Even the most ordinary family has secrets…
Tracy and I spent years researching The Cowkeeper’s Wish, and while we never expected we’d filled in all the blanks of our family history, we thought we’d done a pretty thorough job, and any mysteries that lurked unsolved were far away in the tree, and not terribly integral to our story. And then our great aunt Mary died, at the impressive age of 100. The birth certificate for her baby brother Stuart sat in the drawer of her bedside table, as if she’d purposely placed it there so it wouldn’t be missed among the remnants of her long life. As far as we can tell, no one now living ever knew about Stuart’s existence.
We interviewed Mary and her sister Dorraine for our book several years ago when we first began our research. Unmarried sisters who’d lived together all their lives, they were a wonderful resource for us, and their recent deaths, one after another, marked the end of that generation of our family. As the last children to live at home with their parents, Do and Mary were keepers of the family archive, a treasure trove of photographs and old documents, and even the family furniture. To our delight, they recounted all sorts of stories about our grandfather (their brother Bill) and the wider family. Of special interest was anything they could tell us about their parents, Emily Ingram and George Cartwright, who’d come to Canada from England in the early 1900s and raised a large family in London, Ontario.
It was our understanding that there were 10 children in total. The eldest two, named Emily and George for their parents, had been born in England. Their father sailed for Canada in 1907, got himself somewhat settled, and then sent for his wife and kids. Baby Emily was nearly blown out of her mother’s arms while they were at sea one blustery day, and one can only imagine how tightly she was held for the rest of the voyage. And yet, the little girl died anyway, of bronchial pneumonia, not long after their arrival in Canada.
George found steady work at McCormick’s Biscuit Factory, and Emily proceeded to have more babies: two boys and then another ill-fated girl, who died on her first birthday. These daughters – Emily and Edna – were not a secret. Their many later siblings knew they had existed, and the girls were diligently placed in family trees created by subsequent generations.
Which makes it hard to explain Stuart. Why had no one heard of him? Mary, known for her phenomenal memory, obviously knew something about him, because she tucked his baptismal certificate into the drawer of her bedside table before she died. She’d been asked oodles of questions about family over the years, not just by us but by others interested in history and genealogy. But she never presented this intriguing piece of paper.
The document itself raises more questions. It says that Stuart Ingram Cartwright was baptized in September 1914, but gives a birth date of January 1913. George and Emily were regular church-goers, so it seems odd that they waited so long to have Stuart baptized. And it would seem the ceremony wasn’t performed in a church, since the word “church” is struck through and replaced by the word “parish.” The baby was baptized in the parish of Church of the Redeemer. Even more puzzling is the fact that no official birth or death records have surfaced. What became of Stuart? Was he sent away from the family? Or did he die young? Why did no one ever speak of him?
Even the most ordinary family has secrets, and a few had already been revealed about this particular branch: Emily had been pregnant before she married George, and had become estranged from her family; she’d been arrested for stealing from her uncle not long before leaving England for Canada; and her sister married that same uncle, even though nieces and uncles are not permitted to be husband and wife. Each of these discoveries was fascinating and surprising. Our mother, who knew her grandmother as a strict, somewhat intimidating, and morally rigorous lady, was shocked to imagine her as a thief. And while we couldn’t ask Emily for her own perspective of the story, we had newspaper accounts and wider family information that helped us put this new information into context. With Stuart, though, we’ve hit a brick wall — which only makes us more determined to find him.
This post marks the beginning of our search.