Who Was Harold Alfred Thompson?

Colorized at MyHeritage

First and foremost, Harold was my grandfather. He was my father’s father, to be exact. But as with many of my ancestors (and I’m sure many of yours), his story has a “but” in it. Or as I jokingly say to my cousins, “ok, it was like this.”**

So for Harold’s story, I’m going to start where I came in as a child. My father was pretty upfront about family history. The story about Harold was that his mother was Lily Myrtle Shannon, and he’d been born in Toronto in York County in 1907, and he was illegitimate.

Harold suffered his whole life with the stigma of being a “bastard,” at least that’s what my dad told me. My dad told me the story that when my grandmother had gone to British Columbia for her father’s funeral in 1951, my grandfather was certain that she wasn’t going to come back.

Now I don’t know if something else was going on in my grandparent’s marriage that my dad wasn’t aware of, but my dad knew his father well and knew that being called that term as my grandfather had been growing up had caused problems.

Children then, and even now, are not kind to one another, and being born out of wedlock had a whole different meaning then than it does now.

I don’t know precisely when my great grandmother, Lily met her husband; John Robert Thompson, but I know it was before the birth of my grandfather’s half brother, Norman. Norman was born on May 11, 1911, in Edmonton, Alberta.

John Robert(Right), Lily (Left), Norman (Baby) and Harold Thompson (Center)

I say that John Robert was my grandmother’s husband, but I’ve never been able to find a record of Lily and John’s marriage, and I think that’s probably because it doesn’t exist. From what I can gather, John Robert Thompson was still married to his first wife, Elizabeth Evangaline Ralph, who lived in Saskatchewan until she died in 1953.

Lily’s obituary stated that she and John had moved from Thornton, Ontario. Although I believe that’s where John was from, I can’t be sure if that’s where they met or if they met in Edmonton because Lily’s brother, Alfred, lived in Edmonton, and she may have come here after she’d had my grandfather in 1907. (Lily was born, in Brockville, Ontario, although I can’t find a birth record. Only one of her siblings appear to have been registered.)

Edmonton Journal on Newspapers.com

The story that my grandfather had always told us was that he had been born in Toronto and had come to Edmonton and lived in Fort Edmonton.

If this is true, then Harold and his mother would have lived in the fifth Fort Edmonton, which was dismantled in 1915. It had been located next to the Alberta Legislature Building, which had been completed in 1912. The Fort was dismantled because it had fallen into disrepair and was considered an eyesore.

By William James Topley Provincial Archives of Alberta A-6017

Perhaps that’s where Lily met John as he worked at the Alberta Legislation Building.

So getting back to my story. When it came time to apply for a pension, my grandfather applied for a delayed birth certificate. He went to a lawyer and explained that he was illegitimate and that although he’d gone by his stepfather’s last name, Thompson, he thought that his name should probably be Shannon. The lawyer told him that he’d gone by the name Thompson all his life and that there were documents, such as the census, identifying him as a Thompson, so he should just apply for a delayed certificate showing that name, and that’s what he did. (at least that’s the story I was told).

When I got involved with genealogy, I started looking for information about who my grandfather’s real father might have been, and I found this document that was created when he was born. I think that a search was never conducted because they should have seen this document. The information was all there; his mother’s name, his actual birthday, the right location.. but who was Godfrey Myrtle? and was my great grandmother married to him?

You’d think that at this point it would be easy, and that’s what I thought. This record was transcribed at Myrtle.. and because I wasn’t really familiar with french names, it wasn’t until I saw my father’s DNA matches that I realized that Myrtle was probably Martel. I know that might be a “rookie” mistake, but this was in my early days of genealogy, and I decided to focus on the families I knew rather than get hung up on the difficult ones.

But it is the mystery of my grandfather’s illegitimacy and the Beaton/Batten Mystery that got me interested in DNA. With DNA, I should be able to figure this out. Right?

My Dad was one of the first people I ever tested when DNA became affordable enough to purchase. That was in 2010, and that’s when Ancestry did y-DNA and mtDNA testing. (yes, Ancestry really did that type of testing back then, but it was discontinued in 2014). I had my Dad tested in 2010, but I really didn’t know what it was all about. When Ancestry got out of that part of DNA, I transferred Dad’s Y-DNA to Family Tree DNA, and I got my Dad to do further testing on his Y-DNA and his Autosomal.

My dad’s first test at Family Tree DNA on his Y-DNA was a 25 marker test. I don’t recall how many matches he had, but it was pretty dismal as I recall. I remember that there were a few “Palmers” and remember thinking, “oh no,” so my name should be Palmer now?

As I was able to pay for more DNA kits, I continued to upgrade my dad’s DNA. Remember, all the while, I’m buying other family members’ DNA kits at the same time. I’ve always told my children, “you’re not getting an inheritance, just a bunch of DNA and genealogy information.”

By 2014 I’d finally upgraded my dad to 111 markers. But even then, his best match was a genetic distance of 7 at a 67 marker level. So we are talking at least 12 generations and probably more like 20 or more to a common ancestor. So clearly, y-DNA wasn’t helping at this point. (My dad now has 2 matches at 111 markers, but they are still a genetic distance of 6 and 10, so not close).

