Who Is This Mystery Woman? Ancestry Part 2

Mystery woman

Who is the mystery woman with all these children? (Wheaton; Special Collections)

Who is this mystery woman with all those children?

Researchers at Wheaton College didn’t know when they included her photograph into Oswald Chambers’ Special Collection Library.

I didn’t know at first either, until I took a closer look.

See that startled little girl on the left?

That’s Kathleen Chambers, Oswald and Biddy Chambers’ daughter.

How old do you think Kathleen is?

Starting there will give you the first clue.

Analyzing the photo

If the photo was in Wheaton’s collection, it was important.

Kathleen looks about four years old.

As Biddy’s biographer, I know Kathleen lived in the YMCA camp at Zeitoun, Egypt in 1917, when she was four years old.

I can also count.

Five other children are in the photo.

They can only be the children of George Swan, one of the directors of the Egypt General Mission (EGM).mystery woman

The YMCA camp at Zeitoun was located inside the EGM compound.

Mr. and Mrs. Swan had many children.

I didn’t know there were five when I started–I only knew about John David and baby Hugh Christopher.

Born the same year as Kathleen and her chum, John David probably is the second boy to the right of the mother.

(Or is he the one sitting next to the girl?)

But what were the names of the other children?

What was the mystery woman’s name–other than Mrs. Swan?

Ancestry. com was fundamental to discovering their names.

It took me 15 months.

The family

Central to learning about them, I started with their father/husband.

George Swan is a common name, but the man was an early 20th century missionary to Egypt.

A Google search took me to the book he wrote: Lacked Ye Anything? A Brief History of the Egypt General Mission.

Mystery woman

Swan wrote this book in 1932. I haven’t been able to read it.

I couldn’t obtain a copy of it, but pulled up enough through various Google Book searches to learn something.

Back to Ancestry.com. Using their search engines, I turned up little.


George  and John David Swan are common names and they didn’t live in England for the 1911 census (the latest one you can examine).

Egypt doesn’t have census records listed on Ancestry.com.

I let it go for a few weeks.

I’d return when a new search item occurred to me.

One day, I discovered immigration records.

I figured David Swan went to boarding school eventually, like many missionary and military children whose parents served abroad.

By then I’d learned one of his brothers was Douglas.

I found them on immigration forms–which provided more information.

As I watched their travels between Port Said and England, I learned the name of the younger brother and before long, I knew them all:

Barbara, Douglas, Martin, John David and Hugh Christopher.


But as I wrote my book and included bits of information about Biddy’s friendship and the generosity of Mrs. Swan, I wondered what her name was.

That, for some reason, was much harder.

The mystery woman’s first name.

Ancestry asks for information to narrow the algorithms’ search.

Birth date, birthplace, marriage date, marriage locations, names of parents, siblings and spouses, all play a role.

Mrs. Swan’s first name was one of the loose ends as I completed Mrs. Oswald Chambers.

I made one last attempt before abandoning the hunt.

I searched for John David, whom I knew became a doctor in England.

His death information turned up, but not much else.

George Swan’s name went into the search engine, I guessed at a birth year–1870?–and location.

When I returned to Google, this time a recent article appeared and included a photo of George Swan.

Mystery woman

George Swan (front left) and the EGM founders. (Lacked Ye Anything? photo off internet)

The ebook was $105!

By parsing through various searches, I discovered the author’s email address and sent him a simple question: “Do you know Mrs. Swan’s first name?”

A long shot, for sure.

Except, that photo of George Swan intrigued.

He and a brother, T. E., were born in Belfast.

Back to Ancestry I went!

George turned up when I put in Belfast.

Several links appeared to British immigration–glorious primary source materials!.

George’s name appeared in 1948 immigration reports into England.

Listed just below George was his wife: Dora H. Swan.

The mystery woman is Dora, Biddy’s friend in Egypt.

You didn’t hear me screaming?

15 months of research for one tiny name.

For this genealogist/researcher–bliss!

Postscript: The article author wrote back. He had examined his records and learned Mrs. George Swan’s name was Dora.



15 months of searching on Ancestry.com for a first name. Click to Tweet

A genealogist shows how to find facts on Ancestry.com Click to Tweet

A mystery woman and lots of children: but what was her name? Click to Tweet

Every month in 2017, I’ll be telling the stories about God’s leading and my blessed–and astonished–reactions while writing Mrs. Oswald Chambersbiographer ancestry

The next newsletter comes out April 18: In which my husband’s business trip results in a shocking surprise.

If you’re interested in reading about all those amazing coincidences, sign up for my newsletter here.





Leave a comment

1 Comment

  1. Love it. Makes me want to drag out my own brick walls


Thoughts? Reactions? Lurker?

%d bloggers like this: