Saturday, 27 June 2015

George comes back... or does he?

Please don't think that George was a rotter who abandoned his pregnant 19 year old wife only two months after marrying her - that's not the case.  I presume he went to Canada on his own to have a bit of a look around, get some work and find a home for himself and his new family, because about a year later, he apparently went back to England, picked up Louisa and the baby, and the three of them sailed to Canada, all using the name Smith, in 1876.

But where's the evidence for this?  Well, it's partly hearsay from the family, partly from immigration dates that George and Louisa gave on later census records, and partly from a passenger list from the SS Peruvian, which shows a George Smith (he sometimes called himself George and sometimes Thomas), age 25, labourer; and further down the page, Louisa Smith, age 21, spinster, with a female infant.  But why was George listed separately, and why did Louisa call herself a spinster?  There could be simple answers to both questions - or it's entirely possible that these are all the wrong people.  So far, I haven't found any record of George making the earlier journey back from Canada to England.  Perhaps the family got the wrong end of the stick, George never went back at all, and Louisa and the baby travelled on their own, on this ship or a different one; or perhaps all three of them were on a different ship that I haven't found yet.  Who knows?  This is one of the many loose ends in this story that still need tying up.

The SS Peruvian at Liverpool.  Did the Smiths travel to Canada on this ship?  Maybe.
Image courtesy of

What I know for sure is all three of them ended up in Canada one way or another.  And George and Louisa Cockram, who became known by one and all as Thomas and Lucy Smith, lived happily together for many years thereafter.

Or did they....?  My husband has a radical theory about the whole George-Thomas thing:  What if George Cockram was a horrible man, which poor Louisa didn't realize until after she'd married him.  If only she had married her other suitor, Thomas Smith, instead!  So Louisa and Thomas got together again, bumped George off and high-tailed it to Canada in 1876, where they started the myth that George had changed his name.  And the Thomas Smith who went to Canada on the Dominion in 1875 was somebody else altogether.

Interesting, no?  Of course I refuse to believe that my great-grandparents would do such a dastardly thing, but thinking about it made my brain jump through some interesting hoops (which easily convinced me the whole idea of George and Thomas being two different people is ridiculous) and more importantly, it reminded me that I have to keep an open mind and think outside the square.  So this preposterous theory has been useful.

Now that I've cleared that up, I intend to spend a little time thinking about why George and Louisa moved to Canada, which may or may not be connected to why they became Smiths.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

George sails away

George and Louisa carried on the family tradition of getting pregnant without getting married.  The wedding was in April 1875, and their first child, Clara Louisa, was born in Plymouth in November, less than eight months later.  Or I could be more charitable, and say she was born prematurely.  Her birth registration shows her father as George Cockram - but by the time Clara was born, George Cockram was gone, in more ways than one.  In June 1875, only two months after marrying Louisa, he had sailed for Canada on his own, using the name Thomas Smith.  And a Smith he would be from that time on.
I know that he arrived in Canada in 1875 on the SS Dominion, from a 1936 border crossing document, where he was asked when and how he first arrived in Canada.  And there's only one passenger list from that ship in that year that lists anyone who could be him.  That was the June sailing, which carried a Thos. Smith, age 24, travelling alone.

The border crossing form, 1936.  George called himself George Thomas Smith
on this occasion, and said he first arrived in Canada at Point Levi, Quebec
in 1875, exact date unknown, on the SS Dominion.

Thos. Smith, age 24, labourer, on the SS Dominion passenger list, June 1875
Back page of an 1898 handbook
for passengers

But I asked myself if I was making too many assumptions.  Was the information he put on the 1936 border crossing form false, either by design or due to failing memory?  He was in his eighties by then, so it's certainly possible.  Looking at his 1901 and 1911 Canada census records, I found that he said he had immigrated in 1875 on both of them, so I'm pretty confident about the year.*  But he might have remembered the name of the ship wrong - maybe he travelled on another ship in the Dominion Line, rather than the Dominion itself.  So I checked every passenger list for every ship in that line that sailed to Canada in 1875, and didn't find anyone else who looked like George, or Thomas.

So until proven wrong, I'm assuming he really did sail on the Dominion in 1875, and this was the first time he used the name Thomas Smith - just two months after getting married using the name George Cockram.  Did something happen in that brief period that led to the name change?

*  I have to admit that the 1906 Saskatchewan census says he arrived in 1882, and Louisa in 1885!  Where that came from, I don't know, but for now I'm assuming it was a mistake on somebody's part, as I know that they were raising a family in Ontario in 1881.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Was Louisa really a Murphy?

Louisa Murphy
1855 - 1928
Sometime during the ‘blank spot’ in George’s life, he met Louisa Murphy, a Cornish girl born in Mevagissey in 1855, who also left us with some unanswered questions – or more precisely, her father did.  All we know of him is that his name was probably Michael Murphy and he was probably Irish.  That’s it.   

