Genealogical Journeys – Branch #3 – Stillman

Having covered my father’s father’s family in the previous two posts in this series, we now turn to my father’s mother’s family, starting with her paternal branch, the Stillmans.

My grandmother Edna [Stillman] Bell (1910-1998) spent her adult life as a Grade 1 teacher in the village of Stirling, Ontario, but originally hailed from Seymour Township, which is about 15 miles to the west of Stirling near the slightly larger village of Campbellford.  Between Stirling and Campbellford lies the boundary between Hastings County and Northumberland County,  which is also the boundary between the 613 and 705 area codes, and which many people would argue represents the boundary between Eastern Ontario and Central Ontario.

She was the oldest of three children of David Stillman (1867-1936), and his wife Mabel [McConnell] Stillman whose family we’ll discuss in the next post.  David & Mabel Stillman had a farm in Seymour Township,  on which my grandmother grew up; however the farm was no longer in the family in my living memory.   Growing up, we always knew the three Stillman children by the names of Edna, Gordon, and Herbert.  It came as a quite a shock, then, when we learned from birth records that for all three children the name we thought was their given name was actually their second name!  My grandmother’s name at birth was Sarah Edna Marion Stillman, and in the 1911 census she appears as “Sarah Stillman”.  Similarly, Gordon’s first name at birth was actually William, and Herbert’s first name at birth was actually David.  By the 1921 census, both Edna and Herbert were listed by their middle names, while Gordon had already passed away, at age 6 in the influenza pandemic of 1918.  As it turns out, mother Mabel’s first name was actually Rebecca, so perhaps this was (as they say) the style at the time, at least in that family!  Still, it was surprising to learn from genealogical records that my grandmother had a first name that none of us ever knew about.

David was one of ten children of William Stillman (1834-1905) and his wife Sarah Archer (1834?-1899), who were also farmers in Seymour Township.   (Note, therefore, that the ‘ceremonial’ first names given to my grandmother and her brothers were actually names of parents and grandparents.)  I believe that all of William & Sarah’s children made it to adulthood.  As someone who has spent more than half my life living in Chicago and assumed I’d had no previous family ties to that area, I was intrigued by what I was able to learn from genealogical records about the youngest of those 10 children, Harry Ward Stillman (1880-1945).  He was a preacher who emigrated to rural Illinois in his early 20s and married a local woman, Genevieve Austin, who bore him three Illinois-born children before dying in 1916 at the age of 31.  From what I can tell, he got remarried to another Illinois-born woman, and then in his mid-40s the entire family returned to Ontario, although on his death his body was returned for burial to his first wife’s hometown of Mendon, Illinois.

William Stillman had been born in Seymour Township, but census records indicate that Sarah Archer was born in Ireland.   Before returning to the Stillmans, a brief detour is in order to discuss what little I know about the Archer line.

There is a single page from the 1851 census of Seymour Township that shows three different adjacent households of Archers.  Sarah, age 18, is shown living in the household of John, age 30, and his wife and three young children.  The heads of the other two households are Joshua (age 27) and James (age 25).    These four Archers are all shown as having been born in Ireland, while all of the children involved are shown as having been born in Canada.  The natural inference I want to draw here is that John, Joshua, James, and my great-great-grandmother Sarah were siblings who emigrated from Ireland.

But, is that true, and if so from whence in Ireland did the Archers emigrate, and did their parents come with them or stay behind?  I don’t have definitive answers to these questions yet.   I’ve located  baptismal records from the village of Magheralin in County Down (in modern-day Northern Ireland) for a John Archer and a Joshua Archer, in years that would be consistent with their reported ages in the 1851 census, and with their parents’ names listed as David and Sarah.  I’ve not located similar records for James or for Sarah.   I haven’t located marriage registries for either John or Joshua, but I have for James and Sarah:  In James’ his parents names are listed as Carl and Sarah; and Sarah’s doesn’t list her parents’ names.    So, there’s still some mysteries here to resolve, but it seems reasonable to believe that my Sarah Archer came from County Down.

