IT’S ALL THERE IN BLACK & WHITE Sorry, still doesn’t mean it’s true

Digging into the family tree often leads to more questions than answers. This time I found the answer.

Long before Library and Archives Canada started adding their WWI soldier files online I was systematically ordering the records of family members. (On a side note these records are a treasure and the fact that they are going online for free is is a true gift to family historians).

My family was a very patriotic bunch and I have an archival box dedicated to the 30 plus military files I have collected on my relatives.

Back to the subject at hand. After having collected the service files for my close relatives I started on cousins. George Norton was on the list, having located his service file I proceeded to order the record. After weeks of waiting it arrived in a large envelope in the mail. Dissecting WWI service files is a little tricky but Glenn Wright’s book – Canadians at War 1914-1919, A Research Guide to World War One Service Records is endlessly helpful for gleaning all you can from these records.

What caught my eye other than the fact that George was working as a bartender was a form I had not come across in other service files – Screen Shot 2018-07-27 at 7.38.47 PM

George stated that he was his mother’s sole support and that he had two other brothers serving in the military.

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The last line states that he has two other brothers in active service. What? Two brothers? I knew of one brother but not a second. I went back to my tree to try and see what I had missed. George did have two brothers Ernest, whose WWI file I already had and a brother Robert who was born in 1906. Robert would have been too young to serve, so did I miss a child in my research? A look through the records I had collected and I didn’t think so. Maybe George was telling tales? I left it alone, not sure I could solve it.

Newspapers to the rescue. I found this article in The Gazette for Montreal and it mentions George and TWO brothers!

Norton clipping WWI

The Gazette, 14 March 1917

How did I miss Alfred? Well, Alfred was not their brother! He was their cousin, but obviously, he was raised and thought of like a brother.

Alfred does have a sad story. Four of his siblings died in infancy, his mother died when he was 10 years old, and he and his remaining siblings were farmed out to different households.

It seems Alfred was raised by his uncle George R. Norton and wife Sarah Arnold and raised in Montreal. He obviously was one of the family.

Another news clipping recently located in The Gazette tells of a tragic end for his father Thomas Norton’s life. Thomas was working in lumber camps and ended up with frostbite, losing one foot, and gangrene attacking the other one in 1926. Alfred had to make a statement to the police upon Thomas’ death, this statement, as well as the coroner’s report, was published in the paper.

And although Alfred was a fantastic soldier earning the Miltary Cross his life came to a quick and tragic end. He was working as a doorman at the Montreal Athletic Association when he was found one morning by members. Alfred was just 48 years old, his cause of death was syncope, which is in definition is fainting so not likely his actual cause of death, but sufficient in 1930. Alfred left a widow Elizabeth Johnston and no children.


The Gazette, April 5 1930

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The Gazette, April 8, 1930

What have I learned?

Really many things, family sticks together, Alfred was taken in by his Uncle and grew up with his cousins, which led them to consider themselves, brothers. I am comforted knowing that without his real parents, Alfred was in a loving home and well thought of and embraced by his cousins. Most importantly as a family historian, I have learned to take all the information I find and butt it up against what the records are telling me. Any discrepancies could be a clue to a hidden gem.

Yup, even in our families you will find FAKE NEWS!

Alfred Lee Norton 1900 8 yrs old Quebec Canada 2.

The only photograph I have of Alfred c1900

  5 comments for “IT’S ALL THERE IN BLACK & WHITE Sorry, still doesn’t mean it’s true

  1. Susan Gingras Calcagni
    July 28, 2018 at 7:50 am

    I too have one of my mother’s cousins who was always referring to them as siblings. It is touching to know that family stuck together in times of a death of a parent.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. July 28, 2018 at 2:28 pm

    So sad re Alfred dying so early, not to mention the fate of the rest of his immediate family. Still, good to know he did find a loving home.

    Re: not believing what people say or write – on his WWI Cdn Service Record my great-great-uncle Arthur wrote down the incorrect birth year, making himself a year younger than he was (30 rather than 31)…I still can’t figure it out, unless somehow he thought they wouldn’t take him if he was 31? I have his baptismal record and have confirmed his birth registration via the General Register Office Index, so know for certain he was born in 1883, yet if all I had to go on was his Service Record, my tree would be wrong, even though it was based on evidence from Arthur himself!

    Liked by 1 person

    • July 28, 2018 at 2:37 pm

      How interesting, maybe eventually you will uncover why he changed his age. Maybe there was a specific branch he wanted to serve in and had to be a certain age?


  3. Helen Gillespie
    August 4, 2018 at 5:52 am

    An uncle of my grandmother died in Neche North Dakota in Jan 1935_ actually the same day as his father in Benton Harbor Michigan. His tombstone says 8 Jan 1934! I guess it was so close to the new year that the engraver messed up. The death certificate clearly states 1935. So you can’t even believe what’s carved in stone!

    Liked by 1 person

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