Arthur Duncan, a native of England, emigrated to the United States in 1879, and became a United States citizen in 1890. Between 1907 and 1921, he worked as an engineer in Ancón, in the Panama Canal Zone. He and his wife Augusta had at least four children: Arthur, Laverne, Marie, and Roy William. Marie ("May") Duncan was born in Colorado around 1902 and lived with her family in Panama until at least 1921. After graduating from a commercial school in 1921, she intended to go to school for the United States Nurse Corps.
Between 1919 and 1921, Marie corresponded with Neal Blanchard (b. 1894), a United States Navy sailor from Montpelier, Vermont. Neal was stationed at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and on the USS Oklahoma until his discharge in August 1920. He later moved to Davenport, Iowa, where he married Ruth A. Barber (b. 1901) on October 25, 1922. The Blanchards lived in Amesbury, Massachusetts, in 1930.