Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Toons, Long Island, Air Shows... (part five)

A Long Island, NY beach, this one near Mastic Beach, east from where
Maurice and his family lived
Continuing the story of how Maurice Toon ended up on New York's Long Island. Read (part one) here(part two) here, (part three) here, and (part four) here.

Maurice Joseph Toon, son of Alfred and Mary nee McNamee, was inducted into the army on 17th July, 1918, when he was living on W. Dauphin Street in Philadelphia. He travelled to the war zone overseas on about 15th September, 1918. Maurice served first in the 59th Pioneer Infantry, and then the 330 HQ Service Battalion. He was promoted to sergeant almost immediately after joining up, on 9th August, 1918.

Maurice served during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, 18 October to 11 November 1918, the largest and bloodiest operation for the US military during the First World War. Commanded by General John J. Pershing, the offensive was part of a series of Allied attacks, which eventually brought the war to an end. During the Meuse-Argonne offensive, an estimated 28,000 Germans and more than 26,000 Americans lost their lives. Our Maurice came home, in one piece, with no known injuries. He was honorably discharged, as Sergeant QMC, at Camp Dix, New Jersey, on 27th September, 1919.

Maurice married Marjorie nee Carman, sometime between 1925 and 1930. In 1925, Marjorie was still living at home with her parents: Joseph Carman born 1874, a carpenter, and Abbey nee Brower, a housewife. In 1930, Maurice and Marjorie's first child, a daughter named Joan Toon, arrived. Two more daughters followed: Vivian Ilene Toon in 1931, and Margaret Toon in 1938. 

When Maurice married Marjorie, he connected two old English families; his own Toons, who arrived in Philadelphia through his grandad, Alfred, and the Carmans, who migrated to the Americas much earlier--the first known migrant, a John Carman, arriving in Massachusetts 1631 and eventually buying land on Long Island in 1643. Much of the Carman family lived in Queens, NY, close to the water; indeed, their trades are often listed as "Bayman" on the New York censuses, or other trades related to fishing and boats. There's a huge, huge history worthy of another story or ten on the Carman side: here's a potted history that makes a very interesting read!  I suspect that the town of Hempstead is paved with Carman memories, and the cemetery is full of the name.

Grand Union flag, flying at Manor St George, Shirley, NY
Finding out about the Carmans reminded me of how English Long Island was, once upon a time. Close to where I lived in Mastic Beach, in Shirley, NY, there's Manor St. George, a testament to the British presence on the island, way back... and very close to a waterway that is now called Carman River!  (There are no coincidences.) 

Now a museum, the manor has been preserved and is now a museum, open from May to October. It's worth a visit... and it's where I first saw the Grand Union flag flying and adopted it as my own.

Well worth a visit if you are in the area!

Maurice and Marjorie lived with their family in Hempstead, NY.  in 1930, Maurice had returned to his pre-war trade of newspaper and magazine sales; in 1940, he was a supplies clerk. But in 1942, on his World War Two draft registration card--and this is what I saw when I'd been thinking about the air show, in part one of the story--Maurice is working for a company not far from home, in Bethpage, NY. The company's name, Grumman.

In 1942, at the age of 46, Maurice was 5' 5" tall, blue eyed with brown hair, and weighed 141 pounds. His complexion was described as "ruddy", and he had no other unique physical characteristics that the military recruiter thought worth noting. I have found no record of active service during this war; either the records have not yet been made public, or Maurice wasn't required to join the fight.

Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye
Grumman E-2 Hawkeye, in action much later than the Second World War,
seen at the 2016 California Capital Airshow
So what does this have to do with an airshow?

Grumman... they made military, and civilian, aircraft. In 1942, they were most likely preparing planes for war; maybe Maurice had gone to work there, to help the war effort. They made cats: the F4F Wildcat and the F6F Hellcat, the F7F Tigercat and the F8F Bearcat. The Wildcat and the Hellcat were used by the US Navy.  

Maurice passed away on 28th March, 1955. He's buried in the Long Island military cemetery, Farmingdale, along with Marjorie, his wife, and daughter Vivian.

I don't know what made me look at Maurice's history, after reading about this year's California Capital Airshow. (There are no coincidences.) Maybe the back-of-my-mind had noticed the detail about Grumman and stored it away for a rainy day, without noticing, and automatically pushed it into my active brain, remembering the Grumman planes I saw at the air show last year.

Who knows? It's all relative(s)!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Toons, Long Island, air shows... (part four)

Continuing the story of how Maurice Toon ended up on New York's Long Island. Read (part one) here, (part two) here, and (part three) here.

One of Alfred (1832-1903) and Anna's children was another Alfred, born about 1867 in Philadelphia, PA, USA. The family moved out of the city to Sellersville, Bucks, but by the time he was 26, if not sooner, young Alfred was back in the city, working as a "hack"--hackney cab or taxi driver. The video above shows a collection of photos of the city as it was then: still many horses, very few cars. Did Alfred first work with horses, and later with motor cars?

In 1893, Alfred married a young lady from Ireland, Mary McNamee. I've not yet been able to trace Mary's family; there were at least three Mary McNamees arriving from Ireland, or via Scotland, in the years that precede the marriage, at least two of which have mothers with the relatively-unusual name of Isabella. (Maybe they are the same Isabella and I haven't yet been able to disentangle all the threads.) The McNamee thread definitely needs more research on my part. 

There was a large community of Irish families in Philadelphia at this time, following the exodus of people during the Great Famine of 1845-1852, when 20-25% of Ireland's population either died, or emigrated. There are no records for Philadelphia from the 1890 US census--they were lost in a fire--but in 1880, there were at least 319  people with the surname, McNamee, with either Irish, or Scots, origins, living in Philadelphia.

