Wednesday, 24 August 2016

What was life like for Violet?

I have a new challenge. I am looking for information that will tell me what life was like for Violet Walker, my wife’s half-aunt. Sometimes we get chasing family lines so much we forget about the individuals – to paraphrase, we don’t see the trees because of the forest. I thought it was time to try to focus on people, one at a time. That might tell me more about family dynamics.

Half-aunt is a strange term. It just means that she was a half-sister to my mother-in-law. That’s where Violet’s life took its first divergence from the main line family.

We know when and where Violet was born and died as we have the documentation: born 25 December 1905 (Christmas Day) at 81 Oran Street, Glasgow; died 22 September 1982 at Hairmyres Hospital, East Kilbride, Glasgow, her usual residence being 47 Closeburn Street, Glasgow.

Violet was illegitimate. We don’t know who her father was or whether she ever found out. That’s an important part of her story that we would like to discover more about. She never married nor had children, so she was the end of a line. That removes an important source of data – bloodline. Her mother, Lizzie (Elizabeth), was a domestic servant at the time of Violet’s birth.

Her birth place, 81 Oran Street, was the same residence shown on her mother’s marriage record which occurred three years later. 81 Oran Street is also given as the place of death for one of Violet’s aunts, aged 11, in 1906. So it is possible that was also the residence of her maternal grandparents, John and Sarah Walker, and that Lizzie lived at home until her marriage. Violet appears on the 1911 Scotland census, living with her grandparents on Fernie Street which intersects Oran Street.
Part of ordnance map showing Oran and Fernie Streets in Glasgow, published 1899
The story is that, following, the marriage of Lizzie Walker to Alexander Cooper, Violet was left with her grandparents to be raised. More information is being sought about that state of affairs.

We are aware that she was a dancer. Rumour has it that she was an exotic dancer. Her death record says her occupation was “Dancer (retired)” which gives us something to go on.

We have only one photo of Violet, taken in 1928, brought by my mother-in-law when she immigrated to Canada in 1930. Perhaps other family members have others which we will check.
Violet Walker, standing, with a friend, about 1928
As I was writing this short blog piece I found out that I had more information about Violet and her family but just had not put the pieces together. Again, it’s the problem with seeing only the forest sometimes. I will begin digging into more records in my files to see what else I can put together, not just for Violet but for her mother, half-siblings and grandparents as well.

I think the search for more about the life of Violet Walker will prove interesting but also challenging. It’s just another step in assembling the stories of our ancestors. It is important and valuable to know how people lived not just when.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Finding a Lost Cousin

In putting together information for my post last week I went back to try to find some information on a cousin that I had lost. Actually she was not “lost” but I just had not spent much time looking for her. There is always someone else, or some other branch, closer in terms of a personal connection, that seems to take my attention and energy, so I lose track of other people I want to learn about or forget to keep the search going for them.

That was true for Thomasin/Tamzine Julia Jane Short, a 1st cousin, 4X removed. She was the daughter of a 3rd great-grand-aunt and granddaughter of my 4th great-grandparents. As it turned out she was also the last in her line.

I went back to my mainstay databases, Ancestry and Find My Past to see if I had missed anything in previous searches or whether new information had been added that might help.

Firstly, her mother was Thomasin Shepheard, daughter of John and Jane Treby Shepheard. That’s how she was identified on her 1807 baptism record in Cornwood, Devon. She married John Short in St. Andrew, Plymouth in 1839, as Thomasine Shepheard, although she made her mark on the register indicating she could not read or write. She died in 1841, in Plymouth, shortly after giving birth to her daughter. Both her death certificate and burial record show her as Thomasin. She was buried back home in Cornwood on 6 June 1841.

Thomasin Julia Jane was baptized on 6 June 1841, the same day as her mother’s burial, in Cornwood. I do not have her birth certificate so cannot confirm that is the name she was formally given.
1841 baptism record for Thomasin Julia Jane Short in Cornwood Parish, Devon; image used courtesy of Plymouth & West Devon Record Office
She appeared on the 1841 England census with her father as Thamsin Short. On the 1851 England census she was living with her aunt, Jane (Shepheard) Pinhey, in Buckland Tout Saints, Devon as Tamsin Short. I thought the spelling of her name might just represent how it was pronounced rather than the exact spelling. On the 1861 England census I found an individual I think is her, Tamsin Short, age 19, working as a servant and living in St. Andrew, Plymouth.

