"Finding the Elusive Charles Spencer : Partners in Genealogy"
When the staff at South Peace Regional Archives Society began to process the Charles Spencer collection, the first task was to write a biographical sketch. There was plenty of information regarding his life in Canada; in fact, as Bill Scott of the Daily Herald Tribune noted, he could be labelled a Renaissance Man. He was the architect of many of our early public buildings, served on numerous civic boards, loved good books and classical music, and bequeathed his estate to benefit our public library.
But about his life before he came to Canada, there was absolutely no information. “It is believed he had some nieces and nephews in England,” his obituary simply said. Who was this man? He appeared to be educated and wealthy; and he had emigrated from Northamptonshire, where the Spencer family has a large estate, and where Princess Diana Spencer is now buried. Could he possibly be connected to that Spencer family?
Among Mr. Spencer’s own papers we found some letterhead from which we were able to determine that he had been a builder in England, but that was the only trace we could find. Bill Lappenbush, a member of our archives society and a genealogist, was able (through his membership in several genealogical organizations) to trace Charles back to 1871. There were several inconsistencies, however, that made us less than 100% sure we had the correct individual.
So we called in the big gun—Judy Bradley, president of the Grande Prairie Branch of the Alberta Genealogical Society and an expert in British genealogy. She in turn sent the request to Angela White in Dorset, England who specializes in Spencer family genealogy. It wasn’t long before we had the story, with a surprising twist—Charles Spencer wasn’t correctly Charles Spencer at all!
Charles Spencer SHATFORD was born on April 4, 1867 at Highgate, Kendal, Westmorland. His mother was Sarah SPENCER and his father was Charles SHATFORD. He had an older sister named Elizabeth. The 1871 census reveals that they had moved to Liverpool, Lancashire, where the youngest child, Sarah Louise was born. This was not a wealthy family for they were sharing a home with two other families—a total of 12 people in one tenement home. It was here that Charles’
mother contracted tuberculosis. She died in Irchester, Northamptonshire in 1873, when Charles was only 6 years old. One year later, four year old Sarah Louise also died.
It was about this time that the
family moved south, perhaps because the air in the south was cleaner and less
polluted by industry. “From now on”, Angela White states, “the names of SPENCER
and SHATFORD become interchangeable.... The reason remains a bit of a mystery.
Perhaps it was a way of honouring and remembering Sarah, the wife and mother
who died aged just 35 years.”
The 1881 census shows the family as SPENCERS. Charles is living with.... Read more about Charles Spencer in our PDF ›