Thanks to the work of Laurentian University forensic science professor Tracy Oost, another mystery surrounding the ill-fated ocean liner Titanic has been solved.
Among the 2,224 passengers on the Titanic, which sunk April 15, 1912, was a wealthy family from Chesterville, Ont., Hudson and Bess Allison, and their two-year-old daughter, Loraine, who all perished in the sinking.
The couple's seven-month-old son, Trevor, survived because he was taken into a lifeboat by a maid.
Loraine was the only child from first or second class to die in the disaster. She and her parents remained on board, giving up many chances to be saved, possibly because they were searching for Trevor.
But in 1940, a Michigan woman named Helen Kramer came forward, claiming to be Loraine Allison. She said her father — named “Mr. Hyde” — had revealed the information on his deathbed.
She said Hyde also claimed he was actually Thomas Andrews, Titanic's designer, who was thought to have died on board. Kramer said she was saved from the disaster when someone placed her in a lifeboat with Hyde.
Kramer started contacting the Allison family, saying she'd like to meet them, and expressing interest in an inheritance. She persisted for about a decade, even hiring a lawyer and threatening legal action. Kramer died in 1992.
The Allison family thought they'd heard the last about the matter.
But in 2012, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's sinking, one of Kramer's granddaughters, Debrina Woods, came forward, saying she had a suitcase of information proving her grandmother was, indeed, Loraine Allison.
As well as posting her claims on various Internet Titanic forums and starting a website devoted to the matter, she began contacting members of the Allison family.
She has been “quite harassing” towards the family, asking them for samples of their DNA for testing so she could prove her grandmother's identity, Oost said.
Oost herself became involved in the case by accident.
She said her father grew up in the Chesterville area, and suggested they go for a drive past the old Allison homestead, reminding her that several members of that family had died on the Titanic.
Because of her interest in the story, Oost decided to drop in at the homestead, and asked the people living there about the story.
They were the ones who told her about the claims being made by Woods.
The Allison family then contacted her, asking questions about how DNA testing worked. Realizing Woods wasn't going to give up on the issue, they eventually asked Oost if she'd do DNA testing to clear the matter up.
Sally Kirkelie, the great-niece of Bess Allison, agreed to do a mitochondrial DNA test, as did Deanne Jennings, Woods' half-sister and also Kramer's granddaughter.
“When we tested the two women's DNA, what we found was there was absolutely no match at all,” Oost said. “If in fact Mrs. Kramer had been Loraine, the two of them would have had the exact same mitochondrial DNA.”
But Woods hasn't accepted the results of the tests, and continues to claim her grandmother was Loraine Allison.
“Really, I think Debrina will only finally get her closure out of this and understand the claim is over if we can prove who Mrs. Kramer really was,” Oost said.
“If anybody out there has any kind of information who knows anything about this family, it would be really interesting to have them come forward.”
As for Kramer herself, Oost said perhaps the woman was mentally ill, and had somehow convinced herself she was a Titanic survivor, or perhaps she concocted the story to cash in on an inheritance from the Allison family.
Another Titanic mystery
This isn't the first Titanic mystery Oost has been involved in solving.
About a decade ago, she was involved in the exhumation of three graves at the Halifax, Nova Scotia graveyard where many Titanic victims were buried.
While groundwater had disturbed two of the graves to the point that there was nothing left of the victims' bodies, scientists were able to recover DNA from the so-called “unknown child" at the third grave.
DNA tests proved in 2007 that he was 19-month-old third class passenger Sidney Leslie Goodwin of England, who perished on the ship along with his family.
Titanic's Sudbury connection
Four Finnish men travelling in third class on the Titanic — Matti Rintamäki, Matti Mäenpää, Iisakki Nirva, Nikolai Erland Kallio — had listed their destination as Sudbury, where they were hoping to find work in the mines.
None of them survived the sinking.
Oost wonders if any of the men's relatives are living in Sudbury now, as several of the last names are common here.