Saturday, 19 December 2015

Bad Handwriting and No Signature

There I was, idly looking at my timeline for great-granddaddy George's brother John Cockram, when I saw that I had no proof of either of his two marriages.  So I set out to find some, which by the way, is a terribly frowned-upon way to conduct one's family research - just popping around here and there, chasing anything that happens to come to one's attention.  If I was organized and 'serious', I would have put an entry in a 'to do' list to remind myself to follow this up later, maybe never, and meanwhile stay focused on George.  But that's not how I work - genealogy is supposed to be fun, isn't it?  So why not chase up whatever interests me, wherever it may lead?

And guess where this chase led me - right back to George!  At least, I think it did.  I found the original record of John Cockram's first marriage, to Grace Adams in 1870, and it got me all excited!  Marriage records often have clues about people besides the ones getting married, and in this case, it was one of the witnesses to the marriage that rang my bell.  For that witness, ladies and gentlemen, appears to have been The Elusive George himself!  I say 'appears' because I'm not 100% convinced it's him, and that's why I need your help to decipher some really awful handwriting.

Below is the complete record - the one at the bottom of the image.  I've included the other record as well, just so there's more handwriting to draw clues from.  Note that Cockram is spelled Cockrem on this document, and for awhile I wasn't sure this was the right marriage, but I've done some checking against other documents, which I won't bore you with, and I'm very sure that this John Cockrem is in fact John Cockram, George's brother.

John Cockram's marriage in 1870 - click on the images to enlarge

And here's a close up of the most interesting part, the name of the first witness.  What is it?  I'm pretty sure the surname is Cockrem, but what's the first name?

I think the first letter is a G, as it looks very similar to the G in Grace.  If so, the only person this is likely to be is George.  John's other brothers were Thomas, William, Richard, Alfred, Herman and Frederick (gosh, I've got them all memorized!)  Of course, John also had an uncle George Cockram, but isn't it far more likely that John would have his brother as a witness (and probably best man) than his uncle?  George was just two years younger than John, and it's easy to assume they had a close relationship...

But here's the bad news - you'll see that whoever this witness was, he didn't sign his name, he made his mark instead.  Why would George, at nearly 19 years of age, not sign his name?  The last sighting of him before this event was in 1861 when he was a 10 year old 'scholar' according to the census. Surely he learned to write! And I've seen his signature and other handwriting on later documents, such as his own marriage record in 1875, so I know he wasn't illiterate.  Was he a slow learner, or did he have some nefarious reason for not wanting to sign his name?  Once again, George's name throws up a mystery!

George's signature on his 1875 marriage record, at age 24.
 Apparently he wasn't a confident writer, nor a good speller, which suggests
that when he was 18, perhaps he really couldn't write a legible signature.

The good news, if this witness is indeed The Elusive George, is that now I know where he was as a young man.  This marriage took place in Fremington, Devon where George grew up, so it appears he was still living there in 1870 and hadn't run away with the circus or the Royal Marines.  He still eludes me in the 1871 census though. 

Just one more thing - what do you think John's occupation was, according to this marriage record?  In later life, he was a beer bottler, a 'licenced victualler' and the manager of at least one public house.  When he got married he was just under 21 years old and virtually everyone in his family was a farm labourer or domestic servant.  But this word looks sort of like 'grocer' to me.  UPDATE:  On the other hand, maybe it's supposed to say 'gardener'.  I've just found John and Grace living in Wales in 1871, where John was working as a 'gardener/domestic servant'.