In 1890, Alfred and Mary have a home on Mole Street in Philadelphia, and the census says that they have one child, a daughter called Marie, who was born in February, 1896. However, I believe this is a census error, as the next census--1910--has the family still with just one child, a son, Maurice Toon, also born in February, 1896. So... either Maurice and Marie were twins and someone else was looking after four-year-old Maurice in 1900, and Marie was elsewhere in 1910, or the 1900 census contains an error. I have not been able to track down a Marie anywhere else in the records, so my assumption is that there is an error, and that Maurice was an only child.

In 1910, our family of three were living in a home on North Mole Street, Philadelphia, most likely in one of the terraced (row) houses that survive to this day. Mary Toon nee McNamee died at 2253 N. Mole Street, in 1916, aged 46, from atrophic cirrhosis of the liver, when Maurice was 20 years old.

Maurice Joseph Toon's WW1 Draft Registration

Alfred Toon, Maurice's dad, spent his whole life working with transport of some sort. He was likely too old to be drafted for the First World War; far too young for the civil war.

In 1920, Alfred was a garage foreman, while Maurice, aged 23, was working in the world of newspapers as a manager. Alfred and Maurice were living together as boarders in a home shared by several small families.

Alfred Toon passed away in Philadelphia on 16th August, 1931. I don't know the cause of death: his death certificate says, "inquest pending", but so far I have not found any information about the inquest.

But by then, Maurice had already been drafted for the first World War, and after the war had married and settled on Long Island.

The final part of this story comes next! Long Island awaits.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Toons, Long Island, airshows, (part three). This it the American Civil War bit...

118th Regiment at Camp Union, August 1862
Image from the archive of the City of Philadelphia
Continuing the story of how Maurice Toon ended up on New York's Long Island. Read (part one) here, and (part two) here.

Alfred Toon arrived in Philadelphia in 1851, and in 1854, married Anna Strowhauer (born 1836 in Pennsylvania). They lived in Philadelphia until at least 1870; in 1860, they were living somewhere in Philadelphia's 19th ward, an area bounded by Lehigh Avenue to the north, Germantown Avenue and 6th Street to the west, Oxford Street and Frankford Avenue to the south, and the Aramingo Canal to the east: the area around Norris Square. There's a good map of the area here, from a little later, in 1874. Click into any of the sections to see details of the streets, to get an idea of how the streets were; streets and streets of Philadelphia's row (terraced) houses, all new. Norris Square itself was designed in 1859. Another example: Rocky's house was 1818 East Tusculum Street, Philadelphia, though I believe Rocky's house was built a few decades later.

Alfred became a US Citizen on 26th September, 1860, four years after signing a declaration of intent (you had to sign the declaration before you could apply for citizenship until 1952). But... the very next year saw the start of the American Civil War.

Alfred and Anna's daughter Selina was born on Christmas Day, 1859, and their second daughter, Lizzie, arrived on 5 Feb 1862. But it wasn't long before Alfred had to go off to war, leaving the young family behind.

Alfred Toon joined the Union Pennsylvania Volunteers, 118th Regiment, Pennsylvania Infantry, on 7th August, 1862. He served as a Private for his time in the military; I don't know exactly where Alfred fought, and haven't yet confirmed when he left the military, but this page lists the places where the 118th was. Antietam, Shepherdstown, Fredricksburg... Gettysburg, and more. The regiment lost a total of 253 men and officers during the war: half to battle injuries, half to disease. Which gives an idea of the kind of situations they were living in.

Our Alfred, he made it home (or there wouldn't be a Maurice-on-Long-Island to talk about). He and Anna had at least four more children: a little Alfred, in 1867, followed by Harry, Maria, and William. In 1872, the family moved to Sellersville, Bucks, Pennsylvania and Alfred had started his hosiery business: in 1880, they were living on Main Street, Sellersville, with Alfred running a "woollen jacket" factory.

Alfred (I wonder if they called him Alf?) died in 1903, aged 71. He is buried in the Sellersville Cemetery, a Civil War Veteran star next to his grave. Anna joined him there, in 1906.

 Maurice? His story is coming next, in part three: son and grandson of an Alfred!

Toons, Long Island, airshows... (part two)

(Bath Street is the street with the white, thatched cottage, leading off the Green. Photo from the Francis Frith Collection.)

Continuing the story of how Maurice Toon ended up on New York's Long Island. Read (part one) here.

It can be very difficult to be sure that you are connecting the right people, the right families, when they travel overseas from their original homes. I have extended-family members in Canada, Australia, South Africa, and the USA, and every time it's been a struggle to connect the dots, validate the connections, and be 100% certain that the connection is correct. It's easier when there's a living person to compare notes with, or family stories about an ancestor who went to New Zealand, for example, but in most cases, you're struggling with incomplete data from a hundred or two hundred years ago. Plus, if you're using an online service to research and manage your tree, you're also inundated with automated "hints" from other people's research, who have researched their own ancestry, and who have often jumped to some bizzare, and incorrect, conclusions.

