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24 Nov 2013

Lost memories

I am still cross nearly 20 years later about a missing letter.  My great-grandmother had several cousins and most of them had names that fitted her own social standing - Joyce Summers, Una Hatch, Ellen Glover.  One of these, another Una, wrote to me in 1996 at Burchett's Green College, Berkshire.  I can just see the letter now, perched behind the bar which was where all student correspondence was kept.  Slipping down behind a steamy dishwasher or falling into a pile of bills.  Never to see the light of day again.

After Una's death, her son remembered the letter. Yes she had written one, he said, and it had been full of family information.  At the time he hadn't been interested, but now that he was, could he have a copy of the letter!  I suppose I could fax him an image of a nice clean beer glass, post him a box of big blue cleaning roll, or hand him the keys of the now-closed college for him to search himself.

Hard-to-swallow

It was something of a shock to discover that a large number of Gladys's cousins weren't upper middle-class at all.  Some of them weren't even middle-class.

Much of the blame for this lies on uncle Arthur Smith, who is edited out so fiercely from the family tree, that leaves you wondering if the official records are in error.  Gladys claimed there was only one uncle and he was variously listed as '?' or William. Clearly you weren't expected to ask too much about him, still less enquire if there was yet another uncle.

But there was, and he'd come to London during the gasworkers' strikes of the 1890s, to work as a blacklegger.  He stayed long enough to sire 12 children, before allegedly going off to Australia (this story borne out by two separate branches of the family).  It says a lot for the widow that most of the children survived and several fought in the First World War.  They didn't really leave Bermondsey much, and the thought of them ever meeting their Muswell Hill cousins does leave one pondering.  It would be about as socially awkward as the Edwardians could devise.

A tidal wave of news came pouring in from Bermondsey - I even rang up one of the cousins who lived in the towers near Millwall.  A pint at the Hobgoblin got us going, but I'd need more than a pint to take in 90 years of missing history.  These memories weren't so much lost as scattered to the four corners of south-east London.

I don't feel the 92 boxes of Jim Mortimer's life as trade union leader and Labour Party official fit into my notion of my family at all - yet he had been married to Arthur Smith's granddaughter.

Hard-to-find

With all this talk of Arthur it was easy to forget there was another brother, William Smith.  What had happened to him?  I knew that he was born in England in 1851, and surprisingly, this was pretty much nearly all that was required to find him - in Jamestown.  Hard-to-find?  I don't think so.

This time he brought yet another factor into the equation.  Supposing all my calculations are correct, Gladys now numbers among her cousins the wonderfully-named Victoria Ulander, wife of Axel.

A sense of who she was

It bothered me for ages that more and more data was accumulating about the lives of the Chappell children - who were orphaned in 1867 and who did more and more interesting things.  Several new members emerged as well.  All of these were notionally under the auspices of their mother and grandmother Mrs Jane Chappell who survived until 1925 age 95.  This age may not be so remarkable today, but consider her oldest brother left England in 1832 to practically found the colony of Tasmania.  That she survived the majority of her nephews and nieces (one of whom left her a legacy in her will as if resigned to the fact she would live forever).  And because many of the generations rolled around so quickly, there was barely a year after 1900 when some new significant thing didn't happen.

We got closer to real human memories with a surprise letter from great-granddaughter Eileen.  It shouldn't have been a surprise as it was in reply to mine- but I was innured to non-response.  I'd phoned great-great-granddaughter Eileen who was interested to see there was this other Eileen.  But other Eileen wrote me screeds and I left it too late to meet her, I think.  Not sure of Jane's role here, but her eldest son apparently lost her the farm.

James Chappell's will from 1867 records Thomas Haine as a witness.  And one of the Haine boys later took over his farm, Manor Farm, now the site of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve at Yeovilton.  So if the Chappell boy gambled away the farm, how did one of the Haine's get it?

58 years later, Jane's obituary tells us nothing at all - she is absent from it.  The closest we get is her own son's obituary in Decatur, Illinois.  He'd done well for himself and the paper wrote at his passing (and boy did he look tired) of his venerable mother back in England.  I feel this gave Jane a role and in lieu of photographs, stories, this is at least something.

