Joan Allison's grandmother, Catherine Wallis.
On the evening of Sunday, April 14, 1912, three passengers on board the Titanic were anticipating their arrival in America. Catherine Wallis was a 35-year-old widow with four children at home in Southampton, England. As a third-class matron, she tended to the needs of the third-class passengers. Two-year-old Gosta Paulson and his three siblings were traveling from Sweden with their mother, Alma, to meet their father, Nils, in Chicago. Two years earlier, Nils was forced to leave the country in the wake of a coal mining strike. He had since been working as a trolley operator and saving enough money to move his family to the United States. Although born and raised in rural England, Charlie Shorney's work as the valet for a wealthy family had enabled him to travel. His worldliness spawned an ambitious plan; with half the family silver in tow, Shorney was on his way to meet his fiancée Marguerite and start one of the first taxi cab companies in New York City. Inspired by the notion of sailing on the world's greatest vessel, Shorney had changed his ticket so that he could ride on the Titanic. It was a fatal decision. Titanic was headed directly into an ice field 80 miles long.
Fairview Lawn Cemetery
At 11:40 p.m., April 14, lookouts spotted an iceberg in the ship's path, but it was too late. Titanic hit the iceberg and water began to flood into the forward hull. The ship was totally submerged by 2:20 a.m. Catherine, Gosta, and Charlie never made it to America.
More than 1,500 passengers perished when Titanic sank. Two days later, a Canadian salvage ship, the Mackay-Bennett, left port in Halifax, Nova Scotia, sailing 700 nautical miles southeast to the scene of the ocean liner disaster. All in all, the sailors were able to recover over 300 bodies from the water. The sailors numbered each of the bodies, buried some at sea, and brought the rest back to Halifax. Many of the unidentified vctims were buried in graves in Halifax's Fairview Lawn cemetery.
Among the unidentified victims recovered by the shipmates of the Mackay-Bennett was a young blond boy described in the coroner's report as being around two years of age. The sailors were so moved by the fate of this unknown child that they arranged a funeral service for the boy and had a headstone placed on his grave, which they dedicated "to the memory of an unknown child." The little boy's grave has come to symbolize all the children who perished on the Titanic.
Ninety years later, Catherine Wallis' granddaughter, Joan Allison, is trying to put her grandmother to rest. Hopeful that her grandmother might have been buried in one of these graves, Allison contacted historian Alan Ruffman. Searching through coroner's reports in the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, Ruffman identified a victim that fit the description of Catherine Wallis and, with the help of DNA expert Dr. Ryan Parr of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, sought to solve Joan Allison's mystery. Inspired by their task, Ruffman and Parr continued working to identify victims of the Titanic. With a little luck, they hoped to pinpoint the resting-places of Gosta Paulson and Charlie Shorney.