Why is it so difficult? Let me count the ways.
  • Passenger lists do not always include first names, though they often include ages. They may not name children, just the number of them. Wives' first names may not be given, nor initials.
  • Passenger lists do not often give the previous home town. So a boat travelling from Liverpool, England, carrying a family from Nottingham, only says the boat left Liverpool.
  • Not all destination countries have records available for searching, especially not online.
  • People sometimes changed their names on settling in a new country. However, the stories about names being changed on arrival at Ellis Island in the USA have been proven false. Here is an excellent article from the New York Public Library about that.
  • The port of entry into a new country was just the starting point. Finding the travelling family member after that is an interesting challenge. Canada and the USA are good examples: entry points were on the east coast, but settlers often travelled much further.
  • Censuses in the destination country tell you a person's place of birth, but it's usually restricted to the name of the country, not a state or a county or a town or a village. Sometimes it's completely wrong. I've seen Ireland instead of Scotland, England instead of Wales, and often the plain error of stating that an immigrant was born locally.
  • A father, son, or other (usually male) family member may make the journey before, or separately from, the rest of the family, to find a job and a home before everyone else came to join them. So you can't see a complete family group on a passenger manifest.
  • Different places in the same country have different rules about what data can, and cannot, be disclosed. Good examples are US states and Canadian provinces: it can be difficult to confirm hunches.
  • People have always been human: sometimes they tell lies to officials.Example: lying about age, to join the military, or charm a sweetheart. Giving a false name, to avoid someone or something. In my next lifetime, I will be a detective.
  • Not all journeys are documented. Those that are--such as passenger boat manifests--are not all (yet) available online.
  • Other people's research, when they are not familiar with a location. Someone living in a country where distances are huge, for example, might not realise just how illogical it would be for a family of agricultural labourers in Kent, England, to have baptised one child in York or Manchester. If your traveller was a John Smith or a Mary Jones, beware of illogical connections in someone else's research!
Helpful things to look out for:
  • Single passengers travelling together. They might not be listed on the passenger manifest as a group or a family, but sequentially on the manifest: are there any relatives or neighbours just before, or after, your traveller?
  • Families travelling together: is everyone the right gender and/or age to fit your traveller's family?
  • Death certificates. If your dude passed away in Philadelphia, you won! You have a gold mine of information; mother and father, exact birth date, mother's maiden name if someone was able to remember it all.. lots of info.
  • Gravestones, which may confirm a family relationship (husband and wife, children).
  • Occupations, which may have been the key to someone emigrating in the first place.
  • Other people researching the same family from the other side--the descendants of your traveller. Check what these researchers have found, see if it matches your research. Double and triple check. Be careful! It's way too easy to jump to the wrong conclusion when tracing your ancestors back to the homeland... excitement trumps logic.
  • Unusual family names. I have a set of men called James, middle name Ace, that helped with one very difficult connection. How likely was it that two unrelated families would each call a son, "James Ace"? (More on that one when we get to the Heal/Hale family stories.)
So how can I be sure that our Alfred Toon is the same guy, on both sides of the Atlantic?

I cannot be 100%, unequivocably certain, that the Alfred Toon, born in Syston, Leicestershire, and baptised early in  January, 1893, is the same Alfred Toon who died in Sellersville, Pennsylvania, USA.

But I can say that it's proven beyond a reasonable doubt that they are one and the same:
  • Alfred Toon, passenger on the Tonawanda, matches in age with the Alfred Toon in the 1851 censuses. He is travelling on the same boat, and listed on the manifest next to, William Hartopp. Hartopp is 31 years old. Both men are listed as weavers--part of the hosiery trade. (There are at least two William Hartopps, born in Thurmaston, and another born in Barkby, of the right age to be the one travelling with Alfred and likely to be related to Ann: I have not yet connected these dots. Will update this when I have.)
  • There is no further sighting of Alfred Toon in the UK censuses after 1851, nor any record of his marriage or death in the UK.
  • The 1860 USA census for Alfred Toon in the USA shows an age that matches, birth place England, occupation weaver.
  • Burial record in Philadelphia names Alfred's father as William, and gives Alfred's birth date, which matches Alfred born in Syston.
  • While Alfred's children's names are not unusual for the time--Selina, Elizabeth, Alfred, Harry, Maria, William--they very much resemble other families in the Syston Toons.
  • A book, the History of Bucks County, published in Pennsylvania, edited by J. H. Battle and published in 1887, says "ALFRED TOON, manufacturer, P.O. Sellersville, was born in England in 1831, and is a son of William Toon. Alfred Toon learned his trade in England, his father having also been a manufacturer of hosiery. He commenced the manufacture of knit goods in Bucks county in 1872, and has since carried on this work. His goods are shipped throughout the United States, wholesale and retail. He employs ten hands in his business, principally girls."  This does not prove Alfred is from Syston, but it does confirm his father's name, and the family trade: hosiery.
So, I'm as sure as I can be that the USA Alfred = Syston Alfred.

Don't you love how Alfred's father, William, and his framework knitting machine, probably housed in the family's cottage in Bath Street, Syston, or somewhere close by, became an important-sounding "manufacturer of hosiery" on the other side of the ocean? 

I hope this helps explain the logic of tracing a family member across an ocean. Alfred was relatively-easy. I have others where "not so" applies.

But there's more to this story, about Alfred's adventures, before we get to Maurice on Long Island. Part three is coming soon!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Toons, Long Island, airshows... (part one)

Maurice Toon's Toon ancestors
There are coincidences, and there are... coincidences?

I was just looking at the website for California Capital Airshow, which happens here in Sacramento, September 9th and 10th, planning a visit for this year (last year's was fun), which then made me think about Spitfires and their unique sound, and then somehow thoughts went to boats, and a picture that I'd asked permission to reproduce here on this page... and then to the reason why I wanted permission to use the picture. Which was to tell this story.

I lived for several years on New York's Long Island, on the south shore, in a little place called Mastic Beach, Suffolk County. With one or another of my kids, we often made road trips to explore the island; up to the end (Montauk), to the tip of the north fork, to the Sound, to haunted houses and pumpkin farms and to the beautiful beaches. Many times we stopped to explore the cemeteries. We visited the military cemetery at Calverton, with its rows and rows of white stones, but never visited the Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, NY. If I had known that a cousin Toon was there, albeit 3rd and once removed, I'd have been there in a moment.

