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!

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