Gypsy’s Tramps and Thieves–Are We Turning Thieves and Jailbirds into Role Models?


No matter how I tried I could not get this link to come up so I can cut and paste it.

My great great grandmother, Louise Knight was a lady in waiting for Queen Victoria. She talked her way out of jail time for having “loose skirts court side ” and ended up marrying one of the Duke’s of Essex.


Local Carleton Place Cemetery- Photo Public Archives


City Centre Mirror

By some uncanny intuition, some people imagine they will find horse thieves, rogues and jailbirds perched in the leafy bowers of their family trees. And once in a while, they happen to be right.

It’s been about 150 years since a distant cousin of my grandfather’s, born to wealth and social status, was the subject of a spectacular bankruptcy proceeding in London, England. The full story, which appeared in the London Times, must have horrified his family, but I admit I was fascinated to read it. I have no later information about my relative, but I hope he ended up on the positive side of the ledger.

Because this type of newspaper story informs us about an otherwise little-known relative, it usually makes a welcome addition to a family history. Criminal court records, stories from the Police Gazette, even Wanted posters may likewise increase our knowledge of a relative who did not always walk on the sunny side of the street.

Genealogists sometimes joke about creative ways in which to sanitize the truth about a rogue in the family tree. Regarding a great uncle who was executed in the electric chair, for example, they might write: “Great Uncle Solomon occupied a chair of applied electronics at an important government institution, was attached to his position by the strongest of ties, and his death came as a great shock.”

Let’s suppose that Great Uncle Solomon Starr was a convicted horse thief who was sent to penitentiary in Edmonton in 1885, but escaped in 1887. He then robbed the Trans-Canada Railway six times, was apprehended by a team of Pinkerton detectives and was hanged in 1889.

Egads! The tale puts a fairly ugly blot on the family escutcheon, does it not? But the story (I’ve seen various versions of it over the years) can easily be embellished and made respectable, as follows: “Solomon Starr was a famous cowboy in the territories of the great Canadian North West. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and he had intimate dealings with the Canadian Pacific Railroad.

“Beginning in 1885, he devoted several years to service at a government facility, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency.

“In 1889, Uncle Solomon passed away during an important civic function held in his honor when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed.”

In all seriousness, the truth, judiciously doled out in little or large amounts, is usually the best policy.

Bill Gladstone is a Toronto-area professional genealogist, writer and publisher. His website

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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