Jun 032009
Alice Maud Johnson's Birth Certificate
Birth record for “Illegitimate” Johnson

The tale of the two Emmas in the Bray family left me with a vague impression about the lives of illegitimate children in the 19th century. I had this sense that they just disappeared into the world with shifting last names and a secret to hide. This week, I finally got around to looking at the third illegitimate child on my family tree, a child auspiciously named “Illegitimate Johnson” on her birth certificate. “Illegitimate” was born in May 1873 and she was the daughter of Mary Ann Johnson. Did she vanish like Emma #1 or did she die young like Emma #2? Was she permanently disadvantaged by the circumstances of her birth?

I found her rather quickly enough in the 1881 census living with her widowed grandfather Richard Norton Johnson in Sydenham, Grey County. Maud — rescued from the label “illegitimate” — had taken on the last name of her step-father George Yates. Maud had three half-sisters: Charlotte, Emma, and Frances Melissa. Tragically, Maud’s mother Mary Ann had died a week after giving birth to Frances Melissa in February 1881. The Yates family was split up after this tragedy. By the time of the census taking in 1881, Maud was living with the Johnsons and Frances Melissa was adopted by another family in the township. (I discovered this fact, by the way, simply by Googling her somewhat unusual name. I found her on the family tree of the adoptive parents). Maud’s step-father disappears from the records for several years and then reappears when he married again. Maud’s half-sister Charlotte married and remained in Grey County. I’m not sure what happened to her half-sister Emma.

Unfortunately, Maud also disappears from the records after the 1881 census. Vanishes. I could find no trace of her in the 1891 census, no trace of a marriage in Ontario, no trace of her death in Ontario. Nada. Sometimes, someone’s disappearance from the records is only an effect of digital blindness. Sadly, not everything can be found on the internet… After bashing my head against the brick wall of Maud’s life for a few hours, I gave up and moved onto filling out the trees of Mary Ann Johnson’s siblings.

The Johnson family seems to have had a predilection for marrying siblings. I am connected to Johnson family twice on my tree. My 2x great grandfather Thomas Glenfield Bray married Mary Ann’s sister Martha. Martha’s brother Thomas Wilson married Thomas Bray’s sister Adelaide. The two younger Johnson siblings followed suit. William Johnson married a Sarah Jane Cleave. William’s younger sister Charlotte married Sarah’s brother William Cleave at the ripe age of 16. These two couples were married on the same day in Owen Sound in 1886.

Obituary for Alice Maud

Sadly, Charlotte Johnson also died young, leaving two children motherless. However, I was able to trace William Cleave and his family as they headed west from Manitoba to Alberta where they settled near Medicine Hat.

Now, Cleave is one of those names that you like as a genealogist. Simple enough that most people spell it right, but uncommon enough that you aren’t inundated with possible matches. As I traced William’s travels, I noticed another Cleave living in Manitoba – a Thomas Cleave whose wife Maud was born in 1873 in Ontario. Could it be? My spidey sense was a-tingling!

Manitoba, it turns out, has a clever little database with birth, marriages, and deaths of genealogical interest. One quick check later and I had “Dora the Explorer” singing “We did it” in my head. [Confession: my three-year old watches way too much Dora!] Yes, indeed, Maud Johnson Yates married Thomas Cleave, brother of William and Sarah Jane, in 1898 in Manitoba. There she was: Maud Cleave, mother of two boys, wife of the postmaster. Her boys both served in the army and led successful lives in Winnipeg. Maud lived a seemingly normal life – the tragedy of her circumstances overcome.

I am relieved.