Bridget Surdival: From Mayo to Brooklyn

When the White Star Line’s SS Germanic sailed out of Queenstown (now Cobh, Co. Cork), Ireland on 14 April 1898, there were many young Irish men and women aboard, including 19-year-old Bridget Surdival.  The ship was headed for the port of New York, and Bridget was going to join her older sister, Mary, who was living in Brooklyn.

SS_Germanic_c1890-1900 with caption

Bridget was born in 1876 in Balla, Co. Mayo, Ireland, to parents John Surdival and Bridget Reilly. She was the youngest sister of my great-grandfather Patrick Surdival (a.k.a. Patrick Sullivan). Although her name was registered as Biddy, she used the names Bridget, Beatrice, and Beattie.

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Was Your Ancestor a Kew Gardener?

FMNHave you discovered a gardener in your family? Perhaps, like me, you have come across one or more ancestors noted in the census records as gardeners, horticulturalists, or nurserymen. Some, like Thomas Gee, learned their trade by serving as apprentices. Others, like my father’s cousin Frank Clarke, may have trained at a horticultural school such as that at Kew Gardens on the outskirts of London, England. If they studied at Kew, there are resources available to help you learn more about their training and later employment. In some cases, you will be able to fill in the gaps between census enumerations.

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On This Day: 4 September 1932 - Death of Walter Clarke

CLARKE Walter with captionEighty-four years ago today, on 4 September 1932, great-uncle Walter Clarke died in Palgrave, Suffolk, England at the age of 71. He was a public-spirited man, and his death was therefore felt not only by family, but by his community as well. The Diss Express for 9 September 1932 carried a report of Uncle Walter’s death that included many details of his public service.

Walter was born in Palgrave in 1861 and trained as a printer-compositor. He worked for Francis Cupiss of Diss, Norfolk, a veterinarian medicines manufacturer who operated several printing presses to create, among other things, labels for his horse and cattle medications.

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Never on a Sunday

Have you ever wondered what day of the week your great-grandparents married on? Did our ancestors, like many of us nowadays, favour June weddings? I was curious, so I decided to take a look at the marriages in the parish of some of my ancestors to see what was popular a hundred years ago.

Baconsthorpe, Norfolk, England is a small parish in rural East Anglia. Between 1811 and 1901 its total population fluctuated between a low of 218 and a high of 333. During the time period from 1 January 1753 to 31 December 1900, there was a total of 272 marriages.

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Joseph Rowe: Service in Gibraltar and India

Joseph James Rowe was one of my great-grandfather’s younger brothers. He was born and baptised in Baconsthorpe, Norfolk, England, in 1863. By the time he was 18 years old, he was working as an agricultural labourer, still living at home with his family in Baconsthorpe.

Everything else that I know about Joseph comes from his military service records. He joined the Norfolk Regiment at Great Yarmouth on 10 April 1883, when he was about 20 years old, although his age was recorded on his service record at the time as 18 and a half years.

Norfolk Map

I don’t have any photographs of Joseph, but his records help paint a picture of his physical appearance.

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Years ago, I took an introductory course in tracing family history that was offered by the Toronto branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society. The instructor advised that we should be prepared for the black sheep that would be unearthed during the researching of our family tree. It took some time, but I did eventually find a rather naughty relative in my family tree.

One of my great-great-granduncles was a man named George Howes. He was born about 1816 in West Winch, Norfolk, England. According to the 1841 and 1851 census enumerations, he was an agricultural labourer. Other than that, I knew nothing about George.

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Alice Owen's Final Days

In 1939, Alice Owen was 82 years of age, suffering from dementia and myocarditis. She was a widow, her husband, Daniel Owen, having died in St. Helens, Lancashire in 1928. For some time after her husband’s death, although I’m not certain for how long, Alice lived with her single daughter, Mary Owen, and Mary’s son, Joseph Owen, at 57 Cooper Street in St. Helens.

 At 32, Alice’s grandson Joseph earned his living as a general labourer at a local glass bottle manufacturing plant. His mother, Mary, kept house. So it seems that Joe was the sole source of income for the small household, and Mary would have been responsible for caring for her infirm and senile mother.

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A Fractious Soldier

South Lancashire Regiment with borderWhen Britain entered World War I in August 1914, William Henton was a young man of 23, newly married and with an infant son, living in St. Helens, Lancashire, England. With newspapers publishing appeals to join the armed services, hundreds of thousands of men joined within just a few months, and William was one of them. On 4 September 1914, William joined the ranks of the South Lancashire Regiment, 7th Battalion.

As I read through William’s service record, I was surprised to read that within 5 months of his attestation, having never left the country, he was discharged as medically unfit.

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A Gardener in the Family

Cactus speciosissimus with caption

One of my favourite pastimes is gardening – reading horticultural journals, browsing through seed catalogues, and especially getting my hands dirty. So I was intrigued when I discovered an 1851 census record for my 3xgreat-grandfather, Thomas Gee, that gave his occupation as gardener.

I had a pretty good idea what my farmer, agricultural labourer, and market gardener ancestors did for a living. But Thomas’s occupation, gardener, was a bit vague.

He was born 23 January 1799 in Sutton, Lancashire, England, which is now part of the city of St. Helens. It was an industrial area, and Thomas’s father, John Gee, was a glass blower.

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John Nunn was one of my great-great-great-grandfathers. He was called to a settlement examination in Diss, Norfolk, England on 13 January 1798 before John Frere, Justice of the Peace. He was living in Diss at the time, and must have found himself in financial need, otherwise there would likely not have been an inquiry into his place of settlement.

Thanks to John Frere, the examination record is a small trove of genealogically useful information. He starts by telling us that John Nunn was a linen weaver. The settlement examination record also states that John was 21 years of age and up, and that he was born in Palgrave, Suffolk.

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