The Great Grandfather That Never Was: Otto Stanley

At an early age, I was adopted by my step-father. I never knew my biological father. Growing up I heard stories about him, but I wondered more about his family than about my father himself. While I have only met him once (that’s a story for another day), I am getting to know more about his ancestors.

My paternal great grandfather’s name was Otto Stanley. Otto left behind a wife, Emma (Snow) Stanley, and son, Charles Stanley, when Charlie was very young. After emigrating from Canada to the Boston area, Otto fled to Michigan. During my research, I found another woman he married and, subsequently, found his gravestone in Florida where he apparently passed away at a retirement home.

Until recently, I never knew why Otto chose to leave his young child and wife behind. As it turns out, Otto’s first wife, Emma, was involved in some rather shady dealings. These dealings (if true) put her family’s safety in jeopardy and Otto wasn’t having it. I’m currently having a local town conduct research around some of the claims that I’ve been told about Emma, and will absolutely have an interesting story to share very soon.

For years, I thought Otto simply moved to Michigan, got re-married, and that was that. Ultimately, I believe the true story impacted my grandfather, Charlie, in ways I can never imagine. From what I’ve heard, he wasn’t the best husband or father. I believe it trickled down from there. I do wonder however, if he were a stand-up father — would I have even been born? It makes me think – perhaps I’m ultimately the product of generations of paternal disappointment. Whoa.

However, I digress. Back to my grandfather’s story. There are two crazy discoveries I found in the last month alone. 

  1. Otto’s burial

I discovered a cemetery in Florida where it listed Otto and his wife Lena, as buried. When I spotted no death date for Otto on his grave, I began to feel sad. I figured that perhaps with Lena passing before him, he had no family to finish memorializing him after he was gone.

With that in mind, I recently reached out to the local town office of Inverness, Florida to inquire about getting his death date engraved on his headstone only to receive this surprising response:

If he wasn’t buried there, where the heck was he buried?  This is now a mystery to me that I’m now investigating.  More to come…

  1.  His Other Children

After searching for more information on Otto, I stumbled upon the obituary of his sister, Cecelia, who stayed behind in Canada. After reading her obituary, I gathered the names of her six children. In searching those names, I came upon the obituary of Otto’s nephew who passed as recently as a few years ago. Low and behold, his middle name was listed as Otto. It strikes me that Otto’s sister thought fondly enough of her older brother, to make sure his name was passed on in some way. Otto’s nephew, this man who had shared his name, looked like such a kind soul. As I browsed through the photos on the memorial page, it looked like he had an equally kind and wonderful family. If I had it correctly, this man and his family were my 2nd cousins.  I figured that perhaps they would know more about Otto, so I headed to Facebook to look up a few of the names of his children listed, took a chance and messaged a couple of them. As I reached out, I explained who I was and what kind of info I was looking for.  Additionally, I offered up a photo of Otto’s mother and father that I had, in case they hadn’t seen it. I nervously awaited a response and was thrilled to receive this note back:

Hi Kate, I’m so glad to hear from a cousin on my father’s side of the family! And thank you for solving the mystery of my father’s middle name. I always knew there had to be a reason for the unusual name “Otto”. My father left Newfoundland right after high school to join the Air Force. As a family, we lived quite far from the Peddle/Stanley family and there are a lot of pieces missing in my own knowledge of the family.  I’m not sure I have a lot of information although I could certainly direct you to my Aunt Carol (my father’s younger sister in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland). I’ve considered her to be the family member with the greatest sense of history. My dad died almost four years ago and I would love to see photos of family member who shaped him and who I never got to know. It would be such a lovely way to stay connected to the father I love and miss every day. Thank you so much for getting in touch!

After reading this kind message, I realized that even if I didn’t receive any additional info, I was thrilled to bring such happiness to distant relatives. I sent the photo of Thomas and Bertha Stanley (obtained by my wonderful Aunt’s photo album) and my newfound cousins were truly thrilled to see the first photo they had ever seen of their great grandparents.


After sending this photo along with a photo of Otto, I received an equally grateful message that made smile with joy:

Thank you so much, Kate. They’re wonderful photos. Thanks for the gift of family connection you have given me today. It has been a wonderful thing. My heart is full. ❤️

Genealogy is truly a mysterious journey. You never quite know what will happen, what you will find or who you will meet. I’m happy to now be connected to several of my Canadian cousins as a result of this search.

It was through these newfound cousins that I discovered Otto didn’t live a childless life with (who I originally believed to be) his second wife, Lena, like I had originally thought. My great grandfather had a whopping five more children after Charlie, but with another woman named Beatrice. It turns out, he repeated history by leaving Beatrice to pursue a life with Lena later on.   After doing some digging, it appears that Lena was actually the aunt of one of Otto’s son-in-laws. Yikes!

While I have been unable to reach the last living child of Otto, the mystery of who he is, what his story was, and where he is buried remains. All in all, I can’t help but wonder about this man and his “interesting” life.  I don’t know the whole story and feel in my heart that I don’t want to judge him, but I’m yearning to know more.  After all, his story somehow resulted in me being here on this planet, and isn’t that one of the most compelling reasons to get into genealogy?  Our ancestors make up who we are in some way.  I plan on learning more about Otto Stanley to understand how his actions affected his descendants and how, ultimately, they’ve affected me.  What I am learning is…. genealogy is surprisingly and sadly beautiful.  It’s truly a journey that you can never predict.

*Update: If you’d like to read the rest of the story, please refer to part two and part three within my blog*


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