“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.

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Island Bound

My vacation starts today!

And on Tuesday morning, I’ll be boarding a plane and flying down to Jamaica for a week.

The last time I set foot in the country, I was 16 and my grandfather was on his deathbed.

Admittedly, I’m a bit anxious. For starters, this will be the first time I’m going to Jamaica without any immediate family members.

As well, things have changed.  A lot of the relatives I knew have grown up, or have left and are in other countries. Not to mention that I’m very self-conscious of the fact of my Canadian-ness — that I carry myself differently, and don’t speak patois — so I feel uneasy about sticking out like a sore thumb.

And then, there’s Aunt Milda.

I’m trying to tell myself to keep my expectations low and to prepare myself for the possibility that she won’t want to tell me anything. But I really, REALLY want to be pleasantly surprised. I want my expectations to be exceeded. I want to come away with some keys that will unlock those doors that have stayed shut for all this time. But I know real life doesn’t necessarily work that way.

On top of everything else, this is my vacation. It won’t be all about family research. I just really want to kick my feet up and take everything in.

But, enough talk! I’ve got a LOT of running around and packing to do. Wish me luck.

Found!

Monday afternoon, as I was getting ready to eat my post-lunch brownie, my phone rang. It was my mom.

She’d just gotten off the phone with my aunt, who’s getting ready to return to the U.S.

She told my mom that she’d called my uncle (who lives just outside Montego Bay), to see if he might know how to find out where my great-aunt Milda might be, since she was moved out of the nursing home in Montego Bay in late April.

Turns out she’s been moved to Mount Salem – it’s basically a suburb/community just outside Montego Bay proper. There are two nursing homes there, and she’s in one of them.

So. Unless one of my relatives lends some assistance, I’ll have to consider taking a short trip down to Jamaica during my summer vacation.

I’ll keep you posted.

PLOT TWIST.

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 HélèneI 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.

A Guide to Understanding Cousins

I’m a member of various novice genealogical groups on Facebook, and recently joined one started specifically to help us beginners with our research by providing various online resources.

The administrator of one of these groups has been fantastic in finding links, including this one about cousins, courtesy of the Rootsweb community on Ancestry.

For the more experienced folks out there, this is probably elementary.

But now I think I FINALLY understand the definition of cousins who are removed.

If you’re ever confused, keep this handy.

The Haystack Gets Bigger

During a phone conversation earlier this week, my mom told me that my cousin had left Montego Bay and returned home to the States.

It’s a good thing I kept my expectations low –  turns out she never visited our great-aunt Milda. Apparently on the day she’d arranged to go see her, there was a torrential downpour and (since the roads aren’t all that great, even in the best weather) she couldn’t go.

The mystery continues.

My mom has since had a conversation with my aunt, who says she’s trying to make plans to go in the near future. A tiny part of me remains hopeful. The rest of me is trying to figure out how I’m going to scrape together enough time off to go to Jamaica in the fall.

IMAG0087 Okay. Fast-forward to Wednesday afternoon. I go to my mom’s house for my weekly visit. She’s shredding some documents in the kitchen — spring cleaning — and, as usual, doesn’t feel as if she’s made a dent.

THEN she says, “I was going through some things and found something you might be interested in.”

She picks up a dog-eared white envelope – perhaps legal-sized – and pulls out two black-and-white prints.

The penny drops.

They’re reproductions of art work by my half-uncle, who’s an artist by education (but hasn’t really done anything since the 1970s) and lives in Florida. He sent them to my mother ages ago. June 1992, to be precise.

IMAG0089(Here’s the backstory: the aforementioned cousin who’s just left Jamaica had, in the early 1990s, tracked down my mom’s half-brother and put the two of them in touch with one another.)

My uncle had written my mom a letter on the back of each of these prints, giving her a summary of what he had been doing for the last 30-or-so years of his life since they had last seen each other in the flesh — school, marriage, moving, kids and divorce, in approximately that order.

I quickly skim the letter … and then I get to the last paragraph.

