John Sutherland

My great grandfather Donald Sutherland’s brother John was the only sibling I ever heard the family talk about. There were stories, but never any mention of a wife or children so I assumed he never married. I have recently discovered that not only was he married, but he was married twice and the second time to his mother-in-law!

Both my father and my Aunt remembered him as a slim and wiry old fellow, with a shock of white hair parted in the middle. He was hard of hearing but very chatty, unlike many of the other relatives. Words he had encountered since his deafness and had never heard distinctly, he pronounced according to some vague approximation. He drove a Ford sedan, which he referred to as his “sweden”.

I had trouble finding information on John Sutherland. I haven’t yet found his birth certificate and only know his approximate birth year (1864), from an early census. There are a lot of John Sutherlands and so no unusual name to help. The first information I found was his marriage in 1900 to a Mary Jane Gibson, which showed his parents to be William Sutherland and Elizabeth Mowat. I then found them on the 1911 census, Mary G with a Gertrude Sutherland 24 and Roy Sutherland 20. Whose children were they as they were born well before this marriage? Gertrude’s birth certificate from 1887 showed her mother was Elizabeth Gibson as did Roy’s in 1891. I then found Elizabeth’s birth certificate which stated her mother was Mary Jane Ramsey and at Elizabeth’s death she was the wife of John Sutherland.

John had married Elizabeth Gibson the daughter of William Gibson and Mary Jane Ramsey about 1886 and they moved in with her widowed mother. There, their two children were born.

In 1899 Elizabeth died of tuberculosis after several years struggling with the disease, leaving John with two young children. Perhaps it wasn’t seemly for her husband to continue to live with her mother but he needed help raising his children, so on March 9, 1900, he married his mother-in-law. At that time he was 37 and she was 49. In the 1901 census Mary Jane was still listed as the head of the household and John and his children as lodgers, but in 1911 she is the wife, Mary Jane Sutherland.

Interestingly, when his son Roy joined the army in 1918 he gave his next of kin as Mary Jane Gibson, his grandmother. Many questions can be raised about John and Mary Jane’s relationship. Was it merely a marriage of convenience or did they find love living closely together for years?

I have not found a record of either his death or Mary Jane’s. Although he lived for many years in Davisville on Merton Street, which borders on Mount Pleasant Cemetery, I haven’t been able to find if this is his final resting place. Most of his family members are buried in this cemetery. Elizabeth was buried in her father’s plot in the Toronto Necropolis, but John doesn’t appear to be there either. Are John and Mary Jane buried together somewhere, together through eternity?


Small, Carol A. The McIntoshes of Inchverry. Denfield, Ont.: Maple Hurst, 2008. Print.

Elizabeth’s death Source Citation: Archives of Ontario; Series: MS935; Reel: 95.

Canada Census, 1901″, index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 12 Mar 2014), John Sutherland in an entry for Mary J Gibson, 1901.

Canada Census 1911″, index, FamilySearch ( : (accessed 10 January 2015), John Sutherland, 1911.

Elizabeth Van Loben Sels, personal recollections sent to her brother Donald Sutherland abt. 1980.

“Canada, Marriages, 1661-1949,” index, FamilySearch ( : (accessed 6 December 2014), John Sutherland and Mary J. Gibson, 09 Mar 1900; citing Toronto, York, Ontario, Canada, reference 44; FHL microfilm 230,899.

“Ontario, Toronto Trust Cemeteries, 1826-1989,” index and images, FamilySearch ( : (accessed 5 December 2014), Elizabeth Sutherland, 20 Nov 1899; citing Toronto, Ontario, Canada, section and lot I 62, line 27564, volume Volume 08, 1891-1900, Toronto Trust Cemeteries, Toronto; FHL microfilm 1,617,041.

5 thoughts on “Mother-in-Law!”

  1. Hello Mary, I found your family story fascinating. I’m particularly interested in Roy (or Ray) Sutherland, who was born to John Sutherland and Elizabeth Gibson in Toronto 11 June 1891. I wonder if you know what happened to him?
    You say he joined the army in 1918. He married Florence Easterbrook (m.s. Kerr), a young widow, on 22 January 1919 in Toronto; he was described as a photographer. They had a daughter, Audrey, in 1920, and a son, William, on 4 August 1923, both born in Toronto. However, I can’t find either Ray or Florence in the 1921 Toronto census, and sometime during those years their marriage seems to have fallen apart.
    Florence moved up to Barrie, Ontario, in 1929, taking their daughter and son, to live with a local building contractor originally from Aberdeenshire, Jonathan Littlejohn. I have no idea how they met, perhaps in Toronto.
    She filed for divorce from Ray Sutherland in 1930, which was granted on 5 December 1932, then married Littlejohn on 22 May 1933. Unfortunately, he died in July 1939. Florence stayed in Barrie for a while (at their 12 Charlotte Street house), but I’ve not been able to trace her after that. I believe she may have died around 1975. I have a couple of photos of her, gleaned on-line.
    As for Ray, I have no idea what became of him, and hope you might know something.
    Their son William (whose father was Ray, I believe, though he known as “Billie Littlejohn” at school) died in the polio epidemic of 1937. His Barrie obituary (very fulsome for a 14-year-old) mentioned that his “Great Grandmother Mrs. Murray Gibson” was still alive in Toronto, which is why your story caught my attention.
    Florence’s daughter Audrey Sutherland (also briefly known as “Audrey Littlejohn”, though I’m pretty sure Ray was her father) married Floyd Ransom around 1938, when they were just out of school. They had at least three children. I have a feeling that Floyd Sr. died fairly early on in their marriage – or that they split up. She moved to Owen Sound in the 1970s and died 8 October 2003, near Ottawa. This is her obituary from the Ottawa Citizen the next day:
    “SUTHERLAND-RANSOM, Audrey. Peacefully on Wednesday, October 8, 2003, Audrey, in her 84th year. Loving mother of Virginia (Terry Bateman) and the late Heather Anthony. Grandma to Sheila McLuskey and her family; as well Floyd, Chris and Glenn Bateman. Great-Grandma to many. A Graveside Service will be held at Highland Park Cemetery (McGee Side Rd., Carp) on Thursday, October 9 at 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Ottawa Humane Society would be appreciated. Audrey will be sadly missed by all her pets.”
    If you know anything more about Ray, Audrey or Billie, I would be very interested to hear it. In case you’re wondering what my interest is in this complicated story, my wife Helen’s grandfather was Jonathan Littlejohn, via his earlier marriage. His life was even more complicated (and tragic) than John’s.

    Best regards, John Humphrey (Toronto)


    1. Hi John,
      I am glad you enjoyed the story. I don’t know too much about Roy. His complete WWI service file is now online. He deserted on the same day he married Florence. There has to be a story there! I have not found a record of his death. I knew nothing about Billie.

      I have more information about Audrey that I will send you off the blog.



    2. Audrey was my grandmother. She lived with us for a couple of years and told me all the stories. Email me.


    3. Hi John,

      I will see what I can answer for you. How are you related or interested btw? Audrey was my grandmother.

      Roy, her father was a photographer. This got him in a wee bit of trouble…

      Roy and Florence (she went by “Lovey”) moved to Coral Gables Florida right after they got married. Audrey was born there, I am certain her brother was born there too. My Gran was American by birth and I believe had dual citizenship. Audrey lived in Hamilton for a few years and popped back and forth over the border regularly.

      Roy her dad had a roving eye. He was doing fashion photography in Miami and was a bit of a jerk. He had an affair or two. Apparently he would use Audrey as a cover and bring her along to jobs, kept her busy with treats while he played the field. She remembered the treats as bribes. Florence picked up and left him with two young kids and took the train back to Canada and divorced Roy. I do believe he died in the US. You will find them on the US census in the 1920s.

      Florence was married the first time to a fellow by the name of Easterbrook. He and their infant son died of Spanish flu in 1918, about a week apart. Heartbreaking for a young woman.

      She probably wasn’t thinking straight when she met Roy Sutherland.

      After she divorced Roy the skunk, she married Littlejohn (it is so funny that Audrey only called them by their last names). He died.

      She then married a guy named McCracken. He was apparently a horrible human being. Audrey left and married young. I really do not know if her husband’s name was Floyd. It was a guess.

      Florence’s grave is in Castleton Ontario, she died in 1959. She had a stroke in her mid 40’s and had some paralysis. I went to her grave last year.

      Audrey is buried in the Highland Park cemetery in Carp ON.

      She lived with us for a couple of years before she died. She talked a lot about family geneology.


      1. Hi Shelia and John,
        This is certainly a family with many up and downs and in and outs! Thanks for all your input on Aundrey and Florence. Now I hope we find more information on Roy the Skunk.


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