Black Sheep Sunday: My Runaway Grandmother!

Margaret Blancher age 17.

Margaret Blancher age 17.

…Well it was more precisely my Great-Grandmother, Margaret Blancher!  This is a genealogical case of questioning our ancestor’s motivations–I suppose all cases of “Black Sheep” in the family are!  We dig up the story and we not only wish to piece together the bare bone facts of this family skeleton but rather flesh it out with knowledge of our ancestor’s thought processes and motives!  We want to dig up the dirt!  This may sound very unsavoury behaviour in itself but the truth of the matter is we are not just looking for this information to be sensational but rather we wish to understand humanity better.

Humourusly, I was often teased by my Grandma and my Mom as a child for my inquisitive nature, I was “Nosy Nellie” or often they would say “What’s that Dorothy?” in reference to a nosy neighbour they once had.  Admittedly, I am still curious and eager to learn more which is possibly one of the reasons for my obsession with Genealogy and family history.  I don’t just want to collect records I want to collect stories and those juicy details, those incites into the souls of our ancestors which might help to explain their actions are all part of that story and make it far more meaningful and interesting.  But can we always uncover these details?  Often it is only inference and hear say yet knowing human nature as we do and connecting it to any other evidence we may have is a start!

The Blancher Family

The Blancher Family

It began with a story; A secret and hidden story; A story spoken in whispers and hushed tones when we were young but, you must remember, I was “nosy Nellie”. I had my ear to the ground when Grandma and Mom told tales.  And once again it was that Blancher Family photo on the bookshelf which often sparked these reminiscences.  I would often be playing quietly on the floor soaking up the family fables, most often without a true awareness of them.  And as I grew, so did my comprehension of the stories and my curiosity, until ultimately I was old enough and the stories were no longer told in secretive breezes but rather regular conversational gusts which I would be caught up in and which I could use to run with and begin my own inquiries!  This story was of my Great-Grandmother and how she had run away!

Born Margaret Ann Barber 7 Nov 1871 in Ingersoll, Oxford, Ontario, Canada, she was the daughter of Joseph Barber, farm labourer, and Jane Elizabeth Pike. Margaret had a brother Joseph Henry Barber, whom they called Harry (and yes the humour of the name Harry Barber has not escaped me).  Harry was born in 1878 so was much younger and it leads me to believe that perhaps Jane had difficulties with having children.  From a family of eight herself, and with all her siblings producing large families I am sure this might have been a challenge for her.  Perhaps this was the impetus for my Great-Grandma Margaret to have such a large family in the future!

Foldens Corners School Photo mid 1880s. Margaret 4th from the left in the back row.  Her brother Harry (boy in front furthest right)

Foldens Corners School Photo mid 1880s.
Margaret 4th from the left in the back row. Her brother Harry (boy in front furthest right)

Margaret and Harry attended school in the little community of Foldens Corners and my Grandma–being the keeper of family treasures–passed down a beautiful old school photograph circa. the mid 1880s.  As was typical of the day Margaret married, just 20 days after her 18th birthday, 27 Nov 1889, to John Blancher; 3 years older than Margaret he was a farmer labourer and later a farmer in his own right.  John purchased property in Foldens.  Though I still need to view the land records for the property, I know from the city directories that in 1899 he was only a tenant, and from the 1901 census he was working for himself and living in his own home.

What was interesting to note however was the birth date of John and Margaret’s first child, William Beverly, who was born the 26 Mar 1890, only 4 months after their marriage!  Uh oh!  Perhaps the motivation to marry was different than expected! What would it have been like to be a young girl of 17 with child and unwed in the late 1800s?  I expect it would have been terrifying and would require a speedy marriage to hopefully hold the scandal at bay.  Perhaps not the most stable way to begin a marriage.

John and Margaret Blancher on the farm

John and Margaret Blancher on the farm

Perhaps despite this, the marriage saw the birth of 14 children and endured more than 20 years.  There are various versions of those married years.  My grandmother, Madeline remembers her mother wanting for nothing and being catered to by my grandfather.  According to my grandma her papa bought Margaret one of the wringer washers in the village and what she wanted she often was given.  On the other hand one of my grandma’s brothers claimed Great-Grandpa Blancher was very cruel to his wife.   Regardless, sometimes after 1921 something astounding occurred–Great-Grandma Fled from her family like a thief in the night!

It is said that Margaret’s son Joe had been waiting with a buggy on a concession road across the field to wisk his mother away.  It has always been a bit of a mystery to my mother when this occurred but we knew it was after the family photo was taken in 1918 and after the 1921 Canada Census was released this past year I discovered she had left after 1921.  Leaving alone originally, she had gone west to Nanton, Alberta and later returned and collected two of her young daughters, Mineatta and Ruby to take back west.  It appears she collected Ruby first in 1925 when she was around 16-17 years of age and Mineatta when she turned 17 in 1932.

My grandmother always said that Great-Grandma was basically running a brothel, and had brought her daughters west to sell them off in marriages to much older men.  Whether accurate or not both were married shortly after being taken to Alberta. Ruby to a a man with the last name Lovelace, who I know nothing about, and Mineatta to Walter Dumper, a man 21 years her senior!  My Grandma–between Ruby and Mineatta–in age, had found herself pregnant and unwed in 1929. I believe this is the only reason she was spared from her mother’s plans.

Margaret Blancher

Margaret Blancher

It was the way my Great-Grandfather, dealt with my Grandma’s predicament which gives me the impression that he was not a cruel man but rather quite compassionate toward the females in his life.  He took care of my grandmother and defended her even from the scything remarks of her brothers.

But then it begs the question why did Margaret leave?  In truth I realize I shall never know the answer.  My conclusions are pure conjecture.  I considered, as a woman and mother myself, Margaret’s life.  A woman–who obviously hoped to enjoy some of the finer things in life–married off quickly at a young age because she was pregnant. Home raising 14 children on a farmer’s income.  Perhaps it was the feeling of being tied down, a feeling of discontent.  Her father had died in 1917 and her son went to war in 1918, possibly these events influenced her thinking. She left for the still rugged, untamed west which may mean she had an urge for adventure!  Unfortunate, it was at the expense of her children!

Margaret died in Nanton, Alberta 26 Oct 1940. Her daughter still lived in Alberta and managed the plot but the grave is unmarked! A lonely end for a woman with offspring so very numerous!
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