An Introduction to the Henry Grandchildren

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

Father Henry was very fond of children, and his grandchildren will carry to their graves pleasant memories of ‘Grandpa’s Parties.’ These parties were given on the 24th of May, and the grandchildren were all invited. The children were all welcome if they came, but the grandchildren were the honored guests. We shall always remember the long table, surrounded by children, with grandpa at the head dispensing the good cheer provided for the occasion, was a face scarcely less bright and happy than the children around him.

~Polly Ann Henry, Stoney Kudel, and Laura Suchan, The Annotated Memoir of Rev. Thomas Henry (Oshawa Historical Society, 2017), 115-116.

Why them? Why was it important to me to document the lives of Thomas Henry’s grandchildren? This project began a few years ago when we decided to host an event we called Grandpa Henry’s Picnic. After a few years of hosting this event, I realized that we weren’t offering any information to the public about our guests of honour! I quickly printed out some pictures and did a few brief biographical sketches. Later I began to wonder which of the grandkids attended these Grandpa’s Parties. There were so many of them, I began to lose track of who was who.

File1617-A991.5.11
A991.5.11

My next step was to create an Excel spreadsheet that included columns to denote their names, year born, age at death, occupation, where they lived, did they live while Thomas was alive, who were their parents, are there any photos of them, and did they have any servants. From here I could manipulate the columns to see the grandkids from oldest to youngest, according to who their parents and siblings were, and were they alive while Thomas was.

In total, Thomas and Lurenda had 54 grandchildren. Thomas’s first wife Elizabeth never met any of her grandchildren, dying when her oldest son was only nine years old. For sake of ease, my research has not included any step-grandchildren, nor infants whose information I could not find.

a0172014
Bertie Vasbinder,Hazel DeGurre, “Aunt Eliza Henry,” Arlie DeGurre, Elva Lorbeer, Jennie McGill (A017.20.14)

Ambrose Henry, son of John and Elizabeth, was the first grandson born in 1847, and Ida May McGill, was the youngest granddaughter, daughter of John and Jennie, and born in 1890 – 43 years apart. To give you some more perspective, Ambrose was born before his youngest three aunts and uncle were born: Clarissa in 1848, William in 1849 and Jennie in 1852. In another interesting tidbit, the oldest granddaughter Edna, daughter of John and Elizabeth was born in 1855 and Thomas’s youngest daughter Jennie was born in 1852.

Now that you’ve gotten a taste of the information, which I personally find fascinating, I hope you’ll continue reading as I introduce Thomas Henry’s Grandchildren.

Museum Musings – Thoughts from an Intern

By Clare Kennedy, MMC Intern

Well, another Friday has come and it’s hard to believe that I have just finished my fourth week as an intern at the Oshawa Community Museum. I am at the museum until early August, completing my final semester in the Museum Management and Curatorship program offered by Fleming College.

One of the focuses for my internship is to research the recently acquired collection of letters and documents related to Thomas Henry for a publication that will be written over the next year or so. This project has allowed me to pursue my interest in research associated with museum and archival collections, but has also served as an enlightening introduction to the Henry family, who I knew nothing about before I came to the museum.

Ebenezer Elijah Henry, from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection
Ebenezer Elijah Henry, from the Oshawa Community Archives Collection

Many of the letters in this collection are from Thomas’ son Ebenezer Elijah (often written as E. E.) Henry. Ebenezer was the fifth and last child of Thomas and his first wife Elizabeth Davis. I have found the exchanges between Thomas and Ebenezer to be the most intriguing ones in the collection. Ebenezer’s letters reveal an interesting relationship between himself and his father that is reflective of many familial relationships today.

The problems between Ebenezer and his father seem to revolve around Ebenezer’s interest in spiritualism, his father’s disagreement with this religious trend, and their misunderstandings of each other’s intentions. However, Ebenezer’s letters reveal the existence of deeper issues beyond those religious differences.

In a letter from September 1, 1878, Ebenezer writes to his father, “I have always thought that if there was a prodigal son you certainly looked on me as the one in your family.” His father had apparently written that he was the favourite of the family. Ebenezer begins an emotional response arguing that he has been treated unfairly. In particular, he complains that he (unlike his brothers) has never been given any property by his father, and he notes, “I have had to paddle my own canoe for myself.”  It is likely that all of us can relate on some level to Ebenezer’s feelings of envy and unworthiness.

Based on the letters, it is clear that Ebenezer feels that he has been a great disappointment to his father, and his deep desire for his father’s approval and love is apparent. At one point, he is so desperate to prove his worth that he describes all of the attributes that make him a good person. He defensively writes to his father, “I am a Temperate man in all things. I have always tried to shun low bad company I don’t use tobacco I don’t swear nor use bad language. I try to avoid Evil I love the company of the good and I love to help the poor.”

After reading such passages, it is impossible not to feel some sympathy for Ebenezer. It is these passages that humanize him and make his experiences relatable to our everyday life. I think this is why his letters to his father are among my favourites in the collection.

Unfortunately, the letters in this collection only offer a small glimpse into the lives of the Henry family. Many questions I have about the relationship between Thomas and Ebenezer, as well as the relationship between Ebenezer and his siblings, must remain unanswered – at least until another collection is discovered.