Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Wednesday's Child - The Cover-Up

Andover, Maine town common
A while back I suggested that when researching ancestors we can't always rely on the authenticity of unearthed records.  Indeed, recordings of the past in particular were often a result of reports filed by interested parties and little verification was required from the purveyors of the information.  In the course of my search for a family that neither my mother nor I had ever known, I found this to be true.

Mother was born out of wedlock to Myrtie Lena Wyman, an 18-year-old single woman from a small town in the northwest corner of Maine, September 19, 1908, according to her record of birth signed by Frank E. Leslie, M.D.  The certificate noted that there was “no name recorded” for the newborn at the time of birth and no father.

The name Beatrice Wyman was later given, according to adoption records I obtained from the Cumberland County Register of Probate in Portland, Maine.  Her name was changed upon her adoption on June 14, 1909 to Shirley Stanton Maxell, by her new parents, Oscar and Susie Maxell.  They were the only parents she ever knew.

Myrtie, my birth maternal grandmother, came from a very well known, rather large extended family in the town of Andover, population in 1908 of fewer than 900.  Her ancestors were among the little community's earliest settlers.  Given all that, I presumed it would be quite easy to find a record of mother's birth among Town of Andover records of 1908.  I was wrong.  What I found instead was an indisputable cover-up.

In researching lists of births in Andover for that year there was no birth listed to Myrtie Wyman.  But, on page 25 of the Annual Report for the Town of Andover was the recording of a birth to "Mr. and Mrs. Edward A. Martin, Sept. 24, 1908, a daughter".

Now, that might not have stood out to most folks, but the family listed in the report was actually Mr. and Mrs. Edwin A. Martin (not Edward) and they happened to be Myrtie's sister Eva and her husband.  Edwin and Eva did have a daughter, given the same name of Beatrice, but their daughter was born almost 11 months earlier, on Oct. 31, 1907, in Portland, Maine.  There was no child born to a Mr. and Mrs. Edward A. Martin on Sept. 24, 1908, in the town of Andover.

Who was behind the deception?  Myrtie and her newborn didn’t stay in Andover very long after the birth, moving back to Portland where she had previously been living with her two sisters and brother-in-law.  I doubt it was Eva and her husband, though they were probably in on the attempt to hide what at the time would have been frowned upon, probably even an embarrassment to some.

Society wasn’t nearly as tolerant or accepting in the early part of the 20th Century, so I can understand why the birth of my mother would have been hush hush - translation: covered up.

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