Tag: Mattie Rixon

The Ancestor Who Did Not Exist

Some family stories are based on just a few kernels of truth. Sometimes fiction has been wrapped around the truth simply to make it a better story, but sometimes a story has been fabricated to hide the truth. This is probably what happened to the story of my great-grandmother Samantha “Mattie” Rixon’s parents. 

Mattie was born in Cramahe Township, Upper Canada in 1856.1According to the family story, her father was Arthur Wellington Rixon, but the genealogical evidence points to a different reality: Arthur Wellington Rixon probably never existed, and she was probably born out of wedlock. 

I learned the family story about Mattie’s family from a note, written on the back of a photo of her that was emailed to me by an elderly cousin. It read: “Mattie Rixon’s father, Arthur Wellington Rixon, died of typhoid fever when she was three years old. Her mother remarried and went to the USA to live and died there when Mattie was 15. Mattie was brought up, first by her grandparents and later by her aunt, Mrs. Fennel … a daughter of Thomas Rixon, Mattie’s grandfather.”

The note was signed at the bottom, LMF, the initials of Lillian May Forrester, Mattie’s daughter and my grandmother. I believed this story for several years, making assumptions about details that didn’t make sense.

The note was on the back of this photo of a young Samantha “Mattie” Rixon

The note gave the impression that Arthur Wellington Rixon was Thomas Rixon’s son, and that Mattie’s mother’s name was unknown. But research has demonstrated that Mattie’s mother was Martha Rixon, Thomas Rixon’s daughter. Unless this was a case of incest, which is highly unlikely, Mattie’s father could not have been Thomas Rixon’s son.

Researching this period of Ontario history is difficult. Civil registration wasn’t introduced until 1855, so genealogists depend on newspapers, personal papers, land records, and so on. After having no success with my search for Arthur Wellington Rixon in genealogical records online, or in the library of Ontario Genealogical Society, Quinte Branch, I hired Gabrielle Blaschuk, a professional genealogist who lives in the area and is familiar with all the local archives and surviving collections. 

She found no trace of him in Northumberland County and her report finally convinced me the story was fiction. Some stones still have to be turned over, which is why I have used the word “probably,” it would be very surprising if Arthur turns up now. As Gabrielle noted in an email, “This total lack of confirmation when there is so much on all the other relatives is baffling, but it usually means something is out of kilter somewhere.”

One of the documents Gabrielle discovered was a thoroughly researched article about Thomas Rixon, written in 1984 by descendant Brian Harling.2 He cited a similar story about Arthur Wellington Rixon, and he too was unable to find any concrete evidence of his existence. 

Mattie was a member of a large and well-documented family in the Bay of Quinte region of Ontario, near Belleville and Brighton. Her grandparents, Thomas Rixon, a farmer and carpenter, and his wife Elizabeth “Betsey” Thompson, were married in October 1825.3 Thomas and Betsey lived in Sophiasburgh Township for many years before moving to Cramahe. The Rixons were listed in Cramahe in the 1851 census with their 11 children.4 Martha Jane was their fourth daughter, born 1834. Arthur Wellington was not listed, and I assumed that simply meant he was living somewhere else at the time. 

I have not found baptismal records for Mattie or for her younger brother, Phineas Wellington Rixon (1859-1938). The Rixons were Methodist Episcopal, and the records of the church the family attended may be in the United Church Archives in Toronto. 

The strongest clue that Mattie’s father was not named Arthur came in her 1879 marriage record. Mattie identified her parents’ names as “Thomas and Martha Rixon.”5 In his 1883 marriage record, Phineas also wrote that his father was Thomas Rixon. Knowing that the children had been raised by their grandparents, and that grandfather Thomas Rixon was the only father figure they had known, I assumed they had simply put his name on their marriage records. 

There was another Thomas Rixon (1834-1882), a cousin in Halton Township, Canada West. He could have been the father, but there is no other evidence to prove it.  As for the origin of the family story, it was probably created to hide the fact that Mattie was illegitimate. 

Unfortunately, the name Arthur Wellington Rixon has been published on the Internet for several years. When I first saw the note about Mattie’s father, I enthusiastically shared it with a genealogist who posted it on the Public Member Trees section of Ancestry.com. Since then, many people have copied it into their own trees. If you have Arthur Wellington Rixon on your tree, you need to know that he probably did not exist.

In a future post, I will write about Mattie’s mother, Martha Jane Rixon (1834-1875). 

