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Walt Disney Canadian Connection

I am an amateur genealogist; I have been working on family history for over 25 years and I find it a fascinating hobby.  Over those many years I have uncovered some interesting facts about several branches of my family, my wife Carol’s family and even a few families I have researched for friends.

The Cruise family hails from Ireland and they are descended from a Norman named “de Crues” who arrived from France in 1066 with William the Conqueror.  He was rewarded for his military service with a gift of land and he and his descendants were considered to be nobility in the area of Cruisetown, County Louth.

My documented history of the Cruise family goes back to Banagher, County Offaly, Ireland in the 1830’s when my great-great-great grandmother Joyce Cruise (maiden name Shane, a widow of my g-g-g grandfather Peter Cruise) gathered her eight children and moved the family to Canada.  Travelling with her were John Cruise and his wife Jane Newton as well as Peter Cruise and his wife Hannah Newton and their families.  I am not certain of the relationship between John and the two Peters, but we have confirmed through DNA testing that they were close blood relatives, possibly some combination of brothers, cousins or uncle and nephew.  The clan landed in Quebec in 1836 and settled just a few miles west of Montreal.  Within a few years Joyce and her family moved to Ontario and settled in south-western Ontario, north of the present day city of London.  My g-g grandfather William, son of Peter and Joyce, moved from the London area and settled in Norfolk County in 1843; that is where I was born a little over a century later.

 I am a Disney fan and over the years I had heard a few snippets of Disney family history.  One of these snippets was that there was a Canadian connection so I decided to take a look and see if I could find that Canadian link.  Here’s what I found!

My first find was an online family tree, several of them in fact, which state that the Disney family hails from Ireland and they are descended from a Norman named Robert d’Isigny who arrived in England in 1066 with William the Conqueror.  They go on to say that a branch of the family travelled in 1834 from County Kilkenny, Ireland to Liverpool, England where they sailed to America on a ship named New Jersey.  They landed October 3, 1834 in New York City.  After a few years they moved to Clinton, Huron County in south-western Ontario.  Does this sound somewhat familiar?  Banagher to Kilkenny is a mere 48 miles and the Cruise and Disney families settled a mere 30 miles apart in Canada.  I was getting excited . . . could there be a connection between our families?  I love the challenge of a mystery!

The two maps below show where the families originated in Ireland and where they settled in Canada.  The red arrows are the Disney family and the blue arrows represent the Cruise family.

Ireland Disney Canadian Connection

 

Ontario Disney Canadian Connection

Of course, I started my research with a bit of scepticism . . . it’s my nature.  Many people digging for family history will believe everything they read, but I do not.  I need to verify what I find.  I need factual evidence that what I read is correct.  So I needed to verify the Canadian connection.  Those family trees I referred to above showed Walt Disney’s g-g-g grandparents, Robert Disney (1746 – 1808) and Mary Keppel (1750 – 1815).  They were married on February 2, 1775 in Carlow, Ireland.  Their son Keppel Disney was born in 1776 in Aharney Parish, County Laois, Ireland and he married Frances Best, born in 1776, on February 17, 1795 in Carlow. 

Keppel and Frances had eight children:

  1. Mary Ann Disney, b. abt 1795 in Clone, Kilkenny, Ireland, d. 5 Nov 1875 in Louisville, St Lawrence, NY. She married William Powers, 20 Apr 1815 in Ireland, b. 1790 in Garrintaggart, Laois, Ireland, d. 7 Feb 1869 in Louisville, St Lawrence, NY.
  2. Robert Disney, b. 9 Jul 1797 in Clone, Kilkenny, Ireland, d. 18 Apr 1872 in Goderich, Huron County, ON. He married Jane Cooke, abt 1829 in Ireland, b. 4 Nov 1810 in Ireland, d. 29 Dec 1893 in Goderich, Huron, ON.
  3. Charlotte Disney, b. abt 1801 in Clone, Kilkenny, Ireland, d. Jan 1882 in London, England.
  4. Arundel Elias Disney, b. abt 1803 in Clone, Kilkenny, Ireland, d. May 31 1880 in Goderich, Huron, ON. He married Maria Swan, 1 Sep 1832 in Clone, Kilkenny, Ireland, b. abt 1816 in Ireland, d. 26 Sep 1896 in Ellis, Ellis, Kansas.
  5. Keppel Disney b. 5 Sep 1806 in Kilkenny, Ireland, d. 9 Feb 1897 in Manhattan, NY. He married Mary E., b. abt 1830 in England, d. 4 Jul 1905 in Manhattan, NY.
  6. James Disney, b. abt 1807 in Ireland, d. abt 1840.
  7. Frances Disney, b. abt 1816 in Ireland.
  8. Henry Disney, b. 10 May 1816 in Ireland, d. 12 Apr 1877 in Manhattan, NY. He married Christiana Furney, died May 1891 in Manhattan, NY.

