Friday, 27 June 2014

Whatever Happened to my Great Uncle?

There's a special place in my heart for my Grandfather. My parents lived with him, so I obviously grew up living with him too. Mum and Dad both worked, so I spent a lot of time with my Grandad, listening to his tales of World War 1 and going for long walks around our home town, but most of all, I loved listening to the stories about his family. I guess this was the start of my interest in my family history.

I always knew that my Grandfather was an orphan and that he also had a younger brother known as Jack and it is Jack who has probably presented me with the most brick walls in my family research.

John William Taylor was the youngest of three children, born about 1896 in Netherton in the Black Country. His parents were John William Taylor (senior) and Esther (nee Willetts). John was a carter at the local ironworks and Esther was the daughter of master chain maker David Willetts, one of the first Black County chain makers to turn his backyard workshop into a profitable business with his own employees. David also ploughed some of his profits into a public house on Halesowen Road.

I have never been able to find to find John William's birth certificate, but he appears on the 1901 Census as Jack Taylor aged 5 living with his big brother, his Aunt Florence Kendall and his cousin Annie at Bishton's Bridge in Netherton.

1901 Census for Netherton. Jack is listed living with his Aunt Florence at Bishton's Bridge.
Previously, Jack and my Grandad had been living with their own family just up the road at 35 Chapel Street, Netherton, but disaster struck the family early in 1901. The house was in a small courtyard, shared with quite a few more families. Living conditions were harsh with a communal toilet in the courtyard and there was no running water available. Maggie Taylor was only 11 years old when she fell seriously ill in the January. She died on January 22nd and the cause of death was typhoid fever, a salmonella type infection which is spread through poor sanitation and contaminated water. Typhoid fever is highly contagious and it didn't take long before other members of the family were taken ill. John William Taylor senior died of the same fever on February 1st, while Esther was taken to the Infectious Disease Hospital in Dudley for treatment, but she also died on February 10th. In the space of three weeks, my grandfather and his brother Jack had lost their big sister and both parents.

They were taken in by their Auntie Florence, their mothers sister, who lived not far away on Halesowen Road. Florence was a widow with a daughter of her own. She had taken over her father's chain making business and supported the three young children by working long hours in the chain shop and leasing out the family owned Inn. I don't know how long the boys remained with their Aunt Florence, but I do know that they were both accepted into the Royal Orphanage in Wolverhampton. I presume that Florence must have had a hand in getting them both into this establishment as it was usually only reserved for the.... "children of professional men, farmers, manufacturers, and other respectable types". Orphaned children of ordinary labourers were usually barred.

It was a hard life for the orphans, rising at 6am, tables to be laid and fires lit, followed by classwork until breakfast at 8am. After breakfast there was more domestic work, laundry and cleaning until classes resumed at 9.30. More domestic chores followed lunch, with classes again until 5pm.Tea was at 6pm, but before then they had to polish boots and do their washing. After tea, tables were cleared, and then it was down to evening study until 7.30pm.  At 8pm it was prayers and lights out! The management board obviously didn’t feel it necessary to schedule any free time into the daily routine. Their aim was simply make sure that their inmates would eventually become useful members of society.

Royal Orphanage, Wolverhampton.
My Grandfather left the orphanage about 1906. I still have the bible that was presented to him when he left. I presume that Jack must have stayed on a while longer. The Royal Orphanage still exists today in the guise of the Royal School, Wolverhampton. One of my projects will be to contact them and see if they still have records of my Grandfather and Jack during their time there.

The next confirmed record of Jack's whereabouts is the 1911 census. Jack and my Grandfather have both now left the Orphanage and are living with their cousin Annie at 336 Halesowen Road in Old Hill. Annie is now married to James Griffiths, a mechanical engineer at Stewarts & Lloyds Tube Works. They have a 1 year old son George and Annie's mother, Florence is also living with them. Florence is 60 by this time, but still working as a chain maker and still employing her own staff. My Grandfather has turned 18 by this time and is also working as a tube machinist at Stewarts & Lloyds, Jack is just 15 and is listed as an Office Boy.

1911 Census for Old Hill. Jack is living with his cousin Annie and her extended family.
Jack's whereabouts during World War 1 are a mystery. I haven't found any records of him serving in the armed forces at all, even though my Grandfather spent the whole of the War serving with the Army Service Corps in Europe and the Near East. It could be that he remained at the steelworks, but this is is ongoing research - Jack certainly kept himself quiet!

The next mention of Jack is in 1918, when he married Elsie May Grove. Family stories tell me that Elsie wasn't well liked by Jack's family, but that story can never be substantiated now, neither will the real reason for their marriage. The Grove family lived a few doors away from the Griffiths at 339 Halesowen Road, so this must be how Jack and Elsie met. They were married on August 1st 1918 and their only daughter, Dorothy Margaret Taylor was born 7 months later in March 1919. Jack, Elsie and Dorothy all lived together with Elsie's parents at 339 Halesowen Road, a house that has now become part of the Howard Less hardware business. Like I said, I can no longer prove the real reasons for the wedding, but my Grandad always told me that " he had to get married!". By all accounts it was a stormy marriage and in April 1922 we find Jack boarding the S.S.Scythia on his way to Canada.

Jack sailed to Canada on board the S.S. Scythia.
I have traced a copy of Jack's emigration papers, which are quite enlightening, but also quite frustrating too. There are a series of questions on the form 30a, which tell us that Jack had still been living at 339 Halesowen Road at the time and had been working as a chauffeur. His next of kin is still given as "Elsie Taylor - wife" but there's no doubt that Jack had no intention of coming home again. For the question "Object in going to Canada?" he answers - "to settle" and intended occupation is "to work on a farm". I know that he arrived safely in Halifax, Nova Scotia on April 16th and was given medical clearance by Canadian Immigration and it was noted that he had "assured Farm Work", but that is the last anyone in the UK really heard from Jack. 
Form 30a did reveal his destination... Hill Top Farm belonging to a Mr James Richard Rock in Kenaston, Saskatchewan, so I wrote to the Archives Board in Saskatchewan to see if they could provide any information. I received a long reply which told me a bit more about James Rock, but.... "unfortunately we were not able to find any information about John William Taylor or Jack Taylor"

So, I know that Jack arrived in Canada and was headed for Kenaston and the farm he was going to work on was owned by James Richard Rock. According to the quarter sessions for Kenaston, Mr. Rock first applied for a homestead in 1910. In 1913, he notes that he is 31 years old and has a wife and two children (not named). He received the title to this quarter section in February 1914. In 1918, he is 36 years old and has a wife and three children (not named). He received the patent (or title) to this quarter section in March 1919. The archives board also told me that the Cummins Map from 1922 shows the location of this quarter section with the name of the landowner, Mr Rock, written on the quarter section. They also have geographical features, towns, railway lines, etc. marked on them. The map from 1930does not have Mr. Rock’s name marked, so he must have sold his farm sometime between 1922 and 1930. 

Elsie married again in 1939 and Dorothy remained in Old Hill all of her life, remaining in contact with my mother for my most of that, but nothing was ever heard from Jack again. There are still some resources I can try to see if there are any more records of Jack in Canada, the Saskatchewan Genealogical Society and the Canadian Genealogy Centre may throw some light on his movements, but going by his previous life history, my Great Uncle Jack Taylor may just prove to be the brick wall that I cannot knock down.