October Surprise

During my genealogical journey, I have found several surprises, a few of which I’ve written about here.  However, this past week’s October Surprise has surpassed all the others.

My Nana had a baby daddy.

To step back a bit, I had a suspicion when doing research on my mother’s line that something didn’t fit.  My grandmother had been told her unusual name, Murrell Welland Williamson was derived from “family names” and it was let go at that.  However, I was unable to find either name in my great-grandmother’s family, and I’ve gone back to the reign of Henry VIII.  Her first marriage to Charles Clinton Williamson did not last long, and my grandmother was told her father left them shortly before she was born.

Nana went on to marry her second husband, Ward Stephens, when my grandmother was young. They had a long and happy marriage of over 30 years, and my grandmother was very close to her stepfather.

Shortly after Daddy Stephens (That’s what my grandmother called him) died, Nana suddenly left San Francisco, and traveled to Utah to marry her third husband, Alexander Wright. They had about 10 years together before he died, and Nana moved back to the San Francisco area for the remaining 15 years of her life. We always wondered how she met him.

That is what we knew about her history. Now, about that surprise….

When doing research on Nana’s three husbands, I found that her third, my mother’s Granddaddy Wright, had an unusual middle name – he was Alexander Welland Wright.  That set off alarm bells, and I decided to search a bit more.  It took a bit, but I found the Murrell in his family tree.  Still not conclusive.  I needed more.  I convinced my mother to take a DNA test, and I waited for the results.

Bingo.  Her DNA test results came back this week, and Lo and Behold, she has a second cousin with the last name of Wright. A bit of investigation shows that person is descended from Granddaddy Wright’s brother. Other DNA matches with members of Alexander Wright’s family have been identified, but not yet confirmed by personal contact. It is conclusive.

Now – how on earth did this happen?  More digging unearthed an article in the Salt Lake Telegraph about an 85th birthday party Nana threw for her husband. In the article, it mentioned he was the Chief Dispatcher for the Southern Pacific Railroad while the span over the Great Salt Lake was being built. The tiles fell into place beautifully.


My great uncle Otto, who was married to Nana’s sister, was the chief civil engineer for the design of the Lucien Cutoff, and most likely was a close colleague of Alexander Wright. Nana’s first marriage disintegrated around 1903, and we know she left Nevada at that time to live with her sister Nettie in Utah.  She would have most likely met Alex Wright at that time – he was her husband’s ultimate boss, after all. One usual thing led to another, and my grandmother was born in Utah in the following June of 1904.

The rest is history – recently dug up history, but fun none the less.  Funny thing about history – it’s written by the victors and the survivors, and in this case, was sanitized by my grandmother, who felt sex outside of marriage was something NOT to be discussed or even considered.  The obvious exploits of her mother was something that must never be learned by anyone.  She went to great lengths to cover all this up, including destroying everything about her real father, with one exception – the huge diamond ring he gave her mother when they finally married.  I wear it now.

Nana’s secret was finally discovered more than 100 years later. By her only great-granddaughter. I think she would be pleased with that.

When I called Mom to tell her, the response was a hearty laugh and “Nana was a rebel, all right”. She couldn’t wait to call her sister. They both loved it.  Granddaddy Wright was the only grandfather they knew, and I’m so happy they now know he really WAS their grandfather.

Nana was a beautiful woman, intelligent and spirited, with a great sense of humor. I remember her as elegant, proper, and with a wonderful twinkle in her eye.  I am now getting to know her as a woman who carved a life for herself in a time when women had few options, and didn’t let anything get in her way.  I’m glad she and her daughter’s father finally found happiness together. I just wish I had been able to know her when she was young.  We would have had a lot of fun as best girlfriends.

It’s a story worthy of a TV Reality Show.  Perhaps titled, as my friend Micky said, “The Real Housewives of 1903”.

Has a nice ring to it.