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2 Apr 2016

Riddle of the timeshare: it was the sun wot won it


Prologue: Emigrayshun
One grey June morning as the sun rose over the steelworks, a group of my family left their home in Redhall Avenue, Connah's Quay on a journey aimed at leaving the UK and its new queen behind forever.

Our story: Vokayshun


Grandpa claimed to know nothing about his family.  That was true, but he did remember some cousins.  Tom Jones wasn't one of them.  When I found Tom Jones listed in his grandpa's will, I didn't think I'd be able to trace him.  By splashing cash on birth certificates I'd maybe get his date of birth, getting me as far as the second-class cabins of 1952, but.... I'd still be left hanging.  It wouldn't be enough.

Dedicayshun
I picked up the blower to cousin Joyce eighteen years ago, thinking I was at journey's end.  I'd found her mugshot in old family papers and mini-me had gone through tonnes of microfiche to get this far.  She was off to Italy and was putting info about her mother's family in the post, she said.  She said.  Actually she died before any of that and my main chance submerged again, leaving just one nice clue.  It took me ten years to remember it though.
Joyce's wedding photo in our family
My one letter from Joyce

Big Break #1.
On the phone, Joyce had told me there was a cousin in North Wales, called Rhona.  I dreamt I was in a cafe in Rhyl, and everyone in tight white curls was called Rhona.  Hello Rhona, have you seen Rhona.  No, Rhona, have you?

Time passes, I grow up.  I realise there aren't that many Rhonas in Rhyl.  In fact, there aren't any!  I get busy.  I trawl all Rhonas born in Flintshire with a mother's name of Taylor and moments later zing up her address thanks to 192.com.

Ten years of inactivity followed by a moment of success.  That describes my entire work on this branch.  But Rhona doesn't 'get' my letter.  This whole line of enquiry is on the verge of evaporating.
I place an ad.  An absolute beauty comes on the market and is duly picked up from Highbury Corner in 2011.  If the letter can't go to the lady, I will, er go to mountainous lengths to...

Big Break #2
If you need to get away from it all may I recommend Gweryd Fishing Lakes high on the hill off Offa's Dyke.  They gave this weary traveller his last night of freedom before September's chastening embrace.  Down the Clwydian Mountains I sped, to the town of Mold, and Rhona's quaint close.
Not expecting much of a particular, I crossed the threshold of number 6, Mold, glad-handing the aged occupier.  Rhona was niece of a farmer from my Grandpa's childhood and a good ten years older than the deceased Joyce.  Even if this venerable lady could barely whisper a 'hullo', I would be extrapolating from this for years to come, so powerful were her genealogical connections.

I tested the waters with the living legend.  I knew I had a lady whose brain was hard-wired to recall facts from the 1930s, her era.  I pressed my first genealogical button.  'Chilton', I said.  'Oh, you mean Hughie.'  Good so far.  'Cousin Margaret?'  'In a bad way, but alive.'  Ok.  Now for the key moment, the testing of the skeleton key, the run past the warder, the ransom-swop, the border-dash, the inhuman leap..... 'Tom Jones?' I lightly enquired?  The 1930s brain whirred and checked its hard-drive and back they came, words of gold.  'Oh, Tom Jones! Well his kids Peggy and Dougie went out to Canada.' And there it was: my cup overraneth.  Not only had this lady skewered her way through a slew of Joneses to find my Tom, she neatly sewed his story up so tight I wasn't going to lose him now.  And all in five seconds.  I drank the proferred tea, thanked the good lady, slumped on a train at Chester, sold the bike - saying 'hello' to September and a new year.

Big Break #3
Veterinary advice: First catch and restrain your animal
Our Tom Jones was born in Morriston, Swansea, about 1894.  Him and his common name moved to North Wales around 1905, ahead of a big steelworkers' strike.  This whole area around John Summers steelworks is massively under threat, April 2016, a century or more of steelmaking in jeopardy.  According to Rhona, Tom's kids left yonks ago for a new life of similar industry, in Canada.  So what bits of feather was I left gripping on to in the UK?
Tom gets a mention age 24 in his grandpa's will, where I first heard of him 70 years later in 1992.  A third of that time again has had to elapse before I could catch him once more.
We're all in the same boat
Big break number 3 was swiftly catching up with Dougie his son on the boat out to Canada (1952) but *not only that*, finding dad Tom on the same boat, and... *not only that*, after my own internal hard-drive warmed up, a thought burst out?  What about the sister Peggy?  Maybe she was on the same boat too?
Margaret on the same boat as her father and brother, 1952

And so it proved to be.  The Empress of Canada gave me emigration notes of imperial quality: my struggling hunt for further records failed to keep pace.  The same address is shown, Redhall Avenue, Connah's Quay.