Any and all insights into deciphering this handwriting or thoughts on why the witness couldn't or wouldn't sign his name, will be most appreciated.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

More Darned Australian Distractions

I don't know what it is about the Australian branch of the Cockram/Cockrem family, but somehow they keep distracting me.  I'm supposed to be concentrating on great-granddaddy George getting from Devon to Canada, but I keep finding myself poring through Australian records about his brothers and their descendants.  One big reason for this must be the fact that it's so easy to find intriguing things about people in Australia, via Trove, a website that brings together a whole lot of Australian newspaper archives, seachable in all kinds of ways, and is 100% free.  (If only there was a similar site for Canadian newspapers... sigh).

from the Cairns Post, 17th February 1934, page 6
This time it was the story about Louisa (Lee) Cockrem's death in 1934 that sent me off on a tangent.  The story mentions her son-in-law, F Gayton of 53 Gatton Street, Cairns.  That name didn't ring a bell, and when I checked Louisa's two daughters, Ada and Daisy, I found that neither of them married anyone called Gayton.  And taking a second look at the news item, I noticed that it said that Louisa had three grown up daughters, not two.  Uh oh, another puzzle to solve! 

I searched Trove for other stories that mention F Gayton, hoping to find out who he married, but all I discovered were lots of references to Mr and Mrs Frank Gayton, often in the same stories as various Cockrems, going off on interstate trips, winning prizes, and attending parties and funerals. No mention at all of Mrs Gayton's first name.  So I searched for Frank Gayton on Ancestry, and found his marriage, to someone called Victoria May King, in 1919.  Was this the right Frank Gayton?  I thought so, so I kept looking for more information, and soon found Frank and Victoria May Gayton in the electoral rolls, living at the address mentioned in the death notice.  But who was she before she married Frank and how did she get to be Louisa's daughter?

Eventually I found a birth record for Victoria May King Yeen, born in Queensland in 1901.  Her mother was recorded as 'Beatrice Mary King Yeen', and her father as 'King Yeen'.  But it soon became clear from other records that 19 year old Beatrice was an unmarried mother, and that she was the daughter of Albert King Yeen, a Rockhampton businessman.  So was Victoria the product of incest? Was Beatrice forced to give the baby up and keep her existence a secret?  I haven't been able to discover what went on, but at some point, Victoria seems to have been adopted, legally or otherwise, by Louisa Lee, and either Herman or Frederick Cockrem.

But where's the evidence that Victoria May King Yeen is the same Victoria May King who married Frank Gayton?  I'm coming to that....

Beatrice, Victoria King Yeen's biological mother, shows up again in 1920, getting married in Sydney.  She and her groom, Harold Chippindall were both 38 years old and neither had been married before.  I haven't bothered to search for details of their lives - but I found Beatrice's death certificate.  She died in Sydney in 1963.  Her husband had predeceased her, and her sister, Jessie King, supplied the information for the death registration. She said that Beatrice had 'no issue'.  Was Jessie, who lived with Beatrice when she died and for some years before that, really unaware of the existence of Beatrice's daughter Victoria?  I doubt it. (Reminder: Don't believe everything you read on 'official' documents.)

Once again, I went back to Louisa Cockrem - this time I had a look at a news item about her funeral, which includes a long list of names of people who sent flowers and messages.  Among those names is 'B Chippindall (Sydney)'.  So there's the evidence that Beatrice and Louisa were connected somehow, and it would be highly unlikely that the connection had nothing at all to do with Victoria May King.  Okay, that's not exactly 'proof' of anything, but in this genealogy game, we often have to make assumptions based on the evidence we find, plus common sense, and continue to look for more evidence that proves we're right, or wrong.

The only other information I've found about Victoria was that she was apparently a keen gardener, often winning prizes in local flower shows; and she was known as 'Queenie'.  With a name like Victoria King, I guess that's not surprising.  I discovered that little tidbit via Trove, in Daisy Cockrem Sullivan's death notice, which names Queenie Gayton as one of Daisy's beloved sisters.

from the Sydney Morning Herald Death Notices, 5th July 1961, page 34

I also learned a thing or two about Frank Gayton along the way, but that's for another time - the point today is this:  When you're reading newspaper accounts of marriages, parties, deaths, funerals etc, don't ignore the details!  Those names that seem unconnected may lead you along a whole new branch of the family.