Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Adopting an ancestor

My grandfather's father, John, was illegitimate. We know his father's name, Mathew, and that he was a seaman, but that's all.

Two members of my extended family and I have been searching, independently, for more information about this man for years. We've found someone who could possibly be the one, but we have no way to prove it. He was of the right age, living in the right city at the right time. But given Mathew's occupation was listed as seaman, he could also have been a sailor in port on leave, in which case we'll never find him.

In case, some day, the missing link shows up that will definitively tie this Mathew to our family tree, I've been looking into his. I've found his parents, his siblings, their spouses and children. And I was hoping to find some direct descedants from Mathew himself.

What I've found, though, has just made me sad.

Mathew had two sons, born in 1867 and 1868. His wife died in 1870, when their children were only toddlers. The older boy, also called John, died of scarlet fever in 1871. Mathew himself died in 1875, leaving his younger son James orphaned. Mathew's father, James' grandfather, died that same year. Mathew's mother had died three years earlier in 1872, and James' grandparents on his mother's side had died before he was born.

James' brother John's death was the last piece I uncovered, and it's just so immeasurably sad. One by one, little James lost every single member of his family within a five-year span. What kind of mark must that have left on him?

He survived it all, though.

The 1881 census has him living with his unmarried aunt and uncle, attending school. In 1891 he is attending the University of Glasgow, from which he graduated with a Master of Arts and a Bachelor of Divinity. After that, he sailed for India to work there as a missionary.

It's not surprising, somehow, that he turned to religion, with so many losses in his life at such a young age. It's also not surprising that he travelled so far away. He had very few ties left to keep him at home. I'm sure he was looking for somewhere he could belong.

The last piece of information I have is a record that he sailed from India to London in 1918. I don't know if that was the end of his travels, if he returned home to visit his cousins, or whether he went back to India or on to some other exotic place. I don't know if he ever married, or when or where he died.

I do plan to keep looking though. I would feel bad leaving him all alone after this.

And it's a shame that, if we are related, he never knew he had a half-brother not so far away.

No comments:

Post a Comment