The Wood Family

By Christopher Bretz


This is still a work in progress.

The Wood family is an important part of our modern Bretz lineage. Firstly because two Wood sisters married two Bretz brothers, making for an exceptionally close family bond. But as well, the Wood family had several strong personalities whose lasting influence was felt for many years, both good and bad.

The eldest members of the Wood family we have reliably found are George Robert Wood (1796-) and his wife Sarah Crouch, found on the 1841 marriage record of his son, Stephen, and on the birth records for Stephen and his older sister Hannah in Ticehurst. George and Sarah were said to be born in Salehurst to the south, and were married there in 1818. However, just three months after the marriage there is a record from the Overseer of the Poor in Salehurst noting the young couple was ordered to remove to Ticehurst. This might have been because it was George's actual home parish.

Removal order to Ticehurst, 24 Nov 1818 : George Wood and wife Sarah, from Salehurst

Before 1834, the poorest in society were generally cared for by the parish in which they lived, or had right of settlement. The English Act of Settlement in 1662 gave parishes the right to remove anyone who was likely to be a charge on the parish. Settlement could be gained by being born in a parish, renting a property worth more than £10 per annum, marrying someone with settlement rights, or paying parish rates. Parishes often disputed settlement and cases went to the quarter sessions; in Brighton these were held at Lewes.

As the couple's children were born in Ticehurst it would appear they did not have the means to contest the order.

It does seem likely that the family moved to Brighton before 1829, but unfortunately they did not improve their financial situation. There is another record from December 31st, 1829 by the Overseer of the Poor in Brighton noting that the family was ordered to remove to Ticehurst.

Removal order to Ticehurst, 31 Dec 1829 : George Wood, wife Sarah and children Hannah (10), Stephen (8), Mary (6) and Robert (4), from Brighton; suspended and re-instated 14 Jan 1830

However by some means the order was lifted and the family remained in Brighton. There are actually several George Robert Woods in the area during the early 19th century and we have not traced all of their lines, so it is difficult to follow their path later in life.

George's son, Stephen Wood (1821-1880) was born in Ticehurst, Sussex on March 18th, 1821. There are a number of older Woods recorded in the 1734 Sussex Poll Book but none of them can yet be tied definatively to Stephen or his father. Several, including two Johns are located in the towns around Ticehurst however. Nothing is known about Stephen's early family life. He appears to have moved at some point to Brighthelmstone on the south coast, which at that time was rapidly growing. There is a George and Sarah Wood recorded on the later census of Brighton and they might be Stephen's parents.

Known as Brighthelmstone from the 15th century, the town  of Brighton began as a simple fishing village, but emerged as a health resort featuring sea bathing during the 18th century. By 1780, development of the Georgian terraces had begun and the village became fashionable. Growth of the town was further encouraged by the patronage of the Prince Regent (later King George IV) after his first visit in 1783. The famous Chain Pier was built, to the designs of Captain Samuel Brown in 1823. It lasted till 1896, and featured in paintings by both Turner and Constable, and spawned many imitators. The arrival of the London and Brighton Railway in 1841 brought Brighton within the reach of day-trippers from London and population growth from around 7,000 in 1801 to over 120,000 by 1901. It was not until this period that the modern form of the name, Brighton, came into common use.

Stephen met Sarah Ann Moore likely in the late 1830s. She was born in Portsea, Hampshire in June 1812, and was several years older then Stephen. They married in Brighton April 9th, 1841 when he was just twenty years old.

The 1841 census records young Stephen and Sarah Ann living at Carlton Place in Brighthelmstone, Sussex, near St Peter's Church. Stephen is listed having worked as a labourer, a good occupation in the quickly growing town. Interestingly they appear to have shared the building solely with the large Gravett family, who had seven children.

However, making ends meet was apparently tough for the couple at this time. They were recorded January 17th, 1842 as having recieved a removal order to Ticehurst, Stephen's birth parish, by the Overseer of the Poor. The record notes:

Removal order to Ticehurst, 17 Jan 1842 : Stephen Wood and wife Sarah Ann, from Brighton; suspended and re-instated 1 Mar 1842

By some means the order was lifted and the couple remained in Brighton.

