Thursday, September 24

Thursday Drive: Mystery Letter from Broom Farm

[This doubles as this week's Postcard Friendship Friday
post because it's an update on the 24th July PFF post.]

We always assumed Long Marton was just a place where Grandpa's father worked briefly in the years between marrying Grandpa's mother and bringing the family to America.

Grandpa was born in 1877, and although we had no record of his father ever working for a railroad, it was possible that between censuses he had been employed by the Settle-Carlisle Railway in a capacity that qualified the family to live in the Railway Cottages.

Railway Cottages, Long Marton, Westmorland, England.
The "X" marks #4, my grandfather's birthplace
(Original post about this circa-1910 postcard.)

Philip was from a large family, but as far as we knew, none of his siblings had ever lived in Long Marton. Same for wife Annie's siblings; those who left the family home in Bolton moved into Penrith, the market town a few miles away.

Or so we believed until last week when I again came across a mysterious letter from a Mrs. Robinson of Broom Farm, Long Marton.

I first saw it a year ago, in a packet of old letters entrusted to me by a cousin because 'You know these people better than I do'. (Meaning I'd researched them more extensively, not that I'd known them personally!)

Alas, the only familiar name was Fanny Elliott's, and only because she was also mentioned in other old letters from Annie's relatives in Penrith. They didn't mention anyone named Robinson, though...or Alderson, the other surname in the Mystery Letter.

The letter was maddeningly devoid of dates or details, so before putting it aside, I googled "Broom Farm", but found no connection to either of Grandpa's parents.

Fast forward a year and several Miss Marples and Hercule Poirots later.

I came across the Mystery Letter again, but this time I was determined to discover how Mrs. Robinson and Annie Alderson were related to Philip or Annie.

If I'd learned anything from Dame Agatha, it was to pay attention to every bit of information, no matter how seemingly unimportant, and never overlook the obvious.

Here's what I had to go on:

An envelope with the postmark and date torn off.
Luckily, I didn't have to research the Royal Mail to
learn when a letter could be mailed from England to
America for 1 1/2 pence, but I could have (to narrow
the timeframe in which the letter was written).

"Mrs. A. Sowerby" might've meant Mrs. Arthur Sowerby, Grandpa's wife, except it's common knowledge she had no use for his "foreign" relatives. She barely tolerated his "foreign" parents. Therefore, this letter was to Grandma's mother-in-law, Mrs. Annie Sowerby.

Although the letter itself isn't dated, it begins "Auntie & Uncle",
so it was written no later than 1924, the year Philip died.

"I am writing this letter on behalf of my Grannie..."

The letter first tells about the recent death of an "Aunt Pollie", wife of "Uncle Joe", and the death of their 3-week-old son soon after. Joe (whoever he was) was a farmer, but it's not clear if he was the tenant of Broom Farm or lived elsewhere. It says '[you] will be surprised that Grannie has moved over to Joe's'. But then it says "Joe's is a sad house" so "Grannie is staying with us for awhile".

Good thing I was more interested in who Grannie was than where she hung her hat on a given day...

The letter then talks about the weather, crops Joe had planted, that Fanny Elliott had been seen recently in Penrith, and finally, on the second page, at the very end, the writer says:

"I am Ruth Alderson['s] Daughter.
Grannie's eldest Daughter Ruth."

It pains me to admit that I, with 25+ years of experience deciphering relationships in family trees, completely overlooked the obvious...

Ruth Alderson's maiden name should've been as simple as the answer to "Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?". (I plead Mercury in retrograde.)

Instead, I spent an hour at England's BMD (Birth Marriage Death Index) searching for men with the last name Alderson who married women named Ruth. There was only one: Jonathan Alderson to Ruth...drum roll please...ROBINSON, married during the September Quarter (Jul/Aug/Sep) of 1885.

For what it's worth, because the letter gives the impression Ruth's mother was elderly, she may've outlived Ruth's father and remarried. In which case "Robinson" would be the last name of the second husband, not Ruth's maiden name. But I should've plugged in "Alderson and Robinson" at the beginning anyway.

