Thursday, 22 October 2015

More Thoughts about an 'Accidental' Name Change

In an earlier post here, I threw the idea out there that maybe George's name change came about just because he got somebody else's ticket for the trip to Canada.  But I wondered, if that was the case, why did he keep the wrong name for the rest of his life?

Two heads are always better than one, and my cousin Jack added his to this question.  He has a theory that goes something like this:

When George arrived in Canada, he was asked for identification, and all he had was his ticket, with the name Thomas Smith on it.  He told the immigration official that it wasn't his name, and why he had that ticket, but the official didn't care - his job was to fill out some paperwork and it had to have a name on it, and the name on the ticket, which of course matched the name on the passenger list,  would do just fine.  So George became Thomas Smith, thinking he would straighten things out later.  But as time went on and Thomas got a job and a home, other things took priority, everyone came to know him as Thomas, and he never got around to officially being George Cockram again.

This seems like a reasonable possibility.  But I don't know what immigration 'processing' he would have gone through when he arrived, so I've sent an email to the Canadian Museum of Immigration, in hopes of finding out whether a scenario like that could have happened or not.  I had a quick reply from them saying that I had asked a very good question, but they didn't have the answer at their fingertips, and promised to get back to me with some information soon.

Stay tuned...

Sunday, 18 October 2015

George's Bible

George's bible and the papers that were inside it

I've recently come into possession of something precious - my great-grandfather's bible.  My cousin Donna had it in her care until she passed away, and now, thanks to my cousins Dick and Pam, it has come to me.

George Cockram / Thomas Smith was a man of strong faith, and a regular church-goer who often read his bible.  It's an old one, printed in England in 1890 for the British and Foreign Bible Society, and it's showing its age.  It's obvious that it was consulted often, by George and probably others in his family.  One page has been badly torn and repaired with sticky tape; a few other pages are ripped and ragged, and one has fallen out completely; and the binding has come loose from the spine and is just hanging on by a few threads.  At some point, the cover was patched up with something that might be duct tape.

George, or someone else, apparently consulted the ten commandments frequently - a corner of the page has obviously been turned down for many years, and there are pencil marks on several of the commandments - the ones to do with honouring God and one's parents, and keeping the Sabbath, rather than the more juicy ones about not killing, stealing, committing adultery or bearing false witness.  What does that tell us?  It might suggest that the person making the marks took the latter ones for granted, but needed to reinforce the others.

Donna told me that our great-aunt Prue, one of George's daughters, told her many years ago that George was very fond of the psalms.  And sure enough, those pages are obviously well thumbed.  The psalms are numbered with Roman numerals, and George has renumbered over fifty of them in Arabic numerals, apparently to find favourites more easily.  Other than that, and a few more pages with their corners turned down, George hasn't left any clues in the bible.  I had been hoping that he had written margin notes that might tell me something more about him, but I was disappointed there.

However, he and other people did write in the front of the bible.  All of his children's births, marriages and deaths are there, as well as his and Louisa's, and some of their grandchildren's.  I recognize George's handwriting from his signature on a couple of documents I have - it looks like he entered most of the information about marriages and deaths, but someone else wrote the names and birth information, probably Louisa, and later, more than one of the children - it's clear that there were four or five different hands at work.

Two pages showing George, Louisa and their children's births, deaths and marriages

Records of some of the grandchildren, opposite the title page

Tucked inside the bible was a page from a book probably published in 1895.  Sadly, it's not a revealing piece of prose or poetry, it's an advertisement for other books published by George Routledge & Sons, priced from 1 to 2 shillings.  One of the 'new volumes' listed is Kate Greenaway's Almanack for 1895, leading me to assume that this page comes from a book published that year.  There's also a very small brown cut-out from a newspaper, containing the following quote:

When that one great scorer comes
To write against your name;
He writes not that you won or lost,
But how you played the game. 

This comes from a poem written by Grantland Rice in the 1920s, so it could have been George who cut this out and kept it in his later years, but of course I don't know.  Another cutting, with a list of bible lessons, comes from the late 1950s (I was able to figure that out from a partial advertisement on the back).  George died in 1943, and Louisa in 1928, so it obviously wasn't either of them who put it there.

Although the bible hasn't proved to be the hidden source of great revelations about George's life, it's something I treasure.  Because I live in Australia, and my family are all in Canada, I have no other family heirlooms that date back before my parents, so this is a special gift, and I find it incredibly moving just to hold it in my hands and make a connection between myself and the great-grandparents I never met.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Finding New Cousins

It's been an interesting couple of weeks here in the Smith/Cockram tree.  Not that I've managed to write anything I was intending to write - but I did accomplish something else.  I knuckled down and started seriously looking for some of George's living descendants, in hopes that someone among them knows something I don't know about George.

I started by looking for information about all of George's grandchildren, many of whom I knew very little about, such as, did they have any children?  And did those children have children?  And if so, where are they now?  This kind of search, as you may know, is much harder than finding information about dead people.  I hit a lot of brick walls along the way, but suddenly I remembered the existence of a book about the town and people of Indian Head, Saskatchewan, where George and his family lived for awhile.  I'd never seen this book, and didn't know what it was called or when it was published - all I knew is that one of George's daughters, Bessie Jane Fleming, had written something in it.  I wondered if she had written anything that might help me find living relatives. 

Indian Head:
History of Indian Head and District
is online here
So I went searching for the book, and found the whole thing online, what luck!  As it turned out, Bessie's little section didn't reveal anything new (except that when she was a girl, the family of eight lived for a couple of years in a rented two room house!).  But looking through the rest of the book, I found some information about Bessie's children, grandchildren, and the first names of two of her great-grandchildren.  The book was published in 1984, so the whereabouts of any of these people today was the great unknown, but at least I had some names to look for.

The next thing I found, while Googling the name of Bessie's son, was his wife's obituary.  Obituaries are often goldmines of information, and this one didn't disappoint.  It told me where Bessie's grandson and two great-grandsons were living in 2010.  So I started looking in the relevant phone books.  But that didn't work - too many people these days don't have landlines, or just put their first initial in the phone book.  So I tried Googling the names with the locations, and pretty soon I found one of the great-grandsons, with an email address!  So I got in touch, and he passed my message on to his father, my second cousin, who just happens to be interested in family history, and he passed it on to another second cousin, who is also interested.

So now I'm corresponding with Jack and Merle, two second cousins I didn't know I had, and have already been sent several pictures of George and Louisa and others in the family, that I had never seen before.  It's been very exciting to find these cousins and share information - neither of them knew that George had changed his name, but both of them are thinking about it with me now!

It's great to have company on this quest.  If you've been following this blog, you might be wondering, 'What about your cousin Donna?'  Sadly, Donna passed away a couple of months ago, and I miss her.  I wish I had found Jack and Merle when Donna was still alive - she would have been thrilled to meet them.