My dad was only 5 when his grandma died but she made a big impression. She was the heart of his father’s family and the brains of their family carpentry business. But she was also a bit of a mystery to him. He had been able to trace his grandfather William James to his early years in Sudbury, England; he found WJ’s parents and his roots in Worcestershire. WJ married Sarah Newham. They had two children, then decided to emigrate to America, where they had five more. But where did Sarah come from?
When I finally caught the family history bug and subscribed to Ancestry.com, Sarah was my first project. In the last year of my dad’s life, I found his grandmother.
In the 1881 England census, I found 22-year-old WJ Price working as a carpenter in Foston & Scropton (Staffordshire), still living with his parents. Shouldn’t Sarah be nearby? And to my surprise, there she was! And within a few minutes, there was the marriage certificate between this Sarah and my WJ. Facts about her family quickly surfaced.
Suddenly, out of the mists of time and the dust of archives, I had a gift for my father.
Here was another enterprising branch of the family to explore. While the Prices were carpenters and wheelwrights, the Newhams were tailors, dressmakers and lace-makers. In fact, Sarah’s father was a master tailor with his own business in Lincolnshire, in the East Midlands. I love these roots: not only fine motor skills but appreciation for detail, for symmetry, and for finishing (not only the job, but also the edges).
When WJ met Sarah, she had left home to seek her fortune Burton Upon Trent. In 1881 she was living there with her two older brothers, working as a laundress. Her brothers settled down closer to home, but when Sarah met WJ, they were soon married, quickly had a daughter and a son and made the big decision to seek their fortune in America. The decision had heartbreaking consequences, since their toddler Mary Ann died during the passage.
But the Prices carried on — no turning back. It was the Gilded Age in America and they made their way to one of its biggest boom towns: St. Louis, Missouri, where there was plenty of work for skilled carpenters. They had five more sons and, with Sarah leading the way, they prospered.
It tickled my father to learn as much as he could about his smart, strong English grandmother. What tickles me are men who love strong women. And I’m so fortunate that my dad was one of these.