Chain of Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness

I have a profile on the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) website (actually I have two, that one and one for my Unst work). I was recently contacted by a gentleman who was trying to track down the child of a couple and had no luck and wondered if there was anything I could do from within NZ as he had exhausted the online databases.

The couple were Mabel Meredith Maitland (b.16 Jun 1869, NZ) and John Arthur Mason (b. 1864, Woodford, Essex, England). They were married on 8 Jul 1891 in St Matthews Church, Dunedin, Otago, NZ, and their marriage can be found in the local paper, the Otago Witness.

MARRIAGES.
MASON-MAITLAND.-On the 8th July, at St. Matthew’s Church, Dunedin, by the Right Rev. Bishop Nevill, assisted by the Rev. R. T. Howell, John Arthur, eldest son of Thos. Mason of Merleswood, Woodford, Essex, to Mabel Meredith, younger daughter of the late W. G. Maitland, Moylneux, Otago.

There was also a report on the fashion and social attendance of the wedding in this newspaper report.

Also in the papers was their divorce, an extract of which is shown below. It was this report that showed that there was a child from this union, but that child was no where to be found in any of the online genealogy databases.

DIVORCE COURT
In the Divorce Court yesterday the Chief Justice heard the undefended suit Mason v. Mason, a wife’s petition for dissolution of the marriage.
Mabel Meredieth Mason, the petitioner, said she was married to John Arthur Mason in Denedin on the 8th July, 1891. There was one child as issue of the marriage.

I tracked down the divorce record which was found to be held in Wellington. It was free to go along to the Wellington Reading Room to view the document. However, I am not in Wellington, so it was not free to me. So I went back on the RAOGK website and found a Wellington based volunteer, and she was very happy to go along to the reading room and see what this document contained. It was a stack of about 15 documents, each with numerous pages, in a bundle and tied with a pink ribbon. They were folded legal docs and the pile stood about 3 inches high. She was so relieved when all the pertinent genealogical information was found on the first page!

Under “The Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act 1867”

TO SIR JAMES PRENDERGAST KNIGHT CHIEF JUSTICE.
THE 26th day of November 1897.
THE Petition of Mabel Meredith Mason of the City of Wellington sheweth.
1. THAT your Petitioner was on the 8th day of July 1891 lawfully married to John Arthur Mason at St.Matthew’s Church Dunedin by the Reverend Bishop Neville.
2. THAT after her said marriage your Petitioner lived and co-habited with her said husband at Tapanui in Otago, New Zealand, Melbourne in Victoria Australia and at Plymouth in England and that your Petitioner and her said husband had issue of their said marriage one child to wit John Clifford Stuart Mason aged 1year and 10 months.

I have to assume that the quoted age of the child is at the time of the document, since we know the child still lives as Mabel is granted custody of the child, according to the newspaper article on the divorce.

His Honor said he though a divorce should be granted, He gave the petitioner the custody of the child, leaving power to the respondent to apply under the Children’s Custody Act, of he desired to do so afterwards.

This would mean that John Clifford Stuart Mason would have been born around Jan or Feb 1896. From the newspaper report on the divorce we know a little of their travels around that time.

About five years ago they left New Zealand. They arrived in England in January, 1895. Whilst they were in England there was a quarrel between her husband and herself, and she returned to New Zealand with her mother in February 1896. She left her husband three or four months before that.

So would she have traveled when heavily pregnant and had John in New Zealand, or perhaps on board the ship? Or is the three or four months wait between leaving her husband and traveling to New Zealand because she waited and had the baby before traveling? This would mean that John was born in the UK.

Mabel actually married three times. She has a helpfully unique combination of names and so searching Papers Past found her several times. After her divorce from John Arthur Mason she then married Frederick Stuart Des Barres on 1 Sep 1900 in the Registry Office, Napier, Hawkes’ Bay, New Zealand. This marriage also ended in divorce on 14 Mar 1912, as per another newspaper report. Then she married a third time, in 1913, to James Ambrose Eivers and shows up in the papers again trying to get back the jewelry that her second husband used as security on an overdraft.

Helpfully, Mabel’s son John also has a seemingly unique combination of names, so I searched for his names. Nothing came up to start with, so I dropped the surname, and up popped a war record in the Auckland Museum Online Cenotaph for a John Clifford Stuart Des Barres. Des Barres was his mother Mable’s second married name. Could this be him? Reading through the record, in the listing of his company:-

1st NEW ZEALAND CYCLIST COMPANY
Reg. No. Rank. Name. Occupation. Name and Address of Next-of-kin.
10747 Corporal Des Barres, Clifford Stuart Picture-show Manager Mrs. M. Eivers (mother), Opotiki.

John Clifford Stuart Mason/Des Barres

John Clifford Stuart Mason/Des Barres
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 31-B53

He died on 30 Sep 1916, by which time his mother had married a third time and was now Mrs. Eivers. It is definitely him! And there’s even a photo of him! It seems he had dropped the John and was more commonly known as Clifford Stuart.

Knowing how he was referred to, I was then able to find a report of his death in Papers Past, in the New Zealand Herald.

Roll of HONOUR.
DES BARRES.-On September 30, 1916, killed in action in France, Corporal Clifford Stuart des Barres, eldest son of Mrs. J. A. Eivers, Te Telo, Whakatane; aged 19 years.

I stopped briefly when I saw the mother’s name here, wondering if I’d mixed up two different people. But then I realised Mabel Meredith was also Mrs James Ambrose Eivers.

According to his war record he was born in Ireland, so I guess Mabel did wait until after he was born before traveling back to New Zealand with her new-born, and it’s no wonder we couldn’t find his birth in England or New Zealand.

It seems rather fitting that this chain of Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness should find this man, who died serving his country in WWI on the eve of ANZAC day.

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31 Days of Family History Fitness – Week 1

I only came across the blog post 31 Days of Family History Fitness at the very end of January so I decided to do it in February instead. I’ll update you with my progress on a weekly basis.

Day 1: Sync your desktop software and online family trees to make sure you have the latest version of your work in both places. If you don’t use desktop software, download a GEDCOM of your online tree instead. If you don’t have genealogy software or an online family tree, consider starting an online tree to help you organize your research.

CalendarI don’t use desktop software but instead build my private tree on the Ancestry website. I do download GEDCOM copies of it in an ad hoc manner, when I think I’ve made a sufficient number of changes to warrant doing so. This had increased a little recently when I’ve been playing around with TNG, but I could do with a more regular pattern as well as the ad hoc extras. So since I’m starting a new month to improve my family history fitness, I’ll mark the beginning of the month as the time when I take a new GEDCOM copy.

Day 2: Back up your genealogy data using an external hard drive or a cloud service. If you don’t currently use a backup system like Dropbox or Backblaze, take some time to learn about them.

With my new regular export to GEDCOM I’m also going to use that to save it off to an external hard-drive too. If I do them both together I have more chance of achieving this as a regular step.

Day 3: Create a source citation workflow so that you—and anyone who sees your research—will know where you got your information.

Citations are one of my strong suits, and possibly the reason why it’s taking me so long to finish my work. Nothing goes into the tree without full transcriptions and source citations.

Day 4: Set up a file-naming convention, and make sure all your documents follow it. This will simplify your filing and help you quickly find the information you need.

Some of my documents follow a good scheme and some don’t. Census pages and any statutory records (post-1855) are well organised including the year in the naming scheme. Old Parish Records are much less organised and every time I need to browse a particular year it takes me a while to find it. So I’ve used this prompt as a nudge to get that sorted.

Day 5: Find your local FamilySearch Center. Have you ever visited one? These branches of the Family History Library (FHL) have helpful volunteers, local resources, and computers with access to genealogy websites. From a FamilySearch Center, you can also rent microfilmed records from the FHL. Search for the nearest one, and call to check the hours.

This is my nearest Family History Centre. It is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday 9.30am -3.30pm. I haven’t been there yet, but I definitely want to go.

Day 6: If you’ve taken a DNA test, look at your DNA matches (not just the ethnicity results) and review the match information for any fourth cousin or closer. Also check for messages from any matches who’ve contacted you (and respond to them).