Perhaps these early years of their marriage prevented them from having a family right away. It wasn't until 1845 that Stephen and Sarah Ann had their first child, Thomas, when Sarah Ann was in her early thirties. They would go on to have 2 other children, John and Elizabeth.

The Wood family was a member of the Church of England and is thought to have been very serious about their faith. Many of Stephen's descendants would pursue their faith with devotion.

Brighton’s first (and indeed among the first in the world) photographic studio opened on Monday November 8th, 1841 at 57 Marine Parade, a large house situated on Brighton’s eastern seafront. It was owned by William Constable.

By the 1851 census they still lived in Brighton, but had moved to Lavender Street on the east of the village. Stephen worked as an auctioneer`s porter, while Sarah worked as a tobacco dealer.

1851 Census, Brighton, 25 Lavender Street
            Stephen Wood 35 - auctioneers porter
            Sarah A Wood 39 - tobacco dealer
            Thomas M Wood 5 - scholar
            John Wood 3
            Elisa A Wood 6 mo

Sarah Ann appears to have died unexpectedly between 1852-58 in Sussex of unknown causes in her early forties.

By 1854 the Brighton and Hove Directory no longer lists Stephen at 25 Lavender Street, and in fact has no listing for this house at all. The next year, the 1855 Post Office directory of Brighton lists a William Day, grocer, at number 25, so clearly the family had moved. Across the street for many years at number 30 was a James Wood, grocer and shopkeeper, but it is not known what happened to Stephen. Perhaps it has something to do with Sarah Ann's death?

The 1854 Brighton and Hove Directory list numerous Woods living in town and employed in all walks of life, but it is unknown how or if they relate to Stephen's family line. No listing for Stephen Wood is found.

Stephen decided to emigrate with his family to Canada in 1859.

Soon after the Woods arrived, Stephen remarried to a woman named Jemima Wellwood, but not much is known about her or how they met save that she was a woman many years his junior. Although their marriage certificate is unknown, their union is confirmed as the family shows up correctly in the 1861 Canada census. Stephen and Jamima had a son, Stephen Jr in 1860 in Toronto, very soon after they would have married. Also on the census is Eliza Morton, a married woman thought to be Jemima's sister as they were both born in Baltimore, Canada West.

Many years later, we learn from Stephen Jr's death certificate that his mother's full name was Jemima Wellwood, the daughter of an Irish family who had immigrated in the early 1830s to near Cobourg.

The 1861 Canada census records that the family lived in Toronto, St David`s Ward, King Street East, North Side, and Stephen worked as a carpenter.

1861 Census, Toronto, King street
            Stephen Wood 40 - carpenter
            Jemima 24
            Thomas M Wood 16 - apprentice joiner
            John Wood 14 tailor
            Elisa A Wood 11
            Stephen Wood 1
            Eliza Morton 30

The 1861 Toronto City Directory lists a Stephen Wood at 234 King street and working as a provision dealer.

Stephen and Jemima had a second son in 1864 named Joseph George Wood.

The 1865 Toronto City Directory lists a Stephen Wood at 56 Centre avenue working as a porter and carpenter. This seems likely to be our Stephen. It also lists a Thomas Wood, carpenter living at 101 Elm street only a few streets away.

The 1866 Toronto City Directory lists Thomas Wood, carpenter living at 328 Richmond west. A Stephen is listed as well working as the foreman of the Toronto linseed oil works, and living at 18 Elizabeth.

Stephen Wood died sometime before 1880 (at the latest) presumably in Ontario, although no definitive record has yet been found. There are no records of him in the city directories of the 1870s, or the 1871 and 1881 census. A Stephen Wood is known who died in Frontenac county (Kingston) in 1870 at age 49. This Stephen Wood was also born in England and was a carpenter, so it is possible he is our Stephen who was travelling for some reason. His second wife Jemima was originally from near Cobourg, so perhaps she had family out there. His death at this time might explain his absence from the records afterward.

