Wednesday 9 June 2021

A tale of two cousins

 I've been spending some time (or rather a lot of time) researching my father's family history.  I was aware of some information because a distant cousin wrote a book many years ago detailing the history to that current time - I would have been a teenager so that would have been (gasp!) nearly 50 years ago.  One of the stories I recall from the book was that nearly sixty families with the family name immigrated to Canada about 1850, likely fleeing the potato famines in Ireland.  

Many of the families settled in what is now Quebec or Ontario, while some made their way into the United States.  My immediate ancestors made their home in a county in Quebec near the community of Shawville.  Someday I hope to visit the area and explore where they may have lived and worked.

Lately I've extended my research to encompass the siblings of my great grandfather Adam and their families.  It is the stories of two distant cousins I want to share with you today.  I should note they were first cousins, their grandfather and my great-grandfather were brothers.

The first is the story of James Gordon, more commonly known as Gordon.  He was born in May  1888 and died just a week before his 24th birthday in May 1912.  On the surface the fact he died young wasn't initially surprising to me, there were so many who died early, however it turned out his passing was truly tragic.  

Gordon worked as a clerk in a local bank in Shawville. On a Friday evening, he left the bank with a revolver that was normally kept on the premises.  Before he left he wrote out the combination to the safe and left the note where it would be found by the bank officials.

There were two newspaper articles published around the event. The first reveals that Gordon spent the evening in the company of family friends; Teresa, her siblings and a number of other friends. After all the others had retired for the evening, the two spent a few minutes alone before Gordon retrieved the gun and shot her three times.  The first bullet lodged in her jaw, the second grazed her cheek, and when she turned to run, the third struck her in the neck below her ear.  Gordon fled the scene while Teresa made her way to her brother's bedroom screaming she had been shot, and she was rushed to the nearby hospital.  In the article she was reported to be in a "precarious condition".  The whereabouts of Gordon were unknown at the time but the revolver was found by the wharf covered in blood, so it was suspected he had committed suicide or had drowned.

The second was written and published after George's body was located about six miles down the river with a bullet hole in his temple, conclusive evidence of his suicide. Teresa was reported to have survived surgery to remove the bullets in her jaw and neck and was expected to recover.  Her father was quoted as saying: "My daughter and Gordon have been friends since childhood, and I know of no reason why he would shoot her. They went to school together and outside of his being a friend of the family there was no closer relationship. He was a fine boy and I am sorry for him."  

Despite her father's suggestion there was no relationship beyond friendship, and while I don't know for certain, I can speculate that Gordon likely had feelings for her that were not reciprocated.  In a tale as old as time, it likely was a situation of, "if I can't have you, no one can."  Thankfully, he did not succeed in taking her life though I have not been able to determine what happened to her subsequently. It is clear that Gordon had some inkling of how the event would unfold, having taken the revolver and leaving behind the note to allow the bank officials access to the bank vault after his passing.

No matter the reason, it is a sad tale of one life cut short and another forever impacted by the actions of another.  

The second tale is that of Genevieve; she was born in 1895, and as I later learned, died in 1976.  She married in April 1915 at the age of 20, and gave birth to her son Frederick in October of that year. When I first started my research other family trees had indicated she died before 1921.  At first, I thought this was credible because she was not included in the 1921 census. At that time, her son Frederick was living with Genevieve's parents, and listed as the child of her sister Eleanor and her husband.  

However as I reviewed the materials for her husband I discovered he had remarried and his obituary made no mention of Genevieve or her passing. This in itself was unusual.  In addition, I could not find any notice of death, either official - such as a death certificate, or at the very least reported in the death column of a newspaper.  Thus I discounted that her death occurred before 1921 and removed it from my search parameters.  

At this juncture I did find a border crossing of a woman with her married name indicating a destination of Oklahoma City. At first I wasn't certain if it was her as Genevieve was not an uncommon name so marked it as a maybe.  But later, as I was reviewing her sister Eleanor's information, Eleanor's obituary indicated she had a sister living in Oklahoma City.  At that time, women were usually referred to as Mrs. X X and so it was in this case.  But this gave me a potential second husband and a clue to what may have happened to Genevieve.

I returned to Genevieve's profile and discovered, she did in fact, make her way to Oklahoma City in 1921.  She remarried in 1924 - I found both the marriage license and certificate - and went on to have three more children.  She died there in July 1976 and is buried in a local cemetery.

The questions abound, why did she leave her first husband and young son to travel to Oklahoma City? Was there something in their relationship that caused her to flee? There was no evidence that her second husband ever travelled to Canada, so it is unlikely they had met previous to Genevieve making her residence there.  Interestingly she had shaved four years off her age when she married Tom - he was only 22, she reported she was 25.  Did he know about her first family?  She obviously kept in touch with her sister but I found no further cross border travel for any of her siblings or Genevieve and her husband.  

I have not been able to ascertain if her son Frederick continued to live with Eleanor and her husband or if he went to live with his father as there is no census data available after 1921 in Canada. I do know he was not mentioned in Eleanor's obituary.  I wonder how his mother's absence was explained to him and whether he knew of his other siblings?  

There are so many things I can learn from the documents I read but the stories that accompany those documents are often left to my speculation and supposition.  In the case of Gordon, I feel I have some certainty in my understanding of his story, but with Genevieve, though I did discover where she went, I'll never know the why.  But in any event, it makes the research that much more interesting.


  1. Gosh, this is so fascinating! Gordon's story is, indeed, very tragic, but Genevieve's just begs further interest. She was already pregnant when she married, pretty common, so a forced marriage might have been enough to make her flee in the end, especially if he turned out to be abusive or if there were other issues. I was going to write that I'm surprised she left her son, but of course she would not have had the options to sue for custody and support him. My real question is whether they ever were truly divorced, or if both she and her "former" husband were bigamists, never discovered. That's a thought!

  2. How interesting is that?
    Who knows now all the particulars of the decisions made in the past. I imagine if we all dug deep enough we could unearth some interesting and long hidden skeletons in the closet.

  3. Wow, Gordon's story took me totally by surprise but at least you had documentation. With Genevieve, there are so many unanswered questions. There are the bones for an interesting couple of novels in both case.

  4. I love reading your history. We have the lineage for our family on my Dad's side back to ancient seeming times but for Mother..only back to the mid 1600's. And some we now the history of because they were known people...but not as many as we should. My sons do all the research. They are thorough but not curious of that made any sense at all.

  5. I have never looked into any genealogy or other family history but now my 14 year old grandson has started a search and has taught me more about my grandparents than I ever knew. I can understand the fascination now.
    You are right in that we can never really know everything about the mysteries of previous generations but it can be a fun creative exercise to speculate.

  6. Good Heavens, those are two intriguing stories; the first very tragic. How could Genevieve have met an American; had he travelled to Quebec? Was it just a fleeting acquaintance on which she based leaving her family? Very intriguing.

  7. My paternal grandmother left her two eldest children with her parents and ran off to the US with a newborn in her arms. She gave that infant to another couple when she hooked up with another man. The back story with these women boggles my mind. My cousin says they must have been in a pretty desperate situation. I don't live far from Shawville, in Ontario.

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