The Utah Connection

The discovery of Mormons amongst my ancestors has certainly given my George research a new lease of life!  A whole tranche of hitherto untapped sources has been revealed, so I’m on a big learning curve currently.

Having established that James George, brother of my 2 x great grandfather John, most probably sailed from Liverpool bound for New York on 15 June 1878 accompanied by his youngest daughter Alice, I wanted to know when the rest of his children crossed the pond.

From a historical narrative on Ancestry it seemed that James Jnr was the first to go, in the winter of 1868, but what of Martha, Ann and John?

Not having a Worldwide subscription to Ancestry, I took myself off to our local library last Friday to use the library version (hooray for libraries!).  Firstly I looked for death certificates and found ones for all five of the children under Utah, Death and Military Death Certificates 1904 – 1961.

James George Jnr was the first to die, in January 1926 in Bountiful, Davis County.  The death certificates have two particularly useful questions:  “length of residence in city or town where death occurred” and “how long in US if foreign birth”.  Now this information is only as good as the knowledge of the informant.  In this case James’ wife Viola seemed to think he had been in Bountiful since 1869 and in the US since 1857.  However the 1910 census, which I looked at next and where James himself is likely to have provided the information, gives his “year of immigration” as 1869.  That would make him about 16 – 17 years old when he emigrated from England.

Next to die was Ann just three months later in Park City, Summit County.  In this case the informant was her son Joseph who stated that he believed his mother had immigrated in 1876.  At the time of the US Federal census in 1920 Ann was living with her daughter Mae, who had given her mother’s immigration year as 1880.  Another time I must look for a marriage date for Ann, but with her first child born in 1881, I’m speculating that her arrival in Utah might have been nearer 1876 than 1880.

After Ann was Martha, who died in October 1932 in Ogden, Weber County.  Her eldest son Fred was the informant and was way out on her birth date, giving that as 1844 rather than 1850.  He stated that she had been in the US since 1862.  However, in the 1920 census Martha herself had given the information that she immigrated in 1870, which should be the more reliable date except that she appears on the 1871 census in East Dereham, Norfolk, working as a dairymaid!   I found a marriage date for her on Family Search of 1874 in Salt Lake, so her immigration was sometime between 1871 and 1874.

Next to die was brother John, in June 1944 in Logan, Cache County, at the advanced age of 88.  His son Horten was the informant and he gave the immigration date of 1873.  John himself, on the 1930 census, gave the year as 1872.  That looks pretty reliable to me as the dates are so close.  He, too, was in East Dereham in 1871.

Alice outlived them all, dying in July 1948 at the age of 90 in Salt Lake City.  The informant’s signature is unclear, but may have been her daughter Alice.  She gave the immigration date as 1876, whereas Alice’s husband in 1930 had given the date as 1904, which was obviously inaccurate since her first child was born in Utah in 1883.

It would be great if I could find all of the above on a passenger list, but until I do my best guess is that their immigration dates were James 1868/9, John 1872, Martha 1872/4, Ann 1876 and then James Snr with Alice in 1878.  Quite probably all (with the possible exception of James Jnr) went by steamship to New York and then by rail to Salt Lake.  Prior to 1869 the journey was far more arduous, consisting of sailing to New Orleans and then by boat up the Mississippi before the wagon train or handcart route to Salt Lake.

I mentioned Family Search earlier, and this is just one source which I am just beginning to investigate.  I am embarrassed to say that I had no idea how much primary source material was on this site!  Till the last week I had only been aware of user-submitted material on there, often with no sources given whatsoever, and so had treated the information with a good deal of scepticism.  But, for example, looking up East Dereham I see there are scanned pages from Court rolls – definitely something to come back to.

I am beginning to work out how to use the Catalog search and have found some of the sources mentioned in ‘My Ancestor was a Mormon’, such as the Early Church Information File.  This appears to act as a signpost to other records, some of which I believe can only be accessed at LDS Family History Centres.  Though aware for many years of the existence of these centres, I have never had occasion to use one.  But this, I think, will be my next line of enquiry, since the Family Search site indicates that membership records exist for East Dereham for the period 1848 – 1871, which is just the period I need to potentially throw more light on my Mormon George family.  Who knows – it may just reveal other family members who also converted!

John George’s death certificate from 1944 (accessed from Ancestry 28/6/19)
John George and family probably taken in the late 1880s.
Photo originally shared on Ancestry by Summer Cooper.

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