Of Blooms, Blarney and Bigamy …

I have had a million things to take care of in August (and September) – my MA, my counseling course, dealing with the builders for the kitchen renovations to name a few off the top of my head – so it should come as absolutely no surprise that I have, instead, been looking at a mysterious line of Holborows (i.e. neither the procrastination nor the subject should be a surprise).

They aren’t particularly close to my line (the progenitor being my 1st cousin 5 x removed), but they contain(ed) a number of questions. Some of which I have managed to answer – finally!

This post could easily have been framed as part of the Holborows in … series as it covers both Canada and the US (mild spoiler!). Instead, I shall let them all speak for themselves as much as I can.

Caleb Holborow – apart from sounding like he could be a guest character on Murder, She Wrote – was born in the summer of 1819. Unusually, the minister recorded his birth date on his baptism entry, so we can be more precise and say he was born on 5 August 1819, in the small Wiltshire village of Nettleton, just outside of Chippenham. He was also the second son to have the name: his eldest brother had been baptised Caleb Painter Holborow (no surprise what mummy’s maiden name was…). Born on 12 February, little Caleb was buried on 20 February. Six children later, Caleb #2 arrived …

Caleb’s father, Thomas, was the brother of my 4 x great-grandfather, Joseph. Like I said, not particularly close.

Caleb married a girl of Welsh origin – Martha Collins – in Nettleton in 1845 and they had six children. Her father is recorded as a shipwright on the certificate so quite what prompted her move to Wiltshire is unknown. He progressed up the ag lab ladder, and for a time was a groom working on the Beaufort Estate at Badminton, living in Slaite Lodge for a time in the 1880s.

Slait Lodge, 1968. Ray Bird Photography.

Three of the children then traveled east, ending up in Deptford, Chelsea and Herne Hill. One went south and died in Southampton. Only one, Martha, stayed local to the Badminton area. The final child, Henry Caleb, went north and then west. Possibly quite far west …

By 1881, Henry Caleb Holborow had made it to Yorkshire, lodging in the village of Woolley where he was a gardener – presumably at Woolley Hall. Was this position somehow connected to his father having worked for the Duke of Beaufort? Three years later, at this marriage in 1884, Henry gives his place of residence as Stourton, Wiltshire, but he and his wife, Mary, married in Rothwell, Yorkshire (some 15 miles from his previous place of employ). Did he work on the Stourton estate? If so, he could have been in the employ of Sir Henry Ainslie Hoare, 5th baronet of Barn Elms, who had inherited the estate from his uncle in 1857. After his death in 1894, the estate passed to a cousin.

The baptism record for Henry and Mary’s children, George and Martha, notes that Henry was still a gardener. However, Martha is baptised in the parish church at Zeals, just outside of Mere in Wiltshire. Had he transferred to Zeals House? This seems borne out in the 1891 census, where the small family is recorded as living at “No. 1 Zeals Estate”

Zeals House in 2021

If you’re interested, Zeals House is currently up for sale. If you have a cool £4 million to spend …

1901 bought the first surprise. The family had left England behind and made the journey to southern Ireland and the County of Cork. In 1901, the family are living in Blarney. I didn’t think much of that at first, but when I checked the House and Building Return, one of the four residents shown was Sir George Colthurst. A simple Google search of that name + Blarney lead me to Sir George St John Colthurst, 6th Baronet Colthurst and owner of the Blarney Estate – that is, the partial ruins of Blarney Castle and the 19th century Blarney House. An entire treatise could be written on the history of the stone, the origins of the legend that kissing it bestows on one powers of eloquence, and the folk etymology of blarney.

Blarney House

By the time of the next census, 10 years later, Henry has lost both his wife (in 1910) and his daughter (in 1909). He is still listed as a gardener, but by now he is living in Cork itself with his daughter-in-law, Ethel.