Maurice Joseph Toon, born on 28th February, 1896, in Philadelphia, PA USA, died on 28th March, 1955, and was buried in the military cemetery in Farmingdale on March 31st. If you are ever there, please stop by plot 5842 and thank him for his service. He was in the USA military during the first world war, serving from July 1918 until September, 1919. He and his wife, Marjorie nee Carman, were living in Oceanside, NY at the time of Maurice's death; not far from the ocean beaches, and close to Maurice's place of work in Baldwin. I'll come back to that. There are no coincidences.

How did a Toon end up on the city end of Long Island, New York? It's a long way from Syston, Leicestershire... but that's where the story begins.

Alfred Toon, born early 1832, in Syston, Leicester, was my first cousin, three times removed. He was the brother of Frederick Toon (born 1830), whose story is here. son of William Toon (born 1803) and of Ann Toon nee Hartopp (born 1805), and also a nephew of Elizabeth Toon.

In March, 1951, Alfred was nineteen, living at home in Bath Street, Syston, with his widowed mother and brothers Marshall, Frederick and David, his sister Selina, and a "nursling"--a foster sister--Emily Goode, four years old. Alfred and David were framesmiths, working on the knitting frames. Older brother Frederick was a framework knitter; Marshall, a needle maker, no doubt the needles used in the knitting frames. Their mother Ann, according to the 1851 census, was a "mender of socks" (as well as mother and foster-mother and housekeeper and everything else she had to do). So Alfred had experience of various parts of hosiery manufacture at an early age. But at the beginning of August, just five months later, Alfred was in Liverpool--boarding a boat for the Americas!

This is the boat. It's the old packet ship, Tonawanda (the one on the right). It would have taken about six weeks to cross the Atlantic, with good weather; longer if the weather wasn't helping. This picture was painted in watercolour by David Johnson Kennedy (1816-1898), and is shared here with kind permission of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

The Tonawanda sailed from Liverpool to Pennsylvania, USA, arriving on 18th September, 1851. Alfred was passenger 7 of 549, which seems like a lot of passengers (the Historical Society of Pennsylvania notes that the Tonawanda carried cargo, and about 200 passengers, when it was painted).

Crossing the ocean on the Tonawanda in his 20th year. That's a brave young man. What made him get up and go? Was it the first time he saw the sea? Passenger 8 on the passenger list is a William Hartopp, aged 31... was he Alfred's uncle? I don't know... more digging to do.

That's installment one... more to come in part two!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Family history and those old, unnamed photographs... I kicked the habit

Unknown gentleman and infant, Nottinghamshire maybe, England
Somewhere at the intersection of being a photographer, and a family historian, is the dangerous "hobby" of rescuing other people's discarded photos. You'll find them on eBay, in albums and alone; in antique shops, junk stores, postcard dealers' collections, second-hand bookstores... all over the place. They are mostly nameless people; at best, there's a scribbled first name on the back, or a date, of the photographer's mark.

You have to realise that you'll go bankrupt before you reunite any of these photos with any long-lost great-grandchildren. They might have been the ones to let the photos go in the first place.

I eventually sold my collection, for less than I'd paid for it, to an antique dealer. But I kept one album. And I still have to be very careful about what I look for on eBay!

The gentleman above is why I kept that one album. Dressed in his Sunday best: polished, laced-up boots, woollen trousers, a beautifully-white shirt, a jacket and matching waistcoat, a bow tie and a brushed felt cap. His beard is groomed, and he proudly holds a baby who wears a bonnet and pressed, clean and bright layers of cotton. They are sitting in the grass, the man staring intently at the lens. I think his eyes are blue.

But who is he? I haven't a clue!

There's no name on the photo, not even the stamp of a photographer's studio. I can't say who is the copyright holder... though it's over one hundred years old. I'd love to know who the photographer was. He or she captured this man's expression so beautifully.

The other photos in the album come from photographers studios in Nottingham, England, with at least one being taken in Sheffield. One photographer was E. P. Short; another, G. Caldwell. I don't know if they took the photo of this gentleman.

If you know who he is, please let me know. Because I have a whole family photo album to go with this; the men, women and children in this lovely man's life.

(This man... his face, his eyes, part of the inspiration for my fiction novel, Jo and the Old Man of the Sea.)

Dunkirk: the movie and the stories

The movie, Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan, is in cinemas now... you may know Nolan from Batman, but... go see this movie. Go see it.

The movie doesn't attempt to portray the en-masse story of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers and wounded airmen, British and French, stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk, surrounded and bombarded and shot at by the enemy. Instead, it takes the stories of a few, and shows the bravery and terror, the determination and the fear, the pride and the suspicion, the might of the machine and the strength of numbers in the face of something impossible, through the experiences of those few people. You watch, and your heart and mind is multiplying by 300,000... the number of British who were rescued from the beaches by a flotilla of small boats, mostly manned by civilian volunteers. You watch, and you imagine the beaches and the thousands upon thousands being strafed by machine guns, bombed and blasted. You watch, and you see all the fine young airmen who risked their lives to protect others. And you wonder... why does war never end?

I left the cinema in tears, in the middle of the day, and my smartphone is telling me how much closer we are to the next one, with every presidential tweet.

Where does this movie review fit into the family history, you may ask.

Brian and Betty Carvell on their wedding day in 1943
My uncle Brian Carvell (1920-1980), my favourite uncle, was on that beach during the last days of May or early June, 1940. He was wounded, on a stretcher, 19 years old; a member of the RAF (Royal Air Force). I don't know what happened to him as an airman, but he ended up on the beach at the battle of Dunkerque, France. People were shooting at him and his fellows, with machine guns; guns on one side, waves on the other, nowhere else to go, until the little boats came from all the ports and harbours around the coast of England.