In my search this week, I finally found a marriage record for Tamzine Julia Jane Short. She married Charles Grape Watson, a private in the Royal Artillery, in St. Andrew, Plymouth, in 1869. I’m not sure when the record was added to the Find My Past database but Devon BMD information has been expanded over the past few years. Anyway, there can be no doubt this is my cousin, with her full name, shown and her father named as John Short.
1869 marriage record for Charles Grape Watson and Tamzine Julia Jane Short in St. Andrew, Plymouth Parish, Devon; image used courtesy of Plymouth & West Devon Record Office
Now I thought I had it made. I should be able to find Thomasin/Tamzin/Tamsin/Tamzine without much trouble since she had a husband with what I thought was a unique name. While Charles was a common forename and Watson was probably not a rare surname, how many men with a second name of Grape could there be?

In spite of being married in 1869, they were not to be found on the 1871 census. There was a child named Charles Grape Watson born in 1877 and I did find Charles G. Watson on the 1881 England census but his wife was Eliza who had been born in a totally different region of England. I figured this had to be the right Charles, but where was Tamzin?

I then looked for military records, since Charles had been a soldier according to the marriage entry. And there on Ancestry was his service record in the Royal Artillery, but just as Charles Watson, no Grape. Unfortunately it did not list a next of kin but did list his birth place (1857, Ely Parish, Cambridgeshire), occupation (driver), postings, discharge date (1880) and intended place of residence (Woolwich). It also indicated he had spent 19 years at Home and two years in East India. Curiously the record did not mention he had been married but at least now I had several other references I could use to look for the family. The 1881 census with wife Eliza seemed to be correct as the family was in Woolwich, the man was a pensioner and he had been born in Ely Parish.

Once again, where was Tamsin? Did they divorce? Had she died? A search of FreeBMD resulted in nothing for her, under either the names Watson or Short, between 1869 and 1881, the outside dates I had from the marriage and the Woolwich census. But a search back on Find My Past for Tamzin Watson found a death in Bengal, India in 1870.

Ah ha! This had to be her! The website even had a copy of the burial entry which showed her husband as “Driver Watson” who was with the Royal Artillery. That date also fit with his service record, as he had been “invalided to England for Change” in 1872 and probably been out of the country for the previous two years shown as being in East India. That fit exactly with his marriage in Devon in 1869.
1870 death record for Tamzin Jane Watson, in Kamptee, India; retrieved from Find My Past website 9 August 2016
Tamzin Jane Watson died 15 September 1870, in Kamptee, Bengal, India, of “Effusion of the brain.” (Definition: a collection of fluid trapped between the surface of the brain and the outer lining of the brain…) When I looked back at her mother’s death certificate it said, “Tubercular disease of the Lungs and an effusion of water in the Pericardium.” While the causes of death were not the same, how curious it was to see the same word used relating to water.

This was one of those star-crossed families, with a mother and an only child dying so young and ending a family line that started with so much promise.

All the pieces seemed to come together for this family this week. Whether they were there online all along or had been added since I last looked, I don’t know. The main result was that I finally found this lost cousin. [Note to self: always check back on databases because you never know what you might have missed or what might have been added.]

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The End of the Line

I was at a birthday party Sunday for my brother-in-law, George, who just turned 80. We don’t give it a lot of thought sometimes, but that is an amazing age to reach.

In Canada, according to Statistics Canada, male individuals born in the 1930s, as George was, had a life expectancy at birth of about 62. Those born in the early 1940s could look forward only to about 65 years on the planet. If they had reached the age of 65 by 2007, they could expect to live, on average, another 18.5 years – to 83. OK, these are just numbers. The age people reach depends on a lot of factors, not the least is genetics. A life expectancy of over 80 is certainly a long way from where it was a couple of hundred years ago – about 33 to 40 years in 18th century England.

Living into your 80s even in today’s world is still an accomplishment. Two of George’s siblings did not survive their 60s and one died in her 50s. And being as clear-headed as he is, is particularly noteworthy. We all know people whose mental capacity has significantly diminished with age.

