Have you visited us before?

“Have you visited us before?” asked the receptionist at the Society of Genealogists in London.  I paused and said, “well, yes, but it was about 30 years ago!”.  The receptionist recorded that as a ‘no’.  My memories of that one visit are very vague, but the handwritten notes in my family history files are testament to the fact that I found some useful information on that occasion, in the days long before online access to data.

My investigation of sources relevant to my newly-found Mormon ancestors has continued apace since my last couple of blogs.   Last time I wrote of finding on Family Search that LDS membership records existed for East Dereham in Norfolk for the period 1848 – 1871.  I phoned the Portsmouth LDS Family History Centre to enquire, only to learn that they did not hold any microfilms.  The person I spoke to didn’t seem to know how I might find this record, which was very disappointing.  However, fellow family historians are wonderfully helpful, and shortly after posting my question on a family history society facebook page, I learnt that it was to the Society of Genealogists in London that I needed to direct my enquiry.  Apparently it stopped being possible to order microfilms at local LDS Family History Centres a couple of years ago, and all those held by the London Centre are now housed at the Society of Genealogists. http://www.sog.org.uk/ 

I had a very positive response to my phone call to the latter:  the person I spoke to went off to investigate and phoned me back with the good news that yes, they had film number 86996.  I couldn’t wait for an opportunity to get to London to view it!

The journey was not helped by the fact that no trains were running on the Circle Line, but finally I was there, loading the microfilm and scrolling through to find the documents.  “A record of births and baptisms of the Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ East Dereham Norwich Conference of Latter Day Saints.  Organised 24th Day of March 1849 on 18 Members at Conference in Norwich.”

The pages recorded the LDS baptisms of members:  for most it also gives the individual’s birth date, and says who baptized them and confirmed them.  Further columns sometimes indicate if an individual emigrated, died or was ‘cut off’.

I quickly spotted both James and Bartha Lina George, both baptized on 10 June 1849 by John Lickerish.  The entry for James includes the information that he was ordained both Deacon and Priest in October that same year.  Scanning through the records shows that James himself baptized members from around 1852 onwards, so it looks as though he became a significant leader in that local Mormon branch.  In fact, he subsequently baptized three of his own children:  Martha and James in 1860 and Ann in 1862.  John was baptized in 1866 and Alice in 1870.  I had read previously that the Mormon church did not (and I believe still does not) baptise children under the age of 8 years old:  Martha was 10, James was 8, Ann was 8, John was 10 and Alice was 12.

James’ wife Bartha Lina died in 1865 – before the baptisms of the last two children.  I was interested to see the baptism recorded of James’ second wife Frances Gathercole in December 1866 – about 6 months before they married.  A Mary Gathercole had already joined the church in 1852 and Harriet Gathercole would be baptized there in 1869.  The latter turns out to be Frances’ daughter by her first husband John.

So, apart from learning the baptism dates of James’ family, what else have I learnt from this particular document?  Well I had wondered whether many wider members of the family had also converted to the Mormon church even if they did not subsequently emigrate.  I think the answer to this is not really.  I did find three other George baptisms:  a Mary in 1851, born in Gressenhall in 1811, an Elizabeth in 1863 (unfortunately her date of is not birth given) and another Mary in 1864 (again no date of birth given). Now I think that the first Mary could be the wife of James’ oldest brother David.  Her maiden name was Burrell and there is also an entry for a Susana Burrell, born in Gressenhall, who could well be related.  Mary’s entry says that she was ‘cut off’ in June 1853, which I take to mean that she was excommunicated in some way.  Without dates of birth it is hard to work out who the other two women are, unfortunately.

In case you have any East Dereham ancestors yourself, some of the other family names which occur in this document are:  Johnson, Jones, Baker, Wright, Butter, Baker, Everett, Pooley, Savage, Thompson, Smith, Moore, Roberson, Taylor, Bowman, Gunn, Hill, Carr, Rawlins, Reynolds and Hayhoe.

The document entries cease in 1871, but James George is recorded as baptising people during that last year.  I do wonder whether the numbers in the church had dwindled by that time, with a number having emigrated to America including most of James’ children.  The same surnames crop up in the document again and again, so it looks like perhaps a relatively small number of families comprised the Branch.  This is speculation, but it could be another contributory factor to James’ decision to emigrate to Utah himself in 1878.

A book which I found on the open shelves at the Society of Genealogists is ‘A Norfolk Diary – passages from the diary of Rev Benjamin John Armstrong’.  He was vicar of East Dereham from 1850 – 1888.  Time did not permit a longer perusal, but it looked fascinating.  I subsequently found reference to it on the Hoe and Worthing Archive site http://www.hoeandworthingarchive.org.uk/church.html describing the vicar’s visit to parishioners in Hoe where he found “two families who are Mormonites”.  One of those families was that of Jeremiah Jones, whose name occurs frequently in the East Dereham document, frequently baptising people.  He was the same age as James and apparently Jeremiah and his family emigrated in 1862.

My visit to the Society of Genealogists was not quite a first, but my visit to a LDS Family History Centre a few days earlier certainly was.  I may not have been able to view microfilms, but I was able to view a document only available online at a LDS Centre as well as taking the opportunity to use Ancestry Worldwide.  My learning continues!

 

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 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?

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