Making Plans & Finding Clues

On Sunday evening, my mom called to share some interesting news.

During a phone conversation with my uncle from Florida, he suggested that someone should organize a birthday party for my great-aunt Milda, who turns 100 next year.

Of course, knowing my uncle, so it’s a not just a “suggestion”. He’s already brought it up with my uncle Egton in Jamaica, is willing to put a little money towards the shindig, and thinks Mrs. Shearer (one of my distant cousins) should help organize it.

This last point has me arching an eyebrow.

From what I’ve heard, my great-aunt was something of a — shall we say — strong personality in her younger days. So a number of family members who really know her, aren’t exactly Team Milda – Mrs. Shearer included.

But, my mom said, my uncle explained that Mrs. Shearer organized the last family reunion roughly 15 years ago (I didn’t go at the time), so she could make things happen. Plus, he added, no matter how anyone felt about Milda, she was the matriarch, the only one left from that branch of the family, and since she was reaching such a huge milestone, the least we could do for her was to celebrate the occasion.

From what I understand, one of Milda’s daughters goes down to Jamaica occasionally (either once a year, or once in a while, I don’t remember), and so Egton will have to broach the subject with her, to see what she thinks. We’ll see.

After the call with my mom, I went online to see if I could find anything new on any of my ancestors.

Given my recent windfall of records for Collin and Clemise, I didn’t expect to find anything.

I started out searching for documents linked to my aunt Milda’s spouse. But at some point, I typed in “Helen” – just for laughs – and in a matter of moments, I was staring in mild bemusement at three indexed border crossing records for my great-aunt, from the mid-1930s.

The timing was … odd. (Maybe this was Ellen’s way of approving of the idea of a party for her baby sister.)

Based on the information listed on each of the cards, here’s what I think I know.

First, it’s definitely her – the bottom of the cards list her original date of arrival in Montreal. Plus, it lists “Hanover, Jamaica” as her place of birth.

Other details:

Ellen’s “home” address was one I hadn’t seen before. I cross-referenced it with a Montreal city directory from that time, and based on what I found, I can only assume she was renting a room from the person listed at that address.

She had a friend in New York. The cards all state that she visited a fellow domestic named Sylvia Hill – in Corona, (which I think is now Queens) New York, in August, 1934. On the third card (from 1936), it listed a Mrs. Lillian Robinson, with an address in Harlem, but no additional information explaining who she was.

One of these things is not like the others … Two of the cards listed a Mrs. John Gilpin, with an address that differed from Ellen’s home address. There was a word preceding Mrs. Gilpin’s name … it looked like “Guardian”, but I wasn’t entirely sure, because the scanned image’s resolution was blurry, and the word had been typed over. The third card listed a Mrs. Ingham, whose residential address matched Ellen’s.

SO, I thought. Ellen DID have other employers. Interesting.

What was even more interesting was that the top of two of the cards were stamped with the words “DEBARRED” and “REOPENED AND ADMITTED”. I didn’t really pay attention to the stamps at first, but they would be explained to me later.

Tuesday afternoon, to be exact.

I’d been studying those cards for two days, when it suddenly occurred to me to check the scanned images to see if the cards were only one-sided.

Nope.

Typed on the back of two of the cards was the following:

Mrs. Gilpin, former guardian, and applicant “had fuss”; no other friends or relatives in Montreal. Employed by Mrs. H. J. Ingham.

The back of the card was time-stamped December 20, 1935 and December 23, 1935 (twice).

So Mrs. Gilpin was Ellen’s guardian in Canada. But why did a 26-year-old woman need a “guardian”? (I suspect I’d understand why, but there’s nothing to back it up — yet.)

The note confirmed that Ellen had no relatives here in Canada. I was, however, puzzled by the notion Ellen didn’t have any friends here — that she was completely alone.

I shared my newest findings with the administrator from one of the Facebook genealogy groups. She had looked at the cards, and pointed out that Ellen was refused entry back into Canada.

