Tuesday, 20 February 2018

My First Car

I was watching a period program on TV the other night and saw an old car that looked a lot like my first one. Very strangely, and disappointingly, in all of the thousands of photos and movies taken by my parents and me over the years, there is not a single one of that first vehicle. What male (perhaps female as well) does not have such a picture!

I had to go online to find a picture of a 1950 Austin like the one I owned. I don’t recall mine had the rear, chrome fender guard, but it was black and very similar to the one the one shown below. It had four doors just like this one, though.

The signal indicators on my little Austin were arms that flipped out from between the doors. They were cute but the cold winter weather in Alberta often meant they would stick shut and you’d have to crank down a window and use your arm. Who remembers learning to signal that way? It was sometimes necessary to scrape frost from the inside of the windshield when the defrost heater could not keep up. The dashboard was fake-wood grain which was kind of classy. The seats were leather. It was a manual, stick-shift model and fun to drive.

As youngsters, most of us probably worked at odd jobs and saved money to buy our first car. My sister and her husband gave theirs to me (and bought another Austin) but it needed quite a bit of work. So a lot of the funds from working (and from parents of course) went toward repairs and maintenance. As with all old cars, the engine required attention as it burned more than a bit of oil. In this case that meant a total over-hall. My dad showed me how to do that. I had to strip the entire engine down and pull it out using a block and tackle. Austins of this time period had cast iron engine blocks and they were very heavy. Even pulling off the head was a task requiring some strength. 

I remember doing the same head-gasket replacement on a Chrysler Simca some years later. I had braced myself over the engine, prepared to lift the presumed heavy part. I was expecting the same experience I had had with the old Austin. But it was made of an aluminum alloy and when I pulled hard to lift it off, it was so light I almost threw it through the hood!

Anyway, we took the engine block to a local machine shop and had the cylinders bored out. That meant replacing the piston rings with larger parts. I think I worked on almost every part of that engine, certainly finding out how things worked. I know I changed out brake shoes and had to put in a new clutch plate. The latter gave out when I was driving downtown and had to come all the way home speed-shifting without the use of a clutch. Readers who know something about stick-shifts will appreciate how this is done.

I learned a lot during this physically-challenging, mentally-frustrating and knuckle-bashing exercise, probably including some really bad language. It was character-building but reinforced my desire to never be an auto-mechanic.

I drove the car for a few years. It did the job for me. I don’t remember why I traded it for the Simca although that was a neat car, too. I am sorry I have no pictures of it either. I often wonder what it would be like to have an old Austin like this again to run around it. With its small size you could certainly park it anywhere and it had lots of room for passengers.

We don’t usually think of cars and trucks as being part of genealogy, but if you think about it, they are every bit a part of family history as a house, or an antique table, or even a vintage milk can such as I have sitting in front of me right now that belonged to my grandfather. Driving has been part of families for over a hundred years. There are many photos in our albums of individuals and family groups posing with their old cars and trucks – except for my first one!

We have seen major developments in style, components and reliability over the decades. It became goals for most families to have a house and a car, especially in North America where great distances had to be covered for work and leisure. Vacations were often designed around driving. Our families had many different makes and models to choose from. Their diversity and the use to which we put our cars are very much a part of our family history.

Getting your very first car is one of the important stages in growing up. I had not thought about mine for a long time but memories of it readily came back as I started to write this. 

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Natural Disasters and Family Misfortunes 12: 1811-12 New Madrid Earthquakes

We just passed the 206th anniversary of the New Madrid, Missouri, earthquakes. The first tremors were experienced on 16 December 1811. They continued into March of 1812. The apparently strongest earthquake in US history occurred on 7 February 1812 with an estimated magnitude of 8.8 on the Richter scale. That would make it ten times as large as the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (blog post 13 June 2017).

The family of my 2nd great-grandparents lived in Washington County, VA at the time. I am sure they felt the shocks but would not have known from where they originated.

There are many technical summaries of the event and reports done by the USGS.  A few can be found at: Bicentennial of the 1811–1812 New Madrid Earthquake Sequence

This report offers a great summary of the events, geography involved, images illustrating the destruction and first-hand accounts: “The New Madrid earthquakes occurred along the western frontier of the young United States. They were felt in all settled parts of the central and eastern United States, as well as in Toronto, Canada. They caused general alarm from Detroit, Mich., to New Orleans, La. Chimneys were knocked down as far away as Cincinnati, Ohio, 560 kilometers (km) [350 miles (mi)] away. Closer to the earthquakes, Memphis, Tenn. was not yet established, but in St. Louis, Mo., many homes were damaged. The thriving frontier trading town of New Madrid, Mo., was damaged severely and temporarily evacuated. About 45 km (30 mi) south of New Madrid, Little Prairie, Mo., was destroyed. During the earthquake the ground rose, fell, and cracked; trees snapped and were uprooted; large landslides were abundant on steep ground from the future site of Memphis, Tenn., to southernmost Illinois. Large areas rose permanently, and some of them dammed rivers to create or enlarge lakes that remain (Reelfoot Lake, Tenn.). Other large areas sank and were flooded by streams and enormous volumes of water and sand that erupted from thousands of fissures over a region about 240 km (150 mi) long and 80 km (50 mi) wide. Great waves on the Mississippi River and collapsed banks and sand bars destroyed some boats and washed others ashore. A sudden uplift beneath the river caused it to overflow its banks, briefly flow upstream, and form two large rapids.”

A tinted engraving shows the clearing of a passage on the Missouri River for riverboats from the Kozak Collection at the Earthquake Engineering Research Center, University of California, Berkeley; downloaded from The New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812

Because the region affected was still sparsely occupied, there were few deaths as a result of the event. Notwithstanding that, there was significant property damage including the total destruction of the town of Little Prairie, MO. The quake actually caused a tsunami on the Mississippi River that upturned boats and eroded banks. Certainly hundreds of families would have been affected, some perhaps losing all that they owned.

These kinds of events may be little known by most people, let alone family researchers. But they no doubt had enormous impact on communities near where they occurred.

Ancestry lists 45 people, likely just the householder, living in Little Prairie, Missouri, on their US Census Reconstructed Records in 1810. The region around New Madrid had been settled by the French during the 18th century. Most of the men named on the census were of French origin. A search of later census record on Ancestry resulted in no one living in Little Prairie. Nine names, at least similar sounding, resided in nearby centres of Cape Girardeau, Louisiana and St. Louis, in 1820. Seven individuals were in Missouri in 1830.

One prominent family in New Madrid started in Little Prairie. Raphael Lesieur appears on the 1810 census list of Little Prairie residents, along with several apparent other related Lesieur families. He was born in Trois Riviere, Quebec in 1777. He and wife, Marie-Francoise Guilbert had one child in Little Prairie in 1810 and nine others after they moved to New Madrid. Lesieur Township, now part of New Madrid may have been named after the family. According to author Goodspeed’s History of Southeast Missouri (page 901), Raphael “came to Missouri in 1798, locating in what is now Pemiscot County. . . but during the earthquake of 1811-1812, the farm of which he resided sank and became part of a lake. He then removed to New Madrid Coutnry, and settled on a farm in the neighbourhood of Point Pleasant…” Raphael died in New Madrid, Missouri in 1855.

One wonders what the history of this family might have been if they had not been driven away from their first home in Little Prairie by the effects of a major earthquake.


Goodspeed's History of Southeast Missouri: Embracing an Historical Account of the Counties of Ste. Genevieve, St. Francois, Perry, Cape Girardeau, Bollinger, Madison, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Dunklin, Scott, Mississippi, Stoddard, Butler, Wayne, and Iron.
Chicago: The Googspeed Publishing Co., 1888

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

What’s in a military service record…

…besides military service information?

Sometimes you find surprising information in the oddest places. I was going through another branch of my family this week, looking to add information about distant and not-so-distant cousins. One can get side-tracked with so many families to research or other projects to get done. So, every once in a while, it is useful to go back and look for data for those individuals and/or their progeny that have been ignored.

I found a military service record for Robert Shepheard Munday, a first cousin, twice removed. As can be surmised from his name, he was closely related to my direct line. His mother, in fact, was a sister to my great-grandfather, James Shepheard (1865-1940).

I had not looked at the family of Mary Jane (Shepheard) Munday (1858-1929) for a while. I had her birth, marriage and death records, along with information about her husband, Robert Munday (1850-1902). But I had not followed up with their children. They had five together; he had four from a previous marriage. I thought it was time I tried to find out what happened to that line, perhaps see if there are any descendants still alive that might be contacted.

I will be ordering the formal BMD records  for all the children from the General Record Office for England and Wales shortly. In the mean time I thought I would see what might be available online on Ancestry, Findmypast or other sources. I did find the family members on most censuses but none were married before 1911 so their families will not be shown on census summaries, other than perhaps the 1939 Register. All five children were still living with their parents in 1901. Other types of records then were wide open to search.

I did find a marriage for Robert Shepheard Munday to Mable Louise Laver in 1916. At the time he was shown as a Sergeant in the Army Veterinary Corps. From that information I thought I could find information about him in the UK military records.

