Little by little

A couple of years ago we accepted a challenge by Randy Seaver to list ancestors in the maternal line, and Val’s list is as follows:

  1. Valerie Greene
  2. Dorothy Pearson (1823-1984) married Keith Dudley Vincent Greene
  3. Martha Ellwood (1885-1968) married William Walker Pearson
  4. Mary Carr (1847-1897) married Thomas Ellwood
  5. Isabella Little (1822-1895) married Ralph Carr
  6. Ann Akin married Edward Little — of Cumberland, England

And since then we’ve gone a generation further back, and discovered that Ann (or Nancy) Akin was probably the daughter of James and Margaret Aiken, and was probably born in Keswick, Cumberland around 1780.

When we started our family history research in 1974, just after we got married, we made our most rapid progress on the Pearson, Ellwood, Carr and Little sides of the family, because Val’s grandmother, Mattie Pearson, born Ellwood, had lived with them in Escombe, Natal, for twelve years after the death of her husband, and Val still had lots of her photos and press cuttings. Among the photos was this one:

Carr and Ellwood families, Whitehaven, Cumberland, 12 June 1874. Back: William Carr (14), Bessie Carr (17?), Ralph Carr (23), Thomas Carr (12), Thomas Ellwood. Front (sitting): Unknown, Isabella Carr (born Little, 52), Mary Ellwood (born Carr, 31); Isabella Carr Ellwood (sitting on lap, 1), John Ellwood (4), Ralph Carr Ellwood (3)

Bessie Carr may be the woman sitting in front on the left, in which case the woman standing behind her is the unknown one. Bessie’s full name was Elizabeth Renney Carr, and she married Tom Spedding in 1884, ten years after the picture was taken. We have a picture drawn by her daughter Nellie (Eleanor) Spedding:

The Empty Chair, by Nellie Spedding

Isabella Carr was the daughter of Edward and Ann Little, and was born in Mealsgate, near Bolton, Cumberland, in 1822. The trouble was that there was more than one Edward Little who had married an Ann. There was Edward Little who married Ann (or Nancy) Akin, and an Edward Vipond Little who had married an Ann Moffatt. We wrote to some of Val’s mother’s cousins in England to ask if they knew which one it was, and one of the cousins, Ralph Pearson, latched on to Edward Vipond Little, son of George Little and Hannah Vipond, and traced his ancestry back several generations. They were from the east of Cumberland, near the Westmorland border. Checking with descendants of Edward Vipond Little, who had gone to Australia, showed that that was a false trail, however. Isabella’s father was Edward Little, a blacksmith of Bolton, and Ann or Nancy Akin, and she was the youngest 0f five children that we have been able to find so far.

Isabella Little married Ralph Carr, a master mariner, whose father and grandfather were also named Ralph Carr, and also appear to have been mariners. On 4 May 1862 Ralph Carr died on board the schooner Hematite of Whitehaven during the passage to Oporto in Lat 43 2 N Long 9 4 W, in the 42nd year of his age, leaving the pregnant Isabella a widow. Their son Thomas Carr was born a month after his father’s death, on 4 June 1862 (he is in the picture above, aged 12).

Ralph Carr was buried at Corunna in Spain, on the west side of the harbour near to the grave of the celebrated General Sir John Moore who was killed during the retreat of the British Army to that place durimng the Napoleonic Wars. At school I had to learn a poem about the burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna:

We buried him darkly at the dead of night,
The sods with our bayonets turning,
By the struggling moonbeam’s misty light,
And the lantern dimly burning.

But Ralph Carr was presumably buried in daylight.

After Ralph’s death Isabella supported herself and her children with her pawnbroking business, which was later taken over by her daughter and son-in-law, Mary and Thomas Ellwood. Two of her sons, Ralph and William, also went into pawnbroking.

Since then we have added to our knowlege of the Little family, Little by Little, as it were. One of the tantalising clues was that in a couple of censuses there is an Edwin Little staying with the Carr family. In 1861 he was a ship’s carpenter’s apprentice, aged 18, and and in 1871 he was a ship’s carpenter, aged 28. What is not clear is who his parents were. He could have been an illegitimate son of one of Isabella’s sisters, or a son of her brother Edward. We have since discovered that he went to Victoria (Australia), where he married Elizabeth Allen, and they had a son, Edward Allen Little.