Stephen Jr (1860-1906), according to family lore provided by Bryan O'Halloran, ran away from home in the mid 1870s as a teenager after an arguement with his brother. He became a merchant seaman soon after and in 1876 was recorded aboard the Perservance. In 1882 he was found in Australia for the first time when he enlisted as an able seaman on the ship The Colonist. There he met a young Scottish woman named Catherine Sinclair and had a family with her after 1888. In 1885, he received his master's certificate for coastal trade. He worked as a Pilot Boatman on the lifeboats Mabel, Victoria I, and Victoria II between 1891-1904. He died rather young, leaving his wife to raise their four children alone.

Joseph George Wood (1864- ), the youngest child, stayed in Canada and married Annie Odam.

Not much is known about what happened to Stephen Sr's only daughter Elizabeth. The 1881 census showed her living with her brother John's family.

John Wood (1852-1927), the middle son, married twice. First to Katherine Gamble in 1862, then to Matilda Groome in 1887. It is believed that Katherine died young.

The 1881 Canada census recorded John and Catherine's family thus;

1881 Census, St John's Ward
            John Wood 32 - sailmaker
            Cath L Wood 29
            Rosey Wood 3
            Eliza Wood 28
            Minnie Bell 83 - machinist

The 1891 Canada census recorded John and Matilda's family thus;

1891 Census, St John's Ward
            John Wood 40 - window shade maker
            Matilda Wood 27
            Roxie E Wood 13

The 1901 Canada census recorded John and Matilda's family thus;

1901 Census, Toronto Centre
            John Wood 50 - manufacturer of awnings
            Matilda Wood 33
            Roxie Wood 23 - cashier
            John Wood 6
            Julia Snell 83 - roomer

John's son by Matilda became an insurance agent in Toronto. He died relatively young at age 40.

John's daughter by Katherine, Amy 'Roxie' Helena Wood, married Reverend William Hanna between 1905-1910. William and herself were Baptist missionaries who made trips to China from 1910 onward for the China Inland Mission. The took over the mission in 1913. They were located in Ta-li Fu, near Dali, Yunnan province, which was so remote 14 days ride were needed to get to the nearest foriegn settlement. Hanna remained at Ta-li Fu until the anti-foreign agitation of 1927 drove all the foreign missionaries away. William and Roxie were also recorded in Camps and Trails in China, by Roy Chapman Andrews, 1918, as he journeyed through the area. One excerpt;

"Besides Mr. Evans the white residents of Ta-li Fu (Dali) include the Reverend William J. Hanna, his wife and two other ladies, all of the China Inland Mission. Mr. Hanna is doing a really splendid work, especially along educational and medical lines. He has built a beautiful little chapel, a large school, and a dispensary in connection with his house, where he and his wife are occupied every morning treating the minor ills of the natives, Christian and heathen alike."

Roxie died in 1922 and is buried at the Toronto Necropolis with her father. It states she was a missionary for 20 years. Her husband's grave is unknown, but he did return to Canada in 1931 with their son.

The couple had a son in China, John Elmore Hanna, who emigrated back to Canada in 1931. He served in WWII with the Canadian military in Malaya and Burma and was a great asset as he spoke fluet Mandarin. He is recorded in Canadians Behind Enemy Lines, 1939-1945, Maclaren, 2004.

"...With Benoit dropped John Elmore Hanna, the son of a Toronto-born mother and an Irish Baptist missionary father, who had spent many years in northern China. There until the age of sixteen, Hanna had learned to speak Mandarin fluently. His parents having both died, Hanna arrived in Canada in 1931. Until he joined the army in February 1941, he was a bookkeeper for, successively, the Dominion bank, McDonald Currie, and eventually Dome Mines at Tyanite, Ontario..."

John Elmore appears to have moved to the United States at some point as he died in California in 1972. It is not yet known if he had a family there.


Thomas Moore Wood (1845-1902), Stephen's first born child, was baptized on September 12th, 1845 in Brighton, England, at St Nicholas' church. He carried his mother's maiden name as his middle name throughout his life.

The 1851 census indicates that the family lived in Brighton, near Kemp Town. The family was Methodist, with the Church of England.

Thomas was only around 9 years old his mother died unexpectedly, which surely affected his upbringing.

