24 April 2013

Oh, you Tomlinsons...

Life has gotten in the way of genealogy research this year, though I have kept up with my DNA connections and other cousins.  I've also been working on documenting my colonial Higley family, which I mentioned in my Meeker post a while back.

It's easy to deal with facts and numbers several generations back, even documenting sad events like my Ogram ancestors who were so poor that their church parish in Yorkshire, England scraped together a few pounds to pay to ship them oversees to Canada to give them a chance to pull themselves out of poverty, or my poor ancestor Thaddeus Martin, who died at the county poor farm where his poverty-stricken family was forced to leave him as he was "insane".  Or brave Seth Higley, who had fought for freedom for the colonies in the Revolutionary War, but died with only a few sheep, a pot, and a spoon to his name, desperately needing a veteran pension from the young US government to sustain himself.

Though sad, these facts surrounding distance ancestors are interesting to unearth and make me proud of my heritage, like the success of the Ogram family in Ontario.  However, the passing of my grandfather a week and a half ago gives a new perspective to the art of family history.  Entering his date of death into my database was surreal. He was one of my biggest inspirations to pursue this research, my interest in family history definitely inspired by tales of his childhood.  He was always talking about his mother's family, the Tomlinsons.  I am very happy and thankful for all the new information I was able to share with him, and all the stories I was able to record before we lost him.

One of the last family secrets I was able to share with him was the following Tomlinson tale.  His grandparents were Laurence Tomlinson of Caro, MI and Rachel Brown of Ontario, near Kitchener.  We had always heard the family history of how she was brought from Ontario to Caro to keep house for Laurence's father, William Tomlinson.  Laurence married his father's housekeeper when he was just 18, and she was 30.  Her first child, Eva, was an eight month baby.  I had pictured the teenaged Laurence chasing the housekeeper around until he was finally old enough to take the plunge into marriage (or, perhaps, because he had gotten her pregnant).  They went on to have 3 more children, one of whom, Clifford, had died at age 1.  Then their fifth child was born in 1909, but both Rachel and the baby died during the birth.

Note on photos:  I don't mind if you wish to save a copy of the photos on this blog, but as most of them are original scans of personal family photos I would appreciate if you credited the source.

Rachel Brown Tomlinson

This was the story that had been passed down through the family and was supported by records.  Then one day, I had been conversing with a Brown family researcher from Saskatchewan and he asked about someone named "Emerson Brown".  Emerson was supposed to be the illegitimate child of Rachel, and it was assumed of Laurence as well.  He could be found living with Susannah Ogram Brown, Rachel's mother, in the 1901 Canadian census.  However, Laurence would've been only 13ish at the time of Emerson's birth in 1893/1894.  Also, Emerson was born in Ontario, and Laurence had been born in the US, with no hint of ever returning to live in Canada, where his father was from.  It made no sense that he would've impregnated Rachel, then the two make the trip back to Canada for Emerson's birth.

I asked my grandfather, and he had never heard of an Emerson.  Of course, babies born out of wedlock were very taboo at that time, so it's no surprise that it would've been kept a secret.  Emerson himself, I was told, was very ashamed of it, and the news only got out as a deathbed confession.  After some searching, I found an Emerson Brown, born to Robert and Mary Brown in Ontario, with the same birth date as Emerson's 1901 census record.  Bingo, I thought.  Emerson was actually the child of Rachel's brother, Robert.

Again, or so I thought.  I had responded a few month's previously to an inquiry on the Genforum message boards from someone who had descended from Laurence and Rachel.  Because my great grandmother had only given birth to my grandfather, and Eva never had children, he must be a descendant of Laurence's son, William Tomlinson.  Wrong.  Here was Emerson's grandson, sharing the deathbed confession that led me to believe, again, that Emerson must have been Rachel's first child.

I shared this again with my grandfather and aunts.  There was laughter and comments about "those Tomlinsons".  Although no one had heard of Emerson, no doubt the Tomlinson family was known to be, for lack of a better description, slightly wild.

My current working theory is that Emerson was the son of Rachel and William Tomlinson, father of Laurence.  However, Rachel's lone U.S. census record indicates she came to Michigan after Emerson's birth.  Whether this is actually true or not, I'm not sure.  I'd like to find some border crossing records to see if there is any indication of when Rachel actually came to live with the Tomlinson family.  Or, if there is some indication of any Tomlinsons returning to Canada around the time Emerson was conceived.

It's sad that societal pressures resulted in such a painful secret for Emerson, when really he and his family should have felt welcome in the Tomlinson family.  I've enjoyed connecting with yet another cousin, though, and here's hoping we'll be able to solve the mystery.