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Editor’s note:  Karen Killian’s collection of May Irwin memorabilia was captured by Kim Lunman in May Irwin and her Keeper back in April 2009.  Soon after Thousand Islands Life received several comments and questions, demonstrating just how popular this actress, a Canadian, has become.  


Recently we asked Karen if she would keep us up-to-date on new material discovered about the region’s favorite actress.   This is the first, of what we hope will be many more discoveries. 

Finding new material…

I being by thanking Daniel Salcedo, from California who assists with gathering research.  Like so many who are collecting material, Daniel often finds facts which we can share with TI Life readers. 

A few weeks ago I joined www.ancestry.com.  The purpose of joining was to see if we could find out if May Irwin had any living heirs.  During this search I have not found any living heirs, but other important documentation about her life.

In the 1871 Canadian Census she is listed with her Campbell family (parents, three brothers and one sister) May is listed as Georgina, ten years of age.  Previously her birth date had been recorded as 1862.   We now know that she was born in Whitby, Ontario in 1861.  Whitby is about an hour east of Toronto.  It has taken 149 years to find out her correct birth date. 

In the New York City Census of 1880, she is listed as nineteen years old, married to W. Frederick Keller and at that time, she has a one month old son named R. Walter Keller. Frederick Keller died in 1885 of tuberculosis and May was a widow for the next twenty-two years.  It was at this time that she gave her sons Walter and Harry her stage name.  Harry actually changed his middle name to his Mother’s maiden name of Campbell (Harry Campbell Irwin).


We also discovered that May took the SS Arizona from New York City to London, England in 1884.  She was part of a theatre group that went abroad to play at the Toole Theatre.  The one thing that is a mystery to me, is that she had two toddler sons and I wonder how she traveled and took care of them while she was on the stage nightly.  The passenger ship listed her as Miss May Irwin/Lady.


Recommended Websites featuring May Irwin

http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/4/4/m2-1013-e.html - The Virtual Gramophone: Canadian Historical Sound Recordings, Canadian Library and Archives.

http://ragpiano.com/comps/mirwin.shtml - Ragtime - by “Professor Bill Edwards” William Edwards

http://www.goldencenturyproductions.com/index.html  a media production by Kathleen M, Golden, PhD

I would strongly suggest joining www.ancestry.com to find out about your own family history.  The wealth of information contained on their online site is unbelievable. 

Hopefully I will be able to find May Irwin’s living descendants in 2010.

by Karen Killian, May, 2010

Happy Wheels