Have you discovered Historypin yet? Historypin is a website where people can upload their own pieces of local history! Many of us have old photos and stories that have been passed down through generations, and Historypin is a great place to share these memories with others! If you can access a scanner or have digital copies already, all you need to do is create an account and you can upload your photos to start a collection.


There are a few collections for local history enthusiasts to explore. Check out the Elgin Archives collection, the University of Western Ontario’s collection, A Bod’s collection, and watch for St. Thomas Public Library’s collection too! The photo above, a postcard of Elgin County Courthouse from 1907, is from A Bod’s Collection. What can you add to Historypin? Here are a few more photos of places you may recognize!


Local History and Geneology Fit into the Big Picture of National History

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In April, St. Thomas Public Library was contacted by a Forensic Genealogy Coordinator working for the Canadian National Defense.  They were seeking to identify a recovered WWII soldier who they believed to be Pte. Kenneth Donald Duncanson, killed in action September 14, 1944.  The Coordinator had searched the Elgin OGS (Ontario Genealogical Society) online index for the St. Thomas Times Journal and found a marriage announcement for his sister, Lyla Patricia Duncanson.  The Coordinator was looking for a copy of this announcement, other family information, and the existence of any children, and asked us if we could help!

In our research, we found the marriage announcement for a woman named Iyla Patricia Duncanson.  Though we could not find an obituary for Pte. Donald Duncanson, we did find that he was buried (presumably without remains) in the Fairview Cemetery in Dutton.  The inscription on the tombstone reads “Their Son   Kenneth D.  1915 – 1944   Killed in Action, Belgium.”   We forwarded this information to the Coordinator, and directed her to the Elgin Archives, and their holdings of the  Dutton newspaper the Dutton Advance. The Forensic Genealogy Coordinator must have taken our recommendation, and found additional information which substantiated the identity of the remains, because on May 17, 2016 local newspapers carried an article that an “Elgin Soldier’s Remains Found in Belgium” were indeed those of Pte. Kenneth Donald Duncanson of Dutton. Read more from the St. Thomas Times Journal: http://www.stthomastimesjournal.com/2016/05/16/elgin-soldiers-remains-found-in-belgium

We are so pleased that we got to be a small part of solving this mystery!

Learn more about our Local History collections on our website!

Questions? Email us at info@stthomaspubliclibrary.ca

By Donna Hanson, Technical Services Coordinator

Reason #45: We Provide a Link to Your Family History

Reason #45: We provide a link to your family history.

Were you born and raised in St. Thomas? Has your family always resided in this area? If so we may be able to provide you with some family connections. The George Thorman Room at the St. Thomas Public Library is a collection of local historical records and information about the people that lived that history. These people are your relatives and this collection can help you to discover their lives. The following are some of the many resources found here.

Vital Statistics are birth, marriage, and death records. They provide information about an individual and those related to them. You may be able to find what your great uncle died of or the names of your great grandparents. You can understand a part of your lineage and witness the risks of the times.

The Cemetery Indexes allow you to locate where your ancestors are buried. The inscriptions and dates on the cemetery stones provide more information about them. A visit to their final resting place creates a physical connection.

The Census Collection informs where your family lived, their country of origin, and the number in the household including any non-family members such hired hands. If you check the 1851 agricultural census you can find out how many cows, chickens, and yields of grain etc. that your ancestors had. This information provides an interesting glimpse of their household at the time.

The City Directories enable you to find the former addresses of your relatives. You can follow as they move from boarding house to tenant to homeowner. Trace their journey around and up the city. The City Directories let you know their occupation and you can follow their career paths. Now you are forming a true sense of these people.

The George Thorman Room has a Surname Index. This index contains vital statistics information and may direct you to events in your relatives lives. These indexes are supported by our collection of St. Thomas newspapers on microfilm. You may find that your relative was involved in a court case, a serious accident, or received awards. The elegantly written description of your grandparent’s wedding in the newspaper allows to imagine that you are there. You can almost smell the flowers in the bouquets freshly made from her sister’s garden.

The first settlers here were part of the Talbot Settlement. This large tract of land was granted to Colonel Thomas Talbot with the condition that he attract settlers. These settlers came largely from Europe and the United States. These records are not local records but Ancestry Library Edition, a genealogical database provided in house by the St. Thomas Public Library enables you search historical records worldwide. You can find out where your settler relatives originated from and possibly how they got here. People who have recently joined our community will be able pursue family research through this database. Ancestry Library Edition does not have full access to records as a personal subscription does, but it has greater coverage than the trial subscription.

The George Thorman room contains many interesting accounts, descriptions, photos and maps about St. Thomas’ past. If you do not have family connections here, you can still learn about your new city’s history. The development of the city through the railways is a intricate and interesting story. The circuses, Jumbo, the visiting performers and sports teams, the agricultural components, the industrial drive, the development of modern services are among the many aspects of St. Thomas to be discovered in the George Thorman room. You will find something or someone interesting.

Genealogical & Local History Help – 2014

Need some assistance with Genealogy or Local History?

Local History Help

Saturday, February 8, 2014

1:00 to 3:00 p.m.

