William Cork’s English Beginnings – He was an Orphan! (Part I)


St. Margaret, Betley, Staffordshire, England

William Cork (1832-1916) who died in his adoptive home in Mazamonie, Wisconsin, left an obituary filled with dozens of clues to research and I am finally getting around to checking some of the statements made about his early life. (See posting here from June 2014.)  As we all know you must evaluate an obituary with healthy skepticism, but that doesn’t mean that some of the statements aren’t correct.  So, I took the following clues and tried to see where they might lead: “William Cork was born September 2nd, 1833, at Betley, Staffordshire, England and passed from this life on January 13th, 1916, at his home in this village aged eighty-two years, four months, and eleven days.  He was the last of the twelve children of his father’s family.”

After ordering Williams marriage certificates to his first wife (Annis Eardley) and second wife (Jane Dame), both confirmed that William’s father was Charles Cork, a tailor.

Cork_William and Annis Eardley marriage 1854.12.5 with edits


Cork_William and Jane Dame marriage 1864.07.14 edited

I then looked for William’s baptism in Betley, Staffordshire at St. Margaret’s with Charles Cork as his father. Confirmed! The obituary was correct that William was born in Betley, Staffordshire and his baptism on 15 September 1833 fits with his reported birth of 2 September 1833. And now I had William’s mother identified as Martha.

Cork_William 1833.09.15 Baptism with edits

Note: there was another Charles Cork in Betley’s baptism records who had a son named William but he was born in 1832 and he was a shoemaker. Having the correct profession for Charles helps to ensure I have the right one!

I have not been able to find all eleven of William’s siblings he claimed to have. But I have been able to locate seven siblings baptized at St. Mary’s. He is not the youngest as the obituary claimed, but his youngest brother Joseph died soon after being born, so he probably thought of himself as their youngest child.

Charles and Martha Cork’s children:

  • Emma Cork b.1821
  • Harriet Cork b.1823
  • Hugh Cork b.1825
  • Peter Cork b.1827
  • Sarah Ann Cork b.1829
  • Dinah Cork b.1831
  • William Cork 1833-1916
  • Joseph Cork b.1835 -1836

If you are familiar with British research, you know that the most logical place for me to have tried to find this family was in the 1841 census, the first British census to identify each person living in a household by name. Unfortunately, the census records were of no help in getting additional information about Charles and Martha Cork because they were not in it. Why? Because they had both died before then.

Charles is buried in January 1838:

Cork_Charles burial 1838 edited blog

And sadly Martha was buried just a few months later on June 4th, 1838.

Cork_Martha burial 1838 edited for blog

I ordered the death certificates to see what they had died from and if there was any additional information that could help with locating their families.

Charles died of “consumption” or what is now called tuberculosis. He was attended by his wife Martha who signed with her mark.

Cork_Charles Death Cert 1838.01.09 edited

Martha’s death certificate lists her cause of death as “decline” which seems to cover a multitude of possibilities. But it also offers a clue to Martha’s maiden name – she was attended by Elizabeth Moor – her sister-in-law.

Cork_Martha Death Cert 1838.06.03 edited for blog



Pip meeting Miss Havisham in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Poor William became an orphan at age five. All my stereotypes of the orphans in Charles Dickens’ novels come to mind. Remember poor Pip from Great Expectations and Oliver Twist? What kind of life did orphans have in 1830’s England? What happened to all the Cork children when their parents died? Were they sent to an orphanage? Did someone from their families take them into to their homes to raise them?

More about that next time.

Posted in Cork Family, English Genealogy | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Find My Past: Marriage Finder – Just Who is it Finding?

I have been trying to locate the marriage record for William Cork to his second wife Jane Dame. They would have married between 1864 and 1866, after the death of his first wife (Feb 1864) and before his son by Jane was born in July 1866. I couldn’t find William with Jane in the Staffordshire records where he had lived previously.  When I looked at the Lancashire records where Jane was from, I found this transcription of a record that had a William Cork married to Susan Speechley.


The index image:


But, then I thought I should try to cross reference the volume and page number with any marriage records for a Jane Dame in the same time period and found this:


When opening the image of the index, you can see it is somewhat hard to read the page number and I can see why they thought it was 382, but it really is 582.   I have no idea who Susan Speechly is, but it isn’t correct.


