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27 Feb 2014

Come on Eileen

I don't know what it is about the name Eileen.  I worry that they'll be proper Irish and not interested in their English family.... except there's never been anyone called Eileen on my Irish side of the family.  In fact, nobody of any other name has been consistently half as helpful:

  • Eileen D took my phone call and helped me find the rest of the Chappell family.
  • Eileen D2 told me the eldest Chappell boy gambled away the family farm in Yeovilton.
  • Eileen F proved for me that Francis Scott Boyce the coachman from Somerset, was indeed first cousin of 2 of my great-great-great-grandparents.
  • Eileen M told me that grandpa Tabor died transplanting swedes on Christmas Day 1909.
  • Eileen N wrote to me recently with information about her late father, who grew up in the orphanage in Blackburn.

And now I'm hoping Eileen G will be able to tell me all about my relative Sarah who died age 36 in Edinburgh.  She is the great-granddaughter.  So, come on Eileen, tell us all about it!

Of course - with a name like Eileen, our correspondent was always going to reply.  And what a great reply we've had.  Thank you!  Now the big question on my lips, is which Eileen shall we hear from next - there's still at least 20 letters of the alphabet left to go.  Come on, Eileen Z!

19 Feb 2014

Ann, 18, not in South Africa (1858)

Excuse me google, have you seen my relative.  She's about 18, she used to live in England, and I think she went to live in South Africa?  It's just gone 1861 and I haven't seen her anywhere in the census so I think she must have left home.  Can you help me?
Google couldn't help me.  But FamilySearch did.

The story starts with William Frampton Cotty who disappears with his wife and children somewhere between 1851 - when he's at South Street, South Petherton, Somerset - and 1861, when he's not in the country at all.  No website had any records on him, but by googling I found references to the family in South Africa, and by checking their National Archives 'NAAIRS' catalogue, I slightly bulked out what I knew on him and his boys.  The youngest girl by a fluke marries in Bristol, has a baby in Lancashire and returns to South Africa (odd).   But of the oldest girl Ann, there was nothing.

A new site, South African Settlers, popped up in my internet browser with extra info on W. F. Cotty.  His entry had been indexed from the Cape Death Notices and was modestly informative.  By this time, I already knew or had surmised that his cousin the housekeeper had become his partner and later his wife, but I didn't know this:
That Ann had a middle name of Martha.  In 1851 she's down as Ann M, but her birth shows her as Anne.  I'd even signed up to the Crewkerne Yahoo Groups which has since deluged my mailbox in the hopes of getting the baptism at Hinton St George and finding that possibly useful middle name.

A few days after finding this, having fruitlessly combed South Africa for Annie Marthas who had children in the 1860s, I thought of putting her name into FamilySearch.  It's worked before.  I now have a claim to the firstborn male of Mount Vernon, NY, as a relative because I put a married couple's name into FamilySearch.

So off do I try it again.  And, no!   Can this be?
Not expecting to find anything, I pick up Ann as mother of a girl born around 1865 in Springfield Illinois.  Well for a girl born 1840, that's about right.  It's more than about right, it's spot on - Ann's aunt and uncle lived in Springfield, and of all the places in the US, this is one it makes all the sense in the world for her to have gone to.

She lies buried at Boone, Des Moines, where she'd gone to live with her husband Gus.  She had 5 children, not the 2 stated in 1910, and 4 were living in 1900 (as correctly stated there) - Anna, Mae, Lotta and Earle but only the eldest has family - children Genevieve Eichenberger and Ashley Bowers.  Ashley's grandson is in England not far from his roots; while Genevieve's are still in Glen Ellyn or retired elsewhere in the States.

Ann is not the first relative I've come across who's balked at the chance to go overseas with her widowed father or mother.  Elizabeth Swanton and her cousin Sarah Mullins both said 'no thank you' to the chance to go to Australia (in 1852) and Ohio (in 1836).  Sarah was already married, so the decision wasn't hers.

