Do You Want to Know? – Researching “Black Sheep” Ancestors

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I have to confess openly that I concealed information from a fellow researcher a number of years ago. What circumstances would have caused me, a researcher who usually freely shares research information, to make a decision like that? The story begins with my great aunt Eliza Bell ______ who lived variously in Bruce County, Fort William [now Thunder Bay] and Guelph, Ontario. At the request of a fellow researcher, a third cousin who is much closer to this story, I am leaving out surnames.

Bell married David Edward _____ in 1896. The couple had three children, Fairlene, Viola and Rhoda. David left the family circa 1910 and Fairlene told her daughter Margaret that she did not see her father again.

Margaret found me via my researcher information left at the Grey Roots Archive, which was a bonus for me as her father’s surname was so common that searching for them had been fruitless. She was interested in finding out what had happened to her grandfather. Family lore suggested that with the illness of Viola and her subsequent death in 1909, David might have turned to drinking. Bell, a strict Methodist, would not have been able to tolerate the drinking. This story had David and Bell separating, with the encouragement of her sister Jennie and a lack of support from her sister Maud. Maud firmly believed that you stayed with your husband no matter what the situation.

After contact with Margaret, I checked the Canadian OverSeas Expeditionary Force [World War I] database on the Library and Archives Canada website. I was unable to find a David Edward through the search function so I brought up all the soldiers with his surname, and went through them one by one. He had enlisted using the given names Theodore David. I passed his registration number on to Margaret and she ordered the file. Important to note at this point in time is that Margaret served with the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service for the last 19 months of World War II. As well, her Aunt Rhoda’s son, Peter, served in the Royal Canadian Air Force in Bosnia and the Gulf War. Imagine their shock to discover that David had enlisted 30 January 1915 and was discharged in April of the same year for repeated incidents of drunk and disorderly conduct. Margaret noted to her family and me that she ”…was ashamed of what he did yet sad for him as a man.” She went on to say that “… we probably wouldn’t want to know what happened to him [after his discharge]” I did not continue looking for more records her David for some time after receiving Margaret’s email.

After I had searched the 1911 Canada Census for all my other ancestors to the extent that I could, I went back to trying to find additional records for David. I was delighted when I found him in the 1911 Canada Census for Manitoba until I looked at the sixth column, Relationship to head of household or family, and found “convict” written there for him. Manitoba Penitentiary was handwritten vertically on the left hand side of the sheet.1 Did I have the right man? As soon as I read his place of habitation, Wiarton [Bruce County, Ontario],  I knew that I had my man.

I conducted an Internet search for Manitoba penitentiaries and found references to Stony Mountain Institution, Stony Mountain, Manitoba, which had opened in 1877. I was able to access the Inmate Admittance Book for Stony Mountain Institution via Library and Archives Canada. David had been incarcerated for nearly two years from 24 September 1909 until 16 June 1911 for the crime of theft. The entry for him indicates that he was transferred to the Provincial Authorities on 4 July 1911 to “…undergo the unexpired period of his original sentence.” A “ticket of Leave from Central Prison, Toronto” is noted in the entry as well.2 It was at this point that I decided that I did not want to add to Margaret’s anguish by passing this record on to her.

After Margaret’s death, Diana, her daughter, made contact with me because she was interested in continuing the search for David. Once we had shared some information, I decided to share the incarceration record with her. She understood my reluctance to share it with her mother and agreed that it was just as well that I had acted the way that I did. Diana went a step further and was able to find a reference to David’s sentencing in the Winnipeg Tribune:
“David E. _______ , who was found guilty of theft from John Roberts to the amount of $85, was sentenced to two years in the penitentiary. He has spent considerable time in Toronto prison.”3
Diana now plans to seek records from the prison system in Toronto in order to place the information from prison records into the context of the family stories.

Was David’s incarceration the crux of the separation? Did he spend brief times in jail in Toronto that could be explained away as him seeking work away from home? I am looking forward to seeing what Diana finds.

Will I conceal information from a researcher again in the future? That will depend on the situation.

1. David E. ______ entry, 1911 Census for Manitoba, District 22, Selkirk, Sub-district No. 36, township 13, Range 2 East of the Ist Meridian.

2. Stony Mountain Penitentiary, Inmate Admittance Registers, 1871-1921 (RG 73-C-7, W87-88/365
Microfilm reel no. T-11095, 1885-1913, Register 24, 157 pages, Winnipeg Office, Library and Archives Canada, Central Canada Regional Service Centre, 1700 Inkster Boulevard, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R2X 2T1, Telephone: 204-984-1469,Fax: 204-984-4074, Email: bac.referencewinnipeg-winnipegreference.lac@canada.ca
Correctional Services Canada records are archived in this centre.

3. Winnipeg Tribune, 24 September 1909.

Alan Campbell
Past President
The Ontario Genealogical Society
Copyright 2017 

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