For other female members in this family, there's nothing.  I have a character-filled photograph for one, a clearly chequered life for another, a decent obituary here, but for one or two women there's nowt.

Turning it around

When cousin Joyce died a few years following first contact, my heart sank.  She'd never after all told me anything of her mother's eight siblings, only that they existed.  I had no names, or if I did that's all there were.  It was tough to get any information.

One Christmas, 19 years after finding out about them, I decided to interrogate freebmd, and emerge with some credible identifications of the Taylor siblings that I knew about, including Mary L.

Incredulously, I found only one Mary L Taylor matched.  The data seemed to tell me she died in Queensferry, Flintshire in 1951, leaving a will.  That was one sibling sorted.  It was all ok, but everyone was dead.  The one thing Joyce had revealed was a cousin Rhona still up in North Wales.  Combing through all the births in Wales showed only one girl who matched.  Lucky or what?  I did write her a letter, but chances like this needed another approach.  By bicycle.  I cycled off the border hills and into Mold, and was able to get an hour with Rhona at her bungalow.  She even guided me back down the hill into Queensferry as a bonus.

The short of it is that 120 years after Grandpa's aunt died, the resulting Taylor offspring have now been pinned through stories and photographs and those nearly lost memories have been properly found.

Old news travels slowly

My secondary title could read: but it arrives eventually.
In the initial rush to document all the new entries of the family tree, we google, we cut, paste, punch the same data into the same search engines in the hope it'll give us different results.  (Er - which it might...)
Only afterwards is there time for us to question the data supplied, to consider the original sources and to turn a jumble of facts into a coherent story.

This particular story takes in a huge number of really quite disparate places.  I shovelled them all onto the tree and never really expected to get an explanation of what was going on.
Bayford, England
Joe Feltham was born at the main street of Bayford, England in 1823.  I'd known that for years, as soon as I'd ventured into the parish of Stoke Trister's baptismal pages.  3 of his sisters I'd resolved but not him, nor the fourth one, Anna.  Plugging his details into familysearch showed him living with Anna, by now married, in Springfield Illinois - rumoured to be home of the Simpsons.  He later leaves Springfield for the Black Hills of Dakota where he dies.  Here's the gravestone, put up by a granddaughter:

So what on earth was Grandma (and Grandpa) Feltham doing in Buffalo Gap in this tufty-grassed cemetery? Surely moving to the Prairie State met their needs, without moving to some actual prairies, a view of Mount Rushmore - and little else.

(And here is the information from GenealogyBank):

I'd been ignoring the Historical Encyclopaedia of Illinois.  Possibly a worthy enterprise.  I have been speculating that these treasure troves of genealogical information may not have served a wider purpose - and this article on American County Histories does refer to these volumes at times as 'mug books'.  You had better stump up the publishing costs as a subscriber if you want your family's flattering biography to make it into print.

I then had to play a game of cat-and-mouse with Google, having decided after all I did want to play with its Books collection.  The rules of snippet view are - if Google has 30 million books, then a whole page of information about your family is definitely way less than a snippet.

We've already seen elsewhere in this article how GenealogyBank's excellent newspaper collection can render up short articles in full with a little neat typing.  Google Books is less predictable.  However, to figure out how Joe Feltham went from pretty Bayford to opportunistic Springfield to windswept Buffalo Gap, we needed to have a go.  Here is our snip.  Initially the snippet view served me up this:
Page 1678

Pretty useful - we're looking only at the right-hand column here.  But we want more!  We plug the left-hand column biography into Google Books search and it kindly spits it all back out again, with the extra few words 'prevented by ill health'.  Great - new text.  Let's search for that inside the book, and hey presto the next episode of the Feltham saga is revealed!
I indeed ended up with the whole page, which is reproduced on Richard W. Feltham's page.  Feltham drove cattle across the plains to Flintstone's Bedrock (Custer County, S.D.) - but his wife missed home.  Though his father by contrast thrived out there in the drier air.  All this is to be found.

The Daily Alaska Dispatch (29 Apr 1915), adds a little more: R. W. Feltham, one of the pioneers of the interior of Alaska, passed through Juneau last night on the Admiral Evans.  Mr. Feltham came to Alaska in 1907, but left a few years ago for the flesh pots of the south.  He is representing the Seattle Grocery company and will return to Juneau in about two months.