Ann was only 17 and had the perfect opportunity to emigrate while single, just as her aunt Hannah had 17 years earlier:
It's no coincidence that Anna was the name of her first child.  Had she waited any longer she would have been rushed off to Cape Province, before you can say 'gold'.

Ironically, maybe her life was harder in America than it would have been in Africa.  The Cottys did well and money was flowing in.  Whereas Ann had to return to Chicago after years out in Des Moines - was she happy about that I wonder.  Her aunt and cousins were around, and hopefully stayed in touch: newspaper articles would confirm.

Facebook for finding cousins

I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but thank goodness for Facebook.  It may have no content whatsoever but it does glue people together in all sorts of interesting ways.

It really doesn't much matter if your security settings are set to (what you think is) maximum, chances are you profile pictures at least are shown to everyone.  And if you're female, one of your friends is very likely to have commented on it.

Plus about two-thirds of people show who all their Friends are anyway.  I have lately been using Facebook to help find members of highly mobile families who just aren't in the same place for long.  Or whose street addresses change more than their email address.

I had a target-list of several branches of mine that have disappeared from touch any time in the last 50+ years:
* the Rev'd L S Creed of Cape Town
* Mr F B Lowry of Durban (both uncles of my Granny)
* the Busherts of Rock Island
* the Eichenbergers of Glen Ellyn (both in Illinois descendants of my Ansford Felthams)
and of course the Haine family of northern Natal

Facebook came through with all of them.  I picked the most unusual names in the tree and hoped to find them - in some cases I was going back to when my uncle was in Botswana and captured the details from back then, 40 years ago.  I found the people I hoped to find, in Canada, and in S. Africa.

I was particularly keen to find Mandy, born 1959 in northern Natal, and she appeared as if by magic.  I was searching through all the Haine's were listed as from Africa, and one family stuck out - listed as a friend for one whose friends were public was Mandy, clearly an aunt, living in Alaska.  When I checked her middle name, that was a match, her maiden name also popped up on another site, the year of birth matched, and the place of study in Natal.  I plan to send a letter in the post - the old-fashioned way.

Not a bad result at all.  I should have done this years ago - but had resisted as it felt far too close to spying on people.  I plan to keep this for overseas relatives where the options for finding them are more limited.

Jamestown Pearls

Main Street, Jamestown NY 1914, from Wikipedia
The full story is now pieced together so tight I can nearly tell what great-uncle William had for breakfast.  The day he set sail with new wife Anna for a new home in the States.

We know he was 70 years 4 months and 2 days old*, when he died, on 1 August* in the year 1921.  Had he lived a mite longer, he would have overlapped with his niece's baby, my grandmother, born in October.  It mightn't've made any difference, as he only appears once on our family's tree and in other places is just a question-mark, or not even mentioned at all.  In this family, by the time the 1920s rolled around, the sisters only had each other.

I had a strong genealogical certainty that the boy married at Garboldisham, Norfolk, was our missing William, just 21, even though none of the family were there - his father's occupation was wrong, and we'd never heard of his wife.  And neither had the family history databases - the couple clean got away.

After eliminating a tonne of William and Annas in England, I turned to the States, to find there was only ONE couple that fitted - in Jamestown, New York.  Everything fitted, except for Anna's age - but after her husband's death she regained the lost 8 years, perhaps she'd never told him?  Some years later Michael Crick of Salamanca, NY, contacted me through his cousin and it turned out had done a shed-load of work on this family - certificates, burial records, newspaper cuttings, the lot.  Anna was not the first in the US - her uncle Josiah* had come out thirty or more years before.

William's mother died in March 1869 and his father remarried later that same year.  His father's wife was unpopular and he himself was also deaf, so in my view was squeezed out of the picture.  The eldest girl married at 18 the next year, and William days after turning 21.  His bride being some seven years older would have upset the family, though it was an exact mirror of his parents' situation 20 years earlier.  His uncle John Lain had left the Smiths a lot of money - specifically with instructions that William's father couldn't touch it.

It's my belief that William's determination, Anna's bravery, his mother's money and his father's indifference brewed the cocktail to 'push' the Smiths out of the UK.  In addition Jamestown was crying out for carpenters - it becoming furniture capital of the world, and Anna's uncle was there with family ready to welcome the young couple.

