BORN under mysterious circumstances in Knutsford, Peter Peterson has lived out his 92 years without ever knowing who his father truly was or what happened to him.
A father and grandfather himself, Peter’s biggest regret was never looking for answers when he had the chance.
Now in the winter of his life, his daughter, Janis Marks, has taken on that search and hopes to discover who Charles Peterson really was and why he slipped out of his secret family’s life for good.
Janis, from Ontario, Canada, visited Knutsford last year. She said: “Just walking around the town, up and down King and Princess Street, past buildings my grandparents would have walked by or known was wonderful and gave me a sense of closeness.
“This experience made me more determined to find anything that would help solve the mystery of who my father’s father was.”
Peter was born March 21, 1922 in Cherry Tree Cottage, on Brook Street, to Susannah Flick. His father’s name was not included on the birth certificate.
The years leading up to Peter’s birth are sketchy but it is believed Susannah had moved from the Isle of Sheppey to the South Shields aged 17, to work as a VAD tending to wounded WW1 soldiers.
That was where she met his father, Charles Peterson, who was one of her patients.
A relationship ensued and in 1921, Charles moved a pregnant Susannah to Cherry Tree Cottage, which was owned and occupied by Charles Power, his wife and two daughters.
“I can only imagine what an awkward and frightening situation my Grandmother found herself in, living in a new town, pregnant, no friends, living with strangers, no family support, occasionally seeing Charles and being totally dependent on him for financial support,” said Janis.
It seemed Charles travelled a lot and Susannah believed he was an engineer working for the railways. He stayed in touch by letter and his home address was given as Didsbury.
Charles had warned Susannah if she asked questions or tried to find anything out he would ‘cut her off’.
“Logically, Knutsford was an ideal town in which to keep Susannah and his son,” said Janis.
“It was conveniently on the railway line, not too far from Manchester, his home base, but far enough that his friends and family wouldn’t know of the situation. It was also far away from Susannah’s family in Sheerness, so they wouldn’t know of the circumstances.”
When Peter was three, Charles sent him to boarding school in Sandown, where he stayed until 1929. Charles encouraged Susannah to marry an old friend Harry Blunt from Sheerness, who knew her situation, and she did so in 1927.
Peter was later introduced to Susannah’s family as her ‘ward’.
Charles’ letters continued until 1935. The final letter was written by E.H. Gibb on Charles’ behalf to say he was under doctor’s care.
“After the final letter there was silence, Charles just slipped out of their lives,” Janis said.
“Peter’s stepfather, Harry, went to find Charles, but refused to tell what he found.”
Peter followed in his father’s footsteps and went on to become an engineer.
He married Jan McGhie, Janis’ mother, and moved to Toronto in 1951. The couple have three daughters, six grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Janis said: “While there is a shroud of mystery as to who Charles Peterson was, depriving my father of extended family and knowledge of his genealogical background, there is no denying his father did set him up for success with a great foundation of good education, guidance and mentorship.
“He could have walked away but did the right thing at a difficult time and who knows at what cost and for that, I respect him a great deal.”
If you have any information that could help with Janis’ search, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01606 813 623.