Friday, 10 November 2017

Finding Martha with DNA

Was Hannah Parks, wife of Joel King, the mother of Martha Campbell? In the absence of documentary evidence, DNA could answer this question, but I find DNA research quite mind-boggling and I often have to leave the computer and do something completely different until my brain is able to cope again.  Thank goodness Ruth is better at this stuff than I am.  Between us, we found a few common relatives who were possibly descended from Hannah Parks through some of her King children.  Tracing the family lines back to those people was a very tangled job, but eventually we came up with four living people to look at more closely - Sean, Shayne, Lorraine and Sherri. They all share DNA with some or all of me, my brother, Ruth, her brother and sister and her aunt Alice, all of whom are known descendants of Martha Campbell.  So it looked like there was no other possible reason for all this shared DNA than that we're all descended from one or the other of Martha's parents.  And Sean and Shayne both have Hannah Parks in their direct line of descent.

It turns out that there are other reasons for some of the shared DNA though - Lorraine, Sherri and Shayne all share a completely different set of common ancestors - Henry and Armilla Carter - with me and my brother, but not with Ruth's family.

To sort everyone out, I drew up a chart of how Ruth and I are related to our four DNA matches, which helped me figure out what questions needed to be asked, and how we might find more solid evidence that we really do have Hannah Parks in common with Sean and Shayne.



These family lines are much more tangled than this chart shows - it turns out that there were all kinds of people called Campbell, King and Thompson marrying each other, so the lines cross all over the place - which is why this simplified chart really helped me get a clear picture of where Ruth and I fit in, and, along with other information picked up along the way, made both of us quite confident that we're on the right track.

But I want to be sure!  And thankfully, Shayne's father is descended along a direct maternal line from Hannah Parks, via her daughter, Susannah King;  I'm descended along a direct maternal line from - I hope - Hannah's other daughter, Martha Campbell.  So, if Shayne's father's mitochondrial DNA matches mine, I'll know that Hannah really was Martha's mother.  But he hasn't had a mitochondrial DNA test, so I got in touch with Shayne and eventually she wrote back to say that her father would be happy to have one.  I got a kit sent to him right away, and it wasn't long before I was informed that he had sent his sample to the lab.  Now, I'm waiting for the result.....

Monday, 6 November 2017

Finding Martha Campbell

Sadly, my friend in Canada didn't come up with the goods on my 2nd great-grandmother Martha Campbell.  I was particularly hoping she'd find a record of her marriage to Alpheus McConnell, which would tell me who her parents were.  But there don't seem to be any records of her birth, marriages or death anywhere.  The problem is twofold - many records from the area where Martha may have lived were destroyed years ago.  But that could be irrelevant, because Martha identified as a Baptist, and Baptists were notorious for not registering births, marriages and deaths.  This means that the only records that might be around would be church records, and I have no idea what church or churches to pursue, because I don't don't where Martha lived until a few years after she was married.

So things were looking bleak, Martha-wise, until I discovered that Martha was commonly known as Patty (and it turns out that lots of Marthas were called Patty back then).  So I went hunting in census records for a Patty Campbell who might be the right Martha, and eureka!  I found one!

Excerpt from page 67 of the 1851 Canada Census for Seymour Township.  Note that the King family are Methodists, but in the 1861 census, Martha and her husband are Baptists.  Which church did they get married in?

In the 1851 census for Seymour township in Northumberland Ontario, I found a 16 year old Patty Campbell with a Joel and Hannah King, as well as 15 year old Archibald Campbell and five younger children called King. This census didn't specify how people were related to each other, so some assumptions are necessary, which may or may not be correct:
  • Hannah Somebody married Mystery Campbell and had two children with him - Martha/Patty and Archibald
  • Mystery Campbell died sometime after 1837
  • Hannah Somebody married Joel King sometime before 1843 and had at least five children with him

I looked for the King family in the 1861 census, knowing that Martha/Patty was married to Jeremiah McConnell and living in Peterborough at that time - so I was pleased NOT to find Patty Campbell with the Kings, which would have been curtains for this line of inquiry.  But to my surprise, I didn't find Hannah either.  In 1861 Joel King had a different wife, called Catherine, the same five King children as in 1851, and some new ones, born after that.  So what happened to Hannah?