Unfortunately I have not been able to verify any of the data on Robert Disney and Mary Keppel and their children which appears above.  It may or may not be correct but I include it so that if you wish to investigate further you will have a starting point.

Now let’s move on to what I have been able to confirm!  In 1834 children Robert and Arundel Elias (number two and four above) sailed to New York City.  The party of seven on board the New Jersey included their wives Jane and Maria as well as Francis and Elias, sons of Robert and Jane, and Keppel, son of Arundel Elias and Maria.

Here is an extract of the passenger manifest from the ships records.

New Jersey Passenger List 500

The brothers had intended to settle in America, but did not stay there long; they moved to the Township of Goderich, Huron County, in the wilderness of south-western Ontario, Canada, just off Lake Huron and bordering on the South Maitland River.

Robert Disney and Jane Cooke had nine children:

  1. Francis Disney, b. 1830 in Ireland.
  2. Elias Disney, b. 1832 in Ireland, d. 23 Dec 1883 in Goderich, Huron, ON.
  3. Elizabeth Disney, b. 1839 Goderich, Huron, ON.
  4. Keppel Disney b. Aug 1841 Goderich, Huron, ON.
  5. William Disney, b. 1843 in Goderich, Huron, ON.
  6. Jane Disney, b. 1845 in Goderich, Huron, ON.
  7. Robert Disney, b. 1846 in Goderich, Huron, ON.
  8. Charles James Disney b. Aug 11 1851 in Goderich, Huron, ON.
  9. Henry Disney, b. 1852 in Goderich, Huron, ON.

I had some difficulty confirming when they moved to Ontario.  They appear in the 1861 Census but proof of their presence before that time was elusive.

1861 Census - Robert Disney

I wanted to see if they were in Canada at the time of the 1851 Census, unfortunately the census records for that particular township have been lost.  So I looked for the 1852 Agricultural Census records for Goderich Township . . . they were lost too!  I kept searching, scouring a number of online resources and finally had a major breakthrough!  There was a Huron County Tax Assessment done in 1842 and there were our two brothers, misspelled but it was definitely our two brothers Robert and Arundel Elias Disney.  Hooray! 

Here’s a transcription of the assessment record.

1842 Assessment

I still don’t know exactly when they arrived but in 1842 Robert owned lots 36 and 37, a 93 acre parcel, and in the household were one male and one female over 16 years of age and four males and two females under sixteen.  Immediately next door was Elias Disney on lots 38 and 39.  He farmed 149 acres and the household included one male and one female over 16 years of age and three males and two females under sixteen.  Both properties are on the Maitland River. 

That area of Ontario was just being settled or homesteaded at that time so it is quite likely that they acquired their farms under a Crown Grant, meaning that they were the first owners of the lands.  A trip to the Land Registry Office could prove this but since it’s a six hour drive from where I live it will have to wait.

Huron County was heavily wooded territory with gently rolling hills at the time.  The brothers must have been industrious souls since settlers had to work for a few decades felling trees and pulling stumps to expand the arable land.  Those who persevered, like the Disney brothers, were rewarded with very fertile farm lands.

This family stayed in the same area of south-western Ontario for several generations and there are still a number of direct descendants in Huron County and the neighbouring municipalities.  There is even a Disney Road about four miles from the shore of Lake Huron, between the towns of Goderich and Clinton.

Robert and Jane are buried in the Maitland Cemetery in Goderich Township.

Death - Robert Disney 1872

Robert Disney Grave - Maitland Cemetery

Jane Cooke Grave - Maitland Cemetery

An 1872 Atlas for Huron County shows two Disney farms, the arrows mark the farms of Charles Disney on the left and Keppel Disney on the right.  The arrow in the centre points to the road which is now known as “Disney Road”.  In 1872 the cousins were less than a mile apart.  Charles was the son of Robert and was living on lot 36 which his father had owned.  Keppel was the son of Elias.

