My Mysterious Ancestors
I've been in my new home now for 3 weeks, and despite not having the place fully furnished yet (thank you again, COVID-19!), I more or less know where most of my things are - not everything, but most things!
Searching for the boxes that contain the items I need at the time that I need them can be frustrating, but eventually I find what I am looking for. The same cannot be said for some of my ancestors however, and despite searching for information about some of them for 20 years, their lives remain a mystery.
I recently received an email from a cousin of mine that I have never met, yet we have been communicating with each other for several years now. He was the cousin that greatly helped me determine the correct person who was my paternal grandfather's father - my great grandfather. It is a long story, but one that repeats itself several times within my family tree. He was married, away from home, met my great-grandmother and started a relationship with her. The end result was my grandfather, but my 2 great-grandparents parted ways and he returned to his wife and other children in Manitoba, leaving her with a newborn son. It was a family secret that had been well hidden, with not even my father knowing that his father had been born out of wedlock. It took over 100 years before the story of my grandfather's birth father become common knowledge in my family, thanks to DNA testing and a LOT of detective work on my part and that of my cousin, who found both my and my father's DNA tests online. Luckily for me Tom wasn't someone who kept family secrets and wholeheartedly embraced the facts.
Tom has been searching for his paternal grandfather's family (my great-grandfather) for over 40 years. My great-grandfather apparently led a mysterious life that began in England in 1875, but details surrounding his birth parents have remained elusive...until now. Another cousin of both Tom and I, someone that I found through DNA testing and then Tom, Barry and I were able to piece together who Barry's father was (a son of my great-grandfather, making him my great-uncle), a soldier who had previously claimed to be from Australia who had a relationship with Barry's grandmother and then continued on his way to The Great War. What happened to this man I am not sure as I have yet to find the record of his death, but it seemed that the apple didn't fall far from the tree.
However, Barry found some information that he thought might help Tom discover our shared relative's past, and it looks like we might finally be on the right trail. Tom, Barry and I are now all working to unravel the mystery surrounding Herbert Granville Clarke's mysterious past, and with any luck we will finally be able to put the pieces together. Herbert worked very hard to cover up his past and his family's history, but ultimately the truth will come to the surface.
This doesn't end my family mysteries however, not by a long-shot! My maternal great-great grandfather's family history remains unknown, and my 20 year attempt at uncovering the names of his parents, and why he was sent to an orphanage in Toronto from Upstate New York remains shrouded in secrecy. All that I know is that both of his parents had died, and the Catholic Church sent him to Toronto, where he ultimately converted (or was forced to convert) to the Anglican religion. The Catholic Church records - which should exist - have not been released to me and it doesn't look like they will anytime soon.
My paternal great-grandmother's story also contains some mysteries, although once again through the miracle of DNA I have been able to at least confirm her natural birth father (who later married my great-great grandmother, but after the birth of my great-grandmother). My great-grandmother had been born prior to my great-great grandmother marrying her first husband and several years before she married my great-great grandfather, the actual father of my great-grandmother. Confused yet?
Although I have found marriage records for the spouses that my great-great grandparents had prior to the marriage to each other, I cannot find divorce records for my great-great grandmother and her first husband, nor for my great-great grandfather and his first wife. In the case of my great-great grandfather, I am also searching for a death certificate for his first wife, but so far I have found nothing.
While all of this may sound confusing and like the plot of a 1990's night-time drama series dreamed up by Aaron Spelling, it's not. It's also not that uncommon as a lot of other family genealogists have written about similar findings in their own family trees.
Family secrets are not a new thing - they've been around as long as family's have been around - but with the advent of online digitization of records, and the widespread access to DNA testing at an affordable price, more and more family skeletons are being dragged out of the closet and put on view. Secrets are being uncovered, and people are (in some cases) being reunited with family that they never knew that they had.
What secrets are hiding in YOUR family history waiting to be discovered?