Part 1: The Mystery Baby

Even the most ordinary family has secrets…

Our great aunt Mary, sweeping out her potato-sack tent in London, Ontario, mid-1920s

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.

The Cartwright clan, with Emily overdressed for the beach, and little Do and Mary in the front row
Emily Ingram Cartwright with baby Emily, little George and her in-laws, shortly before leaving England for Canada

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.

George and Emily with their three sons at McCormick’s annual picnic in the early 1910s

24 thoughts on “Part 1: The Mystery Baby

  1. Marilyn Charbonneau

    Every family has secrets and ours is no different. I really hope we can find out about this little boy that everyone seems to have wanted to forget. Good luck with your search.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. jualsagi

      I hope you and your families are keeping well in these challenging times. I’m very happy to read another fascinating account in your family history. I hope you solve the mystery! As you say, we all have mysteries and secrets in our trees that our ancestors tried hard to hide!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So interesting Kirsten, and wow you look so much like the young lady standing in the back row of the beach picture…
    My Grandmothers family on my Fathers side are all from London, Ontario.
    So many stories are lost now but the photographs remain with an imaginary history…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rosemary Storkey

    So, are you wondering if S was the child of eg a daughter in the family? In England, some such children were deemed ‘base born and might be given a PB (Private Baptism). OR perhaps that S had a disability or difficulty?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. debak1

      I notice that all of them are wearing morning ribbons or armbands in the last photo, which you say was the early 1910s. Emily doesn’t look as though she had recently given birth. Who are they mourning? Was Stuart born after Do and Mary?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It never occurred to me that those might be mourning ribbons. I assumed they were something to do with the McCormick’s company picnic? I don’t have a date for the picture, but the youngest boy here was born in May 1909. Baby Edna, who died at one year old, was born in the summer of 1911. The next birth was Stuart, in January 1913. After him, another brother who lived, in January 1914. So there were a lot of pregnancies for Emily all in a row. Mary and Do were born much later, in the 1920s.


  4. Michelle Parks

    Oh I love a mystery! Perhaps poor lost Stuart was not actually George and Emily’s child but the child of a friend, younger sibling or other family member who ‘fell pregnant’ under suspicious circumstances. George and Emily, one or both could have taken pity on this child and their mother and arranged for the child to be baptized (especially if in poor health). Unfortunately there were many instances of children born from out of wedlock pregnancy that were raised by other family members. At that time too, many children who died were buried on family properties so they might not have ended up being recorded in local graveyards. So sad if that is what happened. Census records would indicate if Stuart appeared anywhere after 1914.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, at this point there are many possibilities. So far he’s not turned up on the census under that name. It’s unlikely he was a relative’s child, given the relatives were all in England as far as we know. Of course if he went on to have a different name, that would make him even harder to find!


  5. Michele Maycock

    I love how much they are all touching each other in the beach picture, indicative of a close family who no doubt had been through a lot, which all families experience in one way or another. It’s often because of our family bonds that we make it through life and become our better selves. Our Graham naturally demonstrates this kind of affection for family, pulling the brothers together for a photo! Blood is thicker than water, as they say.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Michele Maycock

        You’re most welcome Kristen. It’s I who thanks you and Tracy for all you have done to discover and record our family’s history. It is a great gift to all of us!

        Liked by 1 person

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