Recently a set of circumstances has given me more time than usual to spend searching for ancestors. (Yay me!) I have had to marvel at how the information began to roll in as I dug a little deeper, and also just because I had done something.
The first example was being contacted by a cousin on my husband Howard’s side; the surname is Wressell, from Yorkshire, England. I thought that we had the research pretty well wrapped up on that line – but can we ever say that? When Carol contacted me, I ran the name through newspapers.com to see if I could help her with her part of the family. Quite by accident (not really), I found an article on Percy Wressell, who had fought with Canadian troops during WWI and been killed.
The Winnipeg, Canada Tribune, 16 June 1917
Of course, that meant I had to determine where he fits in the family, and that research led to finding his mother, Mary Jane, as well as four siblings. The deeper I dug, the sadder the story became. Every record that listed an occupation for her was either as “servant” or “domestic.” You don’t need to have watched every season of “Downton Abbey” to know that female servants were not only the lowest rung of the social ladder in late 19th century England but also the most vulnerable.
The 1871 Northowram, Yorkshire, English Census
In all of the vital, church and census records I found for Mary Jane or her five children, I found no reference to a husband/father; in fact, I located two baptismal records for two of the children where the space for the father’s name had a line through it and under the children’s names was written “privately baptized.”
West Yorkshire Church of England Baptismal record, 1879
I found the eldest child, Walter, on a list of “Lunacy Patients Register” at age 17, and then a later record of his death in the same institution in 1913 at age 41.
UK "Lunacy Patients Admissions Records," 1879
Mary Jane's daughter Amy died before she was two years of age. Mary Jane died, as listed in the “Nonconformist” records, at age 47 in 1892.
The website newspapers.com can be a great tool for researching ancestors, but it is a bit tricky, as it relies on the computer’s ability to read old newsprint. Further, if you have a name that is very common or is a noun in everyday use, there may be just too many hits to be able to narrow down. But another of Howard’s surnames is McTaggart, which is a much simpler name for which to search. In a typical migration pattern, the McTaggarts came from the British Isles to Canada and some filtered down into Michigan, where one of them, Louisa, married my Howard’s great-grandfather’s brother. The search for McTaggarts in newspapers.com revealed a notice in the Port Huron (MI) Times Herald that “A message received by Mr. and Mrs. David McTaggart Thursday evening told of the sad news of the death of Captain Harold Ross, killed in action…”
Of course, I couldn’t just note that fact down and go on my way. It turns out that Captain Ross was the only child of Harold and Nellie Ross, and that Nellie Ross and Florence McTaggart were sisters from the Peter and Agnes (McCorkendale) Wright family of Ontario. Normally an officer is pretty easy to locate in one of several family history sites, but somehow, Capt. Ross has slipped through the cracks and it seems to be up to me to make sure he is not forgotten.
Another name easy to search is one from my side of the family: Alberghini. A broad search revealed that one of my Alberghinis from Renazzo, Italy married an Irish girl from Boston, Mae Nugent. She had seven siblings, including a little brother who died when he was only four years old.
Finally, the saddest story of all comes from my mother’s husband’s family, the Wheelers. His was a fairly prominent family in Newport, RI and one of the branches of the family was the Knowe family. The headline from 1943 read: Janet, Susan Knowe drown in Maryland.” According to the news article, the two girls, 8-and 4-years old were “wading on a sandbar while the mother was on the shore tending her 10-months-old baby.”
It is difficult to imagine the enormity of the pain suffered through so much sadness. I was contemplating this recently while attending our local LDS (Mormon) Atlanta Temple. As I pondered, I felt as if my spiritual eyes were opened, and I felt as never before the infinite depth and breadth of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and His healing power – and not just in this life, but for families throughout all eternity.
I will keep searching and finding them.