Like most amateur genealogists, I have reached a maddening dead-end in the quest to trace my family roots. The end of the line is William Thompson, Sr., who appears to have lived most his life in Ontario, Canada, but was probably born in Scotland.
Thompson’s very common name, which shows up often in Census counts, church records, and other family trees, doesn’t help matters. Neither does conflicting information about him that has been passed down.
J.E. Thompson left a letter identifying his grandfather as “a British army officer [who] lived and died in Canada .” According to the book, Progressive Men of the State of Montana , Thompson, Sr., was born in Scotland and “emigrated to Canada in an early day, and as a carpenter, there passed the rest of his life.” This fact is born out by the 1880 Census, in which William, Jr., lists his father’s place of birth as England.
We know that the family at one time lived in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada, a small town on the shores of Lake Ontario, about 118 kilometers east of Toronto. That’s because Cobourg is listed as the birthplace of William Thompson, Jr., who was born on March 1st, 1838. His grave stone lists that date.
A family tree left behind by Mabel Maud Thompson says that her grandfather, William, Sr., was born in Scotland in 1806 and moved to Canada. It lists 1849 as his year of death.
After Thompson, Jr., died, the Butte Miner carried his obituary, dated May 16, 1900. It says that the son was 15 when his father died. Other sources have this as early as 11; it must have been the stuff of legend. The obit says when Thompson, Sr. died in 1953, his wife, Margret Maguire, moved the family to Detroit .
That chronology is seconded by the Illustrated History of the State of Montana , published in 1894. It says that William, Jr., lived in Cobourg until he was 15—which would be 1853—and received a public school education. According to this source, after Thompson, Sr., died, the family in 1853 moved to Detroit, where William, Jr., learned the cabinet and carpentry trades.
Other clues to the past come from “The Magnate,” the biography of William Boyce Thompson (1869-1930) written in 1935. William Boyce commissioned genealogy research to assist the writer. According to the Magnate, William Thompson, Jr., was 11 when he left school; that would be in 1849. The Magnate says he was a licensed pilot on the Great Lakes at 16 in 1854.
The Magnate provides another possible link the past by identifying the family’s ties to Northern Methodism. That may help identify his birth record or his father’s marriage record, because they were all kept by churches at the time. But they aren’t readily available.
Other sources create confusion about when William, Sr., died. For instance, the book “Pioneer Trail and Trials” by the Madison County History Association says that William Thompson, Jr., was 12 when his father passed away. That would mean William, Sr., died in 1850, not 1849. Genealogists can live with being off by a year. The book says William, Jr., left at that time, 1850, to find work to support his family, which lived in Detroit.
In any event, Thompson, Sr.’s wife survived him by many years. Margret Maguire was 12 years older than her husband (she may have even been married once before) and outlived him by 31 year. Maguire died in Sacramento, not Canada, as listed in some Montana history books, and is buried in Sacramento City Cemetery, Lot 97.
Maguire lived there for almost 30 years with her daughter, Hanna, who married Joseph Ough. This trail, only recently uncovered, may shed new light on the history of the illusive William Thompson, Sr.