I knew none of this when I started reading the letters of William's sister Ellen.  Not a mention is there of this brother, to whom she must once have been close.  More emerges - his only son died a year before him; he was one of the 800 passengers all rescued when their steamer the SS Oregon sank off Island, New York in 1886 on a mild March morning, on its way BACK from Liverpool.  Had he made his final visit back home?  Who did he see?  I presume this event put him off further travel and contact with him.  This gem must have made its way to us from the Jamestown newspapers.

I can compare the photo of smiling Victoria Smith (looking more like an Alice) with that of her non-smiling aunt Ellen - who terrified her young granddaughter, and who presided over family events despite her supposedly lowly status as a widow.

Ellen may never have mentioned her brother, but she did mention her almost royal birth at Mulbarton Old Hall in Norfolk, which kept generations of family wowed about her roots.  But Ellen's brother did mention her.  In his obituary (1921) his wife makes plain that he had a brother and 3 sisters in England, and as that was the truth, there was not a thing Ellen or the others could do to unprint it.

For those struggling to place Jamestown NY, I append a link with great description of its somewhat isolated location, its weather and its cultural burden.

No feet in Africa

.. but it's still possible to unravel the family's story.  My relative Rob Haine left England around 1900 for a new life in South Africa with his brothers. They ended up in Jo'burg, but he found a farm on the east coast.  He was leaving a land with plenty of fairly accessible records, for a land that until recently, had none.

We saw glimpses of him again - in 1960 his cousin died intestate in Somerset and in the ensuing document, 6 of his 7 kids were named.  In 2009 his wife's niece died in Somerset and her family gave me an old address in Durban, but that didn't lead me anywhere.

I published a book on the family in 2000 and we still didn't know their whereabouts, then.

Last year FamilySearch released some protestant church records for Natal, and I eagerly set to combing through for Haine's.  It wasn't hard to find the family, as the records were mostly indexed.  Although it said marriages for the town weren't listed after 1955, I found the index went up to 1970.  I combed through this looking for the bride, as the dot-matrix index from 1992 listed the marriage in groom order.  Bingo - I found of Rob's granddaughters marrying in 1958 and the other in 1966.

But it was the youngest granddaughter, Mandy, born 1959 I was due to find next.  And it wasn't through googling, through the phone book, but through another resource that I found her.

Thank you FamilySearch for great Natal records and unblocking a 15-year puzzle; without, sadly, me having to set a foot on the continent.

8 Feb 2014

The exclusion of the sisterhood

When Ellen Smith married at the pretty, remote, church of St Lawrence in 1874, it was pretty final.  She kept in touch with her sisters, who fled the area around the same time, and whose holiday snap at Clacton ten years earlier tells of the closeness between them.

But the address book slammed shut on the others.  The death of Mrs Smith in 1867 had been followed by an unpopular marriage of the father.  One-by-one the three girls left their former home and for them it never became their home again.  The eldest girl made rapid vows at 18 as did the boy a year later, who not only married an older lady but apparently emigrated too.  There remains a shadow over the character of the father, Henry, and his role within the family.

The dust had long settled by the 1920s when Ellen was living in some comfort in North London and penning a letter to her very pregnant daughter and musing on old times.  From now on, all that mattered were her husband children and family plus of course those dear sisters.  The editing pen had been viciously active over the Smith family and we didn't get the full picture for many years.

1986 and I get a Smith family tree through the post - well it was for Ellen's family by marriage but the Smiths got a mention.  I can't figure out the hand - my uncle, his mother?  On it the sisters feature of course but not so much the brothers.  One version has an enigmatic '?' while another puts the boy's name down, William.

This family were great at deleting people they didn't want to remember, or claimed not to remember.  Yes let's remember the happy 1920s Christmases at the house in Muswell Hill with nice tidy children and Edwardian elegance.  But what about a few miles down the road?