More recently, with many records coming online through FamilySearch and FreeBMD, we have been able to find more Little descendants.

Isabella’s eldest sister Sarah married John Brindle in Torpenhow, Cumberland, and had six children. We have managed to trace one or more generations of three of them, including a fairly sizeable Taggart family.

 

A couple of Ellwood mysteries

One of the long-standing mysteries in our research into the Ellwood family history is the appearance of a Mary Ann Disno in the 1881 Census of Whitehaven, Cumberland.

She is shown as staying with John Ellwood (1819-1892) and Ann his wife, and is listed as their niece, aged 23, and born in Liverpool. Presumably one of her parents was a brother of sister of John or Ann Ellwood, or possibly even of John Ellwood’s first wife, Bridget Anderson (1819-1876). But Mary Ann Disno seems to come out of nowhere. There is no mention of such a person in the 1861 or 1871 censuses. So who was she, and who were here parents?

We can only conclude that her name was misspelt in 1881, and was actually something else. Someone pointed to a Mary Ann Dyson, born in Liverpool in 1857. Perhaps she could fit. Her parents seem to have been William Westword Dyson and Mary Ann Ellis, but it seems unlikely that they would connect with Ellwoods in Whitehaven. They seem to have been Roman Catholics, and John Ellwood’s second wife Ann was a Primitive Methodist, and seems to have converted him to that faith. Back in those days Roman Catholics and Primitive Methodists had little in common.

And then there is John Ellwood’s second wife herself. Who was she?

We haven’t been able to find a likely marriage of John Ellwood to an Ann after the death of Bridget in 1876 and before the census in 1881. Someone drew our attention to an Ann Kidd who married a John Ellwood in that period at Ulverstone, but we know about her, and she seems to have married a different John Ellwood closer to her own age. And even the first wife, Bridget Anderson, is something of a mystery. We have her birth date from family Bibles, and we have her father’s name from her marriage certificate when she married John Ellwood in 1839. But there is no record of a baptism for her, and we don’t know the names of her mother of any of her siblings, so that is no help in solving the mystery of Mary Ann Disno either.

So there are three mystery people linked to John Ellwood
  • Bridget Anderson, his first wife, born 19 Nov 1819 in Whitehaven
  • Ann, his second wife, born about 1824 in Hensingham, maiden name unknown
  • Mary Ann Disno, niece of one of them, born in Liverpool about 1857

Tombstone Tuesday: Pearson of Whitehaven

This Tombstone Tuesday I’m adding some pictures of tombstones of the Pearson and Ellwood families of Whitehaven, Cumberland. They relate to the Pearson and Ellwood families featured in the post immediately below this one.

Gravestone of Daniel William Pearson and Sarah Jane Walker in Whitehaven Cemetery

Daniel William Pearson (1855-1929) and his wife Sarah Jane Walker (1857-1959) are buried in Whitehaven Cemetery, Ward 1, Section O.

They were Val’s maternal great-grandparents.

Daniel William Pearson was the son of William Pearson, a butcher of Whitehaven, and his wife Sarah Johnson, who was born in King’s Lynn, Norfolk.

Sarah Jane Walker was born in Sylecroft, Whicham, in the south of Cumberland, and was the daughter of William Walker, a spirit merchant of Sylecroft, and his wife Agnes Duke, who was born in Ulverston, Lancashire (which is now part of the new county of Cumbria.

Daniel William Pearson started is career as a butcher, like his father, and then became Whitehaven’s Sanitary Inspector and Inspector of Nuisances (lovely title, that!) Two of ths brothers, Charles and Henry, were Anglican clergymen, while another brother, John Johnson Pearson, was an apothecary of sorts, and wrote books about his travels in the Middle East.

M Ellwood grave

Gravestone of Margaret Pearson (nee Ellwood), in Whitehaven, Cumberland, England

Our second tombstone is of Margaret Pearson, the daughter-in-law of Daniel William and Sarah Jane Pearson.

Ernest Pearson (1892-1975) was a plumber and electrician of Whitehaven, and married Margaret Ellwood (1892-1958), the daughter of Thomas Ellwood and Mary Carr.

They had three sons, Gilbert, Ralph and John, and a daughter, Edith Margaret Pearson.

