Ben and Frances married in April of 1900 and had five children over the next ten years, May Irene, John Benjamin, Frances Munro, Edgar Irwin, Lilly and a male stillborn. Of these children only three survived. My mother was the youngest.
After the death of Frances, Ben married Olive and would have five more; Margaret, Kenneth Roy, Harvey B., Marie and Bernice.
When Ben first married Olive they lived on Pape Avenue in Toronto and had Frances and Edgar living with them. Lilly remained with John and Janet after the marriage. Shortly after the two older children were sent out to Saskatchewan to live with their maternal grandmother Frances Ostrom. Imagine the trauma to these two older children. First, they lose their mother, then their baby sister, their father and eventually are sent away to a strange place where the only connection they would identify with was their grandmother.
Once Ben married again it would appear he had little to do with the children he had with Frances. My mother remembers only one gift from him when she was about six. Not a doll or a fur muff (Ben was a furrier) or something a child might cherish but rather a set of handkerchiefs. She never spoke of any type of relationship with her father. There was a shroud of secrecy about the first family. According to my new step relatives, very little was known about them.
We will always wonder why Ben forgot about his first three children once he remarried and also why he distanced himself from the family somewhat. There are stories in our family lore, but there is nothing to prove them. One wonders why some of the family remembers situations, one way and another part has an entirely different opinion.
In the case of my great-grandfather Simeon Ostrom we have more documented information to guide us to what happened. There is, however, a cloak that keeps us from seeing the whole picture.
These are the questions that I asked myself about both cases.
Was Lilly sent to live with the grandparents immediately after the death of her mother? Possibly since Ben had to work at his trade they took her and the other children until his remarriage. As Lilly was still an infant they perhaps decided it was better to keep her rather than send her to live with Olive and Ben. Why did they not send all three children to live with him when he remarried? And finally, why were the two older children sent out to Saskatchewan to be raised by Frances Ostrom? Were they needed to help her farm? They would have been a bit young for that. Anyone who could answer any of these questions has long since passed so the stories we have cannot be verified.
I will never know exactly what happened, and why Benjamin decided to send his children away as soon as he remarried because I have only what my mother remembered from her childhood or was told to her by those who raised her.
I do know there were some ill feelings in the family between Benjamin and his family? How deep were they? We will never know. Why would a father choose to give up his children? Did he marry too soon after the death of his first wife? Did his parents object to the marriage? Many unanswered questions.
We all hear tales, but facts are what count. I do know that there was little contact between Benjamin’s second family and his first. My mother really only saw them on rare occasions, except for Kenneth. That is also unanswered. Why did she see just Kenneth?
In the case of Simeon Charles Ostrom we have a bit more to go on. There are documents to prove that he abandoned his first wife, my great grandmother and left her with five young children.
When I started investigating my roots, I found Frances Ostrom in Toronto, living with her parents on Queen Street. She had five children, the youngest, Victoria, born in May of 1890. Her husband does not appear in the 1891census with the family. Instead, Simeon is in Acton, Ontario and remarried to Sarah Rose Campbell as of October 29th 1890. It would appear that he abandoned his first wife and five children shortly after the fifth child was born. He also had a child with his second wife early in the following year.
There are many stories of men who left their families in search of work never to return. This was one of them
My great grandmother appears in the Toronto directory listed as a widow. I will always wonder if she knew her husband was alive and remarried or did she think he left in search of work and perished, never to return. Was she unable to cope with his infidelity or did she even know? If she did, was it her choice to send him away? Did she call herself a widow because he was dead in her eyes?
In either case it would appear that Simeon was a bit of a cad. He fathered two children, by different wives, one in May of 1990, the other, in April of 1991. Little Victoria his daughter born to Frances died in April of that same year her half sister was born. She was not quite one year old.
Many family situations not discussed in families were due to the shame that was attached to them. Especially the women, who were often the ones left with the largest burden. Often children were never told any of the circumstances which also left them feeling abandoned.
Summing It Up
Was Benjamin a selfish person, or did his family convince him to leave the children with them? Did his parents disapprove of a marriage so soon after the death of his first wife and convince him to surrender his children to them?Perhaps his new wife was ill equipped to care for children just ten years younger than herself? Each of the families has the information they were given, but again, who gave them that information, and how close to the truth was it? We all have to gather the facts we have and make our own conclusions as to what exactly did happen. Even if we do, at least try to see the other side as well.
When we publicize it, let’s make sure we have documents to back up our research.
This week I have some information on Benjamin McEwan’s second family. Olive Clements-McEwan, Margaret, Kenneth, Harvey, Marie and Bernice