Tuesday, 18 December 2007
Sunday, 18 November 2007
Here's what I was told about him by my mother, who, by the way, never knew him as he had died some years before my parents married. His name was Leopold Levy and my father was given the name, Leopold, as a middle name. Leopold could speak seven languages ... again I wonder about this. Certainly he would have spoken French and most likely German, coming as he did from Alsace, a country which has bounced back and forth between France and Germany. He certainly would have spoken English and no doubt Spanish as he spent a great deal of his time in Spanish-speaking countries. I assume that as a Jew he may have spoken Yiddish ... that makes five languages and I've no idea what the other two would have been. I was told also that he was an oculist, and in fact that is stated in my father's entry in Who's Who Jamaica. Yet, in the few records I found that name Leopold his occupation is invariably given as "clerk", "bookkeeper", or "merchant".
How and where did he meet my grandmother? Well, that was another story, this time from my Uncle Rodney who told me that they had married in Haiti. What was my grandmother, Alice Rodrigues Da Costa, doing in Haiti? According once more to Rodney, she was operating a ferry service between Kingston and Haiti! I have not so far found any evidence of this. How many children did they have? Seven, I was told, but three had died young. And then there was this fanciful tale that Leopold had insisted the first child be brought up Jewish, but she died so he stated that the rest might as well be brought up Catholic! It sounded feasible, except that certain questions kept popping up in my mind. First of all, my grandmother was Catholic and Leopold was Jewish, so who would have married them? At that time I didn't think either the Jews or the Catholics would have done so. Secondly, if they were married in the Catholic Church then wouldn't Leopold have had to agree to bring up the children as Catholics? Finally, no child of this marriage would have been named in the synagogue as the mother was not Jewish. And the tale was pretty well disproved after I discovered a baptism, performed by Father William Spillman, S. J., in Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Kingston for the eldest child, Daisy Agatha.
So, here's what I knew so far. My grandfather, Leopold Levy, came from Alsace; met my grandmother in Haiti and married her; they had seven children and he died in Cuba. As for the children the names I had were Daisy, Lucien and Gustave, all of whom died in infancy, and the remaining four were my father, Michael, and his siblings, Essie, Leo and Joe, all three of whom moved to the United States. When I began researching the family I started with birth records for the children, all of whom were born in Kingston, between 1886 and 1900, and it was not difficult to find registrations of their births in the microfilm records of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), aka Mormons. I have spent a great deal of time at an LDS Family History Centre and I am grateful to the Mormons for microfilming many Jamaican records, including Church of England parish records as well as the civil registration of births, marriages and deaths. I found birth records for all seven children and was therefore able to sort out their birth order: Daisy, born September 1886, died December 1887; Lucien, born November 1887, died April 1890, my father, Michael, born August 1889; Essie, born March 1891; Gustave, born May 1894, died December 1899; Leo, born July 1895; and Joe, born January 1900.
Whenver anyone asks me how to begin doing their family history I always repeat the well-known axiom: "Start with yourself and work back". Another one is: "Talk to your relatives and ask them questions." Good advice! I certainly did. But the next good piece of advice is: "Look for the records which should confirm that what you have been told is true". (I should make one thing clear ... I didn't really get started on the research until many years after I was told the "facts", so was unable to share the results of my research with my family as they were no longer alive.)
I was somewhat stumped by the fact that my grandparents had got married in Haiti. I had no idea where in Haiti they were married -- Port au Prince was a possibility, but how to get the record? I assumed that the marriage must have taken place around 1885 as Daisy was born in September 1886, but for the longest time I had no proof of this particular fact, and then I had an email from Madeleine Mitchell, an indefatigable Jamaican researcher who is also the co-ordinator for the Jamaican Genealogy page on Rootsweb. Madeleine had been going through microfilm of the Jamaica Gleaner and had come across something of interest to me in the paper for 1886. (I also for a while went through the early issues of the Gleaner on microfilm, which I got on interlibrary loan from the Library of Congress, but at the time that I heard from Madeleine I had not yet got to that year. Now that the Gleaner is digitized and on line it is less onerous to search.) Madeleine had found evidence of the marriage of my grandparents, and it wasn't what I was told! They had not married in Haiti; in fact, the marriage took place in Colon, Panama, and not in 1885, but in July 1886! Here is a copy of the notice as it appeared in the Gleaner of July 23, 1886:
So, there was one "fact" proved wrong. I now had what appeared to be something of a scandal in the family, in that my grandmother was some seven months pregnant when she got married! Which brings up another question, namely, when and where did Alice meet Leopold? Was he living in Jamaica and then took off for Colon, as a result of which Alice went after him? She did return to Jamaica as Daisy was born there at 106 King Street. A Mrs. Jacob Rodrigues Da Costa was the informant on the birth record and Leopold's occupation was given as "merchant of Colon".
So it turns out that finding that piece of information brought up more questions than I had previously, such as, who was Mrs. Jacob Rodrigues Da Costa? The answer to this would lead me to a whole new family that I knew nothing of previously, but before that I would investigate the Levy family more thoroughly.
Wednesday, 24 October 2007
In my imagination just over that hill I would go off with Jill (Bessie being more of a house dog wouldn't go that far with us), and the two of us would walk along the paths by the cow ponds, where I would skip stones and Jill would go in for a swim. Finally, I would go back home ... Jill didn't always come with me, but would return at her leisure.
and one of Rodney, with the Burke family.
My Uncle Rodney was a sugar technologist at Vale Royal Estate and as a hobby he made the most wonderful liqueurs. He made a creme de cafe, a creme de cacao, and incredible orange liqueur and best of all, a pimento dram to die for! Pimento dram is made from the fruit of the Pimento or allspice (Pimenta dioca). Olive Senior in her Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage notes that the pimento is Jamaica's only indigenous spice. He never made a commercial venture of this hobby, but rather would bottle enough to give away each year as Christmas presents to friends and family. On one occasion he told me that he had been approached by Dr. Kenneth Evans who was also experimenting with a coffee liqueur, to invest in Dr. Evans's project. Rodney declined and Ken Evans went on to develop Tia Maria, and the rest is history!
Another one of my memories of Friendship is of Rodney's collection of books of Punch cartoons. He had bought them, I believe, from a bookseller on a trip to England, and I would spend hours going through them and reading all the cartoons by famous illustrators such as George DuMaurier. One of my all-time favourites is DuMaurier's cartoon, "True Humility", also known as The Curate's Egg. Who can forget the wonderful caption:
Right Reverend Host: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr. Jones"
The Curate: "Oh no, My Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellent"
Sadly, Rodney had to get rid of all his Punch books due to an infestation of insects which ate their way through the books. To use an old Jamaican expression: "Chi-chi nyam it"
Friday, 5 October 2007
But at last we would arrive at "Friendship" and the holiday would begin. Next time I'll write about what it was like to be in "the country" ... so different from my life at 5 Holborn Road.
Monday, 17 September 2007
And now to my Uncle Julian, the youngest of the family, the apple of his eldest sister's eye, as I was told. He was different from the others, a very volatile person, someone who had strong likes and dislikes, and in fact, the only uncle that I ever had a falling-out with. He was quite the sportsman. He played cricket and was a member of several clubs. Unlike the others to the best of my knowledge, he did not become a Freemason, but he was a staunch member of the Kingston Parish Church and was a lay delegate to Synod for many years. He was always perfectly turned out in his dress and affected a very British accent, though he would, at times, lapse into Jamaican patois. He was known, affectionately, by family and friends as "The Count".
He married, somewhat late in life at age fifty, Enid Neilson, the daughter of the Reverend Christopher Charles Neilson, a Methodist minister. They were married in Lyndhurst Methodist Church in 1953 and the reception was held by my parents at 5 Holborn Road. To the best of my knowledge Julian continued to attend Kingston Parish Church while Enid remained a Methodist.
I mentioned having a falling-out with Julian. It was some months before my wedding in 1957. I had had an emergency appendectomy and was at home on sick leave, feeling rather sorry for myself, as my mother was in Toronto at the time visiting my brother and his wife and their new baby. I was invited by Julian's sister-in-law, Ruby, to visit her family in Morant Bay. Unfortunately, Julian had quarrelled with Ruby's husband, Edward, and he informed me that "no niece of mine will visit these people, since I have quarrelled with them". I wasn't about to take this interference in my life and we had a fierce quarrel and did not speak for almost six months. I seriously considered uninviting him to my wedding but cooler heads prevailed ... my mother told my I could not do that! ... and we made it up. For all his peculiarities he was a very affectionate uncle. He and Enid had a volatile relationship, but when she was struck with a massive stroke which left her unable to speak, he was devastated, even more so when she died shortly afterwards.