Goderich Township Map 1878

Arundel Elias Disney and Maria Swan had eight children:

  1. Keppel Disney b. 2 Nov 1832 in Clone, Kilkenny, Ireland, d. 24 May 1891 in Ellis, Ellis, KS. He married Mary Richardson, Mar 18 1858 in Goderich, Huron, ON, b. 30 Mar 1838 in Aghaboe Parish, Queens County, Ireland (daughter of Robert Richardson and Ruth Lark), d. 10 Mar 1909 in Ellis, KS.
  2. Mary Disney, b. 6 Aug 1839 in Goderich, Huron, ON. She married Israel E. Forsyth, b. abt 1840 in Dumfries Township, Middlesex County, ON (son of George Forsyth and Estacia), d. abt 1900 in New York, USA
  3. Elias Disney, b. 4 Apr 1843 in Strathroy, Huron, ON, d. 3 Mar 1913 in Hutchinson, Reno, KS
  4. Charlotte Disney, b. abt 1850 in Goderich, Huron, ON.
  5. Thomas Disney, b. abt 1851 in Goderich, Huron, ON.
  6. James Disney, b. abt 1853 in Goderich, Huron, ON.
  7. Harriet Disney, b. abt 1856 in Goderich, Huron, ON, d. 10 Jul 1881 in Ellis, Ellis, Kansas, USA. She married Walter White Martin, 28 Apr 1875 in Chicago, Cook County, IL, b. 28 Mar 1850 in Cincinnati, Madison, OH, d. 14 Dec 1927 in Denver, Adams, CO.
  8. Arundel Robert Disney, b. abt 1858 in Goderich, Huron, ON, d. abt 1910.

In a story I have not been able to substantiate it is suggested that Arundel Elias built the area’s first grist mill and a saw mill while farming and raising a family.   

1861 Census - Arundel Disney

Keppel Disney and Mary Richardson had nine children:

  1. Elias Disney b. Feb 6, 1859 in Goderich, Huron, ON, d. Sep 13, 1941 in Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA. He married Flora Call, 1 Jan 1888 in Kismet, Lake County, FL, b. Apr 22, 1868 in Steuben, Huron, OH (daughter of Charles Call and Henrietta Gross), d. Nov 6, 1938 in Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA
  2. Robert Samuel Disney b. 7 Aug 1861 in Goderich, Huron, ON, d. 28 Jul 1953 in Los Angeles, CA. He married Charlotte Ann Hurcey, b. 2 Nov 1892 in Kansas City, Wyandotte, KS, d. 31 Jan 1979 in Winton, Merced, CA.
  3. Annie Disney, b. abt 1864 in Goderich, Huron, ON.
  4. Edward Disney, b. Dec 1867 in Goderich, Huron, ON.
  5. Alberta Mary Disney b. 20 Feb 1869 in Goderich, Huron, ON, d. 17 May 1954 in Blackwell, Kay, OK. She married John Charles Fremont Johnson, 5 Feb 1891 in Ellis, KS, b. 29 May 1858 in Saginaw, MI, d. 22 Aug 1942 in Blackwell, Kay, OK.
  6. Keppel Disney b. 28 Jan 1872 in Goderich, Huron, ON, d. 13 Dec 1939. He married Mary A. Mullen, 1897, b. 24 Mar 1872 in Iowa City, Wright, IA (daughter of Thomas Mullen and Annie), d. 11 Mar 1956.
  7. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Disney, b. 3 Mar 1874 in Goderich, Huron, ON, d. 3 Dec 1906 in Kansas, USA. She married Harry S. Saunders, abt 1894, b. Aug 1862 in Illinois, USA.
  8. Addie Disney, b. 18 Feb 1876 in Goderich, Huron, ON, d. 23 Mar 1932. She married Benjamin F Jones, abt 1895, b. 15 Apr 1872 in Jasper, Jasper County, MO.
  9. William Henry Disney b. 7 Mar 1878 in Goderich, Huron, ON, d. 17 Apr 1958. He married Lydia M., b. abt 1886 in Missouri, USA.

In 1878 Keppel and Mary along with their children moved to Ellis, KS and appeared in the 1880 census.

1880 Census USA - Kepple Disney

By the time of the 1885 census in Florida their eldest son Elias Disney was living in Orange County Florida.

1885 Census Florida - Elias Disney

In that census you will see a 17 year old girl, F. (Flora) Call, just a few lines below Elias Disney.  Just three years later, in 1888 Elias married Flora at Kismet, Lake County, Florida a mere 50 miles north of the site where their son Walt would, about 80 years later, build Walt Disney World.  Kismet is now a ghost town in the middle of the Ocala National Forest.