Uncle Brian was rescued; he came home to England, but to hospital, eventually to the hospital in Saffron Walden, Essex, England, not far south of Cambridge.

Saffron Walden General Hospital (now council offices):
photo by  Robert Edwards
under Creative Commons licensing  CC BY-SA 2.0,
Brian Carvell, like many others from the beaches of Dunkirk, was hospitalized because of shell-shock: what, today, we call PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), they still called "shell shock" during the Second World War. It was a term introduced during the First World War; at first, doctors thought it was something in the bombs--the shells--that were affecting the soldier's mental health. But no... it was the trauma, and it affects so many good people. (You'll see an example of this in the Dunkirk movie.)

In 1943, Uncle Brian married Betty (Elizabeth) Sell. I believe my Aunty Betty had been one of Brian's nurses at Saffron Walden: they married there, and their son Christopher was born in the town of Saffron Walden, in 1945. (I don't know for how much of these five years Brian Carvell was being treated in the hospital--the records are not available to me.) The trauma of the experience at Dunkirk stayed with him; he'd protect Aunty Betty, on the street, from the machine-gun fire of motorbikes and cars backfiring.

Later, the family lived in Brinklow, near Coventry and Rugby: Brian worked at Rolls Royce; he was a technical author. I remember their home there: walks through fields full of cows (my mum was scared of cows), of visits to my uncle's neighbour, who kept chickens; the smell of fuel from Brian's miniature steam engines, of staying, on my own, with Uncle Brian and Aunty Betty and playing a board game called Buckaneer which I loved but which I've never been able to track down. It was about pirates and treasure.

(In case you check the Carvell family records: Uncle Brian was named Bertie Willy Carvell. He officially changed his name to Brian as soon as he was old enough!)

My ninth year, we were between houses; my parents had sold the house on Albert Street in Syston, Leicestershire, England, and had not yet bought the bungalow on Brighton Avenue. My dad was working at Rearsby aerodrome, at Auster Aircraft, making the wooden insides for light aircraft. We were living in a wooden house owned by Auster Aircraft, on the edge of the newly-started, brand new "village" of East Goscote. I guess our home had once been a barracks. There were several families of Polish people living on our little lane, in the barracks housing too. Across the street, not demolished yet to make way for the new houses, were old military storage shelters, weed and grass-overgrown roads and paved areas, lots of big, square earthen banks to climb up and down--storage depots with the roofs removed--and masses of yellow-flowering gorse to hide in. The gorse had grown so old and big it that there were tunnels between the thorns. There were rabbits everywhere, and there was a fat fox in the centre of the cornfield behind our home when they harvested. How I loved that summer!

Like magic, on my birthday in October, Uncle Brian turned up at our little wooden house, just four days before my baby sister did. He didn't bring a birthday present of chocolate, or a doll, or anything silly like that. He brought me a big, heavy, old-fashioned Remington sit-up-and-beg typewriter, and a teach-yourself-to-type book, the sort that the typists at Rolls Royce used. That was the best birthday present ever. I learned to type. I worked as a technical author, too, for years.

Uncle Brian was the kindest, gentlest man. I can still hear his quiet voice and see his gentle eyes.

(I still miss you, Uncle Brian.)

To my regret, I didn't ask him about his experience at Dunkirk. I was too young. And then when I was old enough, I still didn't ask. He certainly didn't talk about it to me. Maybe that's OK. Maybe it was enough for him to live through it, to survive, and to be the best uncle a girl could have.

(Go see Dunkirk. It's not just a movie. It's not just a history lesson. It doesn't glorify war, nor does it make any political statement. It shows, very well that the people on the beach, every one of them, were real people, with families, just like you and me. If you don't know anyone who was there... remember my Uncle Brian. Don't be surprised if you cry.)

Brian Carvell, Betty nee Sell, two people I don't know.
The bridesmaids are Topsy on the left, and my mum, Bette, on the right.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Green, Syston

This is The Green, Syston, as I remember it from my childhood. The Toon's house is the one in the centre, the lighter-coloured building. That's my grandad Fred Toon's painting and decorating business in the room to the left of the front door. While I remember this as being the Toon family home, my dad, Ted Toon (born 1928)  thought of the house on High Street as his original home, the place where he grew up. It was on the land where the Methodist Church Hall now stands, on the corner of High Street and Upper Church Street, Syston.

But this is the house on the Green. A few years back, it was for sale, and I was in England on a visit. I persuaded a local estate agent to give me a tour. The building had been used as offices; the building that used to be a big workshop, behind the kitchen, had been converted into an extra bedroom and bathroom. It was still a lovely house, with lots of memories of exploring the secret stairs from the kitchen, the ghost of Grandad's budgie, Knobby, Auntie Marjorie's birds in the garden, snapdragons...

The little coach house with its arched gateway to Lower Church Street, where grandad Toon and Uncle Cecil and Uncle George used to store paint had been converted into a separate little house or maisonette. Grandad's allotment, of course, had been long gone: it's under the car park, behind the Church Hall.

To the right of the Toons, behind the black, shiny car, was the optician's office, where I first had my eyes tested. To the left, it's Borderick's greengrocery shop.

There was another thatched cottage to the left of the one in this photo, as you head towards Bath Street. It caught fire... 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Scotland, Syston, a workhouse... Crimea, Jamaica, Alabama, and a ghost town.

William Turner Elliot (Deacon) highlighted
This is another of those way-down-into-the-depths relationships, but the story is so interesting I have to share it. This is the story of William Turner Elliott, the stepson of the father-in-law of my first cousin, three times removed. Told you it was way into the depths...