The Pearson and Ellwood families of Whitehaven

In the early 20th century three members of an Ellwood family from Whitehaven, Cumberland married three members of a Pearson family from the same town.

We’ve been scanning old photos, and it is good to have them in electronic format, so that they are less likely to fade and be damaged. But in electronic photos it is not possible to have the stories written on the back of those photos, so this blog post is really to help preserve the stories of the photos. In our family we call them “whozit” photos, because when we look at them everyone says “Whozit? Whozit?” And when the back of the photo just says “William” or “Henry” or “Uncle Joe”, I think many people will forget whose uncle Joe it was.

The Pearsons

Charles Pearson, a shoemaker of Whitehaven, born about 1768, married Ann Gatey in 1799, and they had several children.

One of their younger sons, William Pearson (1820-1895), became a butcher, and married Sarah Johnson (1819-1894) in 1845. Sarah Johnson was born in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, which is quite a long way from Whitehaven, so one of the mysteries of the family history is how they met.

They had six children, two girls and four boys. Two of the sons, Charles and Henry, became Anglican priests, and Charles was a pioneer missionary in Uganda, travelling up the Nile to reach that country. A third son, John Johnson Pearson, was a mysterious character, and we are not sure what happened to him. He travelled quite a bit in India and the Middle East, and was a keen supporter of the British Israelite movement, and wrote books on that topic.

The remaining son, Daniel William Pearson, was prosaic by comparison with his brothers. He followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a butcher, and spent most of his life in Whitehaven, and ended up by becoming the town sanitary inspector and inspector of nuisances.

The eldest daughter, Margaret, married Thomas Binks Cooper, who died young, and their daughter Sarah Johnson Cooper was brought up by her grandparents, and married Charles Stewart, a railway engine driver from London.

The youngest child, Sarah Johnson Pearson, married Joseph William Peile, and they had several children.

Daniel William Pearson

Daniel William Pearson (1855-1929) was the stay-at-home Pearson brother. In 1883 he married Sarah Jane Walker (1857-1929) and they had nine children, eight boys and one girl.

  1. William Walker Pearson (1883-1956)
  2. Edith Pearson (1885-1956)
  3. Henry Pearson (1886-1905)
  4. Charles Pearson (1888-1967)
  5. Frank Pearson (1890-1974)
  6. Ernest Pearson (1892-1975)
  7. Gilbert Pearson (1894-1969)
  8. John Pearson (1895-1918)
  9. Victor Octavious Pearson (1897-1971)

Children of Daniel William Pearson & Sarah Jane Walker, about 1902: William, Edith, Henry, Charles, Frank, Ernest, Gilbert, John, Victor

Henry died within a couple of years of these picture being taken, and so these are the only pictures we have of the whole family together.

The Pearson family about 1902. Back: Edith, Henry, William. Middle: Frank, Charles (kneeling), Daniel William, Sarah, Ernest. Front: Victor, John, Gilbert.

William, the eldest, was the first to leave home. After working for a shipping firm in Whitehaven, he applied for a job in the Port Captain’s Office in Durban, Natal, and emigrated there about 1909. His fiancée, Martha Ellwood, joined him there, and they were married at St John’s Church, Pinetown, in 1913.

With William overseas, and Henry dead, another picture was taken of the remaining six brothers in Easter 1913.

John, the second youngest, worked for Whittle & Co in Whitehaven, and in the First World War he joined the Border Regiment, and was killed in France in May 1918.

Charles worked for the Bell Telephone Company in Whitehaven, and then for its successors, GPO telephones which became British Telecom. He married Dorothy Roff in 1926 and they lived in Wragby Road, Lincoln.

3 Pearson brothers in Easter 1913: Back: Gilbert, Frank, Ernest. Front: John, Victor (on ground), Charlie.

Frank Pearson served in the army in the 1914-1918 War. He was Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages for Egremont, near Whitehaven. He married May Dobbins and they had two children, Janet and Anthony. May was said to go off her nut occasionally, and their son Anthony, who never married, seemed to be eccentric, to say the least, but probably harmless. When we asked him about the mysterious John Johnson Pearson, he told us that he had taught at the Sorbonne in Paris, and had a harem of Sikh ladies, and one of their sons was Joseph Stalin. In addition he (Anthony) had invented a wave-actuated boat, which was stolen by the Norwegians). Janet married twice, first to Thomas Birkbeck the headmaster of the Cleator Moor School, and secondly to John Sharp. There were no children of either marriage.

Ernest was originally an acetylene welder at Lowca Engineering Works, near Whitehaven. He served in the 1914-1918 war in the Royal flying Corps (Service No 163675) at Halton, Bucks and at Blandford, Devon. In 1916 he married Margaret Ellwood, the sister of Martha Ellwood who had married his edler brother William. In about 1923 the Lowca Engineering Works closed down, and Ernest went to work for his brother-in-law’s company, John Ellwood & Co as a plumber and electrician, and remained there for the rest of his working life.

Gilbert trained as a watchmaker and jeweller. He served in the Black Watch Regiment in the First World War. After the war he started his own business as a watchmaker and jeweller in King Street, Whitehaven. He married Maud Dixon, and they had two daughters, Joan and Barbara.

Victor worked for Pattinson’s Flour Mill in Whitehaven. After his parents died he lived until his marriage (in 1929) with his brother Ernest Pearson. He married a niece of Ernest’s wife Margaret, and so became the third Pearson brother to marry into the Ellwood family. After their marriage they lived with Edith’s parents, John and Kate Ellwood, and then at Henry Street, and finally at Loop Road (South), Whitehaven. They had no children.

Martha Ellwood and William Walker Pearson about the time of their marriage at Pinetown, Natal, in November 1913

In the meantime the eldest brother, William, and his wife Martha (nee Ellwood) lived in Pinetown, and later in Durban. She had their wedding pictures printed on postcards, and wrote to the family. One of the cards, dated 23 Dec 1913, and sent to her brother John and his wife Kate, read

My Dear John & Kate,

It is rather late but we wish you every good wish for the New Year. We are getting a bit more settled down now & I like Pinetown well, it is a fine life. You will have heard all about our house etc. from Senhouse Street. Tell Edith I see plenty of “niggers” but am not a bit frightened of them.[1] How is May tell her to write & tell me all the news. It’s not a bit like Xmas to me, it is so hot today. Love to all from us both.

Your loving sister Mattie.

In 1915 William and Mattie’s first child was born, William Ellwood Pearson, known as Billy, followed by twins Mary (Mollie) and Arthur in 1918, but Arthur died young. Another daughter, Dorothy, was born in 1923, but before she arrived Mattie travelled back to Whitehaven in 1921, to see her family, and the children were able to meet their cousins for the first time.

Billy was 6 years old, and Mollie 3, when they met their double first cousins, Gilbert (4) and Ralph (nearly 2). They travelled by ship from Durban in January 1921, and the voyage lasted about three weeks. Martha and William met their brothers and sisters again, but John Pearson, William’s younger brother, had been killed in the First World War.

Pearson double first cousins, 1921. Molly Pearson (3), Billy Pearson (6), Gilbert Pearson (4), Ralph Pearson (nearly 2).

Gilbert and Ralph Pearson were the children of William Walker Pearson’s brother Ernest, and Martha’s sister Margaret.

There were also plenty of other cousins to meet.

There were also plenty of other cousins to meet. William Ellwood Pearson’s sister Edith had married David James Elson, and they lived in Liverpool. Their daughter Marjorie Pearson Elston was born in 1917, and was 5 when the South African cousins came visiting. Her brother Gerald was born in 1922. In 1939 Marjorie Elston herself married a South African, the Revd Terry Blake, a Congregational Minster, and her mother Edith went to live with them in South Africa when David Elston died. The Blakes had four sons and two daughters.

Another family with several links was the Nicholsons.

Samuel Nicholson and Isabella Frears had several children, who of whom married into the Ellwood family. Their daughter Catherine (Kate) married John Ellwood, and had two daughters: Mary Isabella Carr (May) Ellwood who married John Kelly and went to Canada; and Edith, who, as we have seen, married Victor Pearson, The son, Isaac Nicholson, married Elizabeth Renney Ellwood, and had two children, Doris and John Nicholson.

John Nicholson, Martha and Billy Pearson, Elizabeth Nicholson, May Addison, Ernest Pearson (holding Ralph, who is partly obscured), Maggie Pearson, Doris Nicholson, Grandmother Nicholson (Isabella Frears), and in front, Mollie, Billy and Gilbert Pearson.

