A 73 year old twice widowed ag lab from rural Norfolk dying in Utah, USA? It seemed pretty implausible and so I had treated that particular Ancestry ‘hint’ with a good deal of scepticism.
However, it was another of Mark’s suggestions (the AGRA member I saw at Family Tree Live) to take a good look at the trees of others who might be interested in the George family from East Dereham in my efforts to break down my brick wall. So I did just that, with my sceptical hat on, particularly looking at who had saved photos from other trees to their own. What I discovered was a number of people with James George b 1818 and his five children ending up in Utah. It was not, however, until I spotted a death certificate for James’ daughter Alice, that I got the proof I needed. That certificate gave the names of parents matching those on my tree, plus her birth date in East Dereham. It looked as though the family had indeed emigrated.
James is the younger brother of my 4 x great grandfather John George. His first wife Bertholina (nee Hudson) had died in 1865 (I mentioned her in my last blog). His youngest child, Alice, was then only 8 years old. Two years later James married a widow, Frances Gathercole, and she subsequently died in January 1878.
Trawling through the information on these various trees on Ancestry with the ‘US connection’ revealed some astounding information: that James appears to have converted to Mormonism whilst in East Dereham and then responded to the call to emigrate to Salt Lake City to help build the new Zion! A couple of people have biographies of James on their Ancestry pages, which sound like stories passed down through the family. I think there’s an element of oral tradition there, too, as there is more than one reference to ‘East Durham’. If you say ‘Dereham’ with a Norfolk accent you could well hear it as ‘Durham’. I think that helps to lend credence to the stories.
Now I have to say that until recently my knowledge of the Mormon church was pretty much limited to the Osmonds! However, I got hold of an extremely informative book called ‘My Ancestor was a Mormon’, by Ian Waller, published by the Society of Genealogists. It was published in 2011, and of course the digital age has continued apace since then, so I am hoping that even more of the sources might be available online than was the case then. I’m learning a lot about the early history of the church and the early patterns of migration.
By the 1850s there were more Mormons in the UK than in the USA due to the evangelism that had taken place in this country and from the 1840s onwards there was positive encouragement of members to emigrate. Initially this was by ship to New Orleans and then up the Mississippi to St Louis, before an overland journey by wagon train to Utah. Later on, once the railroad was complete, the journey was much quicker, with emigrants sailing to New York and then by rail to Salt Lake.
The biographical information for James states that he “received his endowment in the Endowment House on 23 October 1879”. This was a very sacred ceremony in the Mormon church and it indicates he was in Utah by that stage; he was also recorded on the 1880 US census.
One of the sources of information which I have looked at as a result of this book is the Castle Garden website www.castlegarden.org . From 1855 to 1890 immigrants arriving in New York passed through this processing centre, the forerunner of the better known Ellis Island. Though not conclusive evidence, I found on this site a James George, labourer, arriving on 26 June 1878 on board the Montana, having sailed from Liverpool. He had paid for his own passage and was aged 59. The age just about fits, but the fact that a 20 year old Alice George was on the same boat, makes it seem more likely that these are our people. James was no spring chicken, so his resilience in making that journey at that time of life is remarkable.
Why did James choose to emigrate at that point? Well it looks as though he made the journey quite soon after the death of his second wife. Economically probably rural Norfolk was not a great place to be at that time, but probably just as importantly, it looks as though the rest of his children had preceded him to Utah. According to his son John’s death certificate, he emigrated in 1873 and his eldest daughter Martha had her first child in Utah in 1875. I need to do a bit more investigation to see when daughter Ann emigrated, but son James appears to have been the first to go, as early as 1868. So I’m guessing that James Snr felt there was little to keep him in Norfolk with the rest of the family already in Utah and no doubt telling him about the opportunities there.
I’ve sent messages via Ancestry to two of the people who are descended from James and was thrilled when one of them replied. I’ve found a 4th cousin in Utah! Who’d have thought it?