They went to live in Utah

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.

Alice George’s death certificate gave me the proof I needed

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 .  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?

James George b 1818, brother of my 4 x great grandfather

The Hudson report

I’m not quite sure why I had not realised it, but I had never got round to getting a copy of David George’s death certificate – not until last month, that is.  It was Mark, an AGRA member, who pointed out this omission.

I had taken the opportunity to sign up for a free 20 minute consultation at Family Tree Live to discuss my George ‘brickwall’.  Mark made a number of helpful suggestions as well as providing reassurance that my methods thus far were sound.  I believe that David George was born around 1786 in East Dereham, Norfolk, but so far I have been unable to find a baptism record for him in order to determine his parents or any other document which would give this proof.  And so I am stuck and have been for some time.

Mark suggested that one thing I might do would be to get David’s death certificate to see if that gave any further information.  Did he, for example, die in the workhouse, which could lead to Settlement papers?  I duly ordered a pdf straight away.

I had already found the burial entry for David on 30 April 1851 at East Dereham church, so I suppose it hadn’t occurred to me that I needed a death certificate too.

The death certificate revealed that no, David George did not die in the workhouse.  It indicates that he died on 26 April 1851 at North Hall Green, East Dereham (in other words, at home, since that was the address given in the 1851 census taken earlier that month).

The cause of death is given as “Peritonitis from perforation of the intestinal canal, 12 hours certified”.  The informant was George Walden “in attendance” of White Lion Yard, East Dereham, and the death was registered on 29 April.

My research into this cause of death indicates that the perforation could have been the result of an injury or the result of cancer or an ulcer.  The onset of pain is likely to have been sudden and the peritonitis (inflammation as intestinal contents seeped into the abdomen) is likely to have resulted in blood poisoning.  Today this would be treated with surgery and antibiotics.  Poor Great Great Great Grandfather David – it sounds awful.  It also sounds as though he didn’t suffer for long, and indeed the newspaper entry published a few days later says “very suddenly”.  What a shock to his family.


So who was George Walden and why did he register the death rather than one of David’s many children?

George was present when David died, so could he have been his best mate?  It wasn’t that George was literate (he made his mark).  But maybe George had registered a death before and knew what to do, offering to perform this service for the family while they all came to terms with David’s sudden demise.

George is most likely to be the one at Green Yard on census night 1851.  Green Yard was off Church St, and the White Lion pub was on the left of Church St as you look towards the Church.  No doubt the yard went up to one side of the pub.  Maybe they were actually one and the same place.  George was also 65 and a sawyer.

I then wondered what else I could find out about George.  I discovered that his wife Frances (Hudson) came from Yaxham as did David’s wife Elizabeth.  Perhaps the two women were great friends?  Frances and George married on 9 Feb 1812 in East Dereham.  Frances was born 28 Nov 1786, the daughter of Edmund Hudson and Mary Shilling, who, according to the Norfolk Online Record Search available through Norfolk Family History Society, had 6 other children, all born in Yaxham. 

Now the name Hudson rang a bell.  I remembered that David’s son James married a Bartholina Hudson in 1845.  I looked her up and found she was baptised on 11 Jan 1818 in Costesey, father Edmund Hudson, mother Bertolina. One of Edmund and Mary’s children was an Edmund, baptised in 1792.  Annoyingly I have been unable to find a marriage for Edmund and Bertolina, but I think it quite likely that this Edmund (and therefore the father of Bartholina who married James George) is the brother of Frances who married George Walden.  So Bartholina could well have been Frances’ niece, therefore forming a connection between these two families which went beyond David and Elizabeth, George and Frances being good friends.

So yes, it was definitely worth getting that death certificate.  I learnt where David died, who was with him when he died and what caused his death.  More unexpectedly, I found the name of someone hitherto unknown to me which has given me a glimpse into the social interaction of the family.  Though some of this is a little speculative, it helps to create the picture of a real, living family.  I find it a little surprising that a humble ag lab family went to the trouble or could even afford to put a death notice in the paper.  But perhaps that indicates the extent to which David was indeed “much beloved and respected by all who knew him” as the notice says.

So what is next in my efforts to knock down that brickwall?  Well, manorial records look worth pursuing, but whether I wait some time for a possible visit to Norfolk or whether I pay a researcher I’m not sure.

Talking to the Family Search people at Family Tree Live confirmed my suspicion that the information on the Millenium File which indicates that David was the son of John George and Ann Gallant should be treated with caution since no source is given.

However, Mark did encourage me to take a look at other Ancestry trees which might include David (though of course proceeding warily).  I’ll let you know how I get on with that particular line of enquiry.  That vital clue may yet be out there somewhere!