See also: 

Janice Hamilton, “Mattie Rixon and the Forrester Family”, Writing Up the Ancestors, June 8, 2015, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2015/06/mattie-rixon-and-forrester-family.html

Janice Hamilton, “Thomas Rixon, Ontario Farmer, Carpenter and Transplanted Englishman,” Writing Up the Ancestors, March 10, 2017, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2017/03/thomas-rixon-ontario-farmer-carpenter.html.

Notes and Sources:

Arthur and Wellington were both fairly common names in every corner of the British Empire. That is probably because Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852), 1st Duke of Wellington, was the army commander who led the British to defeat Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

An accountant named E. Arthur Rixon appeared in the 1901 Census of Canada in Deseronto, County Hastings, Ontario, however, he does not seem to have been related to my family. He was born in England in 1857, so he was the same age as Mattie. 

Thomas Rixon, Martha’s cousin, was the son of James Rixon, Thomas Rixon’s brother. James came to Canada around 1820, settling near Milton. Son Thomas (1834-1882) became a minister, married and had several children, one of whom was named Arthur William Rixon (1879-1940.)

Mattie named two of her children Arthur. The first Arthur, my grandmother’s twin brother, died at birth in 1880. Her second son was Arthur Wellington Forrester (1883-1922).

  1. “1901 Census of Canada”, Manchester, Provencher, Manitoba; Page: 3; Family No: 25, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 8 June 2015), entry for Samantha Forrester; citingLibrary and Archives Canada. Census of Canada, 1901. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada, 2004. http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1901/Pages/about-census.aspxl. Series RG31-C-1. Statistics Canada Fonds. Microfilm reels: T-6428 to T-6556.
  2. “Fennells & Smiths, 19th Century Northumberland County, Ontario, Canada. A genealogical newsletter. Quarterly/ vol. 3 no 1/November 1984.” 
  3. Ameliasburgh Parish Register, 7B1, p. 146, Anglican church Diocese, Kingston, Ontario. 
  4. “1851 Census of Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia,” database, Ancestry.ca(http://www.ancestry.ca, accessed Dec. 24 2009), entry for Thomas Rixon, Cramahe, citing Year: 1851, Census&nbspPlace: Cramahe, Northumberland County, Canada West (Ontario), Schedule: B, Roll: C_11739, page 129, Line: 2.
  5. “Ontario, Canada Marriages, 1857-1924”database, Ancestry.ca, (http://www.ancestry,ca, accessed Nov. 24 2008), entry for Samantha Rixon, 1879, Shannonville, citing “Registrations of Marriages, 1869-1922,  MS932 Archives of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, Canada”

Mattie Rixon and the Forrester Family

Samantha Rixon, or Mattie as she was known, (1856-1929) learned the importance of family early in life. When Mattie was a teenager, her mother moved away, leaving her and her younger brother, Phineas, to be brought up by their grandparents. Both children were probably illegitimate, and their father was not around.

The children grew up in Cramahe Township, Northumberland County, Ontario, a rural area near Brighton and Lake Ontario. Their grandfather, Thomas Rixon (1793-1876), who was originally from England, worked as a carpenter and farmer. Their grandmother, Betsey Thompson (c. 1804-c.1872), had already brought up 12 children, but she was still willing and able to care for her two grandchildren.

Around the time her grandparents died, Mattie moved in with her married aunt, Ormacinda Rixon Fennell. Once again, a family member had come to her assistance.

In 1879, Mattie married John McFarlane Forrester1, nicknamed Jack. He was the son of a Scottish-born farmer from Melrose, in Tyendinaga Township, Hastings County, Ontario. The couple settle up housekeeping in a log cabin on the Forrester family farm. A year later, Mattie gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. The boy, named Arthur, did not survive, but Lillian May2, the baby girl who was one day to become my grandmother, was placed in a box behind the woodstove to keep warm.

Jack was one of seven children, and land in Ontario was becoming too expensive for him and his four brothers to buy farms of their own. The Forresters agreed the best the solution would be for everyone to leave Ontario and start over on the western prairies, which were opening up to settlers at the time. The Forrester brothers and their father bought adjoining 160-acre lots near Emerson, Manitoba, close to the American border.

Farming in Manitoba was quite different from life in Ontario. The Forrester farm in Ontario had been fairly small and hilly, and the family had raised mixed crops and livestock. Now they were farming grain on the vast, flat prairies. Winters were longer and much colder, but the soil, subject to periodic flooding by the Red River, was fertile. And although two of Jack’s brothers moved to nearby Winnipeg to pursue careers there, those who remained in Emerson could count on each other to help with the farm work and enjoy social get-togethers.

