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19 Feb 2014

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.

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