Of course, this only sparked more questions:

Why was Ellen refused entry back into Canada? What sparked the “fuss” between Ellen and her guardian, Mrs. Gilpin? Did that cause problems for Ellen at the border? Was Mrs. Gilpin solely Ellen’s guardian, or was she also her employer?

And what about Sylvia? If Ellen had no friends in Canada, then how’d they meet? Was Sylvia a friend from back home? Or did they befriend each other in Montreal, only for Sylvia to move to New York (for whatever reason)?

Beyond these questions, this search reminded me of a valuable lesson:

When finding an ancestor’s records online, ALWAYS check to see if there is a second page. Because you never know what you might find.

“Meeting” Clemice

As I mentioned in my last post, a while back I’d come across an index of marriage registrations in Wolverhampton, England, which had a listing for my great-uncle Collin and his wife — a woman named Clemise Wilson.

Before my recent discovery, when I’d been searching for documents for Collin, I tried looking for documents for Clemise as well – a birth or death certificate, anything. But I hadn’t had any luck.

One evening last week, while sprawled out on my couch and checking social media, I came across a tweet which had a link to a post giving tips on what it claimed was an effective approach to finding relatives through searches on the genealogy site I frequent. It’s called the “wildcard”.

The article explained that it wasn’t unusual for people who indexed records for previously deceased ancestors to either input names incorrectly, or for officials who filled out the original records to be inconsistent with spelling names. Either they wrote the names the way they heard them, or were simply poor spellers.

The “wildcard” search involved using asterisks or question marks in place of letters, in order to trigger different results.

So, on a whim, I decided to test out the method. I typed in part of Clemise’s name, using an asterisk.

BINGO.

In a matter of seconds, I was looking at her birth certificate.

And her name wasn’t Clemise. It was Clemice. No wonder I couldn’t find her before.

Armed with brand-new information, I went to the family tree I’d constructed on Ancestry and plugged in her birth date.

Almost immediately after saving her profile, three hints materialized.

In a matter of moments, I learned when she arrived in England …

And when she died.

Considering the weeks –  even months – when countless searches turned up nothing, when inquiries on different forums didn’t yield a single answer, and the frustration and impatience I’ve often felt with (what seemed to be) the lack of progress, finding so much information in such a short amount of time has been remarkable.

I realize this lucky streak has come to an end.

But I really don’t want it to.

On a Roll (of Records)

In late August, one of the Facebook genealogy groups I’m a part of posted a notice to let members know that the genealogy Web site Ancestry was allowing access to its UK records for a few days.

This piqued my interest, because I knew my grandfather and one of his brothers (one of my great-uncles on the Campbell side) had gone to England in the 1950s. My grandfather eventually returned to Jamaica, but my great-uncle Collin stayed and lived there for about 30 years (he died in Wolverhampton in 1985).

Up to this point, I had some previous luck in finding an index for marriage registrations in Wolverhampton. It didn’t have an image of the actual index itself, but there was a listing for Collin and his wife (who I’ll discuss in the next post). I also located a very minimal listing for his death 30 years ago.

One evening when I had some time on my hands, I clicked on the link and signed into Ancestry.

For starters, I returned to the link for the marriage registration listing that I knew about. And this time, while there was no image for the actual marriage certificate, I could see two scanned images of the marriage registration index – one listing my great-uncle Collin’s name, one listing his wife’s – so I made copies for my records.

Then, I decided to do a cold search for Collin’s name, keeping in mind that I’d also have to use a variation of his name in case using the proper spelling didn’t work.

Well, well.

I found a couple of records of Collin’s arrival to the United States – one in 1944, and one in 1945. Both of them terminated in the US. But they were still interesting nonetheless.

The record from 1944 showed Collin arriving in New York in early June – which happened to be a couple of weeks or so after my great-great-uncle (Jonathan), who lived in New York, had died. Which I why I assumed he went to New York at that time.

Or, did he?

The 1945 record shows him arriving in Port Everglades, Florida. And in one of the columns, it says that the year before, he’d been in the state of Virginia — for six months.

