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Saturday, June 9, 2012

What about Jemima?

Having taken about eight months to follow up on my last post, I am happy to report that the writing class was a great success. And the answer to the question of whether anybody wrote anything especially to be proud of, it was my own mother who did. She wrote a wonderfully detailed essay about the adventures she and my dad had on some of their travels, and she wrote a very fine short story that her grandchildren absolutely loved. Some of the other class members wrote very fine stories and memoirs too, but my mother's were the best. I am not biased in the least.

On a different subject, my family and I are on a detective quest for the true story of my husband's great-great grandmother. Here is what we have discovered so far.

Jemima was born in England on the Salisbury Plain in a tiny agricultural town in 1803, the eldest child of her parents, Jane and Thomas. Thomas was an agricultural worker, very poor. Two years later Jemima acquired a brother, and three years after that, her parents had another boy. Then when Jemima was 8 years old, her father died. Her mother had another boy two years after that, whose father was not named. Then Jane had another boy a few years later, again without a father being named.

When Jemima was almost 20, her mother married a man named John. Exactly nine months later, Jemima herself bore her only son, whom she named after her own father, Thomas. She gave her boy her own surname. She had moved to the nearby large town of Bath to give birth to this boy, and then she returned to her home village two months later to have him christened.

We think she moved with her son back to Bath, because we know that young Thomas was apprenticed there to a cabinet maker.

Meanwhile, Jemima's mother died three years after little Thomas's birth, and she was curiously buried under her husband Thomas's name, not under the second husband's name, who had disappeared totally from the records.

Jemima raised Thomas, and when he was about 9, she married a man named Frank (actually, Francis, but apparently he went by the nickname Frank). We have the marriage record; they were married in early June 1834 in the parish of Wolcott, Somerset. We next see them in the 1841 census--Frank and Jemima, young Thomas, and two or three young people, including a 20-year-old woman with the surname of Naish, a name seen fairly often among the records of Jemima's home village.

In early 1844, when Thomas was 19 years old, he joined the Mormons after hearing some missionaries from Utah preaching in the area. At the end of that year, about 7 months later, Jemima and her husband, Frank, also joined the Mormons.

Seven years passed. Thomas may have married and his wife and infant daughter died. We need to find out if this is true, but it doesn't look promising. The next records we know for sure belong to our people are those of the 1851 census. Jemima and Frank live alone in Bath--or not quite alone, for listed as a visitor in their household is a three-year-old girl named Elizabeth Naish (remember that surname?). Then in 1854 Frank died.

In late 1855 or early 1856, Thomas left England for America, traveling with an unnamed wagon train to Utah in the spring or summer of 1856. At age 53, Jemima took young Lizzie, now 8 years old, and sailed for New York in the spring of 1856 in the ship Thornton. Much has been written about the ill-fated Willie Handcart Company of 1856, but nothing public is known about Jemima's role in that company. The meager family stories about her journey are that she starved and froze, but she survived. There was an unwritten rule in the company that whenever anyone started to sing the hymn "Come, Come Ye Saints," the company was supposed to join in the chorus, "All is well, all is well." But Jemima would instead sing under her breath, "E-egad, all is bad!" When the snow began to fall and didn't stop, she slept with Lizzie on top of her to keep the little girl out of the snow on the ground, and Jemima's scalp froze so that all her hair fell out. She always wore lace caps after that.

In Salt Lake City they joined Thomas and lived where they could until they could get their own place. Thomas married a woman named Jane who wanted to live near her brother in North Ogden, so he moved 40 miles north. Jemima raised Lizzie, who grew up to marry the mayor of Salt Lake City. They were relatively rich with a fine big house and increasingly important friends. Lizzie bore ten children, five girls and five boys. Three of the boys died as babies. As the house filled up with children, Lizzie sent Jemima to live in North Ogden with Thomas and his family. Jemima said, "And then the besom--turned me out!" After all she had done for Lizzie, it stung sharply.

Jemima was reputed to be a difficult woman, which probably means she was strong-willed, outspoken, and probably irritatingly right most of the time. I want to know her better! When she got to Utah and when the Endowment House was built in Salt Lake City (a precursor to the Salt Lake Temple), Jemima went there to be sealed to her late husband, Frank. Curiously, neither she nor Thomas nor Lizzie seems to have made a move to seal either child to any set of parents, an omission that in light of Mormon doctrine seems important.

Jemima may have told her son that his birth father's name was John Moore, for that is what Thomas reported in his church record. However, there is no record of anyone by the name of Moore living in or around the village where Jemima was living in the relevant period of time, and on Thomas's christening record Jemima is listed as a "spinster," which means she had never been married to the knowledge of the local clergy.

A grandson wrote that Jemima had married a man named Thomas Baker who turned out to be a drunkard, so she divorced him. But in that time, divorces were granted only by Act of Parliament, so they were pretty much out of the question for anyone other than the very rich and powerful--that family story could not have been true.

I hope there is no significance in the exact nine-month period between Jemima's mother marrying someone she later seems to have discarded and erased and Jemima's son's birth--I do not want Jemima to have been the victim of a stepfather's abuse.

Because Jemima moved to Bath before her son's birth, we might be able to find records of her when we visit Bath in July this year.

Yes! We are going to England again this summer. When we stay in Bath, we are going to see if we can find the apprenticeship records for Thomas, and we think we'll ask about the parish chest records for the parish there in the Bath Abbey church as well as in the village where Jemima was born, for the parish councils of that time period used to discuss things like pending illegitimate births and what the parish would need to do for the "bastard" children under its jurisdiction. If such records still exist, maybe we can find something in them to give us a clue as to Thomas's father--and we might find the possible fathers of Jemima's two half brothers as well. We might find out how Jemima supported herself and her son. There are all kinds of tantalizing details to pursue.

Jemima is a woman I admire. She was born in lowly circumstances, endured a rough childhood with the loss of her father and the apparently casual relationships of her mother, overcame the stigma of her own single motherhood while remaining devoted to her son, joined a very unpopular religion, adopted an unwanted child and devoted herself to her, survived a horrific journey filled with death and deprivation to make a new life in the American West, and lived to a very old age with dignity and faith.