At the age of 17, Jesse Atkins decided he needed a fresh start. He worked as a seaman on board the ship, Lancastrian, and made his way from England to New York, United States.
Born Edward Jesse Atkins in 1899, his mother died when he was just 3 years old. In 1911 Jesse and his father lived in the Amersham, Buckinghamshire, England workhouse where he was going to school. He had not been sent to Canada with Bernardos Homes like 4 of his sisters. Instead, his family arranged that he should move to America.
His sisters Edith Sackett in England and Rosa Conway in Upper New York State most likely organized his emigration. Edith was his closest living relative in England. His destination was the home of Rosa and her family.
What was the result of his new start? He arrived in New York City on December 9, 1916 and went straight to his sister’s home. A year later he enlisted in the war, World War 1. Perhaps it was in the army that he met John and James McGann.
He went on to marry, Julia, the sister of John and James McGann, on June 13, 1925. Jesse and Julia lived in Moorestown, New Jersey and had 4 children, Dorothy Aileen, Mary Claire, Jesse Junior, and Thomas Donald. Jesse made a career as an auto mechanic and later as a car salesman.
Unfortunately, his fresh start lasted only 30 years. He died on June 27, 1946 and is buried in the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Moorestown.
My great uncle, Holmes Miller, was a dispatch rider in World War 2. He rode an Indian Motorcycle delivering messages back and forth from the front lines. This was a lonely, dangerous job. They ” travelled unmarked roads, sometimes under fire or strafing, often in the dark without headlights…” Holmes would ride a motorcycle through shelling. He was once shelled by friendly fire. After he was wounded on the motorcycle, he was transferred to warehousing, ordering supplies.
The upper left picture is part of the 37th Battery in Petawawa 1940. Uncle Holmes is the 3rd from the left front row. Bottom left picture I’m not sure if this is an Indian motorcycle but similar. Picture on right is Holmes and Edna on their wedding day.
Uncle Holmes enlisted with the 37th Field Battery in Fort Frances, Ontario. He trained at and Fort Frances and Petawawa with the other Rainy River District boys. In Petewawa he met his future wife, Edna Richardson. They married July 2, 1941 in Pembroke, Ontario.
He served in England, U.K., Central Mediterranean area, Continental Europe, Italy and France. Uncle Holmes was discharged on October 17, 1945.
“I’m going home” proclaimed Gramma Harrison, as she hauled out the dilapidated suitcase from the basement and filled it with a few items. The screen door slammed shut as she lugged the suitcase down the rickety steps of the porch. She hauled the suitcase along the dusty, pothole filled lane. Abruptly, she stopped as the truth slammed into her. There was no home!
That’s the way it was. Kate Atkins was 8 years old when her mother died in 1902. Her father had been unable to care for 7 children. Eventually, the family was split up and the children were sent to the workhouse or other charitable organizations. Unlike three of her sisters, Beatrice, Alice, and Rosa, Kate spent 8 years in England before she was convinced by her sister Edith to go to Canada. She arrived in Quebec, Canada on May 15, 1910 aboard the passenger ship “Canada” and traveled by train to join her sister, Rosa, in Port Dover, Ontario.
It had been ok at first, working for the pharmacist, Mr Ansley and his wife as a domestic with Rosa. But the Rosa went back to England and when she returned moved to New York state and married. Kate was alone. She didn’t stay in Port Dover for long. She headed to a domestic position in Toronto. At least there she was near her sister, Alice.
She married John Henry Harrison in Toronto on September 6, 1913. Now she lived in Brower, Ontario; a place of freezing winters and mosquito-filled summers. The lush rolling hills of Buckinghamshire, England were very different from the dense bush overgrown with spruce and pine where she now lived. She wanted to go home but the truth was this was her home. A home that had been filled with 9 children and now visiting grandchildren.
Kate never did go back to England. She died on 12 January 1973 in Connaught, a locality near Timmins, Ontario.
Two sisters of Elizabeth Beatrice Letcher (nee Atkins) were also sent to Canada with Dr. Bernardos Homes. Like Beatrice, they were both at Barkingside Village prior to coming to Canada. On October 7, 1905, at the age of 8, Alice Minnie in Quebec, probably on her way to Hazelbrae in Peterborough. Her older sister, Rosa, came to Canada with Dr. Bernardos Homes in March 1907 at the age of 16.