Arthur Smith, the brother-who-never-was, had produced 12 children and now grandchildren who weren't bank managers and couldn't always find work and were not so well-off but did alright - in Bermondsey.

Did Ellen fear a door-knock and her ancient Suffolk past catching up with her.  Not one brother, but TWO elided from the tree.  And then her nephew's children going into care as well.  No wonder she repressed a gasp in 1921 when she opened the door and out stood her niece, Miss Daisy Skinner looking quite confident in the autumn cool.  For a moment Ellen wondered what the lady wanted.  She was ready to close the door.  But Miss Daisy had done alright.  She was getting herself together.  While Daisy may genuinely have been fond of this uptight old aunt, there was a business perspective to her visit.  Who knows how she'd spent her twenties - dancing, clerical work, or dressmaking - but she was now about to buy a little hotel by the sea, and family members would be useful income for her.

Whew.  Ellen allowed her grip to unravel from the newel post of the staircase at the house in Hornsey.  It hadn't been her brothers' family.  It was only Sophy's girl.  She'd been married over 40 years and still the inconvenience of her brothers and father bothered her.  What had William been doing in America, was he going to come back?  Arthur had broken a gasworks strike and subsequently done a runner.  He wouldn't be back, but his family - could find her at any time.


Suspicion clouded her mind but not a whisper of this reached her daughter.  The ability to compartmentalise the story is extraordinary.  Ellen remained fond of her sisters, and even went down to Bexhill to see them at Daisy's hotel, exactly as Miss Skinner had forecast.  She loved the place of her birth - the Old Hall at Mulbarton and several times she would speak of it, in the happy years before she lost her mother.  Even my own grandfather knew the family only as 'blue-blooded' and 'from the Hall'.

This is a peculiarly Victorian story.  The rise from solid working-class to middle-class was a precarious one for the rider.  Whilst the wife of a Methodist minister's position was fairly secure, she had duties to educate her children and ensure they made the right choices in life.  Knowledge of close family members who were not known to have made this rise would have been most alarming to her.  The advent of opportunities for wide travel - leaving not only the county (Norfolk) but the country (England) could split up even the closest of familial bonds.  Add into the mix, a disrupted childhood (death of mother, move to another isolated rural community, growing deafness of father and finally his remarriage), the importance of status or money over family and increasing mobility and the ground was set for divorce.

Ellen protected herself and her family and ironically was similar to her runaway brother in prizing everything more highly than her family of origin.  I feel she could have been closer as a mature married woman, to her brother in America, but the opportunity wouldn't have arisen.

The father Henry's paralysing deafness was the lynchpin that failed to link the family together.  His siblings were close - Richard, Harriet and the children of Sarah were still in touch into the twentieth century and did what they could for Henry.  Can anything sinister be read into his daughters' turning their back on him?  The uncle at Mulbarton had been quite specific that his wealth should go to Henry's *wife* and not to him, but this was standard practice for clued-up testators.

Another mystery is the photograph of Clacton-on-sea from, I thought, 1860, when the town wasn't founded till 1871 and railway line didn't get there till late 1860s.

Britons in Africa

Africa United was a great movie.  I seem to remember getting pressurised to watch it while somewhere really unexpected like the University of London students' union or a socialist demonstration, or possibly strolling through Mayfair.  We need to be united in our search for records in Africa.

Britons in Africa is now online.  It is a showcase database, enabling people to be surprised at finding one of their folks on the great unexplored continent.  The Stirling Castle, Dublin Castle, Walmer Castle and a dozen other Union-Castle ships could get you to a new life in as little as 23 days.

However, until recently, those 23 days could see your descendants in England closing the door completely on your life, as no genealogical information was obtainable from South Africa, which became a Republic (after Afrikaaner-dominated voting) in 1961.

Now, on FamilySearch, Natal marriage records are online (to 1955) and Zimbabwe deaths, in a somewhat crude index up to the last days of Ian Smith.  It looks like the card indexes were hurled out on the table and rapidly photographed before possible destruction by the incoming government.  Who knows.  It's great to have them.

These new databases that allow us to follow our relatives around the world, should be applauded.