24 January, 2015

John Reid - A Long Journey from Scotland

In a previous post I wrote about how some wonderful Scottish ladies helped me to solve one of the "brick walls" that I had thought I would never break through. They discovered that the mysterious John Reid (great-grandfather on my father's side) had been born in 1872 to an unwed mother in a poorhouse in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland. 


Paisley, Renfreshire, Scotland
Once this was established, the three of us set about tracing John's whereabouts and discovering when and how he ended up in Paterson, New Jersey. My friends found a child by the name of John Reid listed as a "boarder" at the age of 9 years with a couple named James and Margaret Kincaid in 1881, not far from where John was born in Paisley. John's mother Caroline had died in February of that year. We figured he must have been in what was then the "foster care" system, and the fact that the Kincaids had several other young boys with different surnames living with them seemed to confirm this supposition.

But what had happened to this orphaned boy? How did he manage to get to the United States where the first record of him was on the 1895 census in Paterson, New Jersey when he was 23 years old? Or was this John Reid, living with the Kincaids, even the right person? He was the right age, and he did appear as a boarder just after his mother's death, but how could we prove that it was the same child who later married Jane Richardson in Paterson?

My Scottish friends and I scoured ships manifests for John Reid with no success. On the 1900 census he had reported his immigration year as 1887. That would make him about 15 years old on arrival. Since he surely could not have had the means to make the trip alone at that age, we began, on a hunch, to search for Kincaids in Paterson, New Jersey.

Sure enough, one James and Margaret Kincaid appeared on the Paterson census of 1900! Still, we wanted to make a firm connection between them and our John who, by 1900, was 28 years old and married. Finally, a document came to light that made it certain enough that John had come to America in the care of the Kincaids. On his application for citizenship, John had stated that he lived on North York Street - the same address on the census for the Kincaids!

Since we now knew that he had arrived in 1887 with the Kincaids, we searched again for a passenger list. We did find, on the ship "State of Nebraska" that arrived in New York on 11 May 1887 Margaret Kincaid (mis-spelled Kincard) with
State of Nebraska
"sons" John age 14 and William age 7. William could have been their natural son, but more likely they simply presented the boys as their own to avoid red tape in bringing orphans to America. Certainly that was the case with John, who resumed use of his own name, once safely in his new country.


It is satisfying to know that this orphaned child of an impoverished single mother was apparently very much cared for by his foster parents. Certainly they would not have gone to the expense and trouble of bringing a teen-aged orphan with them to America had they not.

John went to work in the silk mill, which was the largest employer in the area at that time. His census reports lists his occupation as "silk weaver". The silk factories of the day were noisy and cramped, the work demanding and the hours long.

At the age of 24, John married Jane Richardson who had arrived with her parents from England in 1893. Sadly, the couple was not to have a very long marriage. They had four children between 1897 and 1905, the second youngest being my grandfather William Reid, born in 1903.

John Reid passed away in 1904, probably from tuberculosis, leaving his wife Jane and his five children. His widow died just a few years later in 1907. The children were placed in an orphanage in Paterson which is where my grandfather spent most of his childhood, this being one of the reasons for the "brick wall" and lack of information about his parents.

Amazing what a little digging will do! If the records are there, they can be found! It just takes determination, a little help from friends and a lot of luck.

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