Henry’s son George had married Ethel Maud Edwards in Cork on Boxing Day 1910 with George listed as a Merchant’s Clerk. Presumably, this entailed some degree of travel as in 1911 George is 120 miles away in County Wexford in a boarding house. His occupation is “Commercial Clerk, Bacon Department”. Also in the same boarding house that night was an Edward Pounden with the same occupation. One assumes they worked together, otherwise, it’s quite a coincidence!

It’s after this point that things got a little … more interesting.

As we have seen, in April 1911 George was away traveling. What he may or may not have known was that Ethel, back home, was pregnant. In September George Alexander (aka George Junior) was born. But not in Ireland – George Junior’s birth occurred in Liverpool on 22 September. George is named on the certificate (as a former Bacon Factor’s manager – does this mean he was now unemployed? Was that the cause of their move to Liverpool?) The strange thing is that I suspect that I have George on a passenger list leaving Liverpool in July 1911 aboard the Lusitania. He is listed as a Clerk, which would fit his last known occupation back in Ireland. Suffice it to say, George is traveling alone, and in 3rd Class. Was George off to America to set up a new life for himself and his new, growing family? Well, we will come back to George a little later.

RMS Lusitania in New York docks, 1911-1915

The street address Ethel gives on the certificate is Gregson Street. Nowadays, Gregson Street and the surrounding area in Everton has been wholly redeveloped. What were narrow streets of terraced housing has become somewhat soulless estates (if by soulless you mean a lack of cholera …). The photos below show examples of the change in this area in the last 50 years.

Gregson Street today (Russ Oakes on Flickr)
Corner of Gregson Street in 1960s
Bright Street, Everton, 1900s and 2020 This is looking up from Gregson Street towards Everton Road (via Twitter Liverpool:Then and Now @keithjones84)

Three years later, in July 1914, Ethel and George Junior make their own way across the Atlantic, this time aboard the Empress of Britain on the way to Quebec (on one of the ship’s final journeys before she was requisitioned into service in WWI). Their tickets were paid for by the Salvation Army as part of their Great Migration Scheme.

It is little remembered today, but during the first half of the twentieth century, the Salvation Army was the largest voluntary migration society in the UK – almost 250,000 people migrated across the “Dominion” with them. In 1914 alone, just short of 5,000 people used them, with 769 of them having their trips paid for by the Salvation Army. Ethel and George were two of them. One thing that differed was that the SA implemented a service where they supported migrants even before they left.

Unfortunately during the Blitz in WWII the International Headquarters was hit by a bomb and a great many records were destroyed, so there are no Emigration Department records that relate to individuals who received a loan or a payment for their travel. However, given that the Salvation Army’s mission at this time included working to save the “submerged tenth” – that is, the segment of the nation’s populace that was homeless, starving or penniless – we can perhaps assume that Ethel was truly struggling and saw migration to Canada as her way out of that poverty and to also provide her son with a more secure future.

For more information, there are a great many links to Salvation Army sources. We shall, for the sake of brevity, not delve into the topic of eugenic ideology in such poverty-focused migration discourse.

The 1916 census records Ethel and George as living in the rural municipality of Minto, Manitoba, Canada where Ethel is a housekeeper. No George Senior in sight. In November 1918, they moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, and then to British Columbia, where Ethel marries for a second time: to John Edward McKay. What had happened to George?

However, this marriage was not to last as John died in Kamloops just one year after the wedding. They remain in Canada for a few more years – appearing in the 1921 Canadian census where Ethel is recorded as a housekeeper in Grandview.

The following year Ethel and George Junior cross the border into America and make their way to Los Angeles. I can only imagine that after the winters of Manitoba, Los Angeles must have been a massive change! On the Border Crossing, George is recorded as McKay alias Holborow

George’s WWI and WWII draft paperwork give his birth date (22 September 1910 – which doesn’t worry me as I find that many US military records are one year out) and place of birth (Liverpool, England). There are no George McKay’s born in Liverpool +/- 2 years and only one George Holborow. This was the final nail in the coffin for me that George Alexander McKay was the same person as George Alexander Holborow.

