“she & her infant family are left totally destitute”: the Widow Hourigan petitions the Crown (part I)

LAC’s Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865) database is an index to the petitions, with the actual (that is to say, the digitized microforms of the actual) petitions found elsewhere at the LAC site. Somewhat annoyingly, there is no direct link from the index to the digitized microforms of the actual petitions.

In order to locate a petition, you will need to first consult the index. From the index listing, you will want to note the microform number, the bundle number, and the petition number.

Here is how I found the petition of Mary Lahey, widow of Timothy Hourigan.

Who was the Widow Hourigan?

Mary Lahey was born about 1790 in Ballymacegan, parish of Lorrha, Tipperary, and was one of seven known Lahey siblings who emigrated from Ireland to Upper Canada in the 1820s and early 1830s. She married (in Ireland) Timothy Hourigan about 1815, and the couple came to Canada (to March township) in the summer of 1824, with their children Michael, Mary, and Patrick (a fourth child, Thomas, was born in Canada about six months after the death of his father).1

On or about 26 August 1825 (26 August 1825 is the date given in her petition), Mary Lahey’s husband Timothy Hourigan was “killed by the falling of a tree whilst working for the support of his large family,” which family “have been left,” her petition adds, “destitute by his death.” Elsewhere in the paperwork that made up her petition: “her husband having been killed by the falling of a tree, she & her infant family are left totally destitute.”

Well, perhaps not totally destitute. As her brother Patrick Lahey explained in a letter to Peter Robinson (see “The Queen vs. Kelly [Part I]“), when “me brother in law [Timothy Hourigan] was killed by the fall of a tree,” the “widow and three children fell in charge to us.” She was not without some family support, in other words. But her case was dire enough: she and her brothers had only recently arrived in Upper Canada; and her brothers had not yet acquired lots of land, and were still trying to get established. If her brothers would not see their sister and her children starve, they were scarcely in a position to offer generous assistance to a widow with three young children (and with a fourth child on the way). Hence her need to acquire a lot of land “for the support of herself and fatherless Children.”

Finding the Widow Hourigan’s Petition

Searching the Index: Given the many spelling variations for Hourigan (Horahan, Horgan, Horhan, Houroghan, to name just a few), I decided to begin with a search for Name: Ho* in Place: March:

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I figured Ho plus the wildcard character (*) would call up most, if not all, possible surname variations (Hourigan, Horgan, Horhan, Houroghan, and so on).

This brought up a listing for HORHAN, Mary in March [township] in 1827. Bingo! Clicking on the listing brought up this Item Display:

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I now had the information I needed — Microform no. (C-2050), Bundle no. (H 15) and petition no. (15) — to find the actual petition (the digitized copy of the actual petition, that is).

Finding the Petition: To find the petition, I went to ARCHIVED – Microform Digitization, and found Upper Canada Land Petitions as Title no. 21. Again, the petitions are at:

Clicking on that title brought me to the hyperlinked display of all 327 available digitized microforms (from c-1609 to c-2985). I knew that I was looking for c-2050 (see the Item Display for HORHAN, Mary, above).

This is a hefty file, containing 1075 pages (or images). I  knew (again, from the Item Display above) that I was looking for Bundle H 15, and then for petition no. 15 of that bundle. Scrolling through the file (not page by page! with a thousand-page file, I search by 100s — page 100, page 200, page 300, and so on — to narrow things down), I found it at pages/images 789-795:

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It probably took me less than 15 minutes to find the Widow Hourigan’s petition (online, digitized sources: they are amazing!).

To be continued…

  1.  Thomas Hourigan married Julia Moran, daughter of James Moran and Margaret Jamieson.