Elias and Flora had five children:

  1. Herbert Arthur Disney b. Dec 8, 1888 in Kismet, FL, d. Jan 29, 1961 in Los Angeles, CA. He married Louise J. Rost, 14 Aug 1913 in Kansas City, Jackson, MO, b. 15 Sep 1891 in Missouri (daughter of William A. Rost and Julia A. Rhedanz), d. 21 Apr 1953 in Los Angeles, CA.
  2. Raymond Arnold Disney, b. Dec 30, 1890 in Chicago, Cook, IL., d. May 24, 1989 in Santa Monica, CA.
  3. Roy Oliver Disney b. Jun 24, 1893 in Chicago, Cook, IL, d. 20 Dec 1971 in Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA. He married Edna Francis, 11 Apr 1925 in Los Angeles, CA, b. 16 Jan 1890 in Wichita, Sedgwick, KS (daughter of Edward S. Francis and Lettye Montana Milbourn), d. 18 Dec 1984 in Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA.
  4. Walter Elias Disney b. Dec 5, 1901 in Chicago, Cook, IL, d. Dec 15, 1966 in Burbank, CA. He married Lillian Marie Bounds, 13 Jul 1925 in Lewiston, Nez Perce, ID (daughter of Willard Pehall Bounds and Jeanette Short), b. 15 Feb 1899 in Spalding, Nez Perce, ID, d. 16 Dec 1997 in Los Angeles, CA.
  5. Ruth Flora Disney b. Dec 6, 1903 in Chicago, Cook, IL, d. Apr 7, 1995 in Multnomah, Multnomah, OR. She married Theodore John Beecher, 29 Nov 1938, b. 20 Feb 1906 in Chicago, Cook, IL, d. 21 May 1995 in Multnomah, OR.

Elias and Flora have a well documented history due to their son Walt’s amazing life and career.  They lived in Chicago IL, Marceline MO and Kansas City MO during Walt’s youth.

Walt and Lillian visited Ontario to see the old Disney homestead sometime after his father Elias died in 1943.  In a 1963 interview with Fletcher Markle on the CBC Television program Telescope, Walt told a humorous story.  In Walt Disney’s words:

“We got up there and she [Lillian] really fell in love with the Town of Goderich. It was a beautiful town and she was quite happy about it. But I wanted to find my homestead where my grandfather went out and cut the trees down and pulled the rocks apart… where my father was born. So they gave me directions and everybody was trying to be helpful and everything and Mrs. Disney reluctantly went along and I found this old place and I said, “This is it – there.” It was really deserted. There were cows running through the house and chickens all around and I had my camera and I got out and photographed that thing from every angle.”

“When I got home I found out I had photographed the wrong homestead. Ever since, Mrs. Disney has never forgot. She tells that story to everybody – about when Walt went up to Canada and he photographed the wrong homestead!”

I’ve used both Google Maps and Google Earth to examine the farms where the Disney family lived about a century and a half ago, and it doesn’t look like any of the 19th century buildings have survived.  Alas, we’ll never get that photo of the homestead that Walt was looking for!

The headstones pictured earlier and the road sign shown below are the only traces of the Disney family left in Huron County.

Disney Road Sign

Although I cannot confirm that Robert Disney and Mary Keppel were the parents of the Robert and Elias Disney who came to Canada I have based my search on the presumption that the information is correct.  I have found detailed information covering more than 200 of their descendants.  You might be wondering how I discovered all of this information.  Well it was quite simple really.  I used Ancestry.com and did it all from my home in about 12 hours. 

When I first started out in genealogy a search like this would have taken a few years and involved many visits to libraries and museums to pore through dusty old books or endless rolls of microfilm.  In this new digital age it is almost all digitized, indexed and searchable online.  Wow . . . what a treat compared to the old days. 

If you watched the television series “Who Do You Think You Are” which aired about a decade ago and was sponsored by Ancestry.com you may have wondered, “Is Ancestry.com as good as they make it sound?”  The answer is yes.  Definitely yes!  All of the pictures in this blog, including the census records and the cemetery headstones, were downloaded from Ancestry.com.  They are all “public domain” documents and are easily found through the web service.  If you are considering tracing your family history this is a tool you must try!

So that’s the story of Walt’s Canadian connection!  Walt’s father and grandfather were born in Canada and his great grandfather and great-great grandfather moved from Ireland to Canada, via New York, sometime before 1842.

And no, I did not find a connection to my Cruise clan . . . at least not yet!  Genealogy is never finished; there is always another riddle or mystery ahead of you.  So someday, when I least expect it, I may just stumble over a connection. 

Wouldn’t that be something!  It would be ‘Magical”

Gary Cruise

Gary Cruise

Gary is a retired banker who lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. He first visited Walt Disney World in 1977 and has returned many, many times over the years. Since retiring he and his wife Carol enjoy the parks a number of times each year. They especially like staying at Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground with their Shetland sheep dogs.

 

Walt Disney - The Canadian Connection
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