This was surprising, but not a complete surprise. You see, my mom told me that when she was younger, my grandfather used to go to Florida to work as a migrant worker, picking citrus fruit. He’d work for a period of time, and when he got tired of it, he’d tell the employer he was sick, and then go home …

But not before taking his earnings and spending it on stylish new suits. He never sent any money for my grandmother, mom and aunt.

So when I saw the second record, I thought for a second, and considered the possibility that perhaps both my grandfather and great-uncle went up to the States to do migrant farm work. In fact, when I looked at the page with my particulars about my great-uncle, most of the people on that list were from Hanover parish.

But that still didn’t explain the information about Virginia … or the record from 1944.

Did Collin go to New York, and on his way back decide to stop in Virginia for six months? Or did he even make it up to New York?

I tried looking for a similar record for my grandfather, but couldn’t find anything that I could link to him with any certainty.

After more searching, I found not only a record for a flight from Kingston, Jamaica to New York, in 1954 — the year Collin went to England — I found the passenger record for the ship he took from New York to Southampton, England. Final destination: Wolverhampton.

I’m still a bit astounded I found as much as I did, really.

It’s just weird to know that someone I’ve never met – an uncle that I’ve only heard about in stories – is now the most documented of all my ancestors to date.

Go figure.

Who’s THIS Guy?

Several days before I arrived in Jamaica, my aunt (who’s currently staying with one of my cousins in the US) had her house in Montego Bay broken into.

It’s the first time my aunt’s house was ever broken into, in an area where this type of thing isn’t unusual. But whomever they were (and my aunt claims she knows who did it), they made a point of  leaving their mark.

Like, for example, taking her TV. And her refrigerator.

Earlier in my visit, Kaye and I dropped by the house to see the mess left behind. When we entered the front yard, there was a bottle of cooking oil lying in the grass.

Inside, a dining room chair sat at an awkward angle on the living room sofa — they’d used it to break a few slats of glass in the window looking out onto the verandah.

In her bedroom, drawers were pulled out and emptied. Various articles of clothing, undergarments and papers lay in a pile on the floor.

Fast forward a few days, and we’ve returned (with Uncle Eucline) to the house, because the welder and a couple of tradesmen are coming to (a) fix the bolt on the security gate that had been pried open during the robbery, and (b) fit the window overlooking the verandah with its own set of security bars.

Around the time we’re there, a woman from up the street stops by – her name’s Honey, and she’s a long-time family friend. (Apparently I met her when I was really young.)

As we sit inside the house to keep Kaye company while the tradesmen work, I grow bored and start wandering. I peer inside the kitchen. It’s much smaller than I remember (amazing how one’s memory makes everything bigger), and it’s dark.

2015-07-27 15.44.05I return to the living room, looking at a few photos upended by the break-in.

There’s a photo of my late grandfather as I remember him, sitting in profile on his verandah. There are other photos of my cousins at a much younger age.

I eventually enter my aunt’s bedroom. Other than the mess on the floor, it looks a bit sparse. I peer into her closet – which isn’t wide as it is a bit long – and see all the various objects – sheets, blankets, and I think a hat or two. It smells a bit musty.

I step out, and before I know it, I’m bent over, rummaging through the mess on the ground.

2015-07-27 16.10.58This woman keeps everything, I think to myself. Old immunization records, invoices of different types, and even the odd old photos of my cousins.

I open and close a couple of the empty drawers of my aunt’s dresser … and shoved in the corners of one of them, I come across a couple of dog-eared photos.

One of them was a photo of me at three and a half months old, apparently “blowing bubbles”, according to the description in my mom’s handwriting.

And then, there’s THIS one.

2015-07-27 16.10.28-2You have to understand, my family doesn’t have old black-and-white photos of immediate OR extended family members.

And the oldest photos I’ve ever seen were when I was in Jamaica 22 years ago, at my grandfather’s house. They were colourized portraits from the 1950s — one of him, and one with his wife (who’s also since passed away).

But this. I look into the face of the well-dressed young man in the picture – specifically his lips – and goosebumps go up my arm.

I have a very strong hunch I know exactly who this is, but there’s really only one person who might be able to tell me – and right now she’s in Toronto.