At any rate, from the marriage date, I guesstimated Ruth was born around 1863-65. A check of the 1871 UK census for Westmorland Co showed a Ruth Robinson of the correct age as the daughter of Isabella and Joseph Robinson.

Beginning in 1851, censuses in England listed not only a person's birth county (equivalent to a U.S. state), but the specific village or town too.

Isabella Robinson was born in 1839 in Bolton, Westmorland. Possibly Great-grandma Annie's sister Isabella SAVAGE, of which we'd only ever had her name and birthdate. No spouse or children.

Another trip to the BMD verified Isabella Savage and Joseph Robinson married in the Dec Quarter (Oct/Nov/Dec) of 1862. The IGI (International Genealogical Index) was more specific, showing the marriage took place in Long Marton on 13 Nov 1862.

The Mystery Letter, btw, was written prior to September 1923, because Isabella Robinson died during the SepQ (July/Aug/Sep). From the handwriting and grammar, I suspect Annie Alderson, born in 1896, was a teenager and not an adult when she wrote the letter for her "Grannie". If so, it was written closer to 1910-14.

I still haven't determined exactly who lived at Broom Farm at the time of the letter, but I now know how Grandpa happened to be born in #4 Railway Cottage.

It was Joseph Robinson who worked for the Settle-Carlisle Railway, for at least 30 years. He and Isabella lived in #4 Railway Cottage from at least 1871 until at least 1901 (the last UK census I can access).

In the days before maternity hospitals were common, women routinely moved in with a female relative when their time was near.

And so it must've been with Great-grandma Annie, who gave birth to my grandfather in the home of his Aunt Isabella.

Happy PFF!!

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Marie's Postcard Friendship Friday


LondonGirl said...

From the 1911 UK census:

Long Marten, Carlisle:

Isabella Robinson, head of household, aged 71. Widow. Occupation - of private means. Born Bolton, Westmoreland.

Joseph Robinson, son, aged 30. Single. Horseman / Houseman on farm, worker. Born Long Marten, Westmoreland.

Hope that helps!

JamaGenie said...

Thank you! It does! This Joseph must be Annie Alderson's "Uncle Joe" whose wife was "Aunt Pollie". Wonderful!

Calimyrna Moon said...

Dame Agatha would be exceptionally proud of you, Jama! (And LondonGirl, too.)

Marie Reed said...

It's delightful to see your go go gadget detective work in action (Penny and Brain) ! What an adventure genealogy research is!

BeachILike said...

Are you taking detective role today?

Happy PFF!

You Got A Posty
All Little Things I Like

Postcardy said...

Good detective work.

Robin said...

All so very interesting.....

I have been working on our family tree as well. I have an abundance of information on my mother's side dating back to the early 1700's. But my father's side end's abruptly with the crossing of his grandmother and father (young boy of 6) from Lithuania via Germany to the States. My father was an only child as was his father. My father's grandfather was nowhere to be found when his father and grandmother arrived on the shores of the US. It all makes for quite an unbalanced tree.

Have a beautiful weekend

Beth Niquette said...

Wonderful post! And such a gift you have of writing your family's story. I was touched. I laughed and I cried. Beautifully done.

Happy PFF!

Snap said...

My goodness. A full fledged detective in action! And with success! Well done and what a wonderful post.

Duchess of Tea said...

Darling, I see you have been busy and noticed that you have a PA now!! Luv thanks for the visit and good wishes, you have a lovely weekend as well. I hope you decide to join us on Tuesday.


Evelyn Yvonne Theriault said...

Thanks for sharing the "process" you followed in analyzing your card. This is my favourite kind of post.
Evelyn in Montreal

Maggi said...

Wow, how cool to have this knowledge of your family! Great work!


wonderful wonderful post!!! isn't it wonderful to truly "know" your family of yesteryear? thanks so much for sharing yours!