This is a photo of the two of them taken in happier times:
Monday, 3 September 2007
Before Rodney married Marjorie Nash he was engaged to be married to Olive May, a teacher at St. Hilda's Diocesan High School in Brown's Town. I remember meeting her once when she came with Rodney to our home at 5 Holborn Road , and I distinctly remember that she told my mother that she should send me to St. Hilda's when I was old enough to go to high school (I was then at the Cunningham's Preparatory School on Surbiton Road). The realization that this would mean leaving my home and my parents to go as a boarder far away in Brown's Town terrified me. Some time after that Rodney informed the family that his engagement had been broken off. My mother was quite upset about this for a while, whereas I felt an overwhelming sense of relief that I wouldn't be heading off to parts unknown to boarding school.
Thursday, 16 August 2007
'Envy', in this case, personifies Richard III, the quintessential wicked uncle, at least as Shakespeare portrayed him. Personally, I belong to the revisionist school of thought which believes that Richard received a bum rap. Read Josephine Tey's wonderful novel, The Daughter of Time, and check out the Richard III Society of Canada, who each year on August 22nd, place an In Memoriam notice for Richard in the Globe and Mail. In case you're wondering why I'm mentioning this, it's because my daughter asked when I was going to write about "the wicked uncles". Well, I had no wicked uncles. They were all regular uncles ... each with his own foibles and peculiarities, but nothing out of the ordinary, except, perhaps, that the eldest three never married.
Victor was born in February 1886, and the next son, Norman, was born the end of November 1887. He is another uncle that I never knew, and in a way he's the real mystery man of the family. He doesn't seem to have been as popular with his sisters as was his older brother ... but then, getting killed in the war does give one a certain cachet. Norman, known by the family as Normy, also left Jamaica, but not to fight. Like many other Jamaicans he headed off to New York in June 1918, on board the ss Zacapa. On the ship's manifest he gave his next of kin as his mother at 49 Beeston Street, and stated he was going to stay in New York with a friend, Joseph Levy. Joseph Levy was the youngest brother of my father and had himself left Jamaica for New York in August 1917. Norman claimed on the manifest that he was going to the U.S. for six months but he certainly never returned to Jamaica. He lived there until his death in July 1953. I have no photographs of him and all I know of him is what I've been told by my mother, and what I've been able to find out through research. He settled first in Brooklyn where he worked as a traffic checker for the Public Service Railroad Company, and in September 1918 he filled out a registration card for the draft. After that he appears to have worked for the rest of his life in New York for Swift & Company, meat packers. Thanks to David Priever, a researcher in New York, I was able to get a copy of the administration of his estate from the Surrogate Court of New York ... like many of the Smedmores, he left no will ... and what ever else I know about him comes from this brief obituary in the Gleaner of August 8, 1953. That Norman was a Freemason doesn't surprise me as my grandfather and my Uncles Rodney and Owen also belonged to the Scottish Rite. I had not known that, like Victor, he attended Wolmer's Boy School, nor that he had worked for the lumber companies in question. I do know, from what my mother told me, that he would send money home for his mother and sisters, and I know, from a brief notice in The Gleaner that Elma went to New York on vacation in June 1951,so I imagine she must have visited Norman. One thing I do remember is how surprised the family was at how small his estate was -- according to the lawyer, Albert Stark, a mere $4,400. Considering that Norman never married, lived in lodgings and had worked steadily since arriving in New York, this small amount to be divided between his siblings, after all expenses had been paid, came as quite a shock.
I come now to the Smedmore uncles that I did know. The next one in the family was my Uncle Owen, born in November 1891 in Port Royal. To my mind he was the best looking one of the family and it always puzzled me that he never married.
I think one reason may have been that he had a speech impediment, a stammer, as did Rodney and Lucius, though I remember that Owen's seemed to be the worst of the bunch. There are probably all sorts of scientific reasons for speech impediments, but I feel pretty sure, from what my mother told me, that this was exacerbated by my grandfather's treatment of his sons. He had no patience when they stuttered and would tell them to speak up without stammering. I think Owen was probably shy. He worked all his life at D. Henderson and Company at the corner of King and Harbour Streets.