This picture has four Ellwood sisters: Martha who married William Pearson, Elizabeth who married Isaac Nicholson, May who married Jonathan Addison, and Maggie who married Ernest Pearson.

John Ellwood Nicholson was about 14 when the picture was taken. He later became a draughtsman, and lived in Barrow in Furness. Isaac Nicholson, his father, was an iron moulder.

Mary (May) Ellwood married Jonathan Addison and from about 1910 they lived in Belfast, Ireland, where their two youngest children were born. They had seven children, three girls and four boys. One of the girls (not in the picture), Bessie, who later married Len Jupp, became legendary, at least in the South African branch of the family as the one who won a pissing contest with her brothers. The oldest, Mary Addison, married John Hayes and they lived in Belfast. They had no children. We wrote to them a few times before they died in the late 1970s, and those were the times of troubles in Norther Ireland, and on one occasion John Hayes wrote “Tempus fungus – times are rotten.” The second, Thomas Alexander Addison, emigrated to the USA in 1930, and married Elli Link from Latvia. Jack Addison married Mary Brown. Arthur married Margaret Hills. Ada married William McAlpine, and their daughter married Norman Little and livers in Canada, while their son Roderick married Margaret Banyard in Birmingham and lived in Suffolk.

Martha (Mattie) and Margaret (Maggie) Ellwood, two Ellwood sisters who married Pearson brothers.

Ernest and Maggie Pearson had two more children after Gilbert and Ralph in the picture – John (born 1923) and Edith (born 1929). Gilbert was killed in the Second World War in Burma, as a result of an accident when an ammunition lorry was being unloaded. Ralph served in the air force in the Second World War, mainly in personnel management, and at one point visited Durban, and made contact with his cousins there. After the war worked for NAAFI, which ran recreational services for the British armed forces, which meant they led a somewhat wandering life. He married Jean Mary Bearn and they had three children, Joseph, Susan and Gordon. When we became interested in the family history after we were married in 1974, Ralph was one of the people we wrote to, and he got interested, and did a lot of research, collecting a great deal of information, especially on Charles William Pearson, the missionary. He died in January 1996, just before Val won a ticket to see the cup final between Manchester United and Liverpool, but while she was there she visited Jean Pearson, and met their daughter Susan, whose son Kevin is the same age as our Jethro, and both being crazy about cars, they wrote to each other and swapped video tapes.

John, the third child of Ernest and Maggie, married Nora Lees, and we had quite a lot of correspondence with Nora, who wrote wonderfully informative letters, not only about the family history, but also current news about the family, and happenings in Whitehaven. In 2005 we visited her in Whitehaven (John had unfortunately died by then), and also met their daughters Maxine Wincott and Zania McKenzie, who were living in Edinburgh.

Edith Pearson married Ted Worsley and they had two children, Michael and Caroline, and lived in Northumberland.

Doris Nicholson married Reynolds (Rennie) Bonnington, a photographer, and they had a son Ian.

To be continued, as there are more photos of the Ellwood and Pearson families. Other members of the family may have copies of these photos, so we hope these stories will help, and if there are other stories, please tell them in the comments.


[1] Edith was Mattie Pearson’s niece Edith Ellwood, then 12 years old, who later married William Pearson’s brother Victor. May was Edith’s older sister, then aged 19. Senhouse street was the home of the Ellwood family.

Ellwood family of Whitehaven

We’ve just made contact with a previously unknown (to us) Ellwood cousin, Genie Zappanti of Arizona, USA, which has led us to some research done by Bruce Morrison, also of the USA, which has added several generations to our Ellwood family tree all at once.

Val’s maternal grandmother was Martha (Mattie) Ellwood, who married William Pearson in Pinetown, Natal, in 1913, and lived at 315 Main Road, Escombe, Natal.  They were both from Whitehaven, Cumberland, in England. After William Pearson died in 1956, Val’s gran went to live with them — they built on a granny flat, and she lived there for 12 years until she died in 1968. She wrote regularly to her brothers and sisters in Whitehaven, and they sent her the Whitehaven News, and so Val grew up hearing stories of the family in Whitehaven.

When we started our family history, therefore, the Ellwood side was quite easy, at least for a couple of generations back, because a lot of the material was at hand. But we were stuck with Val’s great great great grandparents, Robert and Martha Ellwood, and couldn’t get back any further than them.

One of the things genealogy text books tell you is that you should always get in touch with living relatives, and ask them what they know, and some of them may even be interested in family history. There’s no point in working hard to collect lots of information and draw up a family tree only to show it to a cousin who says, “Oh, Uncle George did all that years ago.”

But we started six years after Val’s grandmother died, and since she had died the family had not kept in touch with the Whitehaven relatives. So we wrote to the Whitehaven News, asking any Ellwood or Pearson relatives to get in touch.

Some did, and in some cases we remained in touch with them, especially some of Val’s mother’s double first cousins, Ralph and John Pearson. Their father, Ernest Pearson was the brother of William, and their mother was Margaret Ellwood, Mattie Ellwood’s sister. John Pearson’s wife, Norah, was an inveterate letter writer, and kept in touch for many years after John died, and we met her and her daughters Maxine Wincott and Zania McKenzie when we went to the UK in 2005. Ralph Pearson became interested in the family history after we had made contact with him, and collected a lot of information, especially on the Pearson side.

Thomas Ellwood (1845-1914)

Our letter in the Whitehaven News also elicited a response from a cousin we had not previously heard of, Mrs Mary Ann Tumilty of Elk Grove Village, Illinois in the USA. She happened to be visiting Whitehaven in the week that our letter was published, and when she got back to the USA wrote to say that she had a family Bible that had the dates of birth and death of all the children of Val’s great great grandparents, John Ellwood (1819-1892) and Bridget Anderson (1819-1876). That also revealed that Val’s great grandfather, Thomas Ellwood (1845-1914), had been born at Wingate Grange in County Durham, which was why we had not been able to find his birth certificate. Now, with resources such as FreeBMD, finding such things is relatively easy, but back in 1975 it wasn’t.

And now, 37 years later, we’ve made contact with another cousin in the USA, Genie Zappanti, who is also interested in the family history.

And through her we have also made the link to Bruce Morrison’s Ellwood Genealogy web site, which traces the Ellwood family back to the village of Dufton in Westmorland where they were farmers for several generations until some became miners. At first they were lead miners in nearby Alston, and later coal miners in Whitehaven.

 

Keeping in touch with emigrants

I’ve been reading The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History and one of the articles raised the question of how long families that have emigrated keep in touch with those back in the country they came from.

Most of  of our ancestral lines have immigrants from somewhere else, and it is quite interesting to look at how they maintained contact, and how and to what extent we have re-established contact, mainly because of an interest in family history. A recent post about a Canadian Growden family is a case in point — they seem to have little or no contact with any other branches of the family, and little or no memory of where they came from.

Pearson-Ellwood

One of the clearest cases is Val’s maternal grandmother’s family. She was Martha Pearson, nee Ellwood, and both she and her husband William Walker Pearson. They came to South Africa from Whitehaven, Cumberland, England about a century ago, and were married in Pinetown, Natal, in 1913. They lived just down the road from Val when she was young, within walking distance, and when her grandfather died her grandmother came to live in a granny flat that they built on to their house in Escombe, where she lived with them for 12 years until she died in 1968.

So Val grew up with her grandmother’s stories of Whitehaven, and Martha (Mattie) Pearson kept in touch with her brothers and sisters who lived there, and some of them had also married into the Pearson family. During the Second World War some of Val’s mother’s cousins were soldiers, and visited when troopships called at Durban on the way to south-east Asia. Martha Pearson occasionally returned to Whitehaven to visit family, and we have some of her old passports. Val’s mother and aunt went with her as teenagers, and remembered some of their English cousins, though they did not stay in touch with them. Val and her sister visited England in 1971, and passed through Whitehaven, and had thought of visiting relatives there, but it was late and they thought they were old and would already be in bed, so they drove through.

When we got married in 1974, six years after Val’s grandmother had died, and became interested in family history, one of the starting points was some of Val’s relics from her grandmother — her birthday book, cuttings of newspaper marriage and death notices, and obituaries of her father Thomas Ellwood (1845-1914)  and grandfather John Ellwood (1819-1892). We wrote to the Whitehaven News, asking if any members of the family still living in Whitehaven would get in touch. From that we discovered that Val’s great-uncle Ernie Pearson had died the previous week. But his daughter-in-law Nora Pearson wrote to us regularly for the next thirty years, keeping us in touch with news of the family, so the contact was maintained for another generation, and thirty years later, in 2005 we visited Nora, and her daughters who live in Edinburgh. Whether our children will keep in touch with their children after we die remains to be seen. We also visited another second cousin who lives in Wales.

