‘The unknown child’ of the Titanic

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“Every family has a story.”

These are the words of 78-year-old Whitewater resident and former UW-Whitewater faculty member Carol Goodwin, who has a family story so interesting it has been the focus of scientists and scholars worldwide for years.

After the Titanic sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912, seamen recovered a 2-year-old boy from the water who would be known as “the unknown child” for years to come. It took more than 92 years for US Armed Forces DNA identification scientists and researchers to correctly identify “the unknown child” as Sidney Leslie Goodwin, who was aboard the maiden voyage with his mother Augusta, father Frederick, and five siblings Lilian (16), Charles (15), William (14), Jessie (12) and Harold (11).

Carol, whose grandmother was Frederick’s sister, said it hasn’t been easy to overcome this family tragedy.

“I went through profound grief as a child growing up with this,” Carol said. “What I’m finding is that (all Goodwin cousins) have had lingering grief of this catastrophe and we really had to deal with it.”

To help deal with this grief, Carol, who lives in Whitewater with her husband Iza Goroff, son Kenneth and grandson Knudt, has done over 15 years of research on the family to put to rest unanswered questions. What began as a simple essay 15 years ago to educate younger cousins of their family history, Carol’s research became an all-encompassing hobby.

“It’s given us a focus of retirement that has overwhelmed us,” Carol said. “It’s an obsession now.”

With the help of Iza, Carol is in the process of writing two books titled Titanic’s Unknown Child and The Goodwins Aboard Titanic. Carol and Iza hope to have the books published this winter.

“My books are to correct a lot of mistakes that have been made,” Carol said. “I have memories that nobody else has.”

As a child, Carol sat, invisible to her grandmother and great aunt, listening to the tragic stories of the family she never knew.

“I heard the same stories over and over,” Carol said. “They would start to cry, then I would cry and then I would be put to bed.”

Frederick Goodwin, Carol’s great uncle, was moving his family of eight from England to Niagara Falls, N.Y., to answer a job offer he received from his older brother. Initially, the family had tickets to board the SS New York, but since the SS New York wouldn’t sail due to the National Coal Strike, the family traded their second-class tickets for third-class tickets aboard the Titanic. What seemed like a deal at the time was actually what led to the family’s fateful end.

“Third class was handled quite differently than second and first class,” Goroff said. “Third class was not to mix with other classes because they were assumed to have diseases … as a result, [the Goodwins] didn’t get on the few lifeboats.”

Besides Sidney, the remains of the Goodwin family have never been recovered. Sidney, who was given a proper funeral and burial by crewmembers in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was given a second memorial service held by Carol and Iza in 2008 at the site of Sidney’s grave at Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax.

“Iza and I decided the service was to honor all the young children that perished,” Carol said.

Attended by family members from around the country, the service included a reading of all the children’s names, ages and nationalities and a bell tolled after each name was read.

“After [the first name was read], there was a soft, drizzling rain,” Carol said. “The drizzle stopped when she finished reading and the last toll rung. It was like the tears of the children in heaven.”

This April will be the 100th anniversary of the Titanic tragedy. Of the 2,209 passengers, 1,497 perished in the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Carol and Iza have decided to go on a memorial cruise scheduled for 2012 that will follow the same path the Titanic did from South Hampton, England, to New York. The cruise sold out soon after Carol and Iza purchased their tickets in 2010. Carol said this is another way she has decided to pay tribute to her family that died in this tragic accident.

“I’m going to throw some flowers in their memory,” Carol said. “I want to say my thoughts as I do this. I’m not going to block away [my feelings.]”