As I may have previously mentioned, I joined a number of Jamaican genealogy groups on Facebook in hopes it might help me with my family research.
Just over a week ago, the administrator of one of those groups posted an entry inviting members to share their “brick walls” – those ancestors whose research trails seem to have hit a dead end.
I decided to add my brick walls – my paternal grandfather, my maternal great-grandfather, and my “favourite”, great-aunt Ellen – to the list. Couldn’t hurt, I thought to myself.
The next day, the administrator posted my brick walls first and asked me for some information. I gave what I could – making sure to clarify/correct some details in the process.
She started with my paternal grandfather, posting some birth and marriage record information she thought could be leads. She even listed a ship manifest, in which a guy with my grandfather’s name and his wife apparently went to New York.
Considering that I know that my grandfather died in a railway accident in the early 1950s, I’m not sure that what she’s found are records for him. But I’m not sure they’re not, either. In order to try and verify this, I’d have to find a family member who actually had some sort of contact with my grandfather and ask them things I can cross-reference against the administrator’s findings. That could prove quite difficult.
Next, she mentioned that she’d found some possible sources on information for my maternal great-grandfather, but she was still digging for more information. Given what she’d turned up on my grandfather, I suspected she might have found some of the same documents (birth certificates for children) that I’ve stumbled across. I’m cynical, but waiting patiently.
Then, she moved onto my third brick wall — the ever-mysterious Ellen.
The administrator first responded with initial information about Ellen’s employer. I wrote back explained the work I’d already done in this regard. She asked about whether I’d contacted any descendants (I did – one phone call to a great-grandson), whether I contacted any descendants of Ellen’s siblings (it’s complicated), and then suggested possible theories that perhaps Ellen married (unlikely) or went to join other siblings in Canada (nope, she was the only one in Canada).
She found a burial date and a lot number for an Ellen Campbell in Montreal in 1944. I quickly found the woman’s marriage certificate and told the administrator it was the wrong one.
She suggested that since she arrived in Montreal, that she might have been listed in documents as Helen or Hélène. I conceded it might be possible, since for years folks originally thought her name was Helen.
You’re rambling – get to the point, you’re probably saying by now.
Wait for it …
Three days ago, she posts a link to a passenger manifest for a ship travelling from the Panama Canal Zone to New York in June, 1938.
Guess who may have gotten on in Kingston, Jamaica?
At first, I misread it and grumbled. Based on Ellen’s first trip to Montreal in 1929, I had already crafted this narrative in my mind, and I saw this document as an attempt to unstitch what little I knew.
But then I stopped, and read it again.
This time, she was on to something.
The woman was listed as a Helen Campbell (the name we all thought was hers). The age was off by one year, but all the other particulars lined up – a domestic, born in Cascade, whose father was a J. Campbell.
She had paid for her own ticket, and was travelling to Canada, via New York. She carried about $15.00 in cash (which is worth about $243 CAD today).
But a couple of things on the manifest stood out.
First, it listed her last permanent residence as a place called Rollington Pen. As best I can guess – with the assistance of Google – it’s Rollington Town in Kingston, Jamaica.
Secondly – and this is what’s currently burrowed in the folds of my brain – she had previously passed through the U.S. on her way to Canada. In 1937.
When would Ellen have gone back to Jamaica, and why? I’ve been wondering how long Ellen had stayed with her employers in Montreal. But I never truly considered that she could have gone home, whether for a visit, or as a temporary arrangement. The administrator mused aloud about her status. But weren’t Jamaicans (and other West Indians from British colonies) considered British citizens (on paper) before independence? This is something I’d need clarified.
Why was Ellen living in Kingston? Was it a matter of convenience for travel purposes? Was she waiting to be called up to her next job? Did anyone know Ellen was living in Kingston?
Was THIS when the family rift ACTUALLY occurred?
And, of course: Where in Canada was Ellen going? Did she go back to Montreal? Did she end up in Toronto?
SO. MANY. UNANSWERED. QUESTIONS.
My kingdom for a temporary census records leak … Sigh.