Louisa’s mother, Jane Tremayne, had two daughters.  The eldest, also called Jane, went by the surname Tremayne, and annoyingly disappeared from sight, genealogically speaking, before she grew up.  Louisa was also called Tremayne when she was born, but when she was baptised nearly ten years later, her surname was Murphy.  Did her parents get married in the interim?  And was Michael Murphy her father or not?  In later life Louisa was often heard to say that she was proud of her Irish background, so that might answer the question.

Louisa's pedigree, with a lot of blank spaces

In 1861, when Louisa was about five years old, she and her mother were missing from the UK census, but Louisa's sister Jane (still called Tremayne) age seven, was with her grandmother and aunt in Cornwall.  Michael Murphy was nowhere, and everywhere - with no idea when or where or to whom he was born, it's impossible to find him amongst a myriad of Michael Murphys.  I have to wonder if he and Jane took Louisa to Ireland around that time, and got married there.  But I can only wonder, with no records at all to help answer the question.

Ten years later, in the 1871 census, Michael Murphy was still invisible.  Louisa and her mother had moved to Plymouth, Devon, where they lived in a boarding house at 4 Notte St.  Jane described herself as Jane Murphy, a widow, working as a laundress.  I have a strong suspicion that she was never actually married to Michael Murphy, or anyone else, but to be honest, I have no evidence one way or the other.  Louisa was then fifteen years old and attending school, and her sister Jane's whereabouts are in doubt.  There was a seventeen year old Jane Murphy working as a maid in a boy's school in Plymouth at the time - this is probably her, but I can't be sure.

So amongst George Cockram, his mother and grandmother, Michael Murphy and all three of the Tremaynes, there seems to have been a lot of census-dodging and illegitimate procreation going on - you'd think they were deliberately trying to make my ancestor hunt more difficult!  There are so many little mysteries in this group, it's all very frustrating.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Oops, where did George go?

A street in Bickington, taken in about 1900.
I believe that George's family lived in a house very much like these.

George was born in 1851 and spent his childhood, with four sisters and seven brothers, in the village of Bickington, a small enclave in the parish of Fremington in northern Devon.  His father William was an agricultural labourer, and as the children grew up, several of them also went to work for local farmers when they were still in their teens.  One would expect young George to do the same.  I’ve found him as a 10 year old schoolboy in the 1861 census, but in 1871, when he was 20, he seems to have eluded the census-taker (and not for the last time – but more on that later).  His parents and siblings are easy to find, but there's no sign of George.

In 1875, he shows up in Plymouth, getting married. But when did he go there, and why?

From Bickington to Plymouth - it looks like a long way,
but today it's just 60 miles or so down the A386.
But why did George make the journey sometime before 1875?

Jumping way ahead. George’s obituary says that he was in the Royal Marines – if so, that would explain why he was in Plymouth, and it might also explain why he ‘disappeared’ in 1871.  Although ships’ companies should have been enumerated in the UK census, wherever they were in the world, it’s quite possible that some were missed, or lost.  However, other than the obituary (which was written by a friend who made a few mistakes about other things), I’ve found no evidence whatsoever that George ever joined the Royal Marines or any other branch of the services.  So where did his friend, many years later, get that idea?  Apparently George, or perhaps one of his children, told him something along those lines.  

Did George join the Navy or the Marines using the name Thomas Smith?  Well, I’ve searched for him with that name too, and haven’t found any likely candidates.  And in any case, when he got married in 1875, he was still using the name George Cockram.  His occupation at that time, according to the marriage record, was ‘labourer’.  Not very enlightening. 

So what did George get up to as a young man?  Was he a deserter from the Marines, and his records there have simply gone missing?  But if he deserted, he wouldn't be likely to tell anyone that he had ever enlisted, so I think that's not likely.  Did he commit a crime of some sort and escape the clutches of the law?  Did he get a girl pregnant and run away from his responsibilities?  Or get into serious debt that he couldn't repay?

But let's not forget that George didn't change his name until he left the country, after he was married in 1875.  So it seems fair to assume that 'whatever it was' happened after the wedding.  Hmmmm....

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Donna goes looking for George

In case you’re wondering how I can be sure that George really changed his name and it wasn’t just a family legend, I have my cousin Donna to thank for that.  A few years ago, she delved into George’s background, using information from his family bible and his death certificate as her starting points.  Her clever sleuthing, mainly via some females in George’s life – his mother, wife, mother-in-law and eldest daughter – led her to various documents that firmly support the conclusion that Thomas Smith was originally George Cockram. 

Donna wrote a short and very interesting article about her hunt, called ‘The Women Behind the Man’, which was published in the Saskatchewan Genealogical Society Bulletin, Vol 41 No 4.  You can find it online here on page 29.