oak St. and worked on Canal street, as can be seen in the 1861 City Directory. It’s interesting to note the many changes in his occupation over the years: saddler, wagon maker, carriage trimmer. Certainly, his skills were varied and he adapted to the needs of the times.

1861 city directoryWith all the upheaval of the War in the States, the loss of his wife, his sons either away fighting in the war or getting on with their own occupations, the aging William returned home to Montreal. In the fall of 1866, at age 65, William passed away. Below is the record of William’s burial at the Notre-Dame-de-Montréal in Montréal (with translation).

"On the 17th of September 1866, the undersigned priest buried the body of William Irvin, saddler, widow of Mathilde Leber, who died ___ before, aged 64 years of this parish. Witnesses were Benjamin Desroches and Francois Xavier Champagne ... (unreadable)."

“On the 17th of September 1866, the undersigned priest buried the body of William Irvin, saddler, widow of Mathilde Leber, who died ___ before, aged 64 years of this parish. Witnesses were Benjamin Desroches and Francois Xavier Champagne … “

While it doesn’t appear that William himself met with success in America, his sons went on to live fairly well in their adopted country. Three of his sons settled in McKean County, Pennsylvania. O.P. prospered in the Pennsylvania oil industry. Arthur served in the Civil War as an artilleryman and then as a naval engineer; after the war he, too, worked in the oil industry, even patenting a new type of drilling device. Ephraim became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1896. William’s youngest son, Albert, seems to disappear after 1860. The fate of Mary Ann, too, remains undiscovered.

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