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27 Sep 2015

Lost a Tombstone, gained Death in a Lake: Harris family of Crowan

We have
Francis Harris baptised 1818 at Crowan, son of Francis and Ann
 - living 1841 at home in Wheal Clowance, Crowan with parents age 20
Francis Harris baptised 1818 at Camborne, son of Francis and Honor
- living 1841 at home in Camborne with widowed mother and siblings age 20

One of these is living at Stokeclimsland in 1851 and marries as a blacksmith in Plymouth 1852, producing children at Calstock.

For a long time I thought this was my Crowan man as his brother had married at Stokeclimsland in 1840 and also had Calstock connections.

But the discovery that there were two men named Francis, both sons of Francis, cast severe doubt on this.

Francis Harris, baptised 1818 at Camborne, married in Plymouth 1852 to Jane Trathen, lived for a time at Calstock and returned to Camborne to finish his days as a miner.  This makes sense really. However, this means we lose Francis and Jane's daughter Fanny from the tree whose exploits as Mrs Bowden of Tombstone, Arizona, are worth viewing.

The clinching evidence is that this Francis, who was living with the Pearce family, likely his mother's relations, in 1861, had a daughter Eliza Pearce Harris in 1868. This does suggest he was the Camborne man.

So, what happened to my Francis Harris? Well, he drowned in Lake Nicaragua in about 1852*, victim of greedypants Cornelius Vanderbilt's money-making scheme to save two days' travel-time across central America, for gold miners and others who wished to reach California by sea. (Vanderbilt was great-grandfather of Churchill's unhappy, wealthy, friend Consuela.) An image of the route is available, below.

This certainly explains why none of our chatty, friendly, Harrises in Wales could tell us owt about Da John's brothers and sisters. Francis and John had six siblings that died at birth, and just two others survived (Mrs Scandling, a childless lady across the state border from Wisconsin's Hazel Green, and James Harris husband of Annie Hodge so far untraced.) There is a small chance James remarried in Nova Scotia and came later to Wisconsin.

My rationale for linking Francis to the watery end is that the Francis Harris age 31 in the 1850 census of Grant county, Wisconsin, was almost certainly Cornish. We know this chap's bride, Philippi Rowe, was from Crowan and this ties in very nicely. It is possible but unlikely, that the marriage record of 'Philip Rowe to Frances Harris', 1847, will tell us more. The couple's grandson relates the Nicaragua tale at the end of his own life, in 1957.

*Francis's estate was probated at Grant county, Wisconsin 1854 (images available at, with his address given as Hazel Green (formerly Hard Scrabble!)

20 Sep 2015

Crowing over new Jen: untangling 1780s baptisms in mine-boom Cornwall

My hapless forebear Francis Harris made the genealogical error of witnessing the wrong wedding. He was invited along to the wedding of his wife Anne's sister Elizabeth Jennings and also, in the same year to the ceremony of another Elizabeth Jennings, doubtless related, though quite how is so far unfathomable. This was in the year 1809, at Crowan Parish Church, Cornwall.

The problem is compounded by the fact both Elizabeths have parents called John and Anne, and for good measure both had sisters called Anne as well.  They were born in consecutive years (1785 and 1786), marry as stated, in the same year and place, with very similar witnesses and have children with no distinguishing names. Harrumph!

By thoroughly shaking the tree, and running both Elizabeths to ground - in Stithians a central mining village and Tywardreath, a settlement a good way along the coast, I capture their ages at burial. This will be crucial.  Although it turns out both ladies were the right age to be buried at Stithians, the younger lady would have nearly three full years on the clock too few to be underground at 69 at Tywardreath. Tywardreath lady was assumed to be from the younger set of parents as this made her sister to Mary and the younger Jennings children... Because the younger Jennings children were born after one Mother Anne had died, and it had to be the elder Mother Anne as the younger Mother Anne was the one with known siblings' names that matched some of these younger children... And Mary's granddaughter later (eighty years later) is a visitor with Tywardreath lady's son John... And we can be certain of that relationship because John's will names as a sister a widow-woman whose children Tywardreath lady is guarding in 1851 as her 'grandchildren'. This is backed up by the parish registers which record the baptism of the likely future Tywardreath lady as child of the 'junior' parents.

So, by elimination, Stithians lady is from the elder (my) set of parents. And the parentage of John Jennings baptised 1792 can now be resolved. He marries at Stithians in 1821 (coincidential location? I don't think so). Then a dozen years later, after having been forcibly removed from his eventual home of Mabe, he names a daughter Elizabeth Oppy Jennings [destined for Donkey Hill Mine], this being derived from the married name of Stithians lady. If he was as I suspect, orphaned age three, and was living at Stithians in maybe his teens and certainly his twenties, then this sounds likely to be his homage to Stithians lady, who is a much better fit to be his sister than Tywardreath.

So, after all this new Jen on the Jennings, and much impenetrable Crowing from the Crowan registers, we un-tease the puzzle. And present Anne, wife of the embattled Francis Harris, with two bright shiny (and productive) siblings: John Jennings granite worker of Mabe, and Elizabeth Oppy of Carnmenellis Wendron and later Crellow in Stithians town.

This proved a harder challenge than untangling the 1800s Roddas with the three couples of the same firstnames, being a generation earlier. Fortunately some elementary errors by Entropy and her cohort meant that firm clues were left lodged in the soil, so that the trail could be followed 215 years later, without prejudice.

(The picture had been further muddied by the presence of multiple James/Elizabeth Oppy and James/Elizabeth Holman couples in and around the right area. Fortunately the listing of whole families in the 1841 census, the giving of fathers' names in marriage records and the fact only a few events happened at Crowan, helped home-in on the correct couples in this next generation.)

The Real Hunted: Facebook finds spikes and hurls them my way

I have been watching the Channel four programme Hunted, a remarkable piece of enjoyable television showing people actually on-the-run.   I do not feel particularly worried about what the State are up to in my direction: as long as they are not employing temps to print out my case file by accident. I am much more concerned about private companies gathering information about me.

And now Facebook has already started growing spikes in a previously warm welcoming environment.  The tale begins with this family historian contacting people, legitimately I trust, but using the Bookface site as a medium.  To and fro go the messages. Mostly to, but occasionally fro. I have had some lovely messages on Facebook recently. After contacting people out of the blue to discuss their family history, I have received quality, warm, responses. This is comparable with the responses I have had by letter down the years.  (As discussed, maybe those days are gone, with the modern generation not inculcated into the ways of letter-writing.)

So far, so heart-warming.  Here is an exemplar quote 'Thank you for reaching out to us.' Did I know these people? No-yes. Do I know them now? Yes. Was it possible to have physically, or heaven forfend via email, have known these people in advance of the message - er, no, which is why I used social media for that purpose. One bloke replied to my random message with 'I'll tell my Dad he's got a new project apart from gardening'.

Today came a stark message from Facebook.  "You have been friending (Facebook term) people on our site who afterwards stated (in a licensed interrogation) that you did not truly know them." Apparently I should have Followed them (these are people educated pre-Harry Potter, they are Follower-free).

A sinister run of television adverts, purportedly showing people having friendly fun, with plenty of slow-motion purple woolly jumper running hugs and chortling kids in yellow wellies stamping in rainy puddles, ends with a Be the Best style message 'THAT is what friending means, you terrible users!'

The site thanked me for participating in the exchange, after questioning my motives, and giving me no choice but to remove some Friend requests from their list.   There was no Skip button or link.  At least Google has or had 'don't be evil'. Facebook like all self-righteous organisations and individuals, will end up limiting freedoms as part of their drive for personal freedom.