In 1921, Alice was a servant in the household of Alexander Elliot, an optician in the city of Toronto. In 1922, Alice married William James Plested in Toronto. They moved to the District of Cochrane, Ontario. Alice had one son, Doug, who died in December 2010.
In 1911 Rosa was in Port Dover, Ontario working as a domestic in the household of Harry Ansley, who is a druggist. Harry owned a store, so he could have been what we call a pharmacist. The exciting thing is that working with Rosa is Kate, her sister. Kate came to Canada in May 1910.
Rosa then left her employment with Harry Ansley to go back to England. This occurred sometime after the 1911 census. She returned to Canada on March 29, 1912 on board the SS Lake Manitoba, a CPR steamship that went form Liverpool to St John. She crossed into United States at the Niagara Falls, New York border in April of 1912, heading to a domestic position in the household of Mrs A. J. Howell in Syracuse, New York.
Rosa married Frank Thomas Conway in Allegheny, New York on September 30, 1913. She had 3 children, William Thomas, Julia, and Ruth Anne. She died about the 9 February, 1960 in Jordan, New York. She was very active in her church community.
I love Rosa. She was the family historian. It was from her obituary listing her living siblings and exactly where they lived, that I was able to confirm details of lives of many of her brothers and sisters. She knew where her sister, Kate, was and managed to find her domestic work in Canada. She went back to England to visit. Her husband and children even knew the name of the unincorporated community that Alice lived in. Although they were separated, Rosa kept her family close to her.
In genealogy we have our
family tree, the people we know or knew and consider family. Sometimes we also
have a DNA family that is different from who we regard as family. The DNA
family is our bloodline, people we match through DNA. On my mom’s side I have a
grandfather and a biological grandfather. I always knew my biological existed
and his name but that was it. There was no contact with him and he was seldom
mentioned. After taking a DNA test, I was able to connect with some of my mom’s
biological cousins and learn about that side of the family. I decided it was
time to research that family. Although well-sourced research had been done,
there were a couple of gaps. This post and the next few will tell the story of
my biological great-grandmother and her 6 siblings. I’ll start with the eldest child
of Fanny Green and William Atkins, Elizabeth Beatrice Atkins.
In 1902, Fanny Atkins
died leaving a husband, William Elbourne Atkins, and 7 children. I was curious
to know what happened to the children after Fanny died. There are instances in my
Canadian lines where the mother died and the father quickly remarried, or other
family members stepped in to help out and raised a child. I was curious to if
this was the case in Britain, where the family lived. I wasn’t sure what
records might exist to show what happened to these children. The first place to
look for the family was in the 1911 census. I was able to find William with the
youngest son, Jesse, in the workhouse but the other children were elusive
because the name is fairly common.
My first breakthrough was discovering Rosa Atkins on a passenger list stating she was coming to Canada with the Bernardo Homes. I learned of a database at Library and Archives Canada and that lists children that were sent to Canada as British Home Children.
The definition of these children is “a child under the age of 18 who is emigrated by an agency to be ‘adopted’ or placed as indentured servants (e.g. Bardardo, Macpherson, Birt, Middlemore, Quarriers) legally bound to their agency/placements. Often wages were held back until they were adults.”
Sure enough, 2 of Rosa’s
sisters, Elizabeth B., Rosa, and Alice
Atkins, are on the list. It was through clues from DNA family members that I
learned what happened to Elizabeth Beatrice. She went by Beatrice so that’s how
I’ll refer to her.
Beatrice was sent to Barkingside Girls Village in Barkingside, Essex, England along with her sisters Rosa and Alice. Barkingside was supposed to be a “progressive” home for orphaned and poor children. About a year after her mother died, Beatrice was on a ship bound for Canada. She left England on April 29, 1903 and was sent to Hazelbrae Home for girls in Peterborough, Ontario. From there she was sent to work as a domestic somewhere in Canada. Losing your mother is tramatic. Can you imagine being taken from your family at 14 years old then being sent to another country where you don’t know anyone. Then having to work as an indentured servant until you were old enough to leave. She must have been terrified and lonely.
I lost Beatrice after her arrival in Canada. But family members gave me clues to her married name. She had a daughter, Beatrice Letcher. Well, searching for Beatrice Letcher brought me to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. In 1911, Beatrice Atkins was a domestic for Alice Herman or Harman in Moose Jaw. Alice ran a boarding house with 16 people living as lodgers. I can’t find her anywhere between 1903 and 1911. As far as I can tell she wasn’t in Moose Jaw in 1906.