His service file, sourced on Ancestry, contained 27 pages. Robert Munday (he was never shown with his second name) enlisted on 11 December 1915, just a couple of months after the Great War began. His next of kin was given as his mother, Mary Jane Munday. That was amended in 1916 to name his wife. He served with the Bedfordshire Regiment at veterinary hospitals in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex in England, but did not go overseas. He was demobilized on 15 July 1919.
Portion of military service record for Robert (Shepheard) Munday; retrieved 3 February 2018 from Ancestry.com

The service record also showed the birth of his first child, Robert Stanley James Munday, on 17 June 1917, in Herne Bay, Kent, so I had one name for a succeeding generation.

The surprising bits of information in the service file, though, were three letters written to his commanding officers from a Florence L. Stagg. They demonstrate another side to the man, perhaps not dissimilar to other young (single) men in the military of almost any time period, but a bit sad in some respects. Her letters stated:

March 20th, 1918
I am sorry to trouble you but would you kindly give me the address of No. 0325 Sgt R. S. Munday as I am very anxious to hear from him as I have not heard from him for a long time, & I am feeling very worried to know if he is still alright. I should be very grateful if you could help me & give me Sgt. R. S. Munday add. I have enclosed penny stamp for reply.
Yours truly
F. Stagg
Letter from F. Stagg in military service record for Robert (Shepheard) Munday; retrieved 3 February 2018 from Ancestry.com

Ms Stagg did not receive Sgt. Munday’s address as the army would not give out the information but her letter was forwarded to Robert. The note sounded innocent enough but subsequent correspondence from her offered more to her story, as well as Robert’s. From the dates of the letters, there appears there may have been even more correspondence from Ms Stagg that was not preserved in the file.

[31 November 1918]
In answer to the letter I received this morning, would you kindly give me an address I could find Sgt. R. Munday, 63035. It was a great shock to me when I saw in the letter he was married as being the mother of his child. (age 5 yrs.) He had already promised me marriage some time ago but owing to money matters it was postponed. I should feel exceedingly grateful if you could help me in the way to find him. The Court will allow me to claim 2/11 from the Government as I was told he had others dependence on him. I am wanting to find him as I am at my wits end to know how to go on to keep this dear little girl, as the money I earn only just keeps myself as I am only a Domestic Servant. I have waited each year, hoping R. Munday, would try and help me with her up keep, and as it is going into the six year, the expense increases and the struggle in life is more than I can bare.
Apologizing for so troubling you.
Yours Respectfully
F. Stagg

Florence’s demands for support must have resulted in some success but she was to be disappointed later.

[14 July 1919]
Dear Sir,
I trust you will pardon the libity [sic] I am taking in writing to you, but I have just received a form from the pay office telling me my allowance is to be stopped after the 12th of Aug.
Would be so kind as to give me R. Munday address where a letter will find him after he is demobilised, as I am quite unable to help keep his little girl ag 6 yrs without his assistance. And I am nearly worried to death to know what to do. Please do not let him know I have wrote to you for it would perhaps only make matters worse and I do not wish to take the affair into Court again.
Apologizing for so troubling you
Yours respectfully
F. L. Stagg

There is nothing further in the file that indicates how the situation was resolved, if it ever was. One can observe in the military record (image above) that the birth of Robert's first son happened only seven months into his marriage, so he appears to have had a history with the ladies. 

I did find some information about Florence Lilian Stagg in various other records. There was a baptism of Dorothy Lilian Emily on 9 September 1913 at St. James Ealing parish church in London. Only the mother, a cook at 69 Grosvenor Road, is named. Dorothy’s birth was registered in Brentford Registration District.
Baptism record for Dorothy Lilian Emily Stagg, presumed daughter of Robert Shepheard Munday; retrieved 3 February 2018 from Ancestry.com

In 1911 Florence is shown to be a housemaid at 8 Grange Park, Ealing, London. That was also the area where the Munday family lived in 1911 (55 Windermere Road, South Ealing). Windermere Road is only about a mile apart from both Grange Park and Grosvenor Road, suggesting Robert and Florence met each some place in the community.

Florence married William Henry Hillcoat in 1923. Both she and her daughter, Dorothy, are shown on the 1939 Register, living at 5 Radbourne Avenue, Ealing, London. Dorothy was listed with the Hillcoat surname, was single and worked as a “Ladies Hairdresser.” Florence died in 1988. Dorothy died in 1991, having never married.
1939 Register showing Florence and Dorothy Hillcoat (both nee Stagg); retrieved 5 February from Findmypast.com

Did Robert live up to his responsibilities prior to being forced to do so by a court order? Did he escape to veterinary school and then to the army to avoid contact with Florence? Did father and daughter ever have any relationship?

What was unexpected in my search for information on my family lines was to find information about the Florence and Dorothy affair in a military service record. Just shows that one should not rule out any source.