Yooper Greenaways

According to Lois Haglund (my step third cousin-in-law once removed — see her blog here) people who live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the USA are called Yoopers. I’ve just discovered some Greenaway relations who were Yoopers, at least for a while.

My great grandmother was Elizabeth Greenaway who married William Mathew Growdon, and they came to the Cape Colony in the 1870s, where he was a platelayer on the Cape Government Railways. That was just after the discovery of diamonds in Kimberley, and there was a rush to build a railway line from every port to the interior.

Elizabeth Greenaway had an uncle, Thomas Greenaway. who emigrated about the same time to the USA, to Quincy, Houghton County, Michigan. There’s another Quincy in Michigan, so the county name is important, and if you Google for Quincy, Michigan, it will show you the wrong one, in Branch County, right at the other end of the state. In fact it seems that almost every one of the United States has a Quincy, and Michigan has two.

Quincy Mine

Quincy Mine

What seems to have drawn the Greenaway family to Michigan was the Quincy copper mine.

Thomas Greenaway was born in 1829 in St Breward, Cornwall, where he became a quarry labourer. He married Margaretta Bone in 1851, and, according to the 1900 US Cenus, they had 9 children, of whom only 2 were still alive in 1900. We only have a record of the names of 5 of the children, and one of those died young.

In the 1860s the family moved to Gwennap, Cornwall, where Thomas worked as a tin miner, and in the early 1870s the family emigrated to the USA, and he was a miner at Quincy in the 1880 US Census. In 1880 their daughter Mary (a widow at age 19) was living with them, as was their daughter Maggie (10). Also living in Quincy was their son Richard John Greenaway, who had just married Polly Kinsman, and they were staying with her parents. They were also miners.

Quincy2It is said that Gwennap produced more emigrants than any other town in Cornwall, and so it is possible that several people emigrated together to Quincy.

The Greenaways did not stay Yoopers for long, however, because by the 1900 census they were in Braceville, Illinois, a coal mining town. Thomas had retired by then, as he is shown on the census with no occupation. His son Richard John was also there, still a miner, with his wife and two adopted daughters.

Unfortunately the 1890 US Census didn’t survive, so we have not been able to see what happened in between. In 1900 their daughter Mary would have been 39; did she marry again? The youngest daughter, Maggie (Elizabeth Margaret) would have been 30 — did she marry and have children? We haven’t been able to find out.

The move to Braceville was perhaps not a wise one, as we can discover from this site.

Braceville thrived until the summer of 1910 when the miners of the Braceville Coal Company went on strike. Fed up with the whole affair, the coal company simply closed and within just a few months the town was all but abandoned leaving behind an opera house, a large frame school and many empty businesses. Of these today, there is no sign other than a few slag heaps along the old highway.

Did the Greenaways stay, or did they move on again? Did they leave any descendants in any of the places where they lived, so that there might be cousins living there today? We don’t know.


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.


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.


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.


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