Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Brick Wall

Brick walls are great when building a house, but not for genealogists. For those of you who aren't genealogists, the term typically refers to an ancestor who has become "difficult". They almost seem to have vanished into thin air, records are missing, or rather your ancestor seems to have vanished from the records. I, like most of us searching for our ancestors, have one that has been and still is a brick wall.
My previous blogs have been about my maternal line, and those ancestors came to the US a long time ago. My paternal line is quite different. My father is a first generation American, his mother came to the US from Ireland and his father came from England. It is the English line that is giving me problems. Thomas Henry Trevelyan NICHOLAS, my great grandfather, seems to have disappeared after he was released from the military in Canada in 1919. Thomas was born in Wales to James and Christianna, but as far as I can determine, spent most of his early life in St. Ives, Cornwall. For those of you unfamiliar with the geography of England, Cornwall is the western most part of England. I have a copy of Thomas' military file from the National Archives of Canada, in this file Thomas lists his birth as St. Ives, but in the 1901 England census, his birth place is listed as S. Wales Bridgend. My guess is that he lived there for so long and from such a young age, that he just "presumed" that was where he was born. So, we believe he was born in Wales and lived in Cornwall and later outside London. I know about London thanks to my grandfather's (Thomas Docton Trevelyan NICHOLAS) birth certificate. But none of that explains how or why he was in the service of the Canadian military. That requires a bit of a history lesson.
Not only did the British Empire have control of the American Colonies at one time, they also had control of the northern territories of North American, which would later become known as Canada. Canada was actually a group of separate British Colonies until Confederation in 1867. Confederation means some of  British Colonies were formed into 4 Canadian provinces, Newfoundland and British Columbia remained out of the initial Confederation. The colonies that became the Confederation were a federal dominion and remained a part of the British Empire and subject to imperial rule until 1931 and was answerable to the British Parliament until 1982. When England declared war on Germany, Canada as a dominion, automatically was also at war with Germany. The Canadian Expeditionary Forces was made mostly volunteers and became their overseas unit. Initially, 2/3s of the CEF consisted of men from the UK and by the end of the war half of the CEF was made up of men from the UK. Based on all of that, it would not be unusual to find and English born man living in Canada and the enlisting in the CEF. It really does pay to know history!!
I have these military papers which have told me some things, but not enough. I know that his wife and son, my grandfather, went back to England. Their address is listed in the paperwork, in his will and for his pay dispersal. I know that sometime before Feb of 1916 he had his appendix removed. Just to remind you, there was no penicillin and if they used anesthesia, it was probably ether. I can't imagine what that would have been like and how long the recovery would have been.
He was discharged from service on Dec 1, 1919 and deemed medically unfit. According to his medical history sheet he had neuritis in his left arm caused by active service conditions. He lists his proposed residence after discharge as G.P.O. Montreal. I believe this to mean general post office in Montreal. He can't have lived there, but most likely had his mail sent there. Another notation in the file suggests he may have gone to live in the Prince of Wales Hotel, St. Joseph St, Lachine. As I mentioned earlier, he had a wife and son who lived in England. They eventually immigrated to the US sometime in 1926. It appears that my grandfather had no contact with his father after he and his mother returned to England in 1914. My grandfather and his mother appear in the 1930 US census living in New Jersey and his mother lists herself as widowed. I believe that is not true, however, given the time period it would make sense she listed herself this way. It would save her from answering a lot of questions about her husband and where he was.
Thomas Henry Trevelyan NICHOLAS is my brick wall, but I hope he won't remain one forever. If you're ever searching records in Canada and come across any information about my Thomas, please remember me and help me break down my brick wall.


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