The doorbell rang and nobody was there save a baby boy wrapped in a blanket inside a picnic basket with a still-warm bottle of milk, $5 and an attached card with half of it torn away.
“Please keep my dear little baby for me!” read the card. “His name is Arthur.
“Please don’t give him to anybody else and I will be sure and come for him,” the card continued. “I’ll bring the other half of the card when I come.”
The whole scene was played out in 1925 in Victoria at the Protestant Orphans’ Home and became front page news. “Mother’s Last Dollar Left With Foundling,” read the June 3, 1925, headline in the Daily Colonist.
But the mother never returned, although it’s said $5 was dropped off for him on his birthdays. Both halves of the card disappeared. Baby Arthur was adopted in 1929 by a New York couple.
Arthur grew up to become William Arthur Holmes, an oil company executive. Despite one return trip in 1993 to the Victoria orphanage, by then named the Cridge Centre for the Family at 1307 Hillside Ave., Holmes never learned the identity of the woman who left him on the doorstep.
But thanks to dogged genealogical work and a breakthrough with a DNA link that turned up through an online posting, Holmes’ two daughters have traced their grandmother’s identity to a woman born Lucy Isabel Eraut in 1899, and who died in 1990 as Lucy Goodrich.
Holmes’s daughters, Laurie Smith, of Arizona, and Andrea Sievers, of North Carolina, returned to the Cridge Centre this week to meet with relatives of Lucy Goodrich, who found out only two months ago of the Baby Arthur/William Holmes branch to their family.
“I was somewhat surprised,” said Claire Eraut, who lives with his wife Donna in Oak Bay. “I didn’t even know Aunt Lucy had any children.”
Holmes’s children, two daughters and two sons, never learned about their father’s adoption until they were adults.
Smith was in college researching an assignment on her family tree and started by quizzing her mother.
“My mother said: ‘Let me tell you about your father,’ ” said Smith. “I said: ‘What, I didn’t even know he was adopted.’ ”
Sievers said this failure to divulge the adoption was simply the result of the private, dignified nature of their father.
But both daughters link Holmes’s foundling start to his lifetime personal sense of responsibility to help others.
He volunteered with various organizations including Kiwanis, Boy Scouts, Special Olympics, adult literacy and hospitals.
The two daughters are learning a little about their grandmother, who was known to her Canadian family as “Aunt Lucy.” By all accounts, she was a “lovely woman” who relatives all assumed died childless.
Looking at a grainy photograph of Lucy and the faces of some of their newfound cousins, the two American women can see traces of their father.
But questions remain about the identify of their grandfather, the father of Baby Arthur/William Holmes.
Smith’s DNA is still posted online and the sisters hope a match might arise.
But digging through records, Smith, in particular, has been able to deduce a few clues.
According to Smith’s research, Lucy married a George Harris in Vancouver in 1918, around the time he was being released by the Canadian army.
The two travelled about and moved to the U.S. through Buffalo in 1923 and lived for a time with Harris’s brother, named Arthur.
On May 19, 1925, Lucy was in Victoria without Harris and giving birth to Arthur in the Beachcraft Nursing Home.
Baby Arthur’s B.C. birth certificate raises almost as many questions as it answers. The child’s name is Leslie Gordon Harris. So why did the note identify him as Arthur?
The father is identified as Albert Harris, not George. So who is Albert Harris?
Smith has traced George Harris’ Canadian Army records, which show him dying in 1954. But little else is known.
They have also learned nothing about Lucy and George divorcing. It must have occurred, because Lucy married Raymond Goodrich in Iowa in 1940, and died on her own in Manitoba.
Smith and Sievers are now on their way to Penticton, where Lucy is believed to be buried.
“The whole story is fascinating,” said Sievers. “It’s a mystery that needs to be solved.”