19 May, 2014

A Little Help Goes A Long Way

In the search for your roots and the uncovering of your family secrets, I would advise not to hesitate to reach out to your fellow genealogists for help. In fact, ask for help at every turn and, of course, be willing and ready to help anyone else who may need some information that you have already uncovered... karma, you know! 

A perfect example of the value of asking for help is one that opened up an whole new perspective on my family that I never would have been able to discover on my own. 

We always had a pretty good beat on my Mom's side of the family... records abound, both in the U.S. and back in England, to trace the roots of Mom's mainly English heritage. But my Dad's side has been more of an enigma. I mentioned his Mom's father, Arthur Baker, in my previous post, as a mystery that I would love to solve. But there was an even more mysterious angle to my Dad's family, and that was his grandfather, John Reid, who came to New Jersey from

Nothing was known of John's origins or family except that he was supposed to be from the Glasgow area. His son, my grandfather, knew little of him as he died when my grandfather was young. He and his siblings grew up in an orphanage in Paterson, New Jersey. So, I started with the usual, plugging what info I had into search engines on ancestry and other tree building sites with no results. I decided to post on, a forum where you can post queries under the county and town (if you know it) where your ancestor was from. 

About a day after I posted my meager information about John Reid, two lovely ladies from Scotland came to my rescue! Apparently Scotland is rather tight-fisted with their vital records, and many are available only via pay websites, so that the general public cannot access them. These women had subscriptions to these databases!! Woo hoo for me!! 

They did some digging... and some more digging.... and came up with a John Reid, born on the right birth date (that we had from his gravestone in Paterson), in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland, in the vicinity of Glasgow. His mother was listed as Caroline Reid, a name which my brother David had found mentioned once as possibly John's mother, but there was no record of his father. David thought it had been John also. 

A little more digging and my Scottish friends discovered that Caroline had given birth to John in a poor house, and that she had been unmarried. They even emailed the birth record to me! So, Caroline's name was Reid! We will never know what his father's name was, but here was his true maternal line, at least. A little more digging turned up Caroline's father's and mother's name and a sad story began to materialize.

Photo that I found of the Poorhouse where John was born

Apparently, Caroline's mother, one Caroline Matilda Fergusson, died either at or shortly after Caroline's birth. Her father John remarried a few years later and more children were born. John was a miner and evidently struggled to provide for his growing family. Young Caroline was sent to work in a textile factory by the age of 13 and she boarded away from home. 

From the tale the census reports tell, Caroline never re-joined her family. She boarded and worked under the brutal hours and conditions at the textile mill throughout her adolescence. Who can blame her for finding

Paton's Mill - where Caroline probably worked
solace in some man who perhaps treated her with kindness?

My Scottish ladies also turned up what appears to be a child named William that Caroline had prior to John, but as there are no further records of him, he probably died young. The story of what happened to baby John is coming in a future post.... the unraveling of this mystery is equally as intriguing as the story of his mother!

05 May, 2014

Who Was Arthur Baker?

I have a mystery much closer to my own generation than those I've been referring to so far. My paternal great-grandfather (grandmother's father) is quite a mysterious character and one whose identity I'd love to uncover.

Arthur Baker was born in 1867 in England. He married my great-grandmother Mary Irene Wheeler on 8 February 1892 in Eaton, NY. From there he appears in each census report, married and with an ever growing family including my grandmother Ada Florence Baker. Where he came from in England and who his family was is unknown.

I did a search for immigration records and found an Arthur Baker, apparently traveling alone, who arrived 24 August 1888 aboard the S.S. Wisconsin to Ellis Island, NY. Under occupation, it looks like it says "miner".  Arthur would have been about 21 yrs of age at that time. But where was he from? Who was his family?

English Countryside

I did a wide net search for Arthur Bakers born within one year of 1867 in England, since I am fairly sure of his birth date. Several people came up and I went through them, one by one. Several I could eliminate because they died in England. One, who I found only one record of, was a domestic servant in a wealthy household in London. At first I thought this could be him, but the lack of any further mention of this Arthur Baker makes me think he probably died young.

During my search I kept an eye out for any names in the related families that matched the names of Arthur's children since, especially then, names were so often "recycled" through the generations. Finally I had eliminated all but the domestic servant (listed as a "page" in the census) and one Arthur Baker, son of George Baker and Emma Goddard of Derbyshire. The youngest daughter in this family was named Sarah Anne. Arthur would name his eldest daughter Emma, perhaps after his mother, and another one Sarah.

He appears in the 1881 census living with his family and occupation as "coal miner", same as his father. Could this be the Arthur Baker "miner" on the ship's manifest of the S.S. Wisconsin seven years later? He is not living with his family by the census of 1891 and I could not find a record for him elsewhere in that census year. This would coincide with his possibly being the immigrant to NY in 1888.

Arthur's eldest daughter, Emma, has a middle initial of G. I had her down as Emma Gertrude, probably from my brother's records, but I could not find a record of her anywhere with the full name spelled out, she is always recorded as Emma G. I wonder if her middle name was Goddard after Arthur's mother, a name that could easily have been mis-transcribed along the way as Gertrude. I may end up sending for her birth certificate, but first I have to check with my brother to see if he ever tried to obtain it before. I know that he did attempt to get Arthur and Mary's marriage record and it was apparently not found in the records of Eaton, NY.

So, I have temporarily plugged this family in as Arthur's as a working theory. I will either have to get ahold of a marriage record or discover that Emma's middle name was indeed Goddard to confirm them as his family.

One other interesting side story. A piece of family lore may add another clue, or rather a monkey wrench, into my current theory. The story goes that Arthur was set on heading out West once he reached America to settle there and build his new life. However, on the first leg of his trip out West, his train was forced to stop in upstate New York due to a blizzard. During this delay in his trip, he met Mary Irene Wheeler and decided instead to remain in New York, eventually asking her to marry him.

(photo WikimediaCommons by Tommy Gao)

There was indeed a huge blizzard in New York in 1888 that stopped all rail service for weeks. But, this monster storm was in FEBRUARY and my theory has Arthur arriving the following AUGUST! Of course, it could have been another storm that delayed his train, as upstate New York is notorious for snowy winters, but if it was the storm of 1888 that led to his fateful meeting with my great-grandmother then it is back to the drawing board!