I remember him as gentle and generous. I could always touch him up for money at Christmas time when all the family gathered at 5 Holborn Road -- two shillings and sixpence or even five shillings, and then, of course, I would go to the other uncles and tell them how much I got from Owen, and they, not wanting to be outdone, would shell out as well.
I guess Owen felt he had an obligation to take care of his mother and sisters, once Victor had left for the war and Norman had emigrated to the States, consequently he lived at home with them, first at Beeston Street, and then later he moved with my aunts to 11 Dunrobin Avenue when the Beeston Street house was sold. I would say he had a very powerful sense of duty to his unmarried sisters and I know that he was a loving brother and brother-in-law. Sadly, he was on holiday when he died. The family had gone to White River for a vacation when Owen suffered a heart attack or a stroke while swimming.
In my next post I'll write about my other uncles, Rodney, Lucius and Julian. It may be a while as I'll be off line while on vacation for two weeks.
Thursday, 2 August 2007
My first reaction was: "Good Lord! They've paved over the lawn and the gerberas". But, of course they had to, in order to provide parking for their guests, and different as the outside of the house looked, I was pleasantly surprised on entering it to discover that, apart from renovations to the interior, I could recognize the house itself. It could so easily have been demolished in order to build a hotel there, but instead the owners had built an extension on the existing house and kept the character of the original building. The extension was built around the property to connect with the original outbuildings and garage and excellent use has been made of them. The rooms are on two levels behind the house with a courtyard in the middle, and if indeed the flowers in front were gone, it was more than made up for with the masses of tropical plants in the courtyard.
Here is a view of the upper level of the guest rooms, built around the original house. I stayed in number 12.
The added building extends to the old outbuildings and the detached garage is now part of the entire structure.
The interior of the house has changed and yet I could still see traces of my old home. Here is a picture I took in 1960 of our dining room.
At the left rear one can see the door to the pantry, and at the rear the entrance to the latticed in back verandah. (I remember a picture that used to hang on the wall to the right of the window looking out on the back verandah. It was a black and white print of Millais's "Princes in the Tower".). The dining room is now the lobby of the hotel and looks like this.As you can see, the entrance to the pantry has been blocked off; the back verandah now forms part of the lobby and office and is no longer latticed in, and the windows have been changed. The floors are still the gleaming mahogany that they were when I was growing up here and it was kept that way with a coconut brush and great amounts of elbow grease.
What were my thoughts on seeing my old home again? I was pleased that it had not been changed out of all recognition, and that in fact the renovations made were appropriate to the character of the house itself. It was, of course, no longer home, but it was welcoming and familiar, and strangely enough, seemed quite a bit smaller to me than it had been when I was growing up there.
One last thing ... occasionally I dream of home and family now gone, and when I do it is 5 Holborn Road that I see in my dreams.
Thursday, 12 July 2007
Tourism wasn't that big in Jamaica in those days and the hotel was very welcoming to local people. We had great times swimming there. And this reminds me that in my last post I mentioned the Skyline Hotel and wondered what had happened to it. Well, thanks to a couple of people in the know, the Skyline was bought out by the Hendrickson family and renamed the Courtleigh, and Courtleigh Manor itself, also owned by the Hendricksons was, sadly, demolished a couple years ago.
In fact the street looks quite different. Here is a view of it looking towards Trafalgar Road, with no. 5 and no. 3 Holborn Road on the left.
I do not recognize the large buildings on the left, past the Bewley's house. In my time no. 1 Holborn Road was where the Atkinsons lived, and next to them going towards Trafalgar Road, was the home of Eric and June Clark, whose house address was actually on Ruthven Road behind Holborn Road. Their property was contained between both roads, with gates at either end, and with their permission I used to ride my bike through there as a shortcut to go to school
On the even-numbered side of the road were the Tames. I don't recall their house number. They were very close friends of my Mom and Dad. Captain Frederick Tame had been in the British Army and had settled in Jamaica with his wife, May. They had four grownup children, two girls and two boys. Lily and Violet were unmarried and lived with their parents; Cyril was married and worked at Barclays Bank in Kingston, and Horace the youngest, also married, worked at the Cement Company.
That's Vi on the left with Captain Tame. She's holding one of their Pekingese dogs. I remember they had two, at different times.
This is Lily, the eldest. Lily was secretary to Mr. Bertram, the rather august manager of Barclays Bank. Thanks to Cyril both my brother, Micky, and I worked at Barclays. Micky was probably there longer and moved around to various branches. I worked there after leaving school between 1953 and 1957, when I got married and went to Trinidad.