Frederick Toon (born 1830) was the nephew of Elizabeth Toon (who married the butcher, Holyland): he was the son of Elizabeth's brother, William Toon (born 1803) and of Ann Toon nee Hartopp (born 1805). Frederick married Jane Charlesworth (born 1827), at Syston, in 1851. Jane's mother, Frances nee Adcock (don't be surprised if you keep hearing about Adcocks, there might be more of them than Toons in Syston), born in 1827, died in 1864, and her husband Thomas Charlesworth (born 1806) later remarried. His second wife was Christina Deacon, nee Elliott, who had lived on the same street -- once again, Cramp Street -- in Syston for at least twenty years. I'm fascinated by Christina, but she is a story for another day.

Christiana had one son, John Deacon, from her marriage to John Deacon (bricklayer, born 1797) of Syston. She also had an older son, William Turner Elliott Deacon, born three years prior to her marriage to John Deacon. William was raised as John's family, taking the Deacon name in the 1851 census, when he was 14 years old, when he was in the Union Workhouse, in Rothley, Leicestershire, with step-dad John Deacon and young John. Christiana wasn't in the workhouse... she was in the house on Cramp Street. By the 1861 census, the two Johns and Christiana are reunited and all on Cramp Street... but William has disappeared.

It took me a while to find him.

He wasn't in the UK census. I searched for him with both the name Elliott and Deacon. No William. Not in Leicestershire, not anywhere in the UK. I searched for his marriage. I searched for his death. I searched for crimes. Nothing!

At the same time, I was looking for more information about Christiana, and John Deacon. On a random newspaper search for John Deacon, I found this:

Marriage notice, Leicester Chronicle, 4 Oct 1862
Reproduced with kind permission of findmypast.com 
William was in the army... and in Jamaica! I've since found out that he served in the Crimean War, too.

This photo shows officers of the 14th Regiment, of which William was a part, during the Crimean War. There is a wonderful collection of photographs by photographer Roger Fenton, preserved by the Library of Congress--you can see them all here.

The Crimean War ran from 1853 to 1856. At school in England, we learned about Florence Nightingale, Balaclava, and the tragic Charge of the Light Brigade. It was a war whose cause is difficult to understand, and where so many men lost their lives to disease and sickness following wounds (which led to some revolutionary new procedures in battleground medicine).

William Turner Elliott may have been part of that medical revolution, or at least seen battlefield medicine in action; on his next posting, in Jamaica, he was an assistant steward with the Army Hospital Corps, 1st Battalion of the 14th Foot (Buckinghamshire). William's Service Number was 3496.

In Jamaica, he married Victoria Bunsendhall (whose name I have seen spelled in several different ways), who was either born in Germany in 1843, or was born in 1843 in Kingston, Jamaica, to German parents, depending on the record. The couple had three children: a daughter, Annie Victoria, who was born in Jamaica in 1866; another daughter, Louise, who was born in England in 1867 (I guess it was during a trip back home), and then a son, William Turner Elliot like his dad, born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1870.

But then the family move, again. In 1873, aged 34, William takes his family to the USA. They arrived at Mobile, Alabama, in a year when Alabama saw a major outbreak of cholera--but this was mostly in Birmingham, AL, where at least 123 people died, and half the population of 4,000 people left the city. But this was more than 200 miles from where our Elliot family settled. So far, I have no clue why they chose to live in Beaver Meadow, Mobile County, Alabama, but that's where they lived, for many years. Beaver Meadow (the name of the local post office) was also called Beaver Mill, after the paper mill that was there, and where William worked. It was also the site of a uniform depot during the American Civil War--left-over fabric was used after the war to make bonded paper--but now it's all gone, taken over by the trees and the mosquitos. You won't find Beaver Meadow or Beaver Mill on today's maps: it's officially a ghost town. If you want to visit, go in winter, when the mosquitos are asleep.

William Turner Elliot, born in Leicester, England, died in Alabama in 1882, reportedly hit in the stomach by a wrench (spanner)! Possibly the first person to be buried in Gulfcrest Cemetary (click here to see the cemetery courtesy of Google Maps).  Here's a photo of his gravestone, and a synopsis of his history.

The Post Office at Beaver Meadow shut down in 1906, but William' and Victoria's descendants were living there as late as 1920, then spreading out around Mobile County.

I wonder why William and Victoria took their family to Mobile? It's another one of those 'why?' questions we may never know the answer too.

Of course, knowing that there was an Elliott somewhere in my family, no matter how remote, I then had to go trace Sam Elliott's tree to see if he's really my long-lost-and-very-handsome cousin. Alas, it's not so: his Elliotts were in Texas, and possibly Alabama and Tennessee, way before our Elliotts set sail from Jamaica. But who knows? When I unravel Christina's secrets, and know what William Turner Elliot's mother's family had been up to, maybe we'll find that there were earlier Elliotts from England and/or Scotland in the American South. Settlers that link to Sam... and a possible reason for William to try Alabama after Jamaica.

I'm not giving up on my long-lost-cousin yet. Heck, Sam Elliott was born here in Sacramento. There's no such thing as coincidence, right?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

All the Samuel Carvells... and a brick wall (plus the Tower of London)

My maternal grandfather's Carvell ancestry
Sometimes, when researching family history, you hit a brick wall. There's no way around it, there's no magic door; there are no signposts pointing in another direction. This is where I'm at with my grandad Carvell's line: I've followed it as far as I can with the resources I have, and I'm stuck, with Samuel Carvell and Elizabeth Durhead (or Diehard, or Diehead, or whatever her name might have been), who married in the tiny village of Churchover, Warwickshire, in 1776, the year of the American revolutionary war, the year the USA declared itself independant of England, though I suppose that was pretty irrelvant to a family of farm labourers living in the middle of beautiful countryside in the English midlands.

