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Descendant of Titanic survivor finds distant cousins after centennial

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Posted: April 13, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 13, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Lisa McDougald, left, and her aunt, Linda McDougald Watson, display photos of Mary McDougald Fortune who survived the Titanic when it sank in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912.  Dan Watson/The Signal Lisa McDougald, left, and her aunt, Linda McDougald Watson, display photos of Mary McDougald Fortune who survived the Titanic when it sank in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912.  Dan Watson/The Signal
Lisa McDougald, left, and her aunt, Linda McDougald Watson, display photos of Mary McDougald Fortune who survived the Titanic when it sank in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912.  Dan Watson/The Signal
The Fortune family, left to right, Ethel, Robert, Alice, Charles, Mary, Mark, Clara and Mabel. Courtesy Photo The Fortune family, left to right, Ethel, Robert, Alice, Charles, Mary, Mark, Clara and Mabel. Courtesy Photo
The Fortune family, left to right, Ethel, Robert, Alice, Charles, Mary, Mark, Clara and Mabel. Courtesy Photo
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Two years ago, Lisa M. McDougald conducted an interview revealing the story of her Canadian ancestors on board the RMS Titanic.

McDougald's great-grand aunt, Mary (McDougald) Fortune and her three daughters, Ethel, Alice and Mabel (all in their twenties) were rescued by the Cunard Line ship, Carpathia, a rival to Titanic's White Star Line.

The women lost their father, Mark Fortune and a son, Charles; their bodies were never found.

On April 8, 2012, The Signal published the interview to help promote a presentation McDougald had planned at Barnes & Noble in Valencia. The presentation was held on April 11, 2012 in front of 75 interested participants.

A second presentation was given a week later. Along with the interview, McDougald included a rare photograph of the Fortune family in the early

1900s provided by her aunt Linda (McDougald) Watson.

“Little did I know the significance of that photo,” McDougald says, “While I was in the middle of my presentation, Barnes & Noble received a phone call from CBS News in New York.”

The reporter was sitting with Rob Gordon, Ethel Fortune's great nephew and wanted to verify that the photograph was authentic after seeing it in an online newspaper.

Later, McDougald found that Rob Gordon, her third cousin, was also involved in telling the family story.

“After the presentation, I called the reporter from CBS and confirmed the photo was originally given to my Aunt Linda (McDougald) Watson, by Mary Fortune's nieces in Manitoba, Canada,” said McDougald.

After several months of collecting Centennial newspapers on Titanic, McDougald learned of two more third cousins, grandsons of two surviving Fortune daughters; engaged in telling the story.

Since then, McDougald and her aunt have exchanged family stories, genealogy and photographs with their cousins.

As the story goes, just minutes from missing Titanic's distress call, Carpathia's Marconi Operator, Harold Cottam awakened Captain Rostran and the vessel turned around racing across the Atlantic in the middle of the night to rescue the Titanic survivors, preparing the ship to handle over 2,000 souls in addition to her current passengers, certainly over Carpathia's maximum capacity.

Yet, in the twilight hours on April 15, 1912, the rescue ship met what was left of Titanic – just over 700 survivors (there is still debate as to the exact number) out of her approximate 2,208 passengers and crew.

Like the others, Mary Fortune and her three daughters were huddled together in less than 20 lifeboats scattered within four miles of the Carpathia.

As the sun cast its light on a vast field of icebergs, some up to two hundred feet high, many who witnessed the rescue describe a dark iceberg that looked like the Rock of Gibraltar, thought to be the doomed liner's adversary.

The iceberg gouged several intermittent gashes that spanned 300 feet along Titanic's hull, piercing six watertight compartments.

Carpathia had to steer around an enormous solid ice field, about 56 miles long according to Carpathia's Captain, Arthur Rostran, as they made their way back to New York.

It seems the story of Titanic has brought together many descendants, each one impacted by the history and still seeking answers to questions never asked.

Most of Titanic's survivors never spoke of it ever again, so deeply haunted by the experience. Perhaps, two generations is far enough removed from the disaster to engage in analyzing it.

McDougald hopes to meet her Canadian cousins one day and plans to write a book about the Fortune family and their lives after the Titanic disaster.

Editor’s Note: The Titanic sunk in the early morning hours on April 15, 1912. The original story of Lisa McDougald’s lost family members appeared in The Signal, “Revealing a real Titanic story,” published on April 8, 2012 and can be read in The Signal's archives.  As for Lisa McDougald first-hand account today, she provided references for the facts presented in her story.

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