The curious case of William Scanlon

Juris Graney
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Amateur genealogist searches out family secrets 

Bill Scanlon sits at his kitchen table with some research he has compiled. — Photo by Juris Graney

Bartletts Harbour — For the past 20 years, Bill Scanlon has been solving genealogical riddles, whose complexity seems to increase exponentially as the years go by.

As the older generation of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians pass away, so does their wealth of knowledge and their library of stories.

“I think I’ll solve this,” he told The Pen, sifting through birth certificates, history books and old photos he has accumulated over the years in his Bartletts Harbour home.

“I did extensive study and research into my family: why and how they come to be here, who they were. I did extensive research — well, I thought I did.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people, a lot of family members. I remember talking to my dad and he’d tell me a story and a couple of days later he’d tell the same story but it would be totally different, or he’d add things, then swear it was the real story.

“I just want to find the conclusion.”

The blessing of rich oral history, the storytelling, can also be its curse.

The main mystery now though is why his namesake, his great-great-grandfather William Scanlon, doesn’t have a headstone at the Roman Catholic Cemetery at Seal Cove in Brig Bay and how he can rally support from family members to remedy the situation.

He is using lessons from history to help in his cause.

“I received a letter some years back, it was an appeal to gather funds from descendants of Ambrose Brooks,” he said.

The letter states that Brooks, who died in 1852, was buried in North West River Cemetery in Labrador. A wooden marker was the only thing that signified his plot and the letter pleaded for anyone bearing 15 family names, and who owe their “very existence” to Brooks to donate what they could.

“At the time I thought our families were related, so I donated some money and a marker stone was bought,” he said.

“I am hoping that family members of William Scanlon will do the same. It would be great if it could happen before the Come Home Year celebrations in 2012.”

According to family tales, the original William Scanlon was born in Ireland in 1825 and was a seaman aboard the HMS Crocodile when he jumped ship in 1860 in the Labrador Straits. Captured and taken to Blanc Sablon, he escaped from a three-storey building by tying sheets together and fleeing to L’Anse au Clair.

“From there he swiped a dory and paddled across to Current Island and then made it to Newfoundland. He met his first wife there, Mary Raven as she was known,” he said.

According to the records Scanlon has collected, William Scanlon had three children, or at least claimed three children: Bridget Elizabeth, Anne and William Scanlon Jr. The latter, who was born in 1873, in turn had a son, born in 1904 and was called William Scanlon Junior Junior.

“At last count there are another six William Scanlons,” he said.

“I’m one of them.

“Mary and his two daughters disappeared from the story completely when they moved to Western Brook.

“(William Scanlon) got remarried to Alice Williams when he was 55 years on Sept. 13, 1890 in Seal Cove.”

The couple had nine children before the original, Irish-born William Scanlon died Nov. 17, 1909, age 84.

“It’s hard to find information about the original William Scanlon, but I am still searching,” his descendant said.

“When people back then jumped ship and were hiding away from the English or the French, they would try to disappear, they would hide their identity so well that it makes it hard to find the truth.

“There is even a story that William Scanlon had a bounty on his head, so that’s enough of a reason to disappear.”


The Northern Pen

Geographic location: Seal Cove, Bartletts Harbour, Labrador Brig Bay North West River Cemetery Ireland Current Island Western Brook

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Recent comments

  • Rachel Evans
    September 25, 2012 - 18:17

    I would like to talk to Mr. Scanlon. My Great Grandmother was Alice Scanlon's sister. Could you please pass my e-mail to him. Thank You