Returning to Sarah’s husband, my great-great-grandfather William Stillman:  He was one of 10 children of Robert Stillman (1802?-188?) and Mary Margaret [Gamble] Stillman (1810?-1888?), immigrants from Ireland.  I’ve seen a purported picture of Robert and Margaret, with a handwritten note that he was born in 1802 and she was born in 1810; those birthyears are consistent with the census data.  Both Robert and Margaret appear in the 1881 census, but I’ve found neither in the 1891 census.

Robert and Margaret Stillman have a staggering number of descendants.   Their first-born, a daughter Jane, appears to have died in her mid-20s without issue.  However, next in the birth order were twin brothers:  my ancestor William,  and his twin James.  James Stillman (1834-1917) was, to put it mildly, prodigious.  He got married at age 24 to Eliza Anne Waters, who bore him 10 children between 1860 and 1875, although at least 3 and probably a 4th died in childhood.  James and Eliza’s 11th child was born in May 1876, and something seems to have gone wrong.  Eliza would pass away on July 10th, with the cause of death listed as “suppression of urine”; her infant daughter survived only another 8 days without her.  Six months later, James got re-married to a woman 20 years younger than him, Elizabeth Toms.  She bore him another 10 children between 1877 and 1893, although again at least 4 of them died in childhood.

As such, between the twin brothers William and James alone, Robert had something like 22 grandchildren reach adulthood, to say nothing of numerous other grandchildren from the 7 other children younger than the twins!  There a lot of distant Stillman cousins out there, with many of them living in the area of Peterborough, Ontario (about 30 miles W of Seymour Township).  I’m told that former NHL star Cory Stillman is one of those distant Peterborough cousins, although I haven’t worked out exactly how he fits into the family tree.  Far less distantly related to me through this branch is another former NHL player, Rob Davison; he’s a grandson of my grandmother’s younger brother Herbert Stillman, making him my 2nd cousin.

I know less than I would like about the origins of my great-great-great-grandmother Margaret Gamble.  The photograph of Robert and Margaret noted above has a handwritten note that they were married in 1830 in Perth, Ontario, which is about 90 miles NE of Seymour Township.  Interestingly, Margaret’s eldest grandchild – William Stillman’s first-born, Margaret Ann Stillman (1859-1914) – would marry a man named William Gamble (1853-1904) who was born in Bathurst Township, which is adjacent to Perth in Lanark County.  It seems overwhelmingly likely to me that this William Gamble is related to his wife’s grandmother.   William’s father Andrew Gamble (1817?-1894) was born in Ireland; I’d like to believe that he and Margaret are siblings who emigrated sometime in the 1820s, but that is purely my speculation.

As for my great-great-great-grandfather Robert Stillman, there is a widely circulated story of his origins, but I can’t vouch for its accuracy.  The story goes that Robert is the son of one William Stillman, born in the 1770s in Enniscorthy in County Wexford, and a soldier in the 7th Veterans Battalion.  I imagine that battalion would have fought in the Napoleonic Wars, but I’m not sure of that.  William supposedly died in Seymour Township in 1851.  And, the story goes, William is the son of one John Stillman of Enniscorthy, also a soldier by profession, and who died in somewhat gruesome fashion at the age of 80 in May 1798 during the Wexford Rebellion.

However, I’ve located no independent evidence to support any of this.  I have found a note that one William Stillman emigrated from Ireland to Canada in 1827, accompanied by his wife, 3 sons, and 5 daughters.  Was Robert Stillman one of those sons?  How did Robert end up in the Perth area, where he courted Margaret Gamble, and then what made Robert & Margaret relocate to Seymour Township?  And where did the other Stillman siblings end up (as I’m not aware of any Stillmans in mid-19th century Seymour Township that aren’t Robert’s descendants)?  Mysteries.

The stats on David Stillman:

  • National Origin.  100% Irish
  • Religion.  Wesleyan Methodist
  • Immigration Status.  3rd-generation on his father’s side (both of father’s parents were Irish immigrants), 2nd-generation on his mother’s side (mother was Irish immigrant)