Gene Douglas Armstrong and Noel Armstrong

-- the true story of two boys who were raised as girls for 30 years -
I first heard about the case of the Armstrong sisters who turned out to be brothers
whilst reading online. The article I found was brief and I first thought the story which
dated back to the 1930s to be a hoax. I decided to put my genealogy skills to work and
trace the family through the US censuses from 1900 until 1940. What I found was a
complete surprise.

I found the Armstrong family in the 1900 census residing at Van Buren in the county of
Madison, Indiana. The family consisted of:

John F Armstrong, head of household aged 42 [born Feb 1858] a farmer who owned his farm
but had a mortgage. He could read and write.
May Armstrong nee Whitney, wife aged 39 [born Feb 1861] married 21 years. She had given
birth to 10 children of whom 9 were living. She could read and write.
Children:
Lena R born April 1881.
Bertha born September 1884.
Pearl A born October 1887.
Wilbur C born June 1889.
Gladys D born February 1892.
Stella V born February 1894.
Harry D born May 1895.
Geneva born 9th January 1898.
Nola born 23rd May 1900

As you can see, the two youngest children had girls names and were recorded as daughters.

Parents John L Armstrong and 'Mary' Whitney were married on 9th April 1879 in Franklin Co
Indiana [Ancestry]

I then followed the family through the next three censuses :

1910 census: residing Van Buren.  Parents John L aged 52, a farm labourer, and wife May L
aged 49 with Pearl aged 23, Wilbur 21, a farmer labourer, Gladdis[sic] aged 18, Stella aged 16,
Harry aged 15, Geneva aged 11 and Nola aged 8. Geneva and Nola, both female, had both
attended school for 7 out of the last 12 months. Father John owned their farm with a mortgage.

1920 Census: residing Van Buren, Indiana.  Parents John aged 62, a farmer and May aged 59
with  Wilbur aged 32 a farmer, Stella aged 25, Jeneve [sic] aged 22, Nola aged 20. Both Jeneve
and Nola are recorded as female. Stella is recorded as being a son but female!

1930 Geneva and Nola – general farmers living alone at Van Buren on a farm. Their occupation
is general farmer. They are recorded as female


Death of Parents:
According to their headstone in Park Cemetery Fairmont Grant county Indiana, John died in
1924 and May died in 1927. The back of the headstone also records:
Lena R 1881-1934
Bertha 1884-1907
Pearle A 1886-
Wilbur C 1889-1958
Gladys D 1892-1932
Stella V 1894-1922
Harry D 1895-1952

There is no mention of Geneva/Gene of Nola/Noel.
Headstone may be viewed at the Find A Grave website.

Request for name and gender change:

In November 1931 Genevea and Nola petitioned the Madison circuit court for authority to
assume masculine names. Several newspapers of the day carried the story.
Above and Right: Logansport Press
dated 22nd November 1931

Left: Valparaiso Vidette Messanger
dated 21st November 1931
In January 1932, newspapers reported that the court order had been granted for the brothers
to change their name and sex.

Below: Logansport Pharos Tribune dated 8th January 1932.
By the time of the 1940 census Gene D and Noel, are the owners and proprietors of a
wholesale potato chip manufacturing business residing at Anderson, Madison county Indiana.
They both had an 8th grade education. They are both single and are recorded as male.

But the story doesn't end there.
Continued on Page 2
Of interest is the fact that reports state the family consisted of 6
sons, whereas there were only 2 sons and another 5 daughters.
Although I have traced Wilbur, Harry and Pearle, I have not been
able to verify what became of the other daughters and I cant help
but wonder if perhaps they too were made to assume female
gender.

Also, the fact that neighbours and it would appear, the family
doctor, knew of the masquerade, one wonders why no one ever
spoke to the parents or just why John and May persisted with the
pretence for so long?