Tom had married a Cohen in Eccles, which I'd earlier thought impossible, Margaret (Peggy) being born there in 1919.  Figuring out exactly what happened to Margaret Jones was proving a mite tricky 'til I pored over the Empress-ive records and spotted her as Mrs Robson.  There was date-of-birth, names of kids and all with a matching address in Connah's Quay...  It was 2012, sixty years post emigration.  Little did I know that Peggy, even older than Rhona and 20 years ahead of Joyce, was still living, a quiet retiree in Canada.

Big Break #4
I stewed on the Robson info a little while, 4 years to be precise, as it remained on the back-burner.  I had brazenly told the cousins in Wales it was game set and match, an email having plonked through for Dougie's son Col.  That branch weren't playing ball however, and the contact details fizzled away.  I needed another route in.
Sometime in 2014 I tried again, this time focussing on Peggy (by now, deceased).  It was time to get heavy. I dredged the internet, ripped apart the phonebook and pressed search a bunch of times on Facebook, spraying all my clues in neon to get new life out of them, like tired old curtains.

Obvious clue: the name
Several years of obvious clues and several years of missing the obvious: Peggy's boy's name.  According to the NorthWalesBMD project, he was born Thomas Peter Robson in Flint, a really good name to search.  When I pressed the keys for 'T_P_R' Canada, Google warned me to stand back.  Information of an explosive nature was about to be revealed.
Hmmmm.  Margaret J Robson of Calgary?  probated in Maine. I didn't think so. This was too confusing.  I had fished out gold, but put it back in the watery internet for another two years.  Glug glug.

Big Break #5
Pushy salesman: "In the absence of a new lead, go back to your old ones."
It was March 2016 and time to find the Canadian cousins: this was getting embarrassing.  Harder problems had been solved and although this was impossible, with the right alchemy and a splash of oxygen, this can be done.  With my new hard-nosed attitude I brought up the Google search from 2 years before.
The 'J' I now dismissed like a nearly-dead fly. It could clearly be Jones, Peg's maiden name.  No problem.  Exactly how many ladies called Margaret had sons of the right name and age in Canada?  I now suspected not many.  Just the thorny issue of 'Why Maine?' to put right.

So I took a longer look at the Maine Probates, nosing around the pages of York county, Maine.  I spied a typical set-up for legal docs: the attorney's office and their long phone number.  A lemon-eating clerk in a will-free office, and the general message of 'we are closed - to you anyways'.  I idly combed each of those nondescript blue pages, jonesing for a lead.

Ten white pages
Like Hansel stumbling on a witch-free gingerbread trail, there I beheld ten texty scanned-in pages, white in hue, of the estate of Mrs M Robson.  From the bare bones
to considerably more detail at maineprobate.net:
I had gone behind the surface net into the 'deep web' where data lies waiting to be awoken.  Whilst the full addresses were nice to see, they are impossible to capture without the correct file id, so I think are pretty safe.  The cover page was lovely but wasn't clinching it for me.  I continued through.

And there beheld this battery of clinchers:
  • Bang - the name of Jones given as likely maiden name
  • Bang - the confirmed, matching, date of birth for Margaret
From the Shipping records
From the Probate
  • Bang - the confirmed name as plain Margaret
  • Bang - an address in Ontario, the region where Margaret first landed
It turns out the connection with Maine was that affordable way for hardworking folk to get a week of sun: timeshares.  A timeshare in Maine, of lobsters and fishing, was what got us done.

Thank you to Ogunquit, Maine for taking me from this

 to this

Footnote:
Never forget your Welsh.  The new cousins in Canada are in fact in touch with their Dad's family, back in Connah's Quay.  Hopefully they'll soon be reaching out to us, too.

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