Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Visiting England: Plymouth

When the Mayflower departed Plymouth harbour for the New World in September of 1620, a baker's dozen of my ancestors were on board, bound for religious freedom and the promise of a new life in America. Having visited their destinations in Plymouth Colony of what is now Massachusetts, I had always hoped to visit their port of embarkation. This summer we had an opportunity to do just that.

Plymouth, England

I had no great expectations of finding any trace of my ancestors ever having been here. Nearly 400 years had passed! Nevertheless, the harbour itself would be largely unchanged and very evocative of their last view of their homeland.

We were surprised, however, to discover a surprising number of references to the Mayflower such as this plaque listing the passengers, including my Mayflower ancestors.

A conspicuous tourist area supposedly marks the steps that the Pilgrims would have descended to get aboard the Mayflower, but it is highly unlikely that these steps were actually used by any of my ancestors to get aboard. It is thought that the actual boarding area was a few blocks away.

There is also a Mayflower Museum associated with the Visitors'  Centre, but we were short of time and had been advised by the locals that it wasn't a particularly good museum for documenting actual Mayflower history. We chose instead to spend our time taking in the other things that Plymouth had to offer. While enjoying a delicious dinner at The Barbican Kitchen, we discovered that it was situated in the Plymouth Gin distillery.

We also learned that this building is thought to have been where the Pilgrim fathers spent their last night in England. They would have been sheltered under this very ceiling. (No, it was not a gin distillery lounge at that time!)

Over the centuries, many other historic events occurred in Plymouth. Commemorative stones are scattered throughout the walls and sidewalks of the Royal Citadel and the Barbican areas.

This is a charming town with many quaint cobbled streets that have probably been here for hundreds of years. I kept asking myself: Did my ancestors walk here?

The Hoe is a flat area of grassland and commemorative monuments situated just above the harbour. There are stunning panoramic views across Plymouth Sound. Smeaton's Tower lighthouse is a distinct landmark.

Another genealogical bonus was awaiting us. While on The Hoe, we were reminded that Plymouth was the home town of Sir Francis Drake and that he supposedly played bowls here before sailing off to defeat the Spanish Armada. Aha! We had an ancestor, John Marchant,  who sailed with Sir Francis. My imagination took flight with images of men like Captain John and Sir Francis strutting around the streets of Plymouth prior to setting off in their grand sailing vessels from this very harbour.

Armada Memorial, Plymouth

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Samuel Lester Hoover (1855-1912)

My great grand-uncle Samuel Lester Hoover was the elusive half-brother to my mother's maternal grandfather Charles F. Edwards. Charles had been somewhat creative in the narrative of his origins, but he had correctly identified his half-brother Sam born from his mother's first marriage to a Hoover cousin.

Samuel Lester Hoover

Tragedy stalked Sam throughout his relatively short 56 year life. He was highly regarded by a nephew who knew him as someone who maintained good ties with the family, but it is generally felt that Sam was short-changed by life.

Samuel Lester Hoover was born in Leon, Decatur, Iowa on the 30th of December in 1855, just over 9 months after the marriage of his parents Barbara Hoover and William Hoover. (Barbara was the daughter of Christian Hoover and Mary Green while William may have been the son of Christian's brother Philip and his wife Hannah; if so, they would have been first cousins.) When Samuel was only two years old, his father William died.

Samuel's mother Barbara Hoover

Samuel's mother remarried in 1861 to a man named Louis Edwards. The Civil War broke out shortly after their marriage and Louis signed up with Company C of the 112th Illinois Infantry. Within 6 months, Lewis succumbed to illness. He spent the rest of the war in hospital, eventually dying of consumption in February of 1866. Barbara gave birth to twin daughters Mary (Minnie) and Martha (Grace) Edwards in November of either 1865 or 1866. (With no official birth records available at that time, proof of age was given by entries in the family Bible which appear to have been altered from one year to the other possibly in an attempt to ensure that the girls were seen as legitimate offspring of Lewis Edwards for Civil War minors' pensions.) Having never really known his birth father, 10 year-old Samuel had now lost a relatively unknown step-father as well.

A couple of years later, Barbara gave birth to a half-brother to Sam, my great grandfather Charles F. Edwards. She was widowed at the time and having four young children in this situation could not have made for an easy life for any of them.

At the time that the 1870 census was conducted in Keokuk, Iowa, widowed Barbara and her children, including 14 year-old Samuel, were living with her parents Chris and Mary Hoover. Ten years later, Sam and his cousin George Leffler were both living with these same grandparents in Osage Co., Kansas.  Samuel L. Hoover is listed as a grandson, age 24, coal miner. (By then, his mother Barbara had married for a third time and was living in Elk County, Kansas with husband George Payton and his family, including her own youngest three children.)

Osage County, Kansas
Google Earth Image

Osage County, Kansas, was a booming coal mining area. At the time, coal was the major source of energy, having taken over from wood  when the supply of timber dwindled. Mining was notoriously dirty and dangerous. One suspects that Sam would quite soon have been looking for a different form of employment.

