I’m so Sick of that Same Old Love — Bigamous Relations in Lanark County


Have you ever wondered why you have such a hard time tracing your ancestors? This might be the answer.

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In 1898 Harry or Joseph O’Brien, was traced to Manitoba by Chief Constable McGowan, of Smith’s Falls, and captured in Portage-la-Prairie to be brought back to face his consequences. He was charged with obtaining $2.50 under false pretenses, and was put in the Perth gaol/jail awaiting trial.

O’Brien was also wanted for bigamy, and didn’t hesitate to own up to the fact that he had 14 wives.  His latest victim in the matrimonial line was a Miss Halliday of Smith’s Falls.  He also had two wives in Toronto, one in Carleton Place, and the others were scattered here and there. Was he punished? You tell me.

Many couples, particularly in the working class, entered bigamous unions throughout the nineteenth century. Most communities accepted these unions if they followed certain norms.

Policemen did not go around asking for proof that you were married, and therefore they didn’t go around checking that the marriage was lawful, or that you did not have a spouse from a previous undissolved marriage who was still living .

People had to report the apparent crime to the police, and then the police had to make inquiries and then determine if the evidence at hand was a likely offence.

In those days it wasn’t an offence to buy a ring, put it on a female’s left ring finger and move off to a different address and set up the household as though you were man and wife. Then when the couple later separated, and perhaps formed new partnerships, then perhaps a nosey busy body who had some prior knowledge, presumed there was a bigamist as a possible neighbour and went off to the police.

Within these parameters, neighbors and friends accepted illegal marriages, following in a long tradition of self-marriage and self-divorce. In fact, by the end of the century, judges followed community standards in their sentencing and often gave nominal punishment to both male and female bigamists. In the 1880s and 1890s, law enforcement officials were leery of bringing bigamy charges because of possible pressure from the locals.

Here are some punishments I found for bigamists:

15/1: Six weeks hard labour
15/1: One day imprisonment
30/4: One day imprisonment
30/4: One month hard labour
30/4: twelve months hard labour
31/5: Five months penal servitude
25/6: Five months penal servitude


So what have I got to add to this?

Someone in my family was ‘married’ 11 times. Only once was he charged with the crime of bigamy, but then he was pardoned when the first husband of the complainant turned up.

 And we wonder why we have a hard time tracing family trees!


If you are tracing your family tree visit:

The Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum

Lanark Genealogical Society

Archives Lanark

North Lanark Regional Museum

Middleville Museum

Lanark Museum

Smiths Falls & District Historical Society


Story 2-

Bigamy–The Story of Ken and Anne and Debby and Cathy and…





About lindaseccaspina

Linda Knight Seccaspina was born in Cowansville, Quebec about the same time as the wheel was invented and the first time she realized she could tell a tale was when she got caught passing her smutty stories around in Grade 7 at CHS by Mrs. Blinn. When Derek "Wheels" Wheeler from Degrassi Jr. High died in 2010, Linda wrote her own obituary. Some people said she should think about a career in writing obituaries. Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa from 1976-1996. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off she finally found her calling. Is it sex drugs and rock n' roll you might ask? No, it is history. Seeing that her very first boyfriend in Grade 5 (who she won a Twist contest with in the 60s) is the head of the Brome Misissiquoi Historical Society and also specializes in local history back in Quebec, she finds that quite funny. She writes every single day and is also a columnist for Hometown News and Screamin's Mamas. She is a volunteer for the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum, an admin for the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page, and a local guest speaker. She has been now labelled an historian by the locals which in her mind is wrong. You see she will never be like the iconic local Lanark County historian Howard Morton Brown, nor like famed local writer Mary Cook. She proudly calls herself The National Enquirer Historical writer of Lanark County, and that she can live with. Linda has been called the most stubborn woman in Lanark County, and has requested her ashes to be distributed in any Casino parking lot as close to any Wheel of Fortune machine as you can get. But since she wrote her obituary, most people assume she's already dead. Linda has published six books, "Menopausal Woman From the Corn," "Cowansville High Misremembered," "Naked Yoga, Twinkies and Celebrities," "Cancer Calls Collect," "The Tilted Kilt-Vintage Whispers of Carleton Place," and "Flashbacks of Little Miss Flash Cadilac." All are available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Linda's books are for sale on Amazon or at Wisteria · 62 Bridge Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada, and at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum · 267 Edmund Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada--Appleton Museum-Mississippi Textile Mill and Mill Street Books and Heritage House Museum and The Artists Loft in Smith Falls.

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