So now, let’s talk about autosomal DNA. I had my dad do an autosomal DNA test at Family Tree DNA in 2014, and I’d transferred the raw data to GEDmatch but again, no great matches. My father’s best match at FTDNA that I didn’t know ended up being a cousin from the Shannon side. Some people had tested from my dad’s maternal side, so now, at least the three sides are confirmed.

It wasn’t until 2017 that my dad’s first mystery side had DNA tested, and no his name wasn’t Martel. It actually was LaFrance, and he was a match at 107 cM. But guess what … he had an ancestor named Palmer. Hmmm, does this mean something?

When I was finally able to do an Ancestry DNA test in Canada, to say I was excited didn’t even come close. It seems like ages ago, but it really wasn’t that long ago, and Mr. LaFrance was there as well, but on AncestryDNA, he was a 65 cM match. I won’t get into why the amount is different; just know that each company has its own way of looking at the small segments.

Now let me clarify something. I noticed the Palmer surname way back when.. but because I’ve been so heavily involved in my Beaton/Batten DNA, I haven’t really dug deeper until this past week.

I should have posted this blog last week, but I’d hoped that with my focus last week and over the weekend, I’d make some brilliant discoveries. But I can’t report that just yet. But I will tell you what I did do.

I did take the Palmer tree I’d found and moved it into my ICW Dad Tree (I wrote about a similar tree in the blog HERE), and I’ve expanded that tree even further. What I’m looking for is information that connects this line with the people I already have there. My Dad’s ICW tree isn’t that large it currently has just over 500 people. But what I did notice is there are a few people in that Palmer family that come from Saginaw, Michigan, and I know I have quite a few DNA connections from there, so I think that I need to look further at this family and the people I have in common with this LaFrance match.

I’ve also transferred my dad’s DNA to MyHeritage while ago, and his best match for his mystery side is 85.9 cM. That match’s surname also shows up at Ancestry, so I will continue to expand the tree and see where the DNA and records take me.

So what can you learn from all this, and what should you do if you have a mystery in your family?

  • If you don’t want to have floating branches in your current family tree, then create a new tree just for your DNA matches. If you create that tree online, then be sure to make that tree as private and unsearchable as you can. (you don’t want people to copy it because it’s just for you to keep track of your connections.)
  • Be sure and write notes on your DNA connections so that when you go back to look at them, you know where you left off. Each of the DNA testing companies, Ancestry, MyHeritage, 23andMe, Family Tree DNA, and LivingDNA, all give you space to keep notes.
  • I keep track of all my DNA correspondence on a spreadsheet (You can find a link to my spreadsheet that you can download HERE.) If you don’t like spreadsheets, then consider creating a word document that you can use for tracking).
  • Wherever you’ve tested your DNA transfer your results to the other companies that you are able to transfer to; so Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, GEDMatch

Now my last bit of advice is to be a “hound dog”.. don’t give up. It may be easy to find the connection to your mystery but it might take awhile so don’t get discouraged.

**The saying, “Ok, it was like this,” comes from my mom. Every time I would come across a family secret that my mom knew about, she’d say, “ok, it was like this”.. so often that I often wondered if you knew that information, why didn’t you tell me in the first place.


  • Phil Bartlow says:

    I love to read your stories and today found something that might be helpful in my quest. You mentioned that Lily was born n Brockville, Ontario. My Great-great-grandfather Andrew Patrick was born in Brockville in 1836, according to his Civil War pension records. But I’ve been unable to locate any records for him. I’m trying to verify his birth and his parents names. Would you happen to have any suggestions?

    • Phil, I notice that there is a John Patrick also born in Brockville, Ontario in 1839 that marries a Mary Janes. His parents are Eliza Ashmore and Father is John Patrick. Could this be a brother?

      • Phil Bartlow says:

        My Andrew did have a brother John, born in 1824. Also had a sister Hannah, born in 1829 and a brother Henry, born in 1832, all three of them probably born in Canada but not sure where. This could be a cousin? We think Andrew’s parents may have been Amos Patrick and Susan Shaw.

        • Phil, have you tried getting in touch with the Leeds and Grenville Genealogy Society? They may be able to help with possible ideas for research.

          • Phil Bartlow says:

            Yes, I have tried to contact them. But with the virus issue I’m not sure they have anyone available to do research. I do planto keep trying. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Willene Gillies says:

    Very interesting, Ellen. Sounds like you are on a fun journey. I think your mother and mine were related, at least in thought. A few years after my mother’s passing, my sister and I were going through my mother’s trunk of “memories” and there found the answers to questions I had asked her years before. There was no reason we could think of that she was not forthcoming in information. Perhaps our mothers didn’t want to take away from our delight in our eventual “finds”.

    • Willene, You might be right. I just always thought it so funny when I’d find something and say… this is strange… and I got the “ok it was like this”. I’ve told that story so often my cousins use that line all the time.