As George and I were talking about various things we had encountered in our lives, he mentioned that there was a possibility that his family line might end with his grandchildren as he said that many of them (all?) had expressed the opinion that they did not want or expect to have children of their own. Now, they range in age from 23 to 31, so there is still a lot of time for them to come to different positions in their lives and find they do want to raise families.

But what if they don’t? Then George’s family line, along with those of his children, and their spouses, will die out – literally. George’s son-in-law also expressed his disappointment in seeing his line end if he does not end up having grandchildren. As a genealogist himself he found that possibility a little strange to contemplate.

When we look at family lines, most of us consider mainly just the male side. That’s probably a function of our British heritage as well as how we think and study family history. If you want to see the total history, though, you need to look at both paternal and maternal branches. They obviously both contribute to whatever longevity you might expect to have.

Anyway, the idea of The End of the Line started me thinking about how many branches ended in my family tree over the years. Mine is actually going strong as are those of my parents and grandparents. My parents lost one child of the five they had, my little brother Jimmy; my paternal grandparents lost two of five; my maternal grandparents lost one of six children.

My three sisters all married and had children, grandchildren and, in the case of my oldest sister, two great-grandchildren. My second oldest sister has five grandchildren. My youngest sister was just recently blessed with her first grandchild.

My father’s surviving brother and sister both had families and those children have gone on to have many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Three of my mother’s siblings also have many descendants, but one sister did not have children so her line ended.

My paternal grandfather was an only child. Four of his father’s siblings had children, extending their branches; three died without issue. Four of my paternal grandmother’s siblings had children; two died as infants.

My maternal grandfather had two sisters only one of which had children; a twin brother died at birth. That line is still going strong. My maternal grandmother had twelve siblings, only one of whom died young. They were very prolific. With what I know at present, my grandmother had 86 nieces and nephews, produced by six sisters and five brothers!

In the previous post about my brother, who died at the age of two years, I commented about my ancestors that “in every generation, babies and young children were lost.” There were also quite a number of individuals who did not have children, ending their particular lines.

I have a striking example in my paternal ancestral line. In looking at it now I am surprised how close we came to seeing the end of the Shepheard line of which I am part. In February, I wrote about the marriage of my 4th great-grandparents, John Shepheard and Jane Treby Shepheard, who were first cousins. That union resulted in a reduction in the number of my potential ancestors.

While John and Jane Treby had eight children, only three of them eventually married and had children of their own. One other daughter had a baby out of wedlock but I have not yet found where she ended up. So John and Jane had only 15 grandchildren, 13 of them carrying the Shepheard name. Thank goodness my 3rd great-grandfather, John, was one of those sons who had children – six of them.

John Shepheard (1768-1845) & Jane Treby Shepheard (1769-1851)

John Shepheard (1792-1870)
6 children, 42 grandchildren

James Shepheard (1794-1856)
unmarried, no children

Jane Shepheard (1797-1883)
married, no children

Jenny Shepheard (1799-c1855)
unmarried, 1 child

Julia Shepheard (1801-1863)
unmarried, no children

Mary Shepheard (1803-1804
died in infancy

Richard Shepheard (1805-1886)
7 children, 17 grandchildren

Thomasin Shepheard (1807-1841)
married, 1 child

The table shows that four branches ended in this family and only two carried on with the Shepheard surname. In contrast, all six children of my 3rd great-grandparents married and had children. They also ended up with 42 grandchildren pretty much guaranteeing the Shepheard family would survive.

In the generation previous to John and Jane Treby, with included both of their fathers, Nicholas (1675-1756) and Amey Prideaux (1687-1751) Shepheard had nine children. Only four lived to adulthood and married, and only three of them had children. Of the 16 grandchildren of Nicholas and Amey, 15 of them were in the two families from which John and Jane Treby sprung. Here, too, six of nine branches failed to survive.

I think that most family historians will find they have many broken branches in their trees, individuals who died very young or others that did not have children. It’s just a very common outcome. It does give you pause, as it has my brother-in-law, George, though, if it is your line that is in danger of reaching its end.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated