The Mystery of Charles Semlin’s grandchildren

Loon Lake contributor Barbara Hendricks investigates the mystery of who received Charles Semlin's estate.

Dear Editor

Whenever I pick up my copy of the Ashcroft Cache Creek Journal the first thing I do is scan through the pages to see if there is anything  written by either Barbara Roden or Esther Darlington MacDonald on local history. If there is I save it for my weekend reading pleasure.

Some people like to do cryptic crossword puzzles – I like to try to unravel genealogical puzzles. The article by Esther Darlington MacDonald in the Nov. 28 issue was great and her suggestion that there was a mystery surrounding the grandchildren of Charles Augustus Semlin,  local rancher, MLA and BC’s 12th Premier, aroused my curiosity.

When Semlin died in 1927, he willed his estate worth about $50,000 to his grandchildren; however most biographies list Semlin as a bachelor or unmarried – so where do the grandchildren come from?- asks Esther. She mentions that Caroline Williams and Mary were listed as living with Semlin in the 1881 census and using Semlin as a surname. Esther assumes that Mary was adopted by Semlin and that Caroline Williams was her mother, an assumption which follows with the entry made by Jeremy Mouat in his biography of Semlin in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

Well, maybe; but we need to be careful about assumptions.

There are some good clues available to solving the “mystery” of the grandchildren. I have come to be fascinated with the detailed information one can find on the BC Archives website run by the Royal BC Museum. The birth, death and marriage certificates reproduced there can supply some very interesting leads and help follow family ties.

These records are not as dry as it might first appear. In my search last week I found that Mary Elizabeth Semlin was born in 1867 in Cache Creek.

Semlin had arrived in Cache Creek  a few years earlier – without family or any other ties or connections. Many settlers arrived alone and it must have been quite a difficult and lonely life. In 1867 Semlin was still trying to establish himself.  BC was still a colony and provincial politics was still based on a colonial government. A daughter, a baby girl, can give a lot of meaning to the backbreaking work of establishing a home in a new land.

In 1884 Mary Semlin of Cache Creek married Tom Walker. Through the archive search function I was able to find an image of the actual marriage certificate for Mary Semlin – age 17 – and Tom Walker, dated 12/24 1884. On the marriage certificate, on the line for parents are the words: “Charles A Semlin, Indian woman”.

Presumably in 1884 Mary’s mother was no longer alive and it seems strange that Mary did not know the name of her mother, so perhaps Mary’s mother had been dead for some time. It would seem unlikely from this record that her mother was Caroline Williams who was living in the Semlin household in 1881 according to the census report. Mary would have known of Caroline.

Okay – some mystery here. Was her mother unknown or was someone being protected by not making her name public?

I cannot find further records on Tom Walker and I presume he died quite young, and there does not appear to have been any children born of that marriage.

Records show that in 1893 Mary Semlin/Walker  of Cache Creek married again, this time to Charles Tremble (spelling as on certificate) or Trimble, the spelling varies on different documents.

Charles Trimble is listed in the 1893 Cache Creek directory as foreman, Galpin and Co (stockraiser).

I found birth or death certificates for five children born in Cache Creek to Mary Elizabeth Semlin  and Charles Edward Trimble who was born Ohio US about 1860 with occupation listed as rancher, Cache Creek. These children were: Gladys May (1892-1931), Charles Augustus (1897-1948), George Edgar (1901-1962), Florence  (Floria) Isabelle (1903-?) and Richard Claude (1905-1981). As the birth records on the archives website go no later than 1903, it was on the 1911 census that I found another child, Carrie, born in 1906. These, therefore were Charles Augustus Semlin’s grandchildren.

Of interest to me is at least three of the births (all those where I could examine  a reproduction of the birth certificates online) were  not registered until early 1928, two months after the death of Charles Semlin, and the informant to the registry was Miss Gladys Trimble in all cases.

Charles Semlin died in November 1927; unfortunately there is no reproduction of his death certificate online so I could not find out if he was listed as having been married on the certificate; however his biographers  are very definite about him being unmarried. Mary’s mother does remain a mystery that will unlikely be revealed, and in my mind whether or not Mary was adopted or was Semlin’s biological child is unimportant; the important thing was that Semlin considered Mary to be his daughter, cared for her and her children and that the children cared for him.

Looking through the wonderful book put out by the Ashcroft Museum, Bittersweet Oasis A History of Ashcroft and District 1885 to 2002, I found on page 85 a photo of Mary and Charles Trimble with their children Gladys and Charles. Charles is a baby and it looks like he is in a christening dress. He was born in March 1897, so the photo was likely taken in 1897. The caption on the photo says that the Trimbles were from the Semlin Ranch and that Mary has previously been married to Tom Walker.

Over the page in Bittersweet Oasis is a photo taken in 1933 at the Semlin ranch – six years after the passing of Charles Semlin Sr.; the owner of the ranch is stated as Leslie Cameron.

In her article, Esther goes on to tell about her experience in 1981 in Kamloops when she interviewed Alma Loyst, who nursed Semlin before he died. By coincidence at least one of Semlin’s grandchildren, Richard Claude Trimble, was living in Kamloops at that time; he died in RIH in March 1981, his son living in Coquitlam signed the death certificate. It was most unfortunate that Esther missed interviewing him as he surely would have been able to shed some light on any mystery surrounding Semlin’s grandchildren.

Thank you, Esther and The Journal for some enjoyable reading and a puzzle.

Barbara Hendricks

Loon Lake

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