I thought it was just the bad transcription that caused the mismatched marriage until I tried to look for the marriage record of John Dibben and Olive Bright Marner.  I found John Dibben married in the right location and the right time, but the marriage finder had John Dibben with another woman, Jane Sinclair Bailes. Well, maybe I had the wrong John Dibben?

john-dibben-marriage-recordI looked up Olive Marner and cross-referenced the location, volume and page and I was able to find a correct match. But I guess my great-grandmother was involved in a gay polygamous relationship? Didn’t think they did that in 1869 England….


I have ordered the marriage records through the General Register Office and I should be getting them in a couple of weeks for final confirmation. But the moral is, don’t believe the “Marriage Finder”, do a cross comparison of the location, volume and page to validate if you have the right partner.  And you will have to order the actual records at 9.95 pounds each, but I am sure it will be worth it.

Posted in Cork Family, Dame Family, Dibben Family, English Genealogy, Marner Family | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Checking In, British Research and Planning for 2017

houseApologies for my blog absence these last few months. We bought a new house and all the packing, cleaning, moving, unpacking, arranging, repairs, shopping and a squirrel and woodpecker removal (we weren’t expecting that!) have occupied my free time. Happily, I have my own office in the new house, so I am surrounded by my book shelves, genealogy research and all the tools I need to be productive again!

I haven’t been completely idle and have spent my few spare moments getting grounded in English research to enable me to locate William Cork and Jane Dame ancestors. Here are some of the ways I have been getting familiar with the available resources, locations and historical events:

A Vision of Britain Through Time

A Vision of Britain Through Time

Which brings me to planning for 2017.  My general goals are to:

  • Take one or more genealogy trips for research
  • Go to a genealogy conference/seminar/educational class
  • Continue English research for William Cork and Jane Dame
  • Start at least one new project on one of my southern ancestors (undecided who) but it will be someone who lived near me and where I can easily travel to their location on a weekend to get records.
  • Complete a DAR supplement to prove James McNair was a patriot (this has been on my list 3 years in a row. Maybe this year I will get it done?)
  • Blog 15+ times

I want to do so much more, but I am trying to keep my goals reasonable, achievable and measurable. How do you decide what you will work on? How do you decide which project, how many projects etc.?

Wishing you a happy, healthy and genealogical productive 2017!

Posted in English Genealogy, Genealogy General | 2 Comments

Old Dog, New Tricks: Exploring My English Ancestors on Find My Past

England County Map courtesy of Pictures of England.com: http://www.picturesofengland.com/mapofengland/counties-map.html

England County Map courtesy of Pictures of England.com: http://www.picturesofengland.com/mapofengland/counties-map.html

One of my goals this year was to find the roots of my English ancestors who immigrated to America in the late 1860’s and early 1870’s. I subscribed to Find My Past a few months ago and it is finally time to take advantage of their resources and see what I can learn about the Cork and Dibben family origins.

After playing around with Find My Past for an hour, I was a bit frustrated by the design and differences from Ancestry.com.  Navigation was awkward and resources seemingly more difficult to find. Then I reminded myself that Ancesty.com is an old friend and I know most of the shortcuts to get the information I am looking for. Find My Past is a new friend that I just don’t know very well yet; I will need to be patient about getting to know its unique traits.

Here are the results of my first “coffee date” with Find My Past.  We aren’t best friends yet, but we will be spending a lot of time together in the next few months….and in no time we will be sharing laughs and memories of the good times!

  1. I first started by adding a basic tree. I put in the information I knew about Jane Dame (who immigrated to Wisconsin with her husband William Cork) and her parents John Dame and Fanny Skelton.


2. I reviewed “Hints” and found a possible marriage record for Fanny Skelton & John Dame.


3. The marriage record gave me information about:

  • the date and location of their marriage
  • possible family members who were witnesses
  • that John did not know how to read or write and signed with his mark


4. John’s Profile gave me a link to search for his daughter Jane’s birth record:


5. The baptism gave me additional locations to research, as well as Fanny’s proper name of Frances.


6. I found the family in the 1851 Census Record in Maltby Le Marsh, Louth, Lincolnshire, England. The census gives me new information:

  • The names of Jane’s brothers and sisters
  • Jane Skelton is a visitor on the night of the census – is she the same person who was a witness at Fanny and John’s wedding?  She is 30 years old, so most likely Fanny’s sister or cousin?
  • The location of John and Fanny’s birth – Laughterton and Lincoln
  • Why are the children born in different locations? Laughterton, Fenton, Maltby Le Marsh?


From this first foray into English genealogy, I can tell there is still a lot I need to read about the history, geography and records of England in the 1800’s. I am going to watch the video’s and read articles on the Find My Past blog and I am going to try to find a good book on English genealogy.