I really, REALLY want to put this photo in my purse. But given what’s been taken from this house already – and knowing how much my aunt like holding onto stuff – I resist the urge, snap an image on my phone and return it to its (undignified) home.

*************************************************************

I return home on July 28th, and visit my mother a few days later.

We’re in her living room chatting away, when I bring up finding the two photos … and that’s when I bring them up on my phone and show her.

Upon seeing the second photo, she gives a smile and says, “Yep. That’s my daddy.”

**************************************************************

My trip to Jamaica was a sweltering whirlwind. But I was glad I managed to do it and to see some of my family.

I still have questions. And who knows if I’ll ever get them answered. But it’s a start.

And if I’m lucky to visit Jamaica again, I hope I don’t wait so long next time, and that I get to see even more of my ancestral home and family.

*Photos taken are mine. Please don’t use without my permission. Not for commercial use.

A Couple Hours in Negril

Monday, July 27th.

IMAG0399“D, get up.”

It’s 6:34 a.m. Guess we’re leaving fairly early for Negril. Although, it would’ve been nice to have known that the night before.

K kindly fixes me breakfast (scrambled egg, sardines and dumplings), and we’re out the door just before 8 a.m.

We pick up Uncle Eucline on the way at a nearby gas station, and off we go, reaching Negril by about 9:30 a.m.

K and Eucline want to take me to Rick’s Cafe (which I vaguely remember visiting back in 1993), but when we arrive, we discover it’s closed. Turns out they open the bar until 12 p.m. and close at 10 p.m.

That’s unfortunate for us, but good for the dozens and dozens of smaller bars in that area that rely on the visitor and tourist traffic for their business. Oh well. Another time.

Next stop: one of the aforementioned bars, owned by one of K’s friends. We have a bit of trouble finding it – it’s so small, it’s wedged between another bar (whose exterior sort of resembles a boat), and another building that’s boarded up.

Beer and liquor bottles of all shapes and sizes line the shelf above the bar. Overhead, a TV plays an American daytime talk show.

The open rear door reveals a view of the rocks, and the water just beyond. Walking out to the back, there’s gravel and wooden beams — the bare outline of an addition K’s friend has plans to build.

IMAG0397Looking out across the water, I can see the various bars and other buildings lining the shore. Even over here, the water is relatively clear and a greenish-blue. The sun is beating down on my neck and shoulders, so I head back inside for a bit.

We eventually leave and – on our uncle’s suggestion – try a resort just down the road. When we drive up the driveway and reach the front gate, we’re faced with something we didn’t anticipate: having to pay $15 US apiece to enter resort property, sit on the beach, and for me to go into the water.

The cost of leisure, I suppose.

My uncle – who has worked in the hospitality business – tries to negotiate with the man at the front gate, but the guy holds firm. After some momentary waffling, we decide to pay and go inside. We’ll get a nice view of the beach, have some lunch and leave.

While in the main lobby, K asks me to inquire about a towel. I approach the reception desk and ask.

“You can buy one at the gift shop,” the desk clerk says in a half-sing-song, completely unhelpful, tone of voice, referring to the building just next door.

Good thing I packed my own.

I go to one of the changing rooms and don my swimsuit (to the nearby soundtrack of a woman severely scolding her misbehaving child).

IMAG0416While K and Uncle Eucline recline on chairs under the shade of a small gazebo, I wade into the warm, clear water. The sky’s an impossible shade of blue.

About 10 minutes in, I spot a dark object gliding through the water. A sting-ray. I stand upright, watching it pass by.

We have a delicious beach-side lunch of jerk chicken, rice and peas and salad.

Then, it’s out of my swimsuit, and back on the road to Montego Bay — K has to go to her mother (my aunt)’s house so she can let in a local welder to repair the security gate pried open by thieves almost a week and a half before …

But not before we make a couple of stops along the way. First, a local school in Sandy Bay, where I believe K taught at some point. Then, we stop in to see one of Uncle Eucline’s younger brothers.