IMAG0092In case it’s not clear from the photo (and apologies for the shadows I cast taking these images), the paragraph in question reads:

“As for Aunt Helen (sic) – Carol, Milda’s daughter – now living in Florida, does not know much about her, only that she is in Toronto – address unknown – she may be in a nursing home.”

This short passage suggests that Ellen did in fact move from Montreal to Toronto – which backs up what Mom has long since believed. Of course, this is based on word-of mouth, not actual proof.

There are now two complications with this search:

(1) I have no address. If Ellen was in a nursing home in Toronto, she could have been in any number of them. Which leads to the other complication …

(2) I have no idea of how long Ellen lived. Previous to the re-discovery of this letter, I’d been working under the assumption that she may have died in the late 1960s or sometime in the 1970s. But here’s what I didn’t account for: occasionally, some of the people in my mother’s family defy the odds and live for a long time. Great-aunt Milda is a great example (and I really hope she sticks around long enough for me to meet her).

If Ellen was somehow living at the time of this letter – 1992 – I’m now dealing with not only a lack of information, but perhaps privacy laws. But then again, she may not have been living by that point. Who knows? It’s also possible that Milda may not have kept in touch with her, or even know or remember when Ellen died.

So I’m still pretty much in the same place as before.

When I started this personal research project, I was fully aware that trying to find information about Ellen would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. But as time goes on, I’m wondering if this is one needle that really doesn’t want to be found.

A New Branch

Last week, I took another look at my mother’s grandmother’s death certificate.

According to the document, her “sister” had was present at her death and had signed the certificate.

But the thing that threw me off was that her “sister” had the same last name.

Allow me to explain:

My last name’s Campbell (on both sides, and as far as I know, unrelated, as each side of the family are from different parishes in Jamaica – Hanover and Saint James – but that’s for another post).

My mother’s paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Clarke. The last name of the “sister” that signed the death certificate was Campbell. Which, I suppose, if I had the means to research and link everyone together, might be plausible.

But if the sister’s last name was Campbell, she’d have to be a sister-in-law.

So into the records I dove. I needed to find a marriage certificate for my mother’s paternal grandparents. The certificate would have their fathers’ names, and that would be a starting point.

And find one, I most certainly did. It showed me a couple of interesting facts.

One, I learned both the names of their dads – my first set of great-great-grandfathers. One named Campbell, the other named Clarke.

Two, they were married April 1906. Which is pretty uninteresting in itself. Except that their first child was born in August 1906.

Nowadays, that’s not really anything that would raise any eyebrows.

But if the stories I’d heard were true – that my mom’s grandparents were from well-to-do farming families … and this took place in early 20th-century, pre-independence Jamaica … then perhaps this was proof of a shotgun wedding.

Well, then.

**smirks**

An attempt at searching for great-great-granddaddy Campbell yielded nothing.

But great-great-grandfather Clarke decided to cut me a break.

He was a cultivator who died in 1931, aged 87, from “debility due to old age”. So he was the patriarch of a relatively well-to-do family, and — given his age when he died — that lifestyle treated him well. His daughter – my mother’s paternal grandmother, Jane Ann Campbell – was the one who signed the certificate.

But then, something tugged at my brain. I’d laid eyes on another person named Clarke just days ago … but who was it?

I eventually found my way back to the eight-month-old whose death certificate I’d recently found.

The person who signed the death certificate was the child’s grandmother … named Clarke.

Well, well.

Another several minutes of searching led me to great-great-grandmother Clarke’s death certificate, recorded in 1936. She was 82. Guess who signed the certificate?

The mystery “sister” named Campbell, listed as the daughter of the deceased.

This was amazing. I’d just discovered one of my great-grandmother’s siblings, and their parents.

I did a bit more digging, before my lucky streak came to an end.

But my current working theory is that my great-grandmother Campbell (née Clarke) had perhaps as many as four other siblings (in this marriage, anyhow – can’t assume there weren’t some illegitimate kids).

I also have reason to believe her mother (my great-great grandmother Clarke)’s maiden name was Foster.

So, another name – and another branch – has been discovered, and it’s a good feeling. It’s going to be very hard when all this discovery I’ve made comes to a halt.