Having started a conversation with a new-found cousin on ancestry.com I found myself being asked by said cousin, Why did my great-grandfather Crook (yes, that was his surname) move from Hampshire in England to Winnipeg in Canada? What skills did he take with him to this new place? And why Winnipeg?
This new-found cousin still lives in the UK, as do many other members of my Crook family who did not choose to emigrate to Canada in the early 20th century. The question then, was quite natural. But it was a question I hadn’t thought much about.
My answer, because I didn’t really have one, was going to go something like this: my great-grandfather Crook moved to get away from a place where his background—his class and accent—held him in check, to go to a country where he would be just one of many other immigrants, neither more nor less.
And while this is true in many ways, I hadn’t thought the question through in a more literal way: What did my great grandfather expect to find here? Why did he choose Winnipeg? Did he have any skills? I had no idea.
And then it occurred to me, why not look at the Passenger List from the boat he came over on, and see if this shed any light on the problem? It was a document I’d looked at many times before, but only to ascertain the date of his arrival in Canada.
It turned out that this document posed many interesting questions to each passenger:
WHAT WAS YOUR OCCUPATION IN COUNTRY FROM WHICH YOU CAME?
My grandfather’s answer? MANUAL LABORER
HAVE YOU EVER WORKED AS A FARMER, FARM LABORER, GARDENER, STABLEMAN, CARTER, RY SURFACEMAN, NAVVY, OR MINER?
IF YES, WHICH?
Answer: SIX YEARS
Answer: IN 1905
WHAT IS YOUR INTENDED OCCUPATION IN CANADA?
Answer: RAI LAB
I had not realized that the passenger list was such a wealth of information! I’d found it so hard to read the first time I looked at it (about 2 yrs ago), that I hadn’t spent much time with it.
Now, however, I knew that my great grandfather had been a carter before he moved—that is, he carted things around, a very common job description at the time. I also discovered that he’d been employed this way for a long period—6 years straight work for a working class person was a very long period indeed—and that he either lost his job, or lost heart in it, because at this point, he decided to come to Canada.
But his intended occupation still puzzled me. Rai Lab? ‘Lab.’ usually stood for Laborer. I looked again. Rail—there was an ‘l’ there, I was pretty sure. Rail Lab., then, would probably mean—railway laborer?
I looked up when the railway came to Winnipeg, and it turns out it was being built at the time my grandfather emigrated. Begun in 1908, it was finished in 1911; my grandfather arrived in 1910. It all seemed to make pretty good sense.
Nevertheless, I still didn’t feel absolutely confident about this conclusion. I’d thought my great-granfather had wanted to be a farmer. I began to browse the Canadian census for 1921, another document I’d looked at many times before, and there I saw, once again, his occupation: farmer. But wait, I’d read it wrong—looking at it again, I realized it read ‘teamster’.
Teamster! The Union for people that worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway!
For a long time, all I knew about my great uncle Alfred Lepoidevin was what my father could tell me: that he was born in Guernsey, in the Channel Islands; that he was the only Lepoidevin not to emigrate to Canada with his family in 1920; and that he “ended up,” as my father put it, in Wales.
Alfred’s decsion not to join his mother—my great-grandmother—upset her a great deal. There seemed to be little contact between Alfred and his family after that. Nevertheless, based on this slim intelligence from my father, I was able to discover Alfred’s birth and death certificates (b, 1900, died, 1970); I also found him on the Guernsey Censuses of 1901 and 1911, living out his childhood on Ramee Road in St Peter Port, Guernsey. But I could discover nothing further about the man. His life between childhood and death remained a big fat question mark.
Then one day last summer I mentioned Alfred again, and my father said that he seemed to remember that his wife’s name was Margaret. This simple fact led to a chain of discoveries about Alfred and his wife that came together like a beautiful jigsaw puzzle.
To begin with, I found an Alfred Lepoidevin marrying a Margaret A. Williams without too much trouble: Alfred’s last name is very unusual (except in Guernsey, where it is enormously popular), so it was easy to see that in Wales, there was only one Alfred Lepoidevin marrying a woman named Margaret A. in Wales at a time that made sense. So I ordered the marriage certificate with confidence, hoping for more information, and possilbly more leads.
I was not disappointed. I learned from the marriage certificate that Margaret’s age was 25 at the time of marriage, meaning I could guess her birth year as about 1906; secondly, I dicovered that her middle name was Anne, which meant I could further narrow the focus of my search for my next quest: her birth certificate.
Much to my disappointment, there were too many Margaret Anne Williams’s born in 1906 in Wales to know which one was “my” Margaret. Then it occurred to me that Margaret’s Anne’s last name would be her married one at the time of her death—Le Poidevin—and, armed with this more unusual name, I searched around and was indeed able to find a death record indexed for a Margaret Anne Lepoidevin in Wales: she died December 1976 at age 69 in Wrexham, Denbigh. This same index entry also supplied me with her exact birthdate, which I’d despaired of ever discovering—18 Feb 1906.
Thus I’d killed not two but three birds with one stone. The marriage certificate led to a middle name for Margaret; to her roughly estimated death date; and to her exact birthdate. What more could I ask for?
Of course I could ask for more, i.e., the exact death date, but I’ll have to order the actual death record to get it—that’s how they get money out of genealogy addicts like me, and there are many of us. Still, from the death certificate I’ll likely get not just a death date but also a cause of death, and that’s yet another detail I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Morbid? No, I wouldn’t say morbid exactly. Just curious.
Moving on, I had noted that the marriage certificate supplied me with Margaret’s address at the time of marriage: 5 Bury Road. Further, it told me that that Alfred was a Sergeant with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers at time of his marriage.
This latter fact was more interesting to me than the first, so I now looked to see if Alfred had any sort of military record. I could find nothing. Next I looked at Passenger lists, to see if Alfred had been on the go; and in fact, there was an Alfred Lepoidevin on a passenger list heading to Canada shortly after his mother did. My heart thumped—could he have visited Canada unbeknownst to me, and the rest of our family, all this time? Looking further, though, I saw that it wasn’t “my” Alfred—this Alfred had a middle name (my Aflred does not) and he came from the wrong part of Guernsey.
There was, hower, on 16 July 1934, a “Margaret A Le Poidivan [sic]” on the passenger list of a ship called the Britannia. The Britannia was heading back from Bombay, India, and had picked up Margaret Anne at Gibralter on the way to Liverpool, where the Britinnia finally docked before it’s next out-going passage.
I wondered if this could be “my” Margaret, so I looked to see if she was travelling with an Alfred, hoping to thus make a positive identifaication. Alas, there was no Alfred. Then I noticed that Margaret’s home address was on the passenger list, and lo and behold, it matched the address on her marriage certificate—5 Bury Street, Wrexham, Denbigh, Wales!
And this, friends, is just part of what I love about family history research: just when I think I’ve been given a releatively inconsequential fact, it turns out to be the very thing I needed to know, and on a quest that I could never have anticipated.
In the mean time, other questions remain: When did Margaret leave Wales for Gibralter? I have her returning to the UK, but not leaving in the first place. Further, why isn’t she with Alfred on her travels? And what was she doing in Gibralter anyhow? She was a small town girl and a farmer’s daughter (her father’s occupation was on the birith certificate)—what could she be doing in Gibraltar? Was it an extended honeymoon. or perhaps related to Alfred’s military duties?
One more thing: on her way home from Gibralter, Margaret is travelling with a 5 month old baby girl named Cynthia Le Poidevin.
Apparently Margaret gave birth to a daughter while she was away from Wales!
This little nugget of information gives me another birth certificate to look for, which just might provide me with more leads, and these new leads might confirm old suspicions, or lead to fresh investigations—or nothing at all.
Well, folks, that’s all I have time for today on—The Born-Again Genealogy Files: Bringing the Dead Back to Life—Where They Belong.