My grandfather was Joseph Arthur Carvell, born in Markfield, Leicestershire, in 1886. His father, Samuel Henry Carvell, was born in Walcote, near Lutterworth, almost on the Leicestershire/Warwickshire border, in 1859, He was already working as a farmer's boy when he was 12, but in 1878, when he was about nineteen years old, he went to Warwick and enlisted with the 28th Infantry Brigade. In 1881 he held the rank of private... but he was stationed at the Tower of London! What an adventure that must have been for a young man from Walcote.

Map of the Tower of London. Image from Genmaps. From an engraving by Richard Blome,
 published 1755 by John Stow in A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster
Not only did Samuel Henry hang out at the Tower, with the Ravens... he went to India, too, for eighteen months service.

Samuel Henry Carvell's military history. Completed nearly ten years' service, including the reserves.
Samuel Henry Carvell didn't return to life on the farm, after his years in the military; he settled in Leicester, married Rebecca Arnold in 1885, and together they grew a family of six children, with my grandad, or as I called him, my Grandgump, Joseph Arthur, being the eldest. Grandgump was a lovely and kind man and I have many happy memories of him; going to the Leicester market and always finding his favourite cherries, Sunday afternoon teatime with Grandgump and his second wife, Lala (so called because I couldn't say "Clara" when I was little, and it stuck);  me, cycling through the fields from Syston to Scraptoft to visit him in his later years, finding him cooking a dinner of tripe in milk... he loved it, I didn't. There will be more stories to come about Joseph Arthur! But first, back to all the Samuels...

An outing for Samuel Henry Carvell, a few months before the end of his life.
Leicester Daily Mercury, 20 July 1950, reproduced by kind permission of findmypast.com
Image copyright Trinity Mirror
Joseph Arthur's dad was a Samuel, Samuel Henry Carvell. And Samuel Henry's dad was Samuel Carvell, too! And... his father before him! And yes: his father too. The tree goes: Joseph Arthur, Samuel Henry, Samuel, Samuel, Samuel. And I cannot find out if it continues with more Samuels beyond. Who knows? There might be Samuel Carvells in the Domesday Book! Maybe I should start there, and work forward in time: try another angle.

Each of the generations of Samuel Carvells had several children, who also had several children. Each of the Carvell families tended to use the same set of names: Samuel, John, Joseph, Mary, Ann, Thomas, Sarah. (I had an uncle Sam Carvell, and an uncle Joe Carvell too--it carried on.) This means that it can be extra tricky matching up all the "right" children with the "right" families, when you piece the tree-puzzle together. All errors are my own...

Prior to a general migration to Leicester, around the same time as Samuel Henry's move to the city, the families lived in cluster of farming communities: Misterton, Walcote in Leicestershire, Churchover in Warwickshire, with their wives from neighbouring villages; Costerbach, Claybrooke Magna, Kimcote, Bitteswell. All centered around the market town of Lutterworth, which of course is where all the farming community would meet up.

But my research has faltered, stuck at Samuel and Elizabeth who married in Churchover in 1776. I have searched the parish records online, reading the digital copy of the hand-written book... but no birth records for either Samuel or Elizabeth, though they were both "of this parish" when married. Which only means they had both lived there during the times that the Banns were read.(It wasn't a huge deal to read the parish records for the relevant years; the population of Churchover was only about 300 in its heyday!)

I understand that the Churchover parish records for the years between 1670 and 1721 went missing. That would explain why early records of a Churchover Carvell family cannot be found--if they lived there--but it doesn't explain no Carvells born or died in Churchover between 1721 and the marriage in 1776. There must be something that I'm missing.

There is another community of Carvells in nearby Hillmorton, Warwickshire, but I have not yet been able to make the connection. Same goes for a lot of Carvells in Everdon, Northamptonshire; not so very far away: a couple of hours by horse and cart. But... so far, no connection.

As for Elizabeth, the bride in 1776: it looks like her name is Durhead in the register, but that's what the person who wrote it down heard. Elizabeth signed with her mark; she did not write her name. I cannot find anyone else, anywhere, with that surname! It doesn't exist! I've tried imagining else it might be... either by staring at the signature for ages, wondering if the 'u' is an i, or if the 'r' is an n... also wondering about the sound of the name: was it Dread spoken slowly? Or Dafyd voiced very shyly? So far, I haven't found her. If you have... please let me know. Because I've been knocking up against this brick wall for well over ten years now!

But this is the fun of the puzzle!

I should probably just find all the Samuel Carvells born before 1776, and work out which one of them was the next one in my chain of Sams. That might do it!

(The Carvell name has been spelled in many ways across the years, and by different census takers and registrars. Carvell, Carvel, Carvill, Carvile: all part of the same family.)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The butchers of Syston (part four). The very sad bit.

Ancestors of Elizabeth Toon
This is the fourth and final part of the story about the family of Elizabeth Toon and her husband, William Holyland. (If you didn't read The butchers of Syston (part one), click here.) or (part two), click here, or (part three), click here. William Holyland was one of the very many butchers of Syston during the first half of the 19th century. That's not all he was: he was a husband, a father, a friend; a man who tried to defend others, yet messed up. Badly.

This part is where the story is very sad. Advance warning. You don't have to read it. You can leave it here, imagining that William Holyland grows older and wiser, keeps doing good deeds, carries on the butcher trade for generations of Syston families. It's OK--leave this page if you like, it's what a lot of people do when they are researching family history, too. Ancestors are left as the sum of their vital dates, and the title of their occupation. William Holyland was a butcher. Elizabeth nee Toon was a meat seller. That's it.

But if you do want to know the rest... here it is.

Life did not seem to become any easier for William Holyland (and probably not for his wife, nor for his children).

