Family history in 5 photos- day 4

Jack and Olive.JPG

John (Jack) Moffatt and Olive Dunn circa 1922

My husband’s grandparents were John (Jack)  Henry Moffatt (1900-1975) and Olive Hilda Dunn (1904-1986). They were married in Toronto in 1925. The above photo was taken a few years prior to their marriage. Behind them are Jack’s sister Emily and her husband George Watson and his other sister peeking around is Elizabeth. I love this photo. For one thing, I love the fashion of those days. The haircuts and the straw hat are so cool!

Jack was born in Liverpool in 1900 and came to Canada in 1916. He met Olive who had come to Canada in 1910. Her story is extremely interesting. I swear, my husband’s family has the most amazing stories and they just keep on coming!!

Olive Hilda Dunn (Hilda Olive on her birth certificate) was born on October 7th, 1904 in Trempissick, Veryan, Cornwall, England. Her mother was a domestic servant called Martha Dunn.

William Chapman was Martha Dunn’s employer. He was a farmer at Castlezens farm in Veryan, Cornwall. Martha was a servant there for at least 8 years. She looked after his son when his wife died. In 1901 and 1904, Martha had 2 daughters. The 1901 UK Census also shows that she is living with William and his son and no one else lives at the house.


I knew that Martha was a single mom of 2 girls when she arrived in Canada. The family story was that she came here on her own and met a man called William McEwen and had another daughter.

The genealogist in me thought this should be researched and lo and behold I found another great story! It turns out that Martha’s 2 daughters were the product of a relationship she had with her employer William Chapman. I could never find the passenger record of Martha arriving in Canada with her children until one day I decided to check if they went under the surname CHAPMAN. Sure enough, there they were! BUT, not only was Martha travelling with her daughters under the surname Chapman, she herself was calling herself Mary (not on her birth record) AND WILLIAM CHAPMAN IS TRAVELLING WITH THEM!!!

It seems that William left behind his first son with family in England and emigrated with his domestic servant/girlfriend and their 2 daughters. Martha and William never married but they show up on the 1911 Canadian census living as a family in Toronto. William is showing as a labourer. I know from research that the area they were living in was a very down and out area of Toronto where all the new arrivals settled in shabby tenements.

The local Cornish newspaper has a advertisement looking for William because it seems he absconded with some debt owing and no one could find him!

By the 1921 census, William is no where to be found. In fact, I find no trace of him in Canada or England or the US. No death record…..nothing.

Martha must have met William McEwen prior to this because she had her 3rd daughter Mary Bird McEwen (Birdie) in 1914. On Mary’s birth record it says her mother is ETHEL DUNN! So now Martha is no longer Mary….she’s Ethel.

When the her daughter Olive (in the photo) married Jack Moffatt in 1925, Olive lists her parents as ETHEL MCEWEN and ARTHUR DUNN! There has never been an Arthur Dunn and Dunn was her mother’s maiden name. Then when “Ethel” married William McEwen in 1928 (when their daughter Birdie was 14 years old) she lists herself as a widow and that HER parents names were William Dunn (his name was Richard) and her mother was Alice CHAPMAN (she was Alice Rowe) and CHAPMAN was her employers name!

THIS WOMAN DID NOT WANT ANYONE FINDING OUT WHO SHE WAS OR HER HISTORY! No wonder it took me so long to tie all the loose ends together. Also, this was a HUGE lesson on not taking even original sources as true. Martha/Mary/Ethel lied on several important documents. She lied on her daughter’s birth certificate, on her marriage record and even her own daughter lied on HER marriage record. They went to great lengths to hide their family “secret”.

Olive and Jack Moffatt had 3 sons (my father-in-law being the youngest) They had a lot of fun but were also a volatile couple. Jack actually signed up to fight in WWII, when he was 39 years old and served the whole 6 YEARS overseas as a driver. It seems he too fathered a child while in the UK during that time……another story for later.

Martha, Olive’s mother, lived to be 101 1/2 years old. She was born in 1876 and died in 1977. She had had quite the life. I met my husband in 1979. Oh how I wish I’d known her so that I could have found out more details. For now though, I’m happy that I know what I know. I’m also extremely grateful to have the sources available on the internet.

It helps that I’m like a dog with a bone when I’m researching someone. I dig, and dig until I find something.


Martha/Mary/Ethel Dunn/Chapman/McEwen            

About tiesthatbindsite

I'm a genealogist with a passion for Scottish and English ancestry. I'm trilingual so I can also do research in French Canadian records and Italian records. My love for family history began 35 years ago and continues to grow every day. My family is very important to me and I hope to instill in them a love for "where they came from" so that they can better understand who they are. I also want to share my love of family history with anyone who understands how important it is to not lose site of their ancestors. They all have a story to tell.
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2 Responses to Family history in 5 photos- day 4

  1. cassmob says:

    This story made me laugh as it reminded me of the shenanigans of a bigamist who married one of my ancestors (luckily not the wife we’re descended from). Little would they have realised that some snoopy genealogist would discover their secrets!! Like you I found lots of clues in the shipping records.

    Family History Across The Seas


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