When the Wood family emigrated to Canada in 1859, his father remarried to a woman named Jemima. Thomas was 15.

According to the 1861 Canadian census and directories the family lived in St David`s Ward, King Street East, North Side, number 234. Thomas was listed as an apprentice joiner.

Twenty year old Thomas was apparently living on his own by 1865, when he is recorded living at 101 Elm street, a few blocks from his father. He is listed as a carpenter. The following year he is found at 328 Richmond street west. He worked as a carpenter, and window blind maker for his whole career.

In 1869 Thomas is listed as a carpenter living in a house at the corner of Princess and Palace.

Sometime between 1870-1873 the Wood brothers started a window blind and shade business at 12 Victoria street downtown. It was called T. M. Wood & Co. and also known as the Dominion Window Shade Factory. They both worked and lived out of this address. Young John would have barely been 20 years old, while Thomas was approaching 30.

The advertisment on the right is for the Wood brother's shop from the 1877 Toronto city directory.

It seems likely that the boy's father Stephen passed on or moved away between 1866-1870s. The result being his older children had to go out on their own quite young to support themselves. This would explain why the two brothers lived together for many years.

By 1875 the brothers moved their residence to 195 Church street, but the business still ran out of Victoria street.

Hannah Gilbert (1851-1936) was born in England in 1851 but spent her childhood near Baltimore, Maryland. Her parents immigrated between 1851–1855, and all of Hannah's siblings were born in the US. When she was a child during the Civil war she was taught to hide in flour barrels from troops when they came around (of either side). She moved with her family to Toronto, Canada around 1863. From at least 1866 onward the family lived on Seaton street, moving occasionally to another home a few doors down from the last. The census records that Hannah was a member of the Church of Ireland. Her father John B Gilbert was a printer who also ran a herbal medicine business out of his home. This photo to the right is thought to be of Hannah Gilbert in her later years. The age and resemblance to her daughter Lillian is notable. Thomas and Hannah would have met in the mid 1870s.

Thomas and Hannah were married in Toronto on October 12th, 1876. The large Wood family bible was also likely purchased around that time.

The 1879 Toronto City Directory still listed T. M. Wood & Company as window sash and blinds manufacturers. The business was still at 12 Victoria but Thomas and John's families both lived at 31 Grosvenor by now. Interestingly, John Wood is shown as being a part of both his brother's company and a second one called Selway and Wood. The Victoria street workplace was used by the brothers at least as far back as 1873.

Around 1880 the brother's families moved into seperate homes. Thomas and Hannah moved to near Sackville street in St David's Ward, where they would remain for years.

For the 1881 census the young family lived in Toronto, St Davids Ward. It was just Thomas, Hannah and babies Lillian and Ethel.

1881 Census, Toronto East, 18 Orford
            Thomas Wood 31 - Joiner
            Hanna Wood 30
            Lily Wood 3
            Ethel Wood 1


The 1886 Toronto City Directory showed Thomas and family living at 18 Orford ave and his occupation as a window shade maker.

They had 5 children between 1877-1891, but two died in infancy. Sarah Louise in 1882 and John Thomas in 1891.

For the 1891 census the family lived in Toronto, York East. Thomas didn't appear much in city directories after the late 1880s, but his brother John did having moved to Younge street.

1891 Census, Toronto East
            Thomas Wood 42 - Carpenter
            Hanna Wood 40
            Lily Wood 12
            Ethel Wood 10
            Josie Wood 3

For the 1901 census the family lived in Toronto, Ward 2, possibly 260-274 Sackville Street at Oak. The family home might have been here ever since they married years earlier. Hannah worked as a nurse at this time.

1901 Census, Toronto East
            Thomas Wood 52 - Carpenter
            Hanna Wood 50
            Lily Wood 22 - Book keeper
            Ethel Wood 20 - Clerk
            Josie Wood 13

Thomas Moore Wood died in Toronto about 1902 at age 56. No record is known and it is not clear where he is buried. The following year there is a record of Hannah living at 303 1/2 Gerrard street in the Toronto city directory. It notes that she is a widow. She likely lived here with her youngest daughter Josephine, who was still just a teenager.