Have you used Find My Past?  What do you like about using it? Any tricks you would like to share?

Posted in Cork Family, Dame Family | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Rev. John McNair’s Poetry

mcnair_john-poems-cover-pageBesides being a minister, an evangelist, a Chaplain in the Army and public speaker, John McNair was a poet.  He published his book of poetry Eighty Original Poems Secular and Sacred Chiefly Adapted to the Times  in 1865, after the Civil War ended and just a little over a year before he died at the age of 60. The book of poems was what originally guided me to Rev. McNair. My grandmother gave me the book of poetry when I was in my 20’s and when I was looking for a project for genealogy class at the University of Washington, Rev. McNair became a logical choice. Who knew I would still be going back to this small book of 80 poems to try to understand John in a deeper way and fill in the gaps when records can’t tell the story.

I am not sure if John was a great poet, in fact, I suspect he wouldn’t have been classified as particularly remarkable by literary critics. However, he wrote about a variety of topics from Washington, Garibaldi, the death of Lincoln, succession, drunkenness, self-conceit, his mother, home, women, the flag, Sabbath breakers, death, being a minister and my favorite “The Man of Honor” which I believe was his own personal code and the ideal of who he wanted to be.  I have used his poetry throughout the book of his life to illustrate his feelings on specific subjects. How cool is it that I have his own words, even if they are in rhyme!

So, here is the ah-ha that I had recently….if I have this book, where else is it?  I had never checked World Cat to see what other libraries might have it. And guess what? The book was in 119 libraries throughout the world.  Some of the locations had the electronic copy of the book, but the physical book was in over 50% of the libraries. And the libraries who had the actual hard copy of the book included:

  • The Library of Congress
  • University of Oxford
  • Abraham Presidential Library
  • Jefferson Library (yep, Monticello)
  • Harvard University
  • McGill University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • American University of Sharjah (United Arab Emirates)
  • University of Auckland
  • National Library of Malaysia
  • University of Tasmania

How did the book get so far afield?  How many copies of the book were printed? Isn’t it fascinating that these libraries actually wanted it???

The next thing I did was to see if there were copies I could buy somewhere.  And yes, there were two copies available on Amazon through their 2nd hand booksellers. One was $65 and the other $74.  Amazing! Just how many copies did Rev. McNair get printed? Did he sell them or give them away? His book of his poetry just keeps me returning for new insights.

Finally – I am at the end of writing about Rev. John McNair’s life for the 2nd time. It still needs a few small holes filled in that require research trips to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, so I am struggling whether to do a small print of the book to give to my family for Christmas even though it really isn’t done.  I just don’t want to send it libraries like the Princeton Theological Seminary where he went to college if it’s not complete. But, when is genealogy research ever done? Will I ever be happy with having done enough? I don’t know.  What do you think I should do?

Posted in McNair Family, Writing Family History | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Alfred Willis McNair: The Son We Hardly Know

Alfred McNair Monument Glen Gardner, NJ 1842-1866

Alfred McNair Monument
Glen Gardner, NJ

Sometimes you just don’t have many documents about a person to form much of opinion about them. They don’t take shape in your mind’s eye. There are no descriptions about their physical appearance or their personality and all you have are questions and possibilities of who they might have been. I struggle with these issues when I try to create a biography of Rev. McNair’s son Alfred. Just who was he?

Facts and Documents:

Born on 6 Mar 1842 (or 21 Feb): Alfred was baptized on 2 Nov 1842 at the Lancaster Presbyterian Church where his father, Rev. John McNair was the minister. The church record book states his birth date as 6 Mar 1842.  He was baptized by Rev. R. W. Dunlap.  (His gravestone has his birthday as 21 Feb 1842…either could be right.)

1850 Census: He is 8 years old and living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with his parents Rev. John McNair (42), Susan Adeline (27), sister Eliza (10) and housekeeper Margaret Coyle (40 and born in PA).

1860 Census: He is 18 years old and living in Clinton, New Jersey with his parents and housekeeper Catharine Scannon (19 and born in Ireland). He is a “student of law.”

Jun 1863: Civil War Draft Registration – Alfred is 21, living in Clinton, New Jersey and he is a merchant.

Died on 29 Aug 1866: “We learn that Alfred McNair, son of Rev. J McNair of Clarksville, in attempting to get upon a freight train on the Central railroad, at Hampton Junction, while in motion, on the 28th ult., slipped and fell upon the track and a portion of the train passed over him, injuring him so severely that he died of his injuries the next day.” The Hunterdon Democrat 12 Sept 1866

So many unanswered questions about Alfred that we will never have the answer to….

