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! 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Katharine,

    I want to let you know that your blog is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a wonderful weekend!