On 12 December 1892, Samuel married Hannah Wilcox of a devout Mormon family in Salt Lake City, Utah. Tragedy would strike this couple again and again and again and again - and yet again. They had five children born between 1891 and 1905, all dying within months of birth. (One wonders whether Samuel's parents having been first cousins might have had anything to do with this consistent failure of his children to survive.)

On a brighter note, Samuel had found employment away from the coal mines. During his marriage to Hannah, he was working for the railroad as a switchman. (As the name suggests, a switchman is responsible for operating the switches to shuttle trains onto the correct tracks.) He was the Master of the Grand Lodge of the Switchmen's Mutual Aid Association when he signed his own Delegate's Credential as a representative of Salt Lake City Lodge No. 71 at the Convention to be held in Dallas, Texas on 19 September 1892, just a couple of months prior to his marriage. This was a union that had been organized in 1870 to obtain better working conditions and pay for its members; at the time, a switchman (one of the higher paid railway employees) earned $50 per week for working 12 hour days 7 days a week. Many strikes occurred during the 1880's and 90's and no doubt Samuel would have been involved in meetings to discuss ways to improve their lot.

According to his death certificate, it would have been in about 1893 that the family moved to Salt Lake City. However, a certificate of the Union Pacific Railroad Co. dated 18 December 1898 certified that he had been employed as a switchman in the Denver yard from 5 November 1895 until his resignation three years later. Work and conduct were stated as satisfactory. In any event, notwithstanding these three years in Denver, Salt Lake City did seem to be his primary home.

The 1900 Utah census for Salt Lake City lists Samuel Hoover (age 45)  and wife Hannah (age 29) as having been married for 12 years (which would make their wedding 1888 rather than 1892); no children are listed. His occupation is given as brakeman.

One might speculate whether it was the tragic deaths of all their children that caused the marriage to fall apart. In any event, the couple had divorced prior to Hannah's remarriage on 8 June 1909.

In the meantime, Sam continued his career with the railroad. His Certificate of Examination from the Oregon Short Line Railroad Company Southern Pacific Company - Lines East of Sparks dated 17 September 1910 certified his qualifications as a "Herder". (This position seems to be a variation on a switchman.) Perhaps because of his work with the railroad, he seemed to move around freely. It isn't clear whether he was actually living in Oregon at the time, but his sister Grace and her husband did live in Portland for awhile. Maybe he went there to recover from the dissolution of his marriage.

If so, he had recovered and moved on by 1910. Samuel was in his 50's when he developed a relationship with a much younger divorcee named Lillie Shagogue Chipps who was barely 20.

Lillie had already established quite a "history" for herself. She had married Joseph Chipps on 24 January 1908 at about 17 years of age but, according to newspaper reports when she sought a divorce from him, he deserted her on 8 February of that same year, ostensibly to look for work elsewhere. He had written to her from Montana and was reportedly seen in Cardston, Alberta. But he never reappeared and her divorce was granted. Lillie gave birth to daughter Violet on 8 June 1908. One might wonder whether the real reason for Joseph's disappearance might have been his discovery of Lillie's pregnancy, perhaps with personal knowledge that the child could not be his. Violet's birth certificate names her father as Sidney Devine. No record of a marriage between Lillie and Sidney has been located, but several other marriages are attributed to her: Frank Proudfoot on 16 May 1910, William Scheffler on 24 February 1912, Thomas O'Connor 15 March 1913,  John Morris 16 March 1914 and a common law relationship with James Morris in 1914 (or are these Morris's the same man?). Although there is no record of a husband named Swift, she was using the name "Mrs. Swift" by the time she was 25. Perhaps it was during a short lull in 1910 between the Proudfoot and Scheffler husbands that she took up with Samuel; a stillborn daughter was born to them on 25 February, 1911.

We are so fortunate that one rather rare record has survived from a month after the death of this daughter. (As with the two images of Sam that appear here, it was provided by Richard Lemon, a descendant of one of Sam's twin sisters.) It contains a wealth of information about his physical appearance and also gives us at least a glimpse of some much-needed relaxation and pleasure in Samuel's life. Utah fishing licence No. 3101 for S.L. Hoover of Salt Lake dated 24 March 1911 gives his height as 5 ft. 7 1/2 inches tall, weight of 155 pounds, fair complexion, light brown hair and blue eyes.

According to his death certificate, he died 28 June 1912 of apoplexy (a stroke).  It indicated that he was divorced, had been a switchman and was 56 at the time of his death.  The informant was his sister Grace (Mrs H.M. Bradshaw) who lived at 509 West 2 South, Salt Lake City.  Samuel had been living nearby at 569 West 1st North, Salt Lake City and had been in the state of Utah for 19 years.

The Salt Lake Tribune of 30 June 1912 (My Heritage, Chronicling America Historic American Newspapers): "All Knights of Pythias are urged to attend the funeral of Samuel L Hoover at O'Donnell's Chapel at 2 o'clock this afternoon. N.W. Sonnedecker KR&S"

His membership in this organization no doubt explains the uniform in the photograph below.