George Throman Local History Room, upper level


Members of the Elgin County Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society will be at the St. Thomas Public Library to answer any  questions and suggest resources on family trees, genealogy, and local history.


The George Thorman Room, located on the upper level, has an entire host of information available for all levels of researchers of family and local history.


More information on OGS: http://www.elginogs.ca/

We Have 130 Years to Celebrate!

Did you know that 2014 is St. Thomas Public Library’s 130th Anniversary? Imagine that! After much digging in our dusty archives, I have a copy of a handwritten bylaw that City Council passed in 1884, stating that a free library would be established January 1885.

St Thomas Free Library
First St. Thomas Public Library location

The first public library in St Thomas was opened in rented rooms above what is now Mortin & Locke Insurance. In order to borrow library books you had to be recommended by another member, and you had to buy a membership for 5 cents per year – that was a lot of money in those days.

Once you had a membership, you could only borrow one book at a time, and you could keep it for as many weeks as it had100s of pages – so you could keep a book for a week if it was 100 pages long, and one that was 500 pages you could keep for 5 weeks. Very sensible!

In those days all the books in the library’s collection were listed in printed catalogues. The books in the catalogue are mostly classic fiction, titles by Victor Hugo, Nathanial Hawthorne, Washington Irving –  and some reference books organized by subject. Books were jealously guarded, and there was often no direct access to the collection. You selected your book from the catalogue, and one of the staff went to find it for you.

St Thomas Carnegie Library
Carnegie Library – Currently the Engineering Department of City Hall

Libraries used to have only books. Soon there were also magazines and daily newspapers, for the public to browse. Later music was also available, in the form of records –old 78 and 45 LPs, then movies on VHS, and now DVDs. We also have an entire collection of electronic content that’s virtual – it’s in the library but isn’t on any shelves!

Nowadays, a library isn’t just books. Libraries are destinations, places where people gather, learn from each other, rather than places where people borrow books. Libraries are people places, and people space is now just as important as space for collections.

To celebrate our Anniversary, we’ll have a number of special events during the year, and we’ve already had our first. On January 2nd, the first day we opened this year, we honoured the 130th person who came in. Catherine Barnes, a regular library user, received a gift package including 130 in Downtown Development Dollars.

Keep your eyes open for the BIG bus ad, sponsored by the Friends of St. Thomas Public Library. We’re also planning a Victorian tea, and some special events out in the community! Come by and celebrate with us. There are 130 reasons to celebrate!


Local History Mystery Man

The Local History staff need your help in identifying a mystery man!

Do you know this man?
Do you know this man?

We’ve had this (very large) photo buried in the archives of the George Thorman Local History Room for several years, but we know very little about him. On the back of the photo, the following appears:

  • 706
  • St. Thomas
  • Johnny Jan 26/1901
  • EL Jan 28/1901
  • 1.75
  • Mrs. Geo. Kitson
  • Smith

Mystery Man Known Details

We want to know who he was and what railway he worked for.

Any information is greatly appreciated! The actual photo can be viewed in the George Thorman local history room at St. Thomas Public Library, second level. If you have any information, you can contact us through any of the following:

  • Comment on this blog
  • Email us at adultdept@st-thomas.library.on.ca
  • Phone 519-631-6050
  • Leave a comment or message us via Facebook (St Thomas Public Library – Adult Services)
  • Or in person or mail at St. Thomas Public Library, 153 Curtis Street, St. Thomas, Ontario, N5P 3Z7,  Local History, second level

Colonel Thomas Talbot – Our Irish Ancestor

Meet Our Irish Ancestor: Colonel Thomas TalbotColonel Thomas Talbot
Colonel Thomas Talbot was born on July 19, 1771 at Malahide Castle north of Dublin. His family was Irish aristocracy who had allied with the English during the conquest of Ireland. Talbot joined the English army at the age of twelve and followed his regiment to Canada in 1790. In 1800, he sold his commission in the army and settled in Upper Canada.

In May 1803, Talbot was granted 5000 acres along the Lake Erie shoreline. This was provisional on settling the area as the English needed a strong presence to thwart the ambitions of their American and French rivals. Talbot established his homestead at Port Talbot and began his distribution of land. Qualified settlers received 50 acres of land. For every allotment he granted Talbot himself received 200 acres of land.

By 1807, Talbot was ignoring the government regulations for land settlement. He engaged in disagreements with many of the settlers. With an eraser, he would remove his opponent’s name from his settlement map. He would often designate the land to another settler. Due to the imperative to settle the area the government ignored his actions and also allowed him to build the Talbot Road through the settlement area. Mahon Burwell was the surveyor for this project. The Talbot road facilitated the immigration and development of this area. By 1829, the settlement ranged over 130 miles and had 50,000 inhabitants.

Along the way, Talbot had made many enemies due to his disagreements with settlers and politicians. He had alienated the provincial government who believed that his unorthodox actions were depriving the province of much needed revenues. In 1838, Talbot was forced to relinquish his settlement. He died a recluse in London, Upper Canada in 1853.

Despite his contentious procedures, Colonel Thomas Talbot had successfully settled this area and his name is remembered in the name of our city. Whether he was a Saint is as controversial as the man was himself.