I then went looking for other sources of information about Joel King, and soon found him in several other family trees.  From these I learned that Hannah's surname was Parks - but nobody had any information about her, except the assumption that she died in 1854 - no parents, no firm birthdate, and no first husband or children called Campbell.  Much research time and effort by both my cousin Ruth and myself turned up nothing more about her.

We also looked for anything we could find about Archibald Campbell, Martha's likely brother, but couldn't find anyone we could be sure was the right one - Archibald Campbell was not an uncommon name.

So, we had no way of knowing whether the Patty in the 1851 census was our ancestor or not - until we started looking at DNA.

And what happened next I'll save for another time.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

The Mysterious Martha

My 2nd great grandmother Martha Campbell is a prime example of how hard it can be to research female ancestors.  She's such a dead end in my tree, and because I have a direct maternal line to her - she was my mother's mothers' mother's mother - I did a mitochondrial DNA test, which looks at the maternal line, to see if it would lead me to some of Martha's other direct descendants, or descendants of her sisters - if indeed she had any sisters - who might know something about her.

So far, I haven't made any useful discoveries, even though I have very close mtDNA matches with five people, and not so close matches with hundreds of others.  I've contacted the five close ones and a few of the not close ones, hoping to find a familiar name amongst their ancestors, but I've had no luck, and am in the dark as to how I'm related to any of them.  As more people take the mtDNA test and put their results online, I'll have more chances of finding someone who rings the right bell, but for now, Martha remains a complete mystery.  The only reliable thing I know about her is her name, which appears on birth and marriage records of some of her children, such as this birth record for her son William Wilson McConnell.  That's it.

Part of William Wilson McConnell's birth record, in Ontario, Canada Births, 1858-1913,
Archives of Ontario; Series: MS929; Reel: 2

Her heritage was probably Scottish, and she may have been born there, or in Upper Canada, sometime around 1837.  At that time there were many Scottish settlers in Canada, and it seems like most of them were called Campbell, but that's probably just because my brain is getting boggled by them.  I've sifted through several families of Campbells in and around the general area where the McConnells lived, and got rather excited when I found a Martha Campbell who seemed to fit the bill.  But further checking revealed that she was somebody else altogether, so I was back to square one.  And I'm still there, after looking at a lot of other Campbell families.

I spent quite awhile trying to find Martha from a different angle too - was she related to Porter Preston or his wife Mary Eliza Young, who raised her daughter Alma after Martha died?  Seems likely, doesn't it?  But after many fruitless hours of researching Prestons, Youngs and several other names in the Preston-Young tree, and scribbling a very complicated web of possible relationships on a whiteboard (which is now almost impossible to read) I got very disillusioned with that line of enquiry.  (Not to imply that I've done a really thorough job of it though - the connection to Martha might be hiding there somewhere, and I've missed it.)

Martha was married twice, but neither marriage record seems to have been found by anyone who has her in their family tree - or if somebody has found these records, they're not sharing!  The record of her second marriage, to Alpheus McConnell, sometime around 1861/2 should include the names of her parents, so I'm very keen to find it.  So much so, I've enlisted the help of a person in Ontario, who's willing to look through microfilms and church records for me.  I love living in Australia, but it sure is inconvenient when it comes to finding things in Canadian archives.  But I'm hoping to hear from my Canadian contact soon, and have fingers crossed that she'll be able to find something, anything, that will reveal something about Martha's background.


Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Introducing Alma McConnell

All of my McConnell mysteries lead back to my great grandmother Alma, so I'll start by telling you a little about her.  First, she shows up in at least one census as Almedia, but her daughter, my grandmother, insisted that her name was really Alma.  Her family tree looks like this:


As you see, there are several question marks in this tree, but I'm confident that Alma's mother Martha Campbell first married Jeremiah McConnell, and when he died in 1861/2, she married his brother Alpheus, bringing along her two children, Ira and Hannah.  Alma was born in 1865 in Rawdon, Hastings, Ontario, and spent the first few years of her life there.  Her father Alpheus was a farmer, and the family lived near a couple of his brothers and their families, and no doubt their lives were pretty ordinary for the times, with lots of hard work, church going and involvement in the wider community.

In 1873, when Alma was about 8 years old, her brother Wilbert was born, and sadly, this event brought about the death of their mother Martha.  What happened immediately after that I don't know, but it wasn't long until everything went pear-shaped.