  • Why did he give up studying law? Why did he become a merchant? Was he not interested in the law? Did he “flunk” out?
  • Why didn’t he join the military in the Civil War? Did he want to, but his parents convinced him to stay out of the war? Or did he want to avoid serving?
  • What was he doing jumping on a train? Was this a regular thing that young men did or was Alfred drunk/impaired when did it?
  • What was his character? Was he troubled or was he just still young and foolish, cocky and uncoordinated?

So many unanswered questions and no way to find the answers. However, we do know that his family must have been devastated to lose their son at 24 years old when there were so many years ahead of him.

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Deconstructing a Civil War Regiment Part III: Seeing the Forest and the Trees of History

 Smoky Mountains

It is important in interpreting your ancestor’s Civil War experience that you read a lot of history books. For some of you that will be great news, for others you are wondering just how many do I have to read??? If you are asking that last question, probably more than you will want to, but there is just no other way around it.  It is unlikely your ancestor left an account their time in the war and if they did, in all probability it wasn’t saved for posterity. My ancestor Rev. McNair published poems, sermons and debates, yet there are no letters or diaries of his time in the military. So how do I get that information?  History books!

This is how I break it down –

Civil War History

History of Civil War

Civil War History BooksYour personal library should include a good overall history of the Civil War and an atlas of the battles. I have a couple on my bookshelves that I can refer to when I need to know what was happening in governmental politics, individual states and the war in general. I shop 2nd hand bookstores, library book sales and used books on Amazon. Surprising, you can get some great deals on history books.  I can just hear my kids in 40 years pondering “what are we going to do with Mom’s Civil War book collection?”  They will be reselling them I bet….

Make a timeline of key events that happened when your ancestor was in the war.  This is how I found out that over the course of Rev. McNair’s nine months in the 31st New Jersey Regiment, that the Army of the Potomac had four different generals commanding them!  Can you imagine the chaos in the Army? How demoralized they must have felt with the lack of good leadership. There is nothing in the Regimental history or the Compiled Military Service Record of your ancestor that will tell you facts like that. You have got to dig deep and stretch out wide in your knowledge of the time period.

Civil War Regiment and Battle BooksHistory of the Regiment and Battles

I have a lot of books in my collection on the individual regiments and battles that my ancestors were in.  But you don’t have to do that. Many of these books are available online or at your local library. Search WorldCat, Google Books, Digital Public Library of America, Archive.org, HathiTrust etc. Use search terms including the specific regiment, the name of the battle or the county histories where the regiment was recruited.

Job Specific History

Look at books about the job they had in the war. Was he a private in the Army? There are plenty of books that are about the everyday experience of the common soldier. It will tell you what food they ate, what items they carried on the march, what they did in their spare time, the weapons they used etc. If your ancestor was a surgeon, chaplain, Sanitary Commission worker or high-ranking officer, find a book about the challenges they faced trying to do their job.

Individual History

These are a little harder to find, but not impossible. Look for the following:Archivegrid 31 NJ Regiment Overall

  • Your ancestor’s Compiled Military Service Record
  • Your ancestor’s Pension Record if one was filed
  • Firsthand accounts by people who served in the same Regiment
  • Firsthand account of people who served in the same battles
  • Firsthand accounts of people who had the same type of job

Archivegrid 31 NJ RegimentFor individual accounts of the war, you can check all the websites previously listed, but I have had the best luck using ArchiveGrid. Using just the search term “31st New Jersey Regiment” I found two very promising first person accounts of people in Rev. McNair’s regiment. Unfortunately, I will have to go to Rutgers University to get them unless I can get the library or another NJ-based genealogist send me copies.

One final note on individual accounts. My distant cousin Jann, who also descends from James Ramsay (1770-1851) of Warren County, New Jersey, and I keep in touch. (Rev. John McNair’s son-in-law was James Ramsay Dey.) She has been incredibly helpful in filling in details of my Dey family migration to Florida and sending pictures etc. Jann contacted me after my first post about the 31st New Jersey Regiment to tell me she had ancestors that had been in that Regiment too. In fact, she has four! Abram O.S. Carpenter, Robert C. Carpenter, Abram E. Hinley and James F. Green.  I have to wonder, did they know Rev. McNair? There is a good chance that they did.  Lucky me, more things to research that might add details to the story!

Posted in Civil War, Genealogy General, Writing Family History | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments