The Great Grandfather That Never Was: Otto Stanley

The only photo I have of Otto

I’m not sure how to start this post but I’ve been mulling over what I’ve learned recently and thinking about the impact of it all and how it has eventually lead to me.

At a young age, I was adopted by my step-father.  I never knew my father and had heard stories about him growing up but wondered more about his background and his family, more than him himself.  While I have met him once (that’s quite the story for another day), I am getting to know more about his ancestors than he likely ever will.  For instance, my great grandfather who he never knew….his name was Otto Stanley.  It turns out that Otto left his wife (my great grandmother, Emma (Snow) Stanley) and his son Charles Stanley behind when Charlie was a young age.  After immigrating from Canada to the Boston area, Otto fled to Michigan.  During my research,  I had found another woman he married and subsequently found his gravestone in Florida where he apparently passed away at a retirement home.  I never knew why he left his young child and wife behind until recently.  Ultimately, I believe this impacted my grandfather Charlie in ways I can never imagine and from what I heard, he wasn’t the best husband or father.  This inevitably lead to my biological father not being a the best man he could be.  I do wonder however, if he were — would I have even been born?  He had children before me so perhaps he would have never met my mother had he been the stand up family man he could have been?  It makes me think – perhaps I’m ultimately the product of paternal disappointment.  Whoa.

I was recently told that my great grandmother 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 research some of the claims that I’ve been told about her and will absolutely have an interesting story on her soon.  For years, I thought Otto simply moved to Michigan, got re-married and that was that.

There were two crazy discoveries I found out about in the last month alone. 

  1. His burial

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

With that in mind, I 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?  I’m still trying to find out.  As I started to search further, I began to dig under Lena’s name.  I was then shocked to to discover another fact.

2.  His Other Children

After searching around for more information on Otto, I stumbled upon the obituary of Otto’s sister who had stayed behind in Canada.  After reading her obituary, I gathered the names of her children.  I stumbled upon another obituary of a man who passed only a few years ago who was Otto’s nephew.  Low and behold, his middle name was Otto.  It seemed that his mother thought fondly enough of her older brother, to make sure his name was passed on in some way.  This man who had shared his name looked like such a kind soul and as I browsed through the photos, it looks like he had an equally kind and wonderful family. If I had it correctly, this man and his family were my 2nd and 3rd cousins.  I figured that perhaps they would know more about Otto, so I looked up a few of the names listed on the obituary on Facebook and took a chance to message a few of them.  As I reached out to them, 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 was met with such gratefulness.  I nervously awaited a response and was thrilled to receive this 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 receiving 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.   Genealogy is truly a mysterious journey.  You never quite know what will happen, what you’ll find and 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 these new found cousins that I discovered that Otto didn’t live a childless life with Lena like I had originally thought but had a whopping five more children after Charlie but with another woman named Beatrice.  It turns out, he had left Beatrice to pursue a life with Lena later on.  While I have been unable to reach the last living child of Otto yet, the mystery of 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 finding more about Otto to understand how his actions affected his descendants and how ultimately they’ve affected me.  Genealogy sure is surprisingly beautiful.

*To read the second installment of this story, please visit Update: Otto Stanley Mystery*

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