Mattie and Jack raised six children: Lillian May, Arthur Wellington, John MacFarlane, William Drummond, Lulu Elda and Jessie Jean.3 According to her nephew Charles Reid Forrester, Mattie was devoted to her family.  In a memoir, he wrote: “Aunt Mattie … had been a school teacher in Ontario whose whole life was now devoted to caring for her family, milking cows and making butter, raising poultry, sewing, gardening and the thousand and one tasks incidental to running a farm home.

Samantha (Rixon) Forrester

“There was something special about Aunt Mattie’s bread, fresh from the oven, with its nutty flavor! Long years after she was gone, the rich aroma of her newly baked loaves greeted me one day as I opened the doors of her old cupboard, bringing back memories of those days when we were privileged to accept her kindness, while turning her house topsy-turvy in our games of hide and seek, hide the thimble, robbers, train, and whatever came to mind.” 4

One year the whole family visited California on a trip paid for by one of the Forrester brothers who was a successful real estate developer. When Jack and Mattie decided to retire from farming around 1911, they moved west again, this time to Los Angeles, where they bought a tiny house. Several other family members, including Mattie’s son Bill, also moved to California, but Mattie did miss her grandchildren in Canada. In 1928, she wrote to 13-year-old grandson Jimmy Hamilton (my future father), “When I think of you boys growing so much since I came here I feel a bit sorry I’ll never see you again as little boys. I watch your cousins here and make comparisons, but I know you will be my boy at all times, will you not?”

That letter also made it clear that Mattie knew how lucky she had been to be surrounded by family all her life. She told Jimmy, “I am too old to sleep more than 6 hours so up I get and go out beside the gas heater where I am now and read or write or sew for unfortunate kiddies who have not a mother or grandma.”

Mattie died in Los Angeles on May 15, 1929, aged 72, just a few months after she lost her husband.5


I knew nothing about Mattie, not even her name, until a few years ago. Then, a distant cousin sent me a copy of a photo of Mattie with a note on the back, written by my grandmother, Lillian Hamilton. That note turned out to have incorrect information, saying that her father had died and giving his name as Arthur Wellington Rixon. (See the two links below.)

Other details of Mattie’s adult life on the farm in Manitoba come from a privately published book written by her nephew Charles Reid Forrester. I found the letter she wrote to my father in his photo album.

This story was corrected and updated Dec. 2, 2018

See also:

Janice Hamilton, “The Ancestor Who Did Not Exist,” Writing Up the Ancestors, April 11, 2017, https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2017/04/the-ancestor-who-did-not-exist.html

Janice Hamilton, “Martha J. Rixon’s Short and Difficult Life,” Writing Up the Ancestors, May 14, 2017,  https://www.writinguptheancestors.ca/2017/05/martha-j-rixons-short-and-difficult-life.html


  1. “Ontario Marriages, 1869-1927,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FMJS-B42 : accessed 8 June 2015), John Mcfarlane Forrester and Samantha Rixon, 26 Jul 1879; citing registration, Shannonville, Hastings, Ontario, Canada, Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm.
  2. “Canada Births and Baptisms, 1661-1959,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:F2KY-L6B : accessed 8 June 2015), Samantha L. Rixon in entry for Lilian May Forrester, 11 Oct 1880; citing Tyendinaga, Hastings, Ontario, 11 Oct 1880, reference 520; FHL microfilm 1,845,398.
  3. “1901 Census of Canada”, Manchester, Provencher, Manitoba; Page: 3; Family No: 25, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 8 June 2015), entry for Samantha Forrester; citing Library and Archives Canada. Census of Canada, 1901. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada, 2004. http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1901/Pages/about-census.aspxl. Series RG31-C-1. Statistics Canada Fonds. Microfilm reels: T-6428 to T-6556.
  4. Charles R. Forrester, “My World in Story, Verse and Song”, printed by Friesen Printers, Altona, Manitoba, 1979.
  5. “California, Death Index, 1905-1939”, database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 8 June, 2015), entry for Samantha Forrester; citing California Department of Health and Welfare, California Vital Records-Vitalsearch (www.vitalsearch-worldwide.com). The Vitalsearch Company Worldwide, Inc., Pleasanton, California.