In 1874, Alpheus married Margaret Connelly, and then she was never seen again - in the family history sense.  In 1878, some of the family (I don't know which members of it) moved to Michigan. Alpheus  shows up there in the 1880 US census, a widower with just two of his five children - Maria, age 13, and Wilson age 10. By that time his eldest daughter Mary, and his two step-children had married - but where were Alma, age 15 and Wilbert, age 7? And what happened to Margaret?  She had apparently died, but I can't find any record of that.  Perhaps, after creating havoc in Alpheus' family, she ran off with someone else - but I'm only saying that because I don't like her.

Alma McConnell at about age 16
Alma and Wilbert both show up the following year in the Canada census, in different places.  Alma, age 16, was living in Peterborough, about 30 miles from home, with someone called Porter Preston, his sister Mary and his wife Mary Eliza Young.  Who were these people?  That's one of my mysteries.  And young Wilbert had been farmed out to live with his Uncle Sylvanus McConnell and family in Rawdon.  Why?  The story goes that when Margaret Connelly married Alpheus, Wilbert was less than a year old, and Margaret didn't want to take on the responsibilities of looking after a baby.  Perhaps she wouldn't marry Alpheus unless Wilbert was out of the picture.  But what about Alma?  She would have been nine years old at that time - why did she have to go too?  Then again, maybe Margaret insisted on Alpheus getting rid of ALL of his children, and it was only after she died that two of them went to live with their father again.  Just guessing there.

By the way, that 1880 US census is the last sighting of Alpheus.  He probably died in Michigan, but I can't find any record of his death or burial, anywhere.

But getting back to Alma... as far as we know, Alma had no contact with any of her dispersed family while she was living with the Prestons.  But she did get to know the Wanamakers, who lived nearby, and a few years later, when she was 22, she married William Henry Wanamaker.  They soon moved to Kenlis, Saskatchewan and started having children.

Not long after that, in 1890 or 91, Alma was reunited with her youngest brother Wilbert.  He was then 17 or 18 years old, and apparently not very happy with the situation he was in.  So he found out where Alma was and went to Saskatchewan to be with her. Sadly for Wilbert, Alma wasn't entirely pleased to see him.  By that time she had a couple of young children to look after, and I guess the last thing she needed was a dependent teenage brother who she didn't know.  And I suspect that her husband, the fiery-tempered William, didn't want him around either.  So Wilbert went to work on a neighbour's farm, and in later years, he was heard to say that he wished he had stayed in Ontario.

It wasn't until Alma was in her fifties that she reconnected with her sister Mary, who was living in California.  The story goes that Alma had put an ad in some newspapers, seeking information about her missing siblings.  Someone saw it and told Mary, who got in touch with Alma.  In 1920, the sisters were reunited when William, Alma and their two youngest daughters went to California, and they kept in touch from that time on.  Whether or not Alma found any of her other siblings or half-siblings, I don't know.

I'll have more to say about Alma and William and their family, which included my grandmother Myrtle Wanamaker, in future posts, but I'll leave them there for now.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Some McConnell Mysteries

In case you think I've fallen asleep at the wheel, I thought I should check in to say that I'm still climbing around in my mother's family tree, but I've got snagged on several tricky branches and have made very little progress.  And as I've said before, I'm easily distracted, so a lot of other things have been grabbing my attention too.

But recently I've been giving a lot of thought to the McConnells in the tree, particularly some of the McConnell women, and I realized that there are quite a few little mysteries lurking amongst them. For instance:

  • Who was Martha Campbell, my 2nd great grandmother?  Or was her name really Margaret?  I haven't been able to find out a single thing about her background, not even the name of her father.  All I know is that she married two McConnell brothers, had some children, and died young.
  • Who did my 3rd great grandfather Jonathan 'Jock' McConnell marry?  I think I know her name, but have no actual evidence.  I think I know who her parents were too, but I could be totally wrong.  And does this woman, whoever she was, hold the key to the family legend of a connection to the Mayflower?
  • On that topic, did Experience Howland, a Mayflower descendant, really marry James Bearce, or was she in fact a man?  (Are you intrigued...?)
  • What was my great grandmother Alma McConnell's stepmother's problem?  It seems that she was the reason for the family being split up and sent off in three different directions.  I don't think I like her at all.
  • At that time, when Alma was about 8 years old, why was she sent to live with a family who apparently weren't related to her in any way?  Or were they?
  • And what happened to Alma's wicked stepmother?  After throwing the family into disarray, she seemed to disappear without a trace.

These are some of the questions that are preying on my mind.  I've enlisted some professional help in answering one of them, but I don't expect results any time soon.  Meanwhile, I'm plugging away at the others, in fits and starts, with some valuable input from my second cousin once removed, Ruth, who has been vexed by similar questions for years.  We both hope that together we'll eventually get to the bottom of at least some of these puzzles.

As I continue along these lines of inquiry, I intend to write blog posts which will fill you in on the background of each one, keep you informed about any progress I make, and at the same time, paint some kind of a picture of the McConnell family.  They're my second most problematic family - the first is the family that Alma McConnell married into, the Wanamakers - a huge swirling mass of confusion that I hope to understand some day.  Meanwhile, I'll stick with the McConnells.  Stay tuned.

Monday, 15 May 2017

The Queen's Pardon

A couple of days ago I asked Kevin, the UK Forces War Records researcher, whether George Cockram could have turned himself in by post from Canada.  While I waited for his reply, I went looking for any trace of George Cockram or Thomas Smith travelling from Canada to England in 1886 or 87, just in case I've been making too many assumptions in thinking he didn't go there at around that time.  Based on my search, I'm pretty sure I was right - I can't find anyone who even vaguely resembles him on any passenger lists for that period.

And this morning, I got a reply from Kevin:

Linda,
He may indeed have handed himself in whilst he was in Canada - if I remember rightly there was an order issued with regard to the Jubilee of Queen Victoria which allowed a pardon for deserters - so I suspect he took advantage of this. 
Regards,
Kevin

The Queen's Jubilee was in 1887, so this is perfect timing.  I immediately started searching for more info about the pardon, and pretty soon I found a copy of Queen Victoria's 'Proclamation for extending pardons to soldiers who may have deserted from our land forces'.  Note, it says 'soldiers', and it makes no mention of sailors or marines.  So I was a bit worried.  It does refer to Royal Artillery and Infantry though - and the Royal Marines were all one or the other - George was in the RM Light Infantry.  So maybe, without explicitly saying so, this pardon included marines.
 

Excerpt from the Queen's Proclamation.
The whole page can be found here.

I looked for more information.  First I found an item about the pardon in a California newspaper from 1887, which said it didn't apply to deserters from the Royal Navy, but it didn't mention the Marines, which I hoped meant the Marines were implicitly included.  Then I found a 2010 online auction of a Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, which was awarded to a Private in the RM Light Infantry in 1884.  A brief history of his career is included, stating that he deserted shortly after receiving the medal, and in August 1887, he 'claimed the benefit of the Queen's pardon'.

Excerpt from the auction listing.
The whole article can be found here.


So at least I have one example of the pardon applying to a marine.  And I've written to Kevin again (he's going to get sick of me pretty soon) just to ask if he can confirm that the Marines were included.  But I'm feeling very confident that George 'claimed the benefit of the Queen's pardon' too, which means that he lived with his guilt for 12 years.  It must have been a tremendous relief for him to have that guilt lifted from his shoulders.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

George's Guilt Trip, pun intended

Some people in the family were not at all pleased to learn about George Cockram's desertion from the Royal Marines.  It is a little disappointing to be descended from a deserter, and I guess we all feel just a bit betrayed - we thought George was a fine upstanding kind of guy!  But when you (I should say 'I') go rummaging around in ancestral closets, skeletons will be found.  Just because we don't like something our great grandfather did, well, too bad for us - he's still our great grandfather, the man who did all the GOOD things we already know about.

If you're one of the above people, stay tuned, because I have a bit of information that might make you feel better... and another bit that might make you feel worse.

But first, I'm sorry to say that I still don't know WHY George deserted, and probably never will.  So I've tried to put myself in his shoes and imagine some possible scenarios.  Here's one of them:

After two or three years in the Royal Marines, George was thinking he'd made a mistake in joining up.  A Marine Private's life was really pretty boring, with a lot of drill, weapons training, trivial work, polishing boots and buttons, kit inspections, being bawled at all day by NCOs who thought they were better than you, and not a whole lot of actual time at sea.  And when he was at sea, it was a dull life, guarding the ship's officers, keeping the sailors in line and always having to carry a big gun around.  There was no fighting going on, just sailing around reminding the British colonies who was boss. It all seemed quite pointless, really.

Then one day when he was on leave in Plymouth, he met a lovely Cornish lass called Louisa Murphy, and he was smitten.  Pretty soon they were making plans - they'd get married and go to Canada, get some cheap land there and spend their lives farming and raising lots of children.  So in 1875 they got married, and Louisa got pregnant (but I'm pretty sure those things happened in the other order), and could hardly wait to start their new lives in Canada.  It was all so tempting, George began to realize that he couldn't possibly wait until the end of his service - another 8 years!  Especially now that he was going to become a father - he wanted to raise his children in a big new country with lots of opportunities, not dreary old England, where the class system would always keep them down.

You could say that George was a hero for doing what was best for his wife and family, rather than for Queen Victoria and the British Empire.  And he did all of his descendants a favour too.

So, with great trepidation and guilt in his heart, he and Louisa made plans for his sudden disappearance.  Louisa didn't want to disappear with him just then, and have her first baby in a strange country, perhaps in the middle of nowhere, without her mother.  So George would go to Canada alone, to check things out and find a home for them, and Louisa and the new baby would go later. 

George bought a ticket for the SS Dominion, sailing from Liverpool on the 10th of June, and checked the Bradshaw's* to figure out what trains would get him to Liverpool. It would be about a 14 hour train trip, at best.  Then, on the 8th of June when he was ashore in Plymouth, he met Louisa at the train station.  He didn't dare go home, where he might be apprehended.  Louisa had brought a quick change of clothes for him and a suitcase for his journey.  They kissed goodbye, and off he went on a daring adventure, afraid of being caught and feeling very guilty, but looking forward to his new life as Thomas Smith.

Plymouth's original train station at Milbay Street, about 1903

Well, it could have been something like that.

By the way, at that time, desertion wasn't a terribly serious offense, mainly because England wasn't at war.  If George had been caught, his punishment would have been anything up to 3 months in prison, possibly with hard labour and/or solitary confinement.  And if he was turned in by a private citizen within a month of his disappearance, that person would have been awarded a bounty of 3 pounds.  The bounty grew less as time went on, and after a year, the RM didn't care if he was found or not.

Now here's the thing that might make you feel worse - it could have been possible for George to BUY his discharge from the Marines, rather than deserting. But it would have cost him 18 pounds, nearly a year's pay, and there was no guarantee that his wish would be granted - it would be up to his commanding officer, after 30 days of thinking it over, to decide to let him go or not.  And this brings up another point - maybe George DID apply to buy his way out, and was refused, which made desertion a last resort.  Does that make you feel any better?

And here's the other thing that might help - and it's another mystery.  George's record in the Royal Marines Service Register says that he was granted a 'protection certificate', which more or less absolved him and guaranteed that he would never be required to finish his service in the Marines.  But the certificate was issued in 1887, 12 years after he left!

Excerpt from George's entry in the Service Register, reading:
"8 June 1875 Deserted from Head Quarters
Granted Protection Certificate 28.10.87"

My friendly researcher at UK Forces War Records says this means that he must have turned himself in shortly before that time.  But as far as I can tell, once he left England, he only returned twice - in 1876 and in 1911.  So perhaps he turned himself in by post in 1887, if that was possible - I'm checking that.  But regardless of how and when he turned himself in, it goes to show that he carried a load of guilt with him for some time, and eventually couldn't stand the weight of it anymore and had to do the right thing.

He was, after all, a good and honourable man.



* Bradshaw's Guide - a series of British railway timetables and travel guide books published from 1839 to 1961

General information about pay and conditions in the Royal Marines comes from 'The Queen's Regulations and the Admiralty Instructions for the Government of Her Majesty's Naval Service, 1862'

Sunday, 7 May 2017

George Joins the Marines

Well now I know that my great grandfather George Cockram deserted from the Marines, although I don't know why, nor why he joined up in the first place.  But since my last blog post, I've learned a little more about this period of his life, thanks to Kevin Asplin, a researcher at Forces War Records in England, who dug up what little there is of George's military record.

According to the Royal Marines Service Register, George was recruited on the 27th of February 1871 at Barnstaple, Devon, not far from his home town of Fremington, into the Plymouth Division of the RM.  His entry in the register says he was 18 years and 9 months old, when in fact he was 19 and 9 months, and this mistake probably explains why he was said to be 23 when he deserted, instead of 24. 

The first part of George's entry in the RM Service Register, showing his name
as Cockram or Cockrem.

At this time, Britain was not at war, so recruitment into the armed forces wouldn't have been overly energetic.  But the Royal Navy did need to maintain its superiority over all others, and patrol the vast British Empire, which required the services of marines as well as sailors.  So the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines had recruiting officers all over the country looking for young men eager to volunteer.  No doubt there were enticing recruitment posters promising adventures at sea, good food and high wages, but I haven't found any for this period - earlier and later, yes, but not during Victoria's reign.  So did George volunteer on the spur of the moment, when he just happened to be in Barnstaple and happened to come upon a recruiting sergeant?  Or did he consider it for awhile, and go to Barnstaple specifically to join up? Can't answer that one. 

Judging by family memories of George's love of the sea, it's not surprising that he was attracted to the RM - but why didn't he join the Navy instead?  Perhaps because sailors had a pretty rough life, whereas a marine got a splendid uniform and didn't have to do much in the way of manual labour. Marines were primarily ship based infantry, and seafaring skills were not required.

Two days after signing up and having a medical examination, George was in Exeter, where he was sworn in to the Royal Marine Light Infantry for a period of 12 years.  From there, he was sent to B Company in Walmer (Deal), Kent, for training at the RM Depot there.  The training was mostly land based, using similar weapons and tactics to that of  infantrymen, to prepare the recruits for guard and sentry duties, maintenance of discipline, enforcement of rules aboard ship, and for fighting both aboard ship and ashore.

So at last, I know where George was on census night in 1871. It's no wonder I couldn't find him before - he's listed as George Cockrane, age 28 (he wasn't yet 20), at the South Barracks in Walmer. Despite the discrepancies, I don't doubt that this is him, having seen the evidence that he was sent there just a month before the census was taken. (But I still don't know where his siblings Mary Ann and Alfred were that night....)

George is on line 16 of this 1871 census page, one of hundreds of marine recruits at South Barracks.


South Barracks, Walmer, Kent

In November 1871, Private George Cockram was sent to Plymouth to join the 63rd Company of Royal Marines at Stonehouse Barracks, known as the spiritual home of the RM.  At some point, he was transferred to the 35th Company, and was with them on the 1st of March 1873, when he received a Good Conduct Badge, known as a Mark. (This is indicated in the Register entry above, in pencil under his name: 1 Mark 1 March 1873)  The badge was an inverted chevron worn on the left forearm, and was awarded after the first two years of service with a performance level of at least 'very good'.  Further badges could be earned after another 3 years, then 5 years, and a marine with 3 badges and at least 10 years of service got a Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.  But George didn't stick around for that. 

Royal Marines on the parade ground of Stonehouse Barracks, mid to late 1800s

The Good Conduct Badge brought with it an increase in pay.  As a private, George's pay would have been around 22 pounds a year, and the GCB would have earned him an extra 1 penny a day, or about 1 pound, 6 shillings a year.  Compared to other occupations, even farm labouring, the pay was low - but George didn't have to pay for his food, lodging, clothes, or anything else really, so he could easily have saved most of his income.

So there he was, earning a living, probably spending some time at sea and obviously not getting into trouble - there would be a record of him losing his GCB if that were the case.  So what went wrong?  I can't answer that one either, but I'll speculate about it in my next post, and I'd be pleased to hear your speculations too.

General information about pay and conditions in the Royal Marines comes from 'The Queen's Regulations and the Admiralty Instructions for the Government of Her Majesty's Naval Service, 1862'

Friday, 28 April 2017

George on the Run!

Holy smoke, the mystery of great-granddaddy George's name change and scarpering off to Canada has been solved!  I had pretty much resigned myself to never knowing George's deep dark secret, when suddenly a light shone in the distance...

Way over in Canada, my 2nd cousin Jack noticed a blip on his George radar which hadn't shown up on mine (I'm talking about Ancestry tree hints, if you're confused).  It said that someone named George Cockram had deserted from the Royal Marines in 1875, but there were no details to suggest whether this was 'our' George or someone else.  Jack sent it on to me, wondering whether we should get all excited about it or not.

RM uniform 1874.
But this is NOT how
George was dressed when
he deserted.
There had been hints in the family before about George being a Royal Marine, and I speculated earlier in this blog that he might have been a deserter, but I could never find any evidence of anything, such as his attestation papers or his service record.  These records are online at the British National Archives, but there's nothing there about George.  But that doesn't mean he WASN'T in the Marines, it only means I couldn't prove he WAS.

So I thought this new lead was too good not to follow up, even though it meant spending money to join Fold3, a site that holds historical military records, mainly about Americans, which is why I had never thought they'd have anything on George.  So I paid up, and found the record.

It's a page from the  Police Gazette of June 1875.  It lists a whole lot of people who were dishonourably discharged or deserted from all branches of the military, and in the Royal Marines section - there's our George!

from UK Police Gazette, 21 June 1875, page 5. You'll be able to read this when you click on it. 










I'm as good as 100% sure this is our George, for the following reasons:

  • His name - I've searched for any other George Cockrams (or Cochranes, Cockrems, Cockerhams, Cockerills, Cockatoos etc etc) this could be, and I've found exactly none. According to birth, marriage, death and census records, the only other George Cockram who was born at around the right time and place died in childhood.  And the only other one who shows up in the Marines in the second half of the 19th century didn't join until 1881.  
  • The place - Plymouth.  I know he was in Plymouth two months earlier, getting married, and listed an address there on his marriage record.  So it makes sense that he was serving at the Plymouth naval base, as opposed to any of the other ones.
  • His birthplace - Fremington - no doubts at all about that.
  • His age - this is stated as 23, but in fact, he would have turned 24 just a week before.  So that would be an easy mistake to make.
  • His occupation - labourer, which is what he said he was on his marriage record.
  • His description - I know from other evidence that his height was somewhere around 5'6" and his eyes were blue.  I'm not so certain about the 'sandy' hair.  It's grey in almost every photo I have of him, which of course are all in black and white.  In the only one where it isn't grey, when he was in his 40s, it looks darker than 'sandy', but I don't care - 'sandy' is too subjective anyway.  Let's just say it was brown.
  • The date - I love this - he deserted on the 8th of June, and only TWO DAYS later he was getting on a ship in Liverpool using the name Thomas Smith.  He absconded from the Marines wearing undress uniform (white or blue trousers, short white jacket, cloth cap), so he must have gone home and changed into civvies, grabbed a suitcase and got on a train to Liverpool.  The timing strongly suggests that this was not a spur of the moment decision; he must have been planning it for some time.

So, what are the chances that this is NOT our George?  Pretty slim, I think.  Jack and I, and others in the family, are very excited about unlocking this mystery, and I'm never going to let Jack forget that he was the person who found the key.  And none of us blames George for deserting.  We would too.

But of course, I'm never wholly satisfied until I've turned over every damned rock. And because I can't find George's military records under any online rocks, I've asked a military history researcher in the UK to look for some paper records for me, and he's now on the case.

I'm also looking for information about what train or trains George would have taken - did he have to go via London and change trains to Liverpool? How often did the trains run? How long would the journey have taken?  And so on.

So this story isn't finished.  I'll come back and fill in whatever details arise.  I only hope I don't find anything that says it couldn't possibly have been him!  I really don't want this bubble to burst.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

George Won't Leave Me Alone....

I have to report that I'm not making much progress toward my aim of writing about my Wanamaker ancestors.  Too much of my time has been taken up with totally unrelated stuff recently, and when I got back into genealogy mode a few days ago, I got sidetracked right away, by good old George Cockram.


The trouble is, we watched the movie 'Titanic' on TV, in which our hero Jack Dawson (played by Lenny Cappuccino, as we like to call him) acquired his ticket for the doomed journey by winning it in a poker game, so of course it had someone else's name on it.  Aha!  Could that be how George became Thomas Smith, I wondered?  Was he a gambler, intently poker-faced in a dark smoky pub in Plymouth or Liverpool, staking everything on one last hand, and winning Thomas Smith's ticket to Canada on the Dominion?  Well, it's a thought, but all of my instincts tell me it didn't happen that way.  Surely George wasn't a gambler ... or was he?

And then there's the question of where George, Louisa and their daughter Audrey were when the 1921 Canada census was taken.  I read an article with several reasons why people don't appear on censuses, and the one that grabbed my attention was this:  Census data wasn't all collected on one day, and if a family was moving to a different house during the period when the census was being taken, they could have missed the enumerator's knock on the door in both locations.  George et al did move at around that time - I don't know exactly when, but their absence from the census could be the clue that answers that question.  If their new address was enumerated shortly before they moved in, and their old address shortly after they left, that would certainly explain why there are two other families at those addresses on the census, and why George, Louisa and Audrey can't be found.

I did get around to looking at some Wanamakers and McConnells, and was soon embroiled in a huge tangle of these two massive families.  Did I mention earlier that both of these families kept using the same first names over and over and over again, deliberately making things very difficult for me?  How many Harmanus Wanamakers and Thomas McConnells can there possibly be?  Too many, that's all I know.

But leaving that problem aside, I need to find a focus for these two families.  They both go back a long way, and their early history in America interests me, but I know that it might not interest you - you want to hear about more recent people, right?  Well, I'll get to them, but I think I won't be able to resist banging on about some ancestors from the 17th and 18th centuries first - if I ever get them untangled.

For now, I'll just remind you how I'm related to these families - my great-grandfather William Wanamaker married Alma McConnell in Ontario in 1888.  But long before that, their ancestors migrated to America - the Wanamakers from Germany, and the McConnells from Scotland via Ireland.  I don't know when or how these two families first met each other, but in my mind, they come together in the 1770s, the time of the Revolutionary War in America - and that might be my starting point when I finally get ready to write about them.

Monday, 23 January 2017

I AM a Wanamaker!

Well, it looks like I won't have to redo several big branches of my family tree after all. I've found four people with whom I share some DNA and some Wanamakers. Two of them are a bit iffy, tree-wise, and we only share a tiny bit of DNA, but the other two are quite convincing, especially Vicki F, who is probably my 5th cousin once removed. We're both descended from Hermanus Wannamacher and Susannah Pulisfelt, my 5th great-grandparents from Germany via New Jersey. Here's the 'proof' that we're related, a nice big yellow and blue block on good old chromosome number 8:







Yes, I know our chromosomes aren't labelled with the names of our ancestors (would that they were!) but I couldn't resist. 

I've also found some DNA matches with people from some of the other families that join up with the Wanamakers.  These families include some of my favourite ancestors - the Bates, Towers, Lincolns and Lathrops.

So now I can confidently write about the Wanamakers and the other family lines that join up with them, all of which amounts to several hundred people - those are just the ones I know about, of course,  Don't worry, I won't be writing about all of them.

For now, I'm doing some more research, and probably won't be writing much for awhile - unless I find a juicy scandal, of course, or god forbid, somebody who changed their name for a mysterious reason.  And I'm still looking for more DNA matches, just to settle the Wanamaker question once and for all.





Monday, 16 January 2017

I Thought I was a Wanamaker

First I thought I was Irish, but when I researched my father's 'Irish' ancestors, I found that they were mostly German and English.  Then I thought I was a Smith, but if you've been reading this blog, you'll know what happened there.  Then I thought I was a Wanamaker.....

After a bit of a break from dead ancestors, I'm climbing around in the Wanamaker branch of my family tree.  Late last year I did an autosomal DNA test in hopes that I might make some Wanamaker connections that lead back to the Mayflower.  Why?  I wrote about this puzzle in an earlier post, here.

So when my DNA matches became available, I eagerly typed 'Wanamaker' into the search box.  Guess how many matches popped up?  ZERO! I tried every spelling variation I could think of, and still got ZERO.  Yes, the search box works - I had no trouble finding multiple matches for several other surnames in my tree, but not a single Wanamaker.  What does this mean?

Well, one possibility is that even though there are a great many Wanamaker descendants who have trees on Ancestry.com, I'm the only one who has had a DNA test.  I find that hard to believe.

Another possibility is that someone in the Wanamaker line was adopted.  I find that hard to believe too, but not quite as hard.  I have birth records for some of them, but certainly not all.

Alma McConnell Wanamaker -
does she look the type?
And is that a black eye?
The possibility that's easier to believe is that one of the Mrs Wanamakers along the line 'played away' on at least one occasion.  If so, how will I ever find out who it was?  Was it my great-grandmother Alma McConnell?  She married William Henry Wanamaker, and everybody knows that William was a difficult man with a fiery temper.  Did Alma seek comfort somewhere else?  Or maybe it was William's mother, Catherine Bates, wife of Jacob Wanamaker, or Jacob's mother Elizabeth Tice, or... who knows?

I'm currently exploring ways of finding out if there's any Wanamaker DNA out there somewhere that I can connect with, and I'm keeping all extremities crossed.  If I'm not a Wanamaker, a great big branch of my tree is wrong, and I don't even want to think about that.

Oh well, I do like puzzles...