Since I haven’t taken a DNA test, I’ve skipped this day. After all there are more days in January than there are in February so in order to complete it in February I need to get cracking.

Day 7: Choose a town your ancestors lived in and search the FamilySearch online catalog for it. Browse records the FHL has on microfilm and note any that might apply to your research. You might even find links to digitized versions on the FamilySearch website.

Searching the FamilySearch online catalog for Unst showed up a small number of records, but nothing that I hadn’t seen before. At least I know I’m not missing out on something major as a source!

FamilySearch Catalog

FamilySearch Catalog, results for Unst

Day 8: Search a digitized newspaper collection for names on your family tree on the Library of Congress’ free Chronicling America website.

Zetland TimesThe best digitised newspaper site for British research is of course the British Newspaper Archives. It has the Shetland Times, from 1872 onwards, digitised which I use in an ad hoc manner at the moment, with an intention to go through more thoroughly once I finish processing all the information I have already collected. It can also be used for free from the library which is nice.

So that’s week 1 finished. I’m feeling fitter already, well better organised anyway!

Presentation at Genealogy Group

I joined a local genealogy group, and today I gave a small presentation about James Moar, the man who turned to knitting when he do no other task to support himself. I’ve written about him in a number of blog posts before.

I created the presentation from the material I had in the above blog posts, using some of the photographs as illustrations as I talked. I also used old maps to show where they lived, and showed the various census records and birth and death records that I had discovered when researching James’ life. I also talked about getting his Death record updated so that he was finally recorded correctly, which seemed to be met with great approval.

Aberdeen Show Newspaper Cutting

Aberdeen Show Newspaper Cutting, from Dundee Courier, Wednesday, July 25th 1894

I had one new piece of information in the presentation that is not in any of the previous blog posts. As you’ll know if you’ve read the others, James turned to knitting when he was invalided, and while he had a slow start, he did clearly get better. In the 1901 and 1911 census he is listed as a Shetland Lace Knitter, which shows a certain skill as that is a complex and delicate knitting style. Well he, must have been quite good because he won first prize in the Aberdeen Highland show (held on Tuesday, July 24th 1894) for a Fine White Shetland Shawl, beating another lady from the same village, Uyeasound, into second place.

I brought along my copy of the Unst Heritage Lace book for the group members to look at as well, since James is also mentioned in there.

I think the presentation was well received, and I hope to maybe do another subject at a future meeting.

How can I help?

One of my aims with my work to create a complete Unst Family Tree is to be able to help out anyone stuck with their own Unst related ancestry. By being visible online (through this blog among other things) I have already had contact from, and helped out, a number of people who have traced their relations back to Unst folk.

I can’t claim to be being completely self-less in these endeavours because in each case both parties learn something. I can provide details about their Unst relations, and they can provide me details of where an Unst born person who moved away from the island ended up. I’d love to learn where all the Unst people ended up in the world. I know many went to Canada, U.S.A., Australia and New Zealand, but also in the U.K. many moved to Edinburgh, Leith, and Toxteth Park (undoubtedly related to the sea going industries from those places which would attract men with previous sea-going experience as Fisherman).

Here is a newspaper report published in the Zetland Times on 14th September 1874 about emigrating Unst people.

EMIGRATION.—Emigration from the islands to New Zealand is still being carried on, and almost every month a good many people leave to try their fortunes in this new field of industry. In the present state of matters in Shetland it is best that the labouring classes should leave the islands altogether than that being turned out of their crofts to make room for sheep farms, they should settle on wild moorland waster or on projecting points, and lead a life of—at the very best—semi-starvation, for the benefit of a few selfish lairds, whose short sighted policy will ultimately ruin themselves and the islands. On Thursday last about 100 emigrants left here for New Zealand by the “St Clair,” eighty of whom were from Unst. We understand that more are to follow shortly.

 
I’ve written a few blog posts as a result of these contacts:-

So if you’ve found a relation in your family tree from Unst, Shetland and would like some help, please get in touch. Eventually I will have all my research on a webpage but in the mean time I’m happy to help out in an ad hoc manner.