The biological father of my foundling ancestor?

I think I have found the biological father of my grandfather, Dwight Willard, who was abandoned as a newborn at a charitable orphanage organization in San Francisco in 1920. The man I believe to be my Great Grandfather is William Norsworthy Gordon, son of Robert Edward Gordon and Emma Norsworthy.  He was born in Texas which is where all of his siblings and ancestors remained, but uncanny circumstances brought him to California when he was a young boy.

Photo of Emma Norsworthy found on
Photo of Emma Norsworthy found on

William N Gordon was a twin, born in 1894, and  had an older  sister Sally (b. 1892). Their mother died a few months after the twins were born. William’s twin sister, Julia, then died a few months after that. The Fort Worth Daily Gazette from February 3, 1895 said the baby died of heart disease. I have not yet found a record for the date or cause of death of their mother, Emma. The newspaper article also said that after Emma’s death, her twin infants lived with their grandparents, Julius and Sarah Norsworthy.

Fort Worth Daily Newspaper article from Feb 3 1895.
Fort Worth Daily Newspaper article from Feb 3 1895.

Two years after the death of Emma, her husband remarried a woman named Minnie Lee Perkins. The 1900 U.S. Census shows that the oldest daughter of Emma and Robert Gordon, Sally, lived with her father and his new wife in Sulphur Springs Texas. In 1900, the young  William Gordon lived with his mother’s youngest sister, Cornelia Alexander (Norsworthy) in Greenville Texas.   By 1910, the Alexander family with the addition of  new children and William Gordon were living in Los Angeles, Ca.

Cornelia Norsworthy and William N Gordon. Photo found on

I do not know why the Alexander family moved from Texas to California, but there is some speculation by another genealogist (and distant family member of this family) that they may have moved due to a murder scandal that Nellie and Emma Norsworthy’s brother, James Fred Norsworthy, was involved with.  Fred was a well-to-do banker in Greenville, Texas and was being entertained by one of his clients, the wealthy T.H. King, when a swimming accident resulted in the fatalities of Mr. King, his mistress, and his mistress’ best friend.

James Fred Norsworthy. Image found on
James Fred Norsworthy. Image found on

Fred Norsworthy was the only survivor of this group, and rumors around town spread that he may have actually killed the three people, and even been paid to do it by Mr. King’s wife. Guilty or not, I am sure this was a very uncomfortable period for his family members, and may be the reason that Nellie and her family (including William Gordon) moved to California.

The 1910 Census placed William Gordon in Los Angeles California, but my grandfather was believed to be born in or near San Francisco. Where was William Gordon living in 1920? Well, according to the 1920 census, William Norsworthy Gordon was living in San Francisco California, not too far from where my grandfather was found. He was 25 years old, a manager for an automobile company, and married to Vera (Hunter).

The census was taken January 2nd of 1920, and my grandfather was found almost a year later on December 24, 1920. In June of 1920, William’s wife, Vera, gave birth to a daughter. If, William Gordon is indeed my great-grandfather, then that means that he had an affair (or a fling) when his wife was 6 months pregnant.  This has not been a fun detail to share with living descendants that I have been trying to get DNA from. It is very likely that William Gordon had no idea he had a son.

So, why do I think William Norsworthy Gordon is the biological father of my grandfather? Because genetic genealogy suggests this is the case. My uncle’s FamilyTree yDNA test revealed that his biological surname is most likely ‘Gordon’.  So I knew I needed to find a Gordon man who I could place in San Francisco in 1920. Luckily, my mother recently had a 3rd cousin match through her autosomnal Ancestry DNA that listed Gordons in their family tree. This cousin is a descendant of William Norsworthy’s half-brother, William R Gordon.

I created a new Family Tree in Ancestry with this 3rd genetic cousin’s  Gordon family, and filled in as much of the ancestors and descendants that I could find.  I then linked my mother’s  DNA to this tree, and found that my Mom had 10 DNA matches that shared ancestors to this tree. None of these DNA matches were connected to those with the  Gordon surname, but they were linked to ancestors of two wives of Gordons;  Mary Madeline Holt (wife of William Potts Gordon) and Emma Norsworthy (wife of Robert Edward Gordon).  I also looked at my DNA matches at 23andme, and my mothers DNA matches at FamilyTree DNA, and found even more matches to the Holt and Norsworthy families.

Gordon Family Tree
Pedigree chart for William Norsworthy Gordon

Robert Edward Gordon and Emma Norsworthy only had one son, William Norsworthy Gordon. This and the fact that William is the only member of this Gordon family living in San Francisco in 1920, provides substantial evidence for him being my Great Grandfather. But is this evidence enough to say with 100% confidence that William Norsworthy Gordon is the biological father of Dwight Willard? Maybe not, but  99% confidence seems reasonable.

For a 100% confidence of this parental relationship, I would like to have matching DNA with his living descendants. William Gordon and his wife Vera had two children before Vera died in 1943, then remarried a younger woman and had two additional daughters. Those two additional daughters are still living today. I have been in contact with  a few of the descendants of William, and so far one has agreed to take a DNA test.  I am hoping to find at least two descendants to test just in case my mother and the testing cousin inherited different DNA from their grandfather, and do not show up as genetic matches to each other.  If I discover that me or my mothers DNA match at least two of the living descendants of William Norsworthy Gordon, then I will be able to say with 100% confidence that I have found the biological father of my foundling ancestor.

12 thoughts on “The biological father of my foundling ancestor?

  1. Thank you Pam! Your DNA match to me and my Mom gives me even more confidence that I am on the right track with my Gordon/Holt theory. I am glad we got in contact, and will reply to your Ancestry message soon. :)

  2. I love this! You have so much information. I do love a mystery. I have stumbled across one or two in my Holt line. Your mention of twins is interesting, too. Twins ( fraternal) run in the Holt line. My grandfather, Ellis B. Holt was a twin. I look forward to following your search.

  3. Thank you! I am glad you liked the post. You have a great blog, and I love your graphic of a part of the Norwegian flag embedded on a thumb print. Brilliant!

  4. I have not done that yet, since the matches that helped me with my theory have not responded to my messages. I have two descendants of the ancestor in question that have agreed to a DNA test. Once those result come in, I can do triangulation if necessary. However, if the percent of shared segments between my known family, and these descendants are as expected, then that is proof, and no triangulation will be needed.

  5. But, have you done segment matching (triangulation) with these autosomal matches. It is not proven until you have done this, and have done a one-to-one comparison at Gedmatch.

  6. Thank you Carol for understanding. I am on such a genealogical high with this one. This has been a long-time family mystery. If you have any ideas on how to find my grandfather’s biological mother, I am all ears. :)

  7. Wow ! Good work Treena ! I know the exhilarating feeling of finding a missing ancestor. Such an important ancestor. Congratulations ! David’s Mom

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