In 1930, George and his mother are living on Columbia Avenue in Westlake, Los Angeles. George is a liability insurance adjuster and has, for some reason, recorded his father as having been born in Montana. In 1933 George marries (as George Alexander McKay) and he and his wife go on to have two children. George died in Los Angeles in 1995. Ethel died in 1958. George was the informant on Ethel’s death certificate. However, some of the family information had become a little … confused. On the certificate, it states that Ethel’s mother was a Holborow (first name unknown) and her father was an Edwards (similarly, unknown first name). Clearly, some Holborow knowledge had filtered down from Ethel, but had perhaps come unstuck somewhere in the process!

As for George Senior … he first appears in American records in 1918 when he married German immigrant, Helen Ott in New Jersey. There are no other rogue George Holborows of the existing American families who this could have been, but stay with me.

In 1920, George and his wife (recorded as Anna) are boarding in Manhattan with George listed as a chauffeur. He also lists him and his parents as being born in Ireland. Not the case, but he spent a lot of time in Ireland as a youth so not entirely a miss. He also says he arrived in America in 1911 (see earlier trip on the Lusitania). 1930, he and Helen are living in Queens. Once again, he and his parents are recorded as being born in Ireland, but he gives his year of arrival as 1915. Not that this worries me as these dates are wildly inconsistent in a great many US census returns that I have seen. 1940 sees them in Astoria in Queens. A not-too-shabby neighbourhood (fun fact: the area was named for John Jacob Astor in the hope to get him to invest money in the development of the area. He invested only $500 and never once set foot in Astoria), even in the 1940s.

Again, it was George’s WWII Draft Registration card that provided the final confirmation that this was the missing George Senior. Birthplace: Wiltshire. His WWI Draft Registration card lists Mrs Gorey as his next of kin. This matches the information in the 1920 census.

By 1950 they had moved to the North Shore of Long Island and the town of Port Jefferson. Although no occupation is recorded on the census, there are five “roomers”. Whilst today a move to Long Island may signal a family on their uppers, in the 1950s, Port Jeff (as it is known) was still recovering from the collapse of the local shipbuilding industry in 1923 with the closure of its main shipyard and remained in the economic doldrums until the mid-to-late 1960s. How much of that regeneration George got to see was limited as he died in 1961; Helen in 1966.

George’s Social Security Claims Index entry again confirms known information that this is the correct George:

I don’t think I’ll ever know what happened between George Senior and Ethel, why they separated, or her exact reasons for leaving Ireland when she was pregnant. Did George throw her out? Was George Junior the product of an affair? Was George Senior just an asshole? Did he announce one day that he was leaving, or did he just go out for some milk and never come back? It is useless to speculate.

George and his second wife never had any children, and George Junior had two sons. Perhaps they’ll show up on a future DNA results list!

The family had one further surprise for me …

Many years ago on a random “what would happen if I put Holborow into this database?” whim, I found a strange entry that I have never been able to fit a likely candidate:

The death certificate of 84-year-old Henry Holborow, a widowed gardener. The surprising part? That it happened in a hospital in St Louis Bay, Saint Ann, Jamaica. Quite how a man who was last seen living in Cork in 1911 gets to Jamaica yet doesn’t appear on a Passenger List. Even if he left from Dublin (or Cork) the ship in all likelihood would have come from Liverpool (if he hadn’t traveled to Liverpool directly) so he should be on a UK Outward Passenger List.

I don’t know for certain that this is Henry, George Senior’s father, but I do know that Henry does not appear on an index of US, UK, or Irish deaths. But age, occupation, and marital status do all add up and there are no other Henry Holborows of that age and occupation.

Apologies that this has been a bit of a long read (I’m not so good at the short, snappy write-ups!), but I admit that I have had a bit of an obsession with this family! It’s a shame that there don’t seem to be any photos floating about online (apart from one High School yearbook photo of one of George Junior’s sons from 1955), but at this point, it’s a bit c’est la vie.

I am off now to attempt to haul my Master’s assignment from the toilet. Wish me luck!

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