Over glasses of lemonade, we learn his brother (whose name I never learn) is recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumour. Looking at him now, seemingly robust and in great spirits, you wouldn’t have known it. And —  understandably — he gives Eucline a lecture about giving up drinking and smoking. I know he’s doing it out of love, but I’m not sure Eucline’s having much of it.

Before we know it, we’re at my aunt’s house, picking mangoes and waiting for the welder to arrive. But it won’t be a completely tedious visit.

(Photos taken are mine. Please do not use without permission.)

A Lot of Church

Sunday, July 26th.

Full disclosure: I’m not a church-goer.

Do I believe in a higher power? Yes. But that’s my personal belief. And I have a very … ambivalent relationship with organized religion.

However, because of my experiences in attending two different church sects in my youth, I try to be understanding and respectful when it comes to people’s religious beliefs, and their right to worship.

So when I was hastily planning my trip, I knew, in the back of my mind, that a trip to church with my cousin would likely happen. As I panicked over what to pack, and voiced my concerns to my mom, she said to me, “I’m sure you won’t have to go to church, if you don’t want to.”

Wrong. So. Wrong.

For folks who are of West Indian (or even African-American) descent, you’ll understand what I’m about to say. But to anyone else: in the Caribbean (and in this case, Jamaica) church is a serious business. And they can be equally as serious about their church attire.

It’s not just about putting on a dress, versus pants. It’s wearing stuff that other people might reserve for a special occasion, like a wedding.

Sometimes, there are hats involved. Not fascinators. HATS.

If there is such a thing as “church hat swagger”, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Of course, I listened to my mom, and only packed a sundress.

The subject of a church outfit briefly came up early in the trip, but didn’t go very far. But when it finally reared its ugly head on Saturday, K had to lend me an outfit.

Although she didn’t say anything, I don’t think she wasn’t terribly impressed – she told me, “You must always carry something casual as well as formal.”  (I also overheard her talking to her friend and mentioning how I didn’t bring any church outfits. Lesson noted and learned.)

In the end, she lent me a tight, black, knit dress, a pair of pointy-toed shoes and some jewellery to match. This was going to be an interesting ensemble to wear in the heat.

**********************************************************************

One of K’s friends picks us up and drives us over to the Moravian church around the corner from my (absent) aunt’s house.

Unlike church services in my youth — and despite the oppressive heat — this one keeps my attention, and keeps me awake. It’s a nice service, and the small congregation seems lovely. It’s also fairly brief at, 90 minutes in length.

Minutes after the service ends, there’s no dallying — there’s another church-related event happening in St. Elizabeth parish. One of the former pastors of K’s church is being ordained as a bishop in a special event/service. And we’re going.

I will tell you one thing about the drive down: it’s probably the coolest I’ve been, for the longest period of time, during this entire trip. It’s downright heavenly. I gaze at the scenery as we pass through town after town. I close my eyes …

And when I open them, we’re driving under a shady tunnel of trees, with fields beyond them. Turns out, we’re passing through Holland Bamboo.

A little while later, we arrive at the church, in the town of Santa Cruz.

It’s two levels, with a sizeable upper level for those members of the congregation who can’t get a seat in one of the pews on the main level. Inside, the overhead fans – all 10 of them – are whirring away. The only thing it shares with the one back in Montego Bay are those hard, unforgiving wooden pews.

And people are dressed to the hilt. Dress of all styles and colours. Heels of all heights. Hats of all sizes.

There isn’t a free seat anywhere. K and I are crammed into a pew like sardines; the black knit dress clings to me like a small child.

Forty-five minutes after we arrive, the service begins. There are two choirs on this occasion – a senior choir that sings the hymns for most of the church program, and a youth choir.

The presiding bishop speaks for a good 45 minutes before the man of the hour is officially ordained. All in, the ceremony lasts about two and a half hours.

After a restroom break and some refreshments, we eventually leave for home.

The trip back seems to take longer than the one to St. Elizabeth. There’s a brief roadside stop so one of the passengers can buy some fried shrimp. And it’s gotten dark.

As we approach the city limits, K asks for us to be dropped off in town so we can catch a taxi home.

