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January 8, 2013

A Genealogy Mystery: The Gun & the Watch Fob

This is the story of a long-standing family mystery in my husband's Massey family.

Bill Jr. back 2nd from left
The characters

William Massey born 1916 and died 1984. He was a bachelor who lived in the sleepy town of St. Mary's Ontario his entire life. I'll call him Bill Jr.

His uncle Bill Massey was born 1894 and died in 1967. He too was a bachelor who to our knowledge never left St. Mary's. Let's call him Bill Sr.

Bill Massey Sr.

When Bill Jr. died in 1984 his brother Mike cleared out Bill's house and found two objects which he gave to my husband (Bill's brother's grandson). Mike did not know where one of the items came from or why his brother had it but he knew that the second item belonged to their uncle Bill who was born in 1894. Mike did not know why his Uncle Bill (Sr.) had this particular item.

The objects

1. A Nagant Gas Seal Revolver made in Belgium, model 1895, manufactured in 1898, known to belong to Bill Sr.

2. A watch fob with a two annas coin from India dated 1897. On the reverse of the coin is a shamrock with a green stone. The shamrock has been soldered on. Not known if it was ever owned by Bill Sr.

The gun would have been an unusual gun to find in North America years ago. As far as we can find out they were never sold commercially in this country. This gun was basically only used by the Polish Army, the Russian Army and some European Police Forces so it is curious how it ended up in the sleepy little town of St. Mary's Ontario.

Neither of the uncles (Bill Sr. or Bill Jr.) ever traveled overseas as far as we can determine.  Bill Sr. born in 1894 would have been too young to be the original owner of the gun. Did it belong to his father Thomas Massey?

There is indeed a sentence in Thomas Massey's obituary of 1912 which has puzzled my husband for many years "...the deceased was born in St. Mary's and spent all but a few years in the Stone Town." The Stone Town refers to St. Mary's where Thomas was born and died. To the family's knowledge he never left but this tiny reference in his obituary does indicate that indeed he did live elsewhere at some point in his life.

Also noteworthy perhaps is the fact that Uncle Bill Sr, the man who we know the gun once belonged to, was 18 when his father Thomas died. It might make sense that a gun belonging to his dad would be given to him as a memento. But the puzzle remains - how was the gun obtained and by who?  And... do the watch fob and India coin go with the gun? In other words were they owned by the same man?

I should also mention that neither of the Bills collected antiques or were sentimental. They had no other family treasures in their homes. So why keep this gun and watch fob?

The Massey family were not wealthy. They were not sophisticated. They didn't travel. They were hard-working labourers who lived and died in St. Mary's.  The Massey family history was passed down, any heirlooms were also passed down and treasured and family stories known and told about each member of the family. But nothing was ever heard of any of the family going off on an adventure or joining the army and leaving Canada.

Did one of the Massey men win these items in a poker game? Bill Sr. was a barber and perhaps one of his customers paid for their haircut and shave with the gun. We have no clues and no idea as to what the story is. But we think there just might be an adventure related to these items and waiting to be found.


scjohanson said...

These mysteries are part of the fun of genealogy. Good luck with finding our the stories behind these family items.

Ralp Poore said...

Your ancestor could have received the revolver by any number of means. You need facts more than speculation.

In a quick search of the Internet, I couldn't find any Nagant Model 1895 that had the maker's mark that yours does. Most were made for Russia and contained Russian marks. The 1895 model was produced through World War II.

You can find a great deal of history of the Nagant and technical info here:

You may have a rare model. I'd find a gun expert who may be able to help you with the genealogy of the revolver.

Interesting story. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

My story is that they knew an Irish born man[who had a shamrock for luck] who had been part of the British army in India and then in the 1st WW where he picked up souvenier in Belgium, then he emigrated to the USA where he entertained the 2 Bills with his stories ,they did him a favour and he left them these items in his will.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

One problem Anonymous - you overlooked one important part of the story! St Mary's is in Ontario Canada

Otherwise, I love it!

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Hi Ralp,

Yep we know we need facts but we haven't got any so we're having fun speculating.

And luckily my husband is a gun expert, in fact he restores antique guns for museums!

It's a rare model in N. America, hubs says it would have been hard to find bullets for it here

Thanks for your link to the technical info on the Nagant. I"ll pass it on to hubs

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

scjohanson, I posted this just for fun. I don't think we will ever know the story but it's fun to speculate on a story with the known facts

Anonymous said...

What if during that time that he lived somewhere else he lived with an elderly couple. they thought highly of him and at their death he was left the gun and fob?

fun to hear someone else's stories and ideas

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Anonymous - I agree! Hubs and I are just having a bit of fun letting our imaginations run wild.

Angela Ezell said...

Submit it as a possible story for PBS History Detectives