She married Frank Letcher before 1913 and had 3 children; Beatrice in 1913, Frank in 1921, and Norma in 1923. The 1975 obituary for Frank Letcher indicates that their daughter Beatrice married W.W. Burns and lived in Surrey, British Columbia. Frank moved to California with his wife and children. Norma was not mentioned in Frank’s obituary, she may have died before 1975. Frank owned Letcher Auto Electric which still exists today, but may not be owned by the family.
Elizabeth Beatrice Letcher
died on December 14, 1951 in Moose Jaw. Although she was separated from her
family, I know there was contact with at least one of her sisters. There are family
pictures from when she visited Kate Harrison, in Cochrane, Ontario. There is
also a story that my grandfather went out west and must have visited the
family. I like to think that creating a family of her own and keeping in touch
with her siblings would have made he happy after such a terrifying beginning to
Sources 1911 England Census [database on-line]. Amersham, Buckinghamshire, England; Ancestry.com (database online); Provo, UT, USA: Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1911. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA), 1911.
1911 Canada Census; Moosejaw, Saskatchewan; District 124; Page: 29; Family No: 223; Ancestry.com. 1911 Census of Canada [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA; Citing, Series RG31-C-1. Statistics Canada Fonds. Microfilm reels T-20326 to T-20460; Library and Archives Canada. lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1911/Pages/about-census.aspx.
1916 Canada Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta; Census Place: Saskatchewan, Moose Jaw, 17C; Roll: T-21931; Page: 21; Family No: 252; Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009; “Census returns for 1916 Census of Prairie Provinces.” Statistics of Canada Fonds, Record Group 31-C-1. LAC microfilm T-21925 to T-21956. Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa; in 1916 Beatrice is married to Frank Letcher and has a 3 year old daughter.
1926 Census of the Prairie Provinces; Moose Jaw Saskatchewan District 27 Subdistrict 72; library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; I was unable to find the family in the 1921 Canada Census.
Moose Jaw Obits 1970-1998; Saskatchewan Genealogical Society; Moose Jaw Branch; http://moosejawgenealogy.com/obits.htm; someone from the Moose Jaw genealogy society was kind enough to send me a copy of Frank’s obituary. She was unable to find one for Beatrice.
It’s fascinating to watch the flow of a family immigrating. What surprised me was they didn’t decide to hop on a ship and arrive en masse. Often one or two family members came to the new country and settled. Other family members, siblings, in-laws, cousins, or even neighbours followed. Imagine the letters being sent back home, encouraging them to come. The first ones to come may have been the bravest, or possibly the most desperate to get away. In the new country family members would live close to each other or share the same house until they were more established.
The family of Samuel and Elizabeth Searles leaving Wales to come to Canada is an example of this migration. In this case it happened in a short period of time, 1906 to 1910. The first 2 daughters to leave of Cardiff, Wales were Bessie Drake and Sarah Marsh. Bessie and Sarah arrived in Canada with their husbands and children on August 17, 1906. It was almost a year before other family members emigrated. During this time, were Edward Drake and William Marsh looking for jobs and a place to live? Were they trying to earn money to send back to Wales so the others could afford to come or did it take a year to persuade those still in Wales that moving to Canada was worth it?
Bessie Drake at the house on Gerrard Street in Scarborough, York County, Ontario.
In May 1907, Samuel Searles with his daughter, Alice, and son-in-law, Sam Fudge, arrived. Alice likely came to keep house for the men. It wasn’t long, about 2 months, before Elizabeth Searles came with her daughter Lilian and reluctant son, William. Travelling with them was Ellen, wife of Sam Fudge with their children.
It was over 3 years before the last daughter, Blanche, her children and husband George Nelson arrived in Canada. They brought with them William Harford, husband of her deceased sister, Mary.
As you can see, the family came over a few at a time. It wasn’t the case of everyone deciding to leave Wales and moving altogether. Interestingly, in 1911, George and Blanche Nelson live with Samuel, Elizabeth and Alice Searles at 2300 Gerrard Street East in Scarborough, York County, Ontario and the Drake family lived at 2298 Gerrard Street East in the same city. They were next door neighbours. The other families also lived in Scarborough. (As an after note these 2 addresses are now a lumberyard)
Moving didn’t always mean leaving the country. In Canada, it may have meant moving to another community or a part of the country that was just opening up. The McCall family did this when they moved to the village of Lavallee in Northwestern Ontario. From their mother, Mary McCall’s, obituary we learn,
“Andy and Billy immigrated here (Lavallee, Rainy River District, Ontario, Canada) from the east and in the fall Andy returned and brought the whole family from Amberley County Huron” [note that they actually came for Ashfield Township in Huron County, Ontario.
Obituary in Newspaper; Fort Frances Times, March 13, 1924; copy in my possession
The whole family included their parents, Robbie and Mary, and siblings, Maggie, Lizzie, and Bobbie and of course, Billy and Andy
A photo of the McCall siblings. Most likely taken around 1900 before they all moved to Lavallee. Left to right bottom row – Elizabeth (Lizzie), Andrew, Margaret Left to right in back – William (Billy) and Robert (Robbie)
It is difficult to move, leaving everything that’s comfortable and homey. With chain migration, the move is made easier because at least some or all your family is with you in the new location.
I love it when miracles happen in research. The latest one occurred while searching for the children of William and Fanny Atkins. Fanny died in 1902 leaving 7 children ranging in age from 3 to 14 years old. Of course, there were 5 girls who would have changed their names when they married. I had information on one of them, my great grandmother, Kate Atkins Harrison. I asked my cousin Ken if he knew where the children ended up. The story he heard was that Kate ended up in Canada because her sister had lifted her hand up when someone asked “who wants to go to Canada”.
In the 1911 census, William Atkins and his son, Jesse, were enumerated in the Amersham workhouse. Jesse was going to school, most likely run by the workhouse. The workhouse had 119 male and 74 female inmates (yes, that’s what they were called). The workhouse consisted of a new and old infirmary, vagrants ward, porter’s lodge, and the body of the house.
Jesse was in the workhouse but where were Elizabeth Beatrice, Edith Emily, Rosa, Kate, Alice Minnie, and Horace. I checked the 1911 census for these children but found nothing conclusive. That’s when the first miracle happened.
Left to right Bea Atkins, Kate Harrison, Horace Atkins, Jesse Atkins
After playing around for a while trying to find these children, I decided to go back and start with the youngest child, Jesse. An Ancestry Tree had him living in New Jersey so I searched for Jesse Atkins born in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, England and living in New Jersey. You know how when you are looking at records on Ancestry, on the right hand side Ancestry gives suggestions for other records. I checked them all and one of them, New York Passenger and Crew lists was my miracle. There was a Jesse Atkins who arrived in New York in 1916. He was asked the name and full address of his relative in the country of origin. His response was Mrs. Edith Sackett of Putney, London, England…could this be the Edith Emily I was looking for? Another question asked the name and address of where he was going. He answered, Mrs. Frank Conway of 432 W 204 Street, New York City. Who was Mrs Frank Conway? I discovered, in 1913 Frank Thomas Conway married Rosa Atkins whose father is William Atkins and mother is Fannie, not Green but some other name. Is this the Rosa Atkins I want?
I was pretty sure this was my family but needed more information, I found Frank and Rosa in census records, and the US Social Security Applications and Claim indexes. Once the death date was found, I was going to stop but something prompted me to look for final closure. To make sure this actually was the Rosa Atkins I was searching for I wanted an obituary for her.
This is when the second miracle happened. I know nothing about newspapers in Elbridge, New York so decided to ask for help. I joined a facebook group called The Genealogy Squad and the people there seemed to be pretty helpful. My post was brief. I gave the name and date of death for Rosa and asked what newspaper an obituary would be in and where could I find the newspaper. Within 5 minutes I had this response,
The respondent included a copy of the actual obituary. I was so excited. The obituary contained a listing of her husband and children’s names but it also said “She is survived by….a brother, Horace Atkins of Thorton Heath, England and two sisters, Mrs Alice Plested of Brower, Ontario, Canada and Mrs Kate Harrison of Cochrane, Ontario, Canada. Who is my Great Grandmother? Mrs Kate Harrison of Cochrane, Ontario, Canada. This is the right family. Now I know where Alice Minnie, Horace, Rosa, Edith, and Jesse lived. Research flood gates are opening and I’m starting to fill in the blanks of what happened to the children after their mother died.
Two miracles , a passenger list and obituary gave me the the married names of the girls and where each child, except Elizabeth Beatrice, ended up. I never thought I’d find this information. The lessons learned here are never give up, look for every document possible, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Oh, and sometimes miracles do happen.
Sources New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957 [database on-line]; Year: 1916; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 2504; Line: 1; Page Number: 176; Ancestry.com. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010; Citing: Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C.