We can add that the journey from Seattle to Juneau was a week, and that the steamship Admiral Evans ran aground 3 years later off Juneau with 91 passengers on board (taken to safety).
Admiral Evans steamship (c) State of Alaska
The saga is by no means complete.  Despite the rosy glow portrayed in the paid-for biography of Sangamon County, all was not well.  The eldest daughter had died 1907 from typhoid fever.  Mrs Feltham used her husband's letter from him being frozen in the Klondike 1898, as evidence for desertion and divorced Richard in 1909.  In 1910 as only child of Rebecca Van Deren, Mrs Feltham was entitled to sell her mother's estate.  She had some small private income as a nurse, and two young girls at home.  When she fell ill, Richard (by now in Seattle), received word and returned to Springfield and remarried Mrs Feltham.  The whole family moved to Seattle to run Feltham Groceries on the corner of 700th and 7th Ave NW, and Richard was within easier reach of Alaska.  Many years later Margaret died at Bremerton Hospital across Puget Sound from Seattle, and was sent for burial back in Illinois.  But Richard, to no-one's great surprise, lies at anchorage in Alaska, two years after the cemetery was opened.
Richard Welch Feltham
To find his girls, I searched for all women born in Illinois living west of Puget Sound, finding one, who worked in the Navy Yard at the time of her marriage.  He does leave family, still in the Bremerton area of Washington State.  But they may not know of this relentless travel and betterment and of the pleasant places found along the way.  It's old news, and it's taken awhile to get here.

The best things in life are free

It was great to resolve a long standing puzzle concerning my Scotts.  The whole family unit had disappeared and the fairly distinctive names of Edith Maria and Martha Gertrude were yielding absolutely nothing.  I knew that various in the family had gone out to Australia, and decided to test the Australian Death Index 1787-1985 to see who would appear.  Although it's initially off-putting that you get a 'deny' screen and lots of blank details, it's amazing what you can get.
I reconsidered my information and realised Edith Maria born in Kensington was actually Edith Mary Ann born in Kennington.  I looked for Edith Mary Ann's death in Australia with parents' details as given (yellow-underlined).  The maiden name of Scott isn't shown on-screen but is hidden information in the database.
Fresh from this success, I then thought - well, why not take it to the next level?  What about Edith's own children?
I then was able to get a tiny bit more information from the Trove newspapers, from the companion Australian Births Index 1788-1922 but this was certainly a Great Leap Forward.  For some data (such as the marriage of Edith Mary Ann's youngest daughter, 1924) I had to use the Electoral Roll to make an educated guess, and then check the details for sure on the very tight-lipped Victorian BMD index.

I then solved a year-long mystery about the identify of 'Casie B'.  She had been driving me crazy- was she Charlotte, Catherine, Caroline, Cassie, Cassandra.  Step up, the extremely useful Victoria Passenger Lists 1852-1923.


As you may be able to see from this, the two records broadly match.  The shipping records has Jessie B (alleluia), while the 1881 census entry written 18 months earlier has 'Casie B', where I think the C is intended to be pronounced 'Ch' (though I can't think of a single English word that uses this form but the Italian cinto).

It's then an easy matter to find the girl as Jessie Beatrice in freebmd, and then to go in whichever direction (Trove, the deaths index), to find her death at 43 as Mrs Dunlop widowed mother of two deceased children.

The father of all these children is possibly in Kings Cross England age '35' in 1891, though this smacks of coincidence.  He and Mary Ann had another child together after arriving in Australia (who died).  He lived to see all three daughters marry before dying at 53 in Melbourne.

Conversely, his father, Thomas Scott senior was still very much alive back in England and about to move house.  Senior's will makes no mention of these Australian shenanigans; instead earmarking all the £600 estate for his relative in England, S T Bennell - child of a deceased daughter.  In fact all of senior's 3 children predeceased him.

So, if anyone is researching Walter Addison Block or Herbert Graves Harrison, Alexander Leonard Turner, Stanley Watson Wray, Hugh Fred Williams Coulter, their wives and families, thank you to those large websites for the free data, and do get in touch.