The Leicestershire Mercury has more stories about William. On 24th August, 1850, John and Joseph Pick, two brothers from Syston, were charged with assaulting William Holyland. Their father had quarrelled, at a pub, with another man, and William had taken the other man's side. The Picks were heard to tell William, "If you killed Bevan, you're not going to kill us". Seems like the manslaughter charge was not to be forgotten in Syston.

The Leicestershire Mercury then reports that on 24th April, 1852, three young men, John Getliffe, David Thorp, and Thomas Adcock, were charged with assaulting Wiliam Holyland in Syston. William said he was a butcher, and on the 15th of the month saw the defendants at the Bull's Head. (The Bull's Head was a public house on High Street, on the right-hand side just before the Green, walking from the center of the town, opposite the thatched cottage that later became Gamble's undertakers. When I was a kid, the pub's sign was not a board, but a carved head of a bull, sticking out of the wall. When the pub closed, I think the head was taken by another local pub of the same name.) 

David Thorp accused William of having hit his brother: all three defendants "fell on him", said William. Someone who worked at the pub confirmed William's account of events, saying that the young men would have "kicked his chops in", had they been wearing their work boots. But the defendants said that William was already drunk, and that he wanted to fight them, knocked two of them down. And the parish constable said that he was at the Bull's Head after the fight, and found William very drunk. And disorderly. The magistrates dismissed the case, saying that Willam was "not in a fit state himself" when he went into the public house. 

So if you were already drunk, you were a fair target to be attacked? 

Then the Leicestershire Mercury reports on 29th May, also in 1852, that William was again charged with being drunk and disorderly, this time in Mountsorrel. The case was discharged and the person who brought the charge was ordered to pay costs, William was let go, no fine, no charge, no crime... but his name was, once again, in the newspaper.

But then... in August 1854, William Holyland was charged with assaulting a man called Robert Taylor, with intent to do grevious bodily harm. Taylor was a wheelwright, also from Syston: William had walked into the wheelwright's shop one morning, yelling at him, pushing him... the wheelwright lifted a hammer to defend himself, and William took the hammer, and hit Robert Taylor on the head. Several witnesses confirmed what had happened. William was committed for trial at the assizes. Bail was applied for: bail was denied.

We have no clue what the argument was about, Why did William go to the wheelwright? What was he angry about? Why did he want to fight a man who was working in his own shop, at 10 o'clock in the morning?

We will never know the answers. There was no trial.

There was no trial, because William Holyland, a butcher, who knew all about knives, and about sharpening knives, and about how to humanely slaughter animals: that William, he took his own life, with a dinner knife, in his cell at the county gaol.

There. I told you it was a sad story. What can be more sad than a family man's suicide?

The Leicester Journal, Friday, 15th September, 1854, between news of a council meeting about Wyggeston's Hospital and the cricket scores, gave a full account of the inquest into William Holyland's death. I have transcribed the article, and you can read it, in full, here. Please do. It tells a better story than I do. 

If you read it intellectually, the article provides great insight into aspects of prison life that have changed; they type of work prisoners did, how their meals were served, with what. It's an example of journalism from the 1850's, when the only way to obtain news was by reading word-by-word accounts of happenings. See the difference in the emotion carried in the reporting; see how open the information was. Look at it from the point-of-view of a newspaper publisher; not only did someone have to note down all the inquest, someone had to write the story, someone had to put together the page, in columns, for printing, character by leaden character; someone had to ink the print, operate the printing press, cut and assemble the newspapers. Someone had to go onto the street and sell the papers, hawking them from street corners. 

If you read it emotionally, you'll see a better picture of the man William Holyland: his state of mind, his sadness, his regret, anger, disappointment.

What I took away from this story: William Holyland, Elizabeth Toon; they were not just names on a census. They were not just their trades, the number of children they had, the connection to my blood line. The were real, living, breathing, human beings.

After William took his own life, Elizabeth had to carry on. The children were growing up, almost adults, but a parent having to tell their children that the other parent isn't coming back... it's hard. One of the hardest things a parent ever has to do. No doubt, Thomas William Doubleday Holyland and Harriet Henrietta Holyland had already been through a lot during their young lives, already, before this happened; young Doubleday would in the future also be in trouble with the law.

Elizabeth Holyland nee Toon lived until 1884. In the 1861 census, Elizabeth is 48 and her trade is "meat sales woman".  Harriett, a dressmaker aged 22, lives with her, as does a three-year-old grandson, William Holyland. And a retired butcher, John Swain, aged 67. By 1871, Harriet has married William Briggs, a painter and paper-hanger--not a butcher!--and has three children. Elizabeth is living with the family, still on Cramp Lane/Street, but she is no longer selling meat... she's a nurse, perhaps helping Harriett with the grandchildren, perhaps helping others. In 1881 I'm not certain... she might be the Elizabeth "Holland" living on Upper Church street, a pensioner, but I'm not 100% certain.

Elizabeth died, in Syston, in 1884 (at least, that's what I think). She had never remarried. We will never know what the relationship between Elizabeth and her husband was like. Was he angry with her too, when drunk? Or was he tender and sad? Did he bring her daffodils stolen from the park? Did he treat the children with love? He defended an old man in the pub... was that a good indication of William's character, someone who cared for those less able to defend themselves, even if his actions were misguided.

We cannot know, without the time machine. And even if we had that machine, no-one ever truly knows what goes on within another person's relationship.

All we can say is this: William Holyland was much, much more than just-another butcher from Syston. And Elizabeth Holyland, nee Toon, was much, much more that a Meat Sales Woman.

References: Leicestershire Mercury, Leicester Chronical, through http://findmypast.com and other sources. Note that a review of the gaol, published in the Leicestershire Mercury on October 21st, 1854, shows that William was one of only two suicides in the gaol that year.