But our letter to the Whitehaven News also brought contact with a forgotten generation of emigrants, about whom Val had heard no stories as a child. A Mrs Mary Ann Tumilty, nee Ellwood,  had been visiting Whitehaven from the USA in the week that our letter was published, and when she got home she wrote to us, and sent extracts from the Ellwood family Bible, which she had, and it gave all the children of John Ellwood, Val’s great great grandfather, who was born in 1819. Mary Ann Tumilty’s parents had lived in Northumberland, and emigrated to the USA in 1923.

Hayes-Stooke

On this side of the family I’ve told in another post how my father visited England for a Scout jamboree, and met a cousin with the unusual name of Herrick Hayes, and that helped us to make contact with second cousins that we had not previously known about, though attempts to make contact with Herrick Hayes’s descendants have so far been unsuccessful.

In general it seems that, unless there is a conscious interest in family history, contact seems to be lost in the generation of the great grandchildren of immigrants, and family history research can lead to the re-establishing of contact.

John Johnson Pearson — mystery uncle

One of the more interesting and mysterious members of our family is Val’s great-grandfather’s brother on her mother’s side, John Johnson Pearson.

When we started our family history research soon after we were married we were quite lucky with the Pearson side. Val’s grandmother, Martha Pearson (nee Ellwood) had lived with them in a granny flat for 12 years after her husband died, and so Val heard lots of stories about her youth and family in Whitehaven, and she left relics in the form of photos and newpaper cuttings with reports of births, marriages and deaths in the family, most of whom still lived in Whitehaven, Cumberland.

When we started our family history research we wrote to the Whitehaven News, and asked any members of the family who were interested to get in touch with us, and some did, including one of the family eccentrics, Anthony Hurton Pearson. Val’s mother told us that she and her sister had gone to the UK before the World War II, when they were teenagers, to visit the family, and they had been embarrassed by their cousin Tony Pearson, who was strange, and played fairies at the bottom of the garden.

Nevertheless, it was Tony Pearson who first told us about J.J. Pearson (we later found out that his full name was John Johnson Pearson). What he told us was a strange mixture of fact and fantasy. What we eventually found, from Tony Pearson and elsewhere, was the following:

J.J. Pearson was born in Whitehaven about 1850, the son of William Pearson and Sarah Johnson.

John Johnson Pearson was sometime editor of the India Herald and Karachi Beacon. He was the author of The exiles return to their lost inheritance (London, Stockwell, 1917), and was a British Israelite. He appears to have travelled widely through “the prophetic earth” (Palestine, Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia).

According to Anthony Hurton Pearson he was an assayer who went to India (probably true), and the first to completely neutralise the by-products of the gas-making process at his Broughton Plant (doubtful), and was also known as Basil Gotto (more doubtful). He married a harem of Sikh ladies (even more doubtful), and  Joseph Stalin was his son by one of them (almost certainly fantasy), and that he later lived in Paris lecturing at the Sorbonne (doubtful).

Another far more sensible member of the family was Ralph Pearson (another of Val’s mother’s cousins) who got quite excited about it when we wrote to him, and followed up many of the leads we had found. He established that J.J. Pearson was indeed the author of the books that Tony Pearson mentioned, and even managed to photocopy one and send it to us, and as we had guessed from the title, it was a British Israelite tract. He had some kind of training in chemisty, as an apothecary, or perhaps an assayer, but does not seem to have belonged to any of the professional bodies (Ralph Pearson tried to follow that up).

We’ve found no record that he ever married (apart from Tony Pearson’s tale of the Sikh ladies), or that he had any children (not even Stalin!). He may have lived in Paris for a while, but it is unlikely that he ever lectured at the Sorbonne. The trail goes dead after 1924, so he may have died then, or disappeared, in Paris or elsewhere.

Anyway, it would be interesting to know a little more about him. He certainly seems to have been one of the family eccentrics, and to have lived a fairly interesting life, which took him far from Whitehaven.

So if you know anything more about him (or other members of the family) please help us to complete the puzzle and leave a comment below.

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