Daughters Lillian and Josephine would both marry into the Bretz family by two brothers. Lillian wed Frank Bretz in 1903. Josephine wed Sydney Bretz in 1914. It is not known precisely how these families met, but prior to 1899 the Bretzes had lived only a few blocks from the Wood family, and likely attended the same church. Lillian and her baby sister Josephine were very close.

Daughter Ethel wed James Botham in 1904.

Hannah's brother Albert became a travelling salesman. Her brother George was living with sister Mary and her family in 1911. Brother Samuel and his family lived in Toronto for many years.

Hannah's daughter Lillian and her family moved to Winnipeg in 1916.

At some point Hannah also moved to Winnipeg, likely between 1930-35. Perhaps after her sister Mary died in 1933.

She was recorded in a newspaper annoucement for her daughter Lillian's involvement with the local Big Sisters program. She made flower arrangments for a function they had.

Hannah died shortly afterward on June 18th, 1936 and is buried in Winnipeg at Elmwood Cemetery. She was 85.



Lillian Wood was born on October 21, 1877 in Toronto, the eldest child of Thomas and Hannah Wood. She was often known as simply Lily.

As a child she grew up in St Davids Ward and East Toronto.

Lillian would have met Frank Bretz in the late 1890s. Their families were only living a few blocks apart at the time and might have attended the same church

Her father died in 1902.

Lillian married Frank in Toronto the fololwing year in 1903, the first of her sisters to wed. Together they moved into home at 787 Gerrard street in Toronto East. Frank worked as a stenographer at the time.

Shown here is Lillian's wedding dress from 1903. It is currently under the care of her grandson Harry McFee.

Together Lillian and Frank would have five children between 1904 and 1913. Sadly two, Marjorie and Allan, died as infants.

Their second child, Madeline was born in 1907.

Lived in Toronto in 1911, Toronto East, 787 Gerrard (from 1903-1916)
Son Howard was born in 1911 (33)
Frank started working with the Grolier Society around 1914.

Moved to Winnipeg in 1917 (39) Frank was offered a promotion with the Grolier Society but it required moving to Winnipeg
Lived at Lansdowne Ave in 1917 (39)
Lived at 338 Baltimore from 1918-1938 (40-59)

During the 1920s the family kept a cabin near Lake of the Woods and would visit often.

Lillian was known as a highly pious woman. Sundays were set aside as the Lord's Day whereby no work could be done. The day was devoted to three church services (morning and evening services and Sunday School in the afternoon). What other time was available was spent reading the Bible in the family parlour, where the book was displayed prominatly on its own stand.

Her strict adherance to the scriptures largely turned her sons off religion.

While living on Baltimore Road, Lillian's uncle, Albert Gilbert, lost his wife to an unexpected death. As Albert was a travelling salesman and he had a teenage daughter, Alberta, his wife's death created a dilemma for them about as to how he would look after his only daughter with his job. So he asked whether Alberta could live with the Bretz family as he was away for months at a time in rural Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Lillian very much enjoyed having her.

Lillian was greatly involved in the Big Sister group through the 1930s and her name can be found in numerous newspapers for events and functions.

Lillian and her daughter Madeline suffered a major falling out.

Lillian's mother Hannah was living in Winnipeg with her and Frank when she died in 1936.

Frank and Lily moved back to Toronto in 1938 with their son Norman.

Lillian died in Toronto later on September 27th, 1938 at just age 59 from kidney disease and is buried at Mt Pleasant Cemetery. She died at what is called the 'family home' at 27 Sherwood Ave. Possibly this is the home of her sister Josephine and Sydney Bretz at the time.

Frank lived in his father Abram's home after Lillian died and continued after Abram himself died. He moved back to Winnipeg around 1950 so he could be better cared for by his son's family.

Frank died in August 14th, 1955 in Winnipeg, and is buried in Mt Pleasant in Toronto with his wife.


Josephine Wood

Married Sydney Bretz


Ethel Mary Wood

Married Percival Botham in 1904, the year after her sister. He worked for the Toronto Railway Company. Not much else is known about this family.


Shown here are some of the locations of the Wood family in England.