George Edward Frank SPEERS vs. George Edward WIDLEY

Ontario Genealogy Facebook group member “JM” asked for help deciphering the maiden name of the groom’s mother on a wedding certificate, the groom being one George Edward Frank SPEERS. On further inspection, it turns out the certificate had been incorrectly filled out with the bride’s mother’s name in the place of the groom’s mother’s name and then crossed out. The groom’s mother’s name was then written above as “Mary Ann ?“, indicating the groom did not know his mother’s maiden name (or even that his mother was unmarried at the time and the father’s name was made up to hide this fact). Further reading of the replies to the post indicated the grooms surname of SPEERS may have originally been WIDLEY, but no further information was known. Both SPEERS and WIDLEY are fairly uncommon spellings, and SPEERS is Irish in origin.

George Edward Frank SPEERS married Ellen Isabel ROWLINSON on 24th March 1924 in Thessalon, Algoma, Ontario, Canada.

  • Name: George Edward Frank SPEERS
  • Occupation: Cook
  • Condition: Bachelor
  • Age: 23 [c.1901]
  • Denomination: Anglican
  • Place of Birth: London, England
  • Father: Robert Henry SPEERS
  • Mother: Mary Ann ?
  • Birthplace of Father: London, England

In the 1921 Canada Census there was a George SPEERS lodging in Parkdale, Toronto, Ontario. He was age 26 (born c.1896), arrived in Canada in 1911 (so about 16), was single and working as a Cook. He also stated to be English with English parents. The marriage certificate for George above also had his occupation as Cook, although his age was slightly younger than the in census (23) making his birth year c.1901. Ellen was only 17 when she married George and had to have her mother’s permission to do so, so perhaps George wanted to appear younger than his true age of 29, or was incorrectly recorded as older in the 1921 census. If census George was actually born around 1901, then he would have only been 10 when he arrived in Canada. If he came with family, then where are they? If he came on his own on an assisted ticket, then perhaps he been orphaned or from a poor background and may account for a change of surname (which he then also applied to his father’s name on his wedding certificate).

If George did indeed arrive in Canada during 1911 and left after April, then he would have been recorded in the 1911 England Census. If he arrived in Canada before the June then he would have also been recorded in the 1911 Canada Census. As it is, there is no matching George SPEERS in either census (using various spellings).

There is no birth or baptism record for George SPEERS born 1893-1903 in England either. I’ve checked census records and travel records for various name combinations and spellings, as well as searching for possible parents but nothing shows up. This would indicate the story about a name change may well be true. If done officially, there would be a record. If he changed his name on entering Canada as a teenager, then perhaps not.

According to the Electoral Register, George was still working as a Cook in 1940, in 1945 he was working as a Labourer and 1949 a Steelworker.

The 1921 Canada Census also records a George WIDLEY lodging in Guelph, Wellington, Ontario. This George was of a similar age (20, so born around 1901 like the marriage George), single and working as a Shoemaker. He stated to be English with English parents, but no immigration or naturalisation year was added. This George can be traced back into England. His full name was George Edward WIDLEY and was actually slightly older than stated in the 1921 census, being born 22nd Nov 1896 in Chelsea, Middlesex, England. His father was Robert WIDLEY, a Bootmaker born 1860 in Kensington, and his mother was Mary Ann HEMMENS born 1860 in Dorking, Surrey.

In 1908 George was recorded being discharged from the Workhouse into the Branch School at Hammersmith, and in the 1911 census was living at home working as an Office Boy age 14. George’s parents were in and out of the workhouse many time between 1908 and 1912 when his mother died, which may have prompted his move to Canada.

George enlisted into as a Private into the 71st Battalion on 1st Oct 1915 (he measured 5ft 3in, and confirmed his date and place of birth, plus next of kin), but on 23rd Feb 1916 was discharged as medically unfit, being described as “underdeveloped”. He enlisted again on 22nd May 1917 into the 64th Battalion as Gunner, but was again discharged as medically unfit on 26th Oct 1918 (now measuring 5ft 6in). Further reading of George’s medical history described as poorly nourished and suffering from giddy spells, having dull and stupid facial expressions, as well as being inert and listless. His records also state his mother suffered from fits and one of his sisters also had giddy spells. The conclusion added was “condition apparently one of mental defect. Grade moron – with auto-suggested or artificial symptoms“. After being discharged for the second time and receiving various treatments, George returned to his trade of Shoemaker in Guelph (where he was still living in 1921).

There are no online record for George WIDLEY after the 1921 Canada census.


Several researchers have linked George Edward WIDLEY the Shoemaker to George Edward Frank SPEERS, but records show they are not the same man.  This does not, of course, mean that George SPEERS didn’t have a different name before arriving in Canada in 1911, just that he isn’t George WIDLEY the bootmaker.

A good way forwards would be a DNA test to help create family groups with a hope to identify George SPEERS parents, what ever their surname me be.