A little white prevarication

Friday, December 30, 2016 11:40 PM

The following is a brief commentary on what I believe to be the degree to which social norms can cause a significant amount of anxiety, sometimes resulting in “little white prevarications” creeping into the records. In other words to hide concerns people may change key information to cover up issues that may be against social norms. In this case I am referring to the social norm around the beginning of the 20th century that a man should not marry a women significantly older than himself.

My grandmothers’ birth record[i] lists her birth date as 17 August 1876, daughter of Samuel Harper and Lillian Easton in the county of Lanark, Ontario. It would appear that she was first named Lillian, after her mother, however this was amended in 1878 and Rose Mary was entered into the record as her name. My grandfathers’ birth record is explicitly recorded[ii] in the 1901 Census for the township of Orillia, District of Simcoe in Ontario as the 24th of July 1886. In the same record his age is listed as 14, his, his fathers’ and grandfathers’ birthplace is listed as Ontario and his heritage Irish. Incidentally, the census for 1891[iii] lists his age as 5, even though he still had two more months to turn 5. That same census lists his birthplace, as well as his father and grandfather as Ontario, this information is consistent with the information I have on his father and grandfather, except the Irish bit. So we can be pretty sure that my grandmother was a month short of being 10 years older than my grandfather. 

I believe it is important to point out that Samuel and Lillian (Easton) Harper, my great-grandparents had 10 children and my grandmother was the eldest child. I suspect that she was expected to stay at home help care for her younger siblings.

George Wesley and Rose Mary (Harper) Udell

In any event they were married on 29th of October 1909, as pictured above. So, my grandmother and grandfather would be 33 and 23 respectively when they married. However that’s not what the marriage record[iv] states, rather their ages are listed as 32 and 29 respectively. So, my grandfather has added 6 years to his age and my grandmother has subtracted 1 year from her age. My grandfather profession is listed as Tailor and my grandmothers as Dressmaker. 

A couple of years later they were living on Gillies Street North in Chesley, Ontario. The 1911 Census[v] is taken and my grandfather has inverted his name, now listed as Wesley G. Udell, his age is 29 and grandmother is listed as 30 years. His birthplace is still correctly listed as Ontario and his trade is Coat Maker. 


Grandmother Rose Mary (Harper) Udell, Sam John and Margaret

Saskatchewan circa 1915


By 1921 the family are living in Waverley Alberta and grandfathers name is recorded as Wesley, my grandmothers as Rose. His birthplace is now listed as USA and his racial origin as French. Their ages are listed as 41 and 45 respectively. So my grandmother has reverted to her correct age and grandfather is still 6 years older than in reality. 

 My father always told us we were French by race and his records indicate that such is the case. My father and his siblings had no idea that their father was 10 years younger than their mother. It wasn’t until after both grandparents had died and after I had completed the research that they were to discover that was the case. 

My grandparents had 7 children, one of the children, Irene, passed away at 2 years old in a barn fire. My grandmother was 44 when she had her last child. She managed to look after a family as they travelled across from Ontario to the prairies including a lot of travel across Alberta from town to town by prairie schooner. My father and his siblings remembered travelling for days to move to a new town by wagon. So while they may have introduced some little white prevarications into their records there is no doubt that they loved each other as my grandfather always expressed love for his “Rose”.


Copy right held by Gordon W. Udell 2018

[i] Schedule of Births for Lanark, Ontario, number 013455 - 60 registered the 11th of January 1877.

[ii] 1901 Census for Canada, Province of Ontario, District of Simcoe, Polling sub-division 4 - Township of Orillia, page 3.

[iii] 1891 Census of Canada, Province of Ontario, District of Simcoe East, sub-district of Township of Orillia, page 36.

[iv] Marriage Record for the County of Lanark, District of the Township of Lanark, 537.

[v] 1911 Census of Canada, Province of Ontario, District of South Bruce, Enumeration District 53 Chesley Town, page 17.


             Corfe Castle