Samuel Lester Hoover

After a difficult life full of so much loss, Samuel was laid to rest at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Utah.

As for Lillie Shagogue, further tragedy was awaiting her. Her life ended in suicide from Lysol poisoning at the age of just 25.

Although none of the three small orphans she left behind would seem to belong to Samuel, daughter Violet would have been the oldest at 8 while the youngest was just a year old. One can only hope they were raised by a loving grandmother or other family member and that the trail of tragedies ended here.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Visiting England: The Baxter Family in Kettleburgh, Suffolk

On our recent visit to England, Graham and I found ourselves with a free morning before attending the 50th wedding anniversary party for his sister Stephanie and her husband Roger. The party was to be held at Framlingham College in Framlingham, Suffolk. According to my genealogy place list, Graham had ancestors living within a couple of miles of there back in the 1700's. Kettleburgh, here we come!

With the help of GPS and after only a few wrong turns, we found Kettleburgh, but had a bit more difficulty locating its church. Once off the main road that passes through the small village, we travelled down some lanes and (carefully) through a gaggle of tame geese to find a camping field that we took to be the church parking lot. Our first thought was that the church had been abandoned, but closer examination revealed that it was indeed still in use. (There are probably not a lot of church members as the 2011 census had a total population here of just 231.)

Graham's Read family ancestors who were born, baptised, married and buried in the area were mainly Baxters. Mary Baxter moved to Burg, Suffolk when she married William Ashwell on 3 August 1780. Mary and William's daughter Elizabeth Ashwell grew up to marry Bloomfield Read, Graham's 2X great grandfather.

Mary Baxter had family in Kettleburgh dating back to at least 1700. We can trace her lineage to her grandparents as follows:

  • Mary's Parents (Graham's 4th great grandparents): Joseph Baxter (1727-1803) and Mary Sallows (c. 1720-1783)
  • Mary's Grandparents (Graham's 5th great grandparents): Joseph Baxter (c.1700-1773) and Elizabeth Wright (c.1705-1788)
Searching the gravestones at St. Andrew's Church, Kettleburgh was not an easy task. The ground was quite rough and the vegetation had been winning its battle with the mower. We did not find any of the Baxter family stones, but finding any surviving 18th century stones is difficult in the best of situations. Nevertheless, we know that many of Graham's ancestors and extended family are buried here. Mary's grandfather Joseph Baxter was buried here in March of 1773. This same Joseph and his wife Elizabeth had lost their first-born son Benjamin shortly before his third birthday in 1728; young Benjamin is also buried here.

The church provides a very informative "History and Guide: St. Andrew's Church, Kettleburgh, Suffolk" prepared by Robert Warner in June of 1998. According to Warner, a church has stood here since at least Saxon times. The existing church dates mainly from the 1300's with the 51 foot western tower from the Decorated Period, 1350. The windows on the south side (as can be seen above) are irregular and date from a couple of centuries later.

photo courtesy Graham Barnard

The octagonal baptismal font dates from the early 1400's with a Jacobean oak font cover (painted yellow when described in 1712). The font can be seen in the lower part of the picture below.

This baptismal font (with the cover no doubt still yellow at this time!) would therefor have been used during the baptisms of many members of the Baxter family including:
  • Benjamin Baxter 4 April 1725
  • David Baxter 30 October 1726
  • Elizabeth Baxter 5 July 1730
  • Benjamin Baxter 30 January 1731
  • Jonathan Baxter 19 March 1733
  • Hannah Baxter 19 September 1736
  • Mary Baxter 19 February 1737
  • Sarah Baxter 13 April 1740
The wedding of Joseph Baxter and Elizabeth Wright occurred here on 16 August 1724. All of the children listed above are theirs. (No record has so far been located for a baptism for their son Joseph born in 1727.)

Because Graham's family were no longer in the area by the late 1800's, we can be reasonably certain it was not a relative of his who caused mayhem in the church in about 1879. A man was charged and fined by the Framlingham magistrates for riotous and indecent behaviour at the church during a Sunday afternoon service in September. Warner describes the situation: "He had seated himself in the gallery, with his dog on his lap and all was well until he urged the dog to 'speak to'em lad', whereupon it broke out into a great commotion of barking. Its master had obviously been drinking, and the Verger and his son had a struggle to eject man and beast, the service meanwhile having been abandoned."

Nor is he likely related to Samuel Hart, listed at Kettleburgh in Whites' Directory of Suffolk, 1844 as "herbalist and poet". His advertisement, again as noted by Warner: "Curer of bunions, Scab heads, Rheumatism, Scrofula and various other complaints incidental to the human frame. Poems and Pieces composed and arranged on any occasion!" Several of the gravestones in Kettleburgh are said to contain verses of his creation, but, sadly, we didn't come upon any of them in our search.

photo courtesy Graham Barnard