We have plans to go to Negril tomorrow morning, but K and I haven’t really talked about what time we’re leaving. When we finally reach home, she’s so exhausted, she makes a cup of tea and goes straight to bed.

I guess we’ll figure it out when we get up tomorrow.

A Little Fish, A Little Beach

Saturday, July 25th.

The last several days have been comparatively quiet – and hotter than I can ever remember.

On Thursday, I accompanied K on an assignment outside of town. She’s a teacher who’s well-known for her literacy training, and she was asked to give a special presentation to a group of local children and their parents. It was cool seeing her in her element, trying to engage the kids and parents and interacting with them. I could see why a lot of kids might want her as their teacher!

After, there were some games for the kids and parents, followed by refreshments. Unfortunately, the sinus problems that had been plaguing K the last couple of days (probably due to the heat) started taking their toll. When we eventually returned home, and she headed straight to bed.

Friday was a late start, but we braved the heat once again as my cousin ran more errands. Later in the day, we dropped by Uncle Eucline’s house again to visit for a bit, then headed up to Uncle Egton’s place for a second visit.

2015-07-24 18.19.29This time around, we actually spend enough time that I can snap some photos around his lovely property — and get eaten alive by mosquitoes in the process. (The one part of visiting Jamaica I always dread.)

We returned Uncle Eucline to his home, then drove to a seafood place for some fish.

2015-07-24 19.48.13When it came time to order, I asked for some escovitch – fried, well-seasoned, and spicy fish – with vegetables, breaded, fried bammy and rice.

K said that steamed fish would have been much better. And at first, I thought it was because she preferred healthy meals. But I understood better when I tried to separate the meat from the bones — it became a part-time job!

We order a second fish, but after eating the previous one, I barely made a dent. Full of food, we pack it up and leave.

*******************************************************

“K, it’s ten minutes to six.”

My cousin rolls over, and softly laughing. I think she wanted to sleep in, and was hoping that I’d want to do the same.

Nope.

I’ve been looking forward to this ever since she mentioned earlier in the week. Plus, K said she liked to go to the beach to swim early on Saturday mornings, before it got too hot.

2015-07-25 07.07.27By the time we get our act together and get down to the small local beach — near Montego Bay’s “Hip Strip” — it’s close to 7:30. A bunch of people had the same idea — they’re already in the water.

We bathe, K runs into a couple of people she knows (fellow educators, I think), and she collects rocks for her garden, while tiny fish whiz past our ankles. After an hour, we’re back in K’s car, heading home.

Today, we had hoped to go to Negril, but things don’t work out. So as soon as we get home, K goes back to sleep, leaving me hang out around the house.

In addition to the mosquito bites starting to itch like crazy, I notice this crazy rash running down the right side of my neck to my right clavicle. I briefly panic, because I know that chikagunya is an issue down here. The last thing I need — on top of sweating non-stop — is to come down with a mosquito-borne illness. I’m hoping that it’s just a heat rash.

When K gets up, we head out for more errands. On our way down, we stop by this man’s house – he’s got a stand for selling jelly coconuts. Standing under the shade of one of the trees in his front yard, we pass a coconut back and forth to drink the water, then the coconut is chopped in half and the man hack makeshift “spoons” out of the outer shell so we can eat the jelly.

As we stand there, we find out the coconut jelly man actually lives in Canada part of the year – Montreal, to be exact. He’s been living there for 45 years! Go figure.

Later in the evening, I tag along with K to an evening meeting at her church.

The overhead fans aren’t working, and despite all the open doors, the air inside the sanctuary is hot and stuffy. The small choir pews we’re sitting in are so hard — there’s no cushioning whatsoever. If the intended effect is to make one sit at attention, it’s not working.

As the small group makes its way through its agenda, I’m fighting to stay awake (due to the heat) and K – still having sinus troubles – has quietly nodded off.  There were refreshments after, which perked me up, but I’m sure unsettled K a bit.

With that meeting done, it’s back home and just about time to sleep.

Sunday’s going to be a long day.