Wednesday, 11 July 2007
I'll write more about that trip to Jamaica but what I really want to talk about is our weekend in Kingston, or I should say, New Kingston. We discussed where to stay while there and I suggested that we stay at my old home, 5 Holborn Road, which is now the Indies Hotel. But, before I describe my experiences there, let me tell you something about Holborn Road, then and now.
The above map is a recent one and the terrain I'm going to describe was probably a bit different from the present. As you can see, Holborn Road runs off of Trafalgar Road (which in turn runs off of Hope Road). Presently Holborn Road runs into Chelsea Avenue, which in turn ends at Half-way Tree Road, but when I was a child living on Holborn Road it didn't run right through ... that came later. I remember that Renfrew Road ran off of Holborn Road, just south of Trafalgar Road, and then lower down there was Dumfries Road which dead-ended at a gully, past which was Knutsford Park Race Course.
When the races were on we could hear the noise from the race track at our house on Holborn Road. I remember going to the races with my cousin and her family and even placing a bet.
The race course is gone now ... Knutsford Park became New Kingston with hotels, stores and businesses, and horse-racing is now carried on at Caymanas Park. The postcard below shows the Skyline Hotel, New Kingston, probably from the sixties or early seventies, one of the first hotels built there.
This is where the late Perry Henzell filmed The Harder They Come (1972). The postcard from which this picture comes is unused, but someone has written on the back:
"This is one of our best hotel [sic] the Skyline and in the background is another hotel it is called the Sherton [sic] hotel I can stay at my school and see the top of Skyline"
What happened to the Skyline? Did it morph into one of the other hotels, the Pegasus for example? If anyone knows, please leave a comment. In my next post I'll write about some of the other families who lived on Holborn Road.
Monday, 2 July 2007
"O Canada, our home and native land" .... well, like the thousands of Jamaicans who have made their home in this wonderful country, Canada is indeed our home. I have spent two-thirds of my life here ... I'm a proud Canadian citizen, and my children and grandchildren are Canadians, but home? That's a tough one. After forty-seven years, yes it's home, but I still feel a connection to my "native" land. (It's too bad that they can't come up with a better word than native in the national anthem for those of us who chose to make Canada home.)
I'm looking at a certified copy of my birth registration, number BM 8896, in the District of Cross Roads, Saint Andrew. It's too long to scan on my little 8 1/2 x 11 scanner. I was born at Nuttall Memorial Hospital, 31 May 1935. My father was Michael Leopold Levy, civil service clerk of 7 Anderson Road, Woodford Park, Saint Andrew, and my mother was Maud Dey Levy, formerly Smedmore. My father registered my birth on July 3, 1935. Well, I don't remember Anderson Road in Woodford Park, because when I was about six months old, my parents bought a house at 5 Holborn Road, St. Andrew from a Mr. Garsia, and moved there, and that house was the only home that I knew for my life in Jamaica, until I left there in 1957.
This is the house I remember ... 5 Holborn Road. It was situated off of Trafalgar Road. At one point Holborn Road ended in a dead end, which later was developed as Chelsea Avenue, which in turn ran out to Half-way Tree Road. Holborn Road ran south of Trafalgar Road, and there were two side roads off of it ... Renfrew Road and Dumphries Road, before it ran into Chelsea Avenue. In my childhood Dumphries Road was a dead end which ended at Knutsford Park, the major horse-racing venue at the time. Now it's all gone and the area I lived in is known as New Kingston, but more of that later.
Here I am as a child with my brother, Micky, with our nurse, in front of the house at 5 Holborn Road.
The house, as I remember it, was quite large. There was a large front verandah with four large pillars supporting a gable roof. Off of the front verandah were four French doors. The two in front opened into the dining room. One on the left opened into the drawing room, and the one on the right opened into my parents' bedroom. On the left side of the house, behind the drawing room, was a bedroom with a full bathroom. This was my brother's but I also remember that during the war it was occupied by a boarder, a mysterious Mr. Wellard. Moving back, on this side of the house were the pantry and kitchen. On the right side of the house, was my parents' bedroom. Off of it was a dressing room with a sink, the bathroom which contained the bath only, and there was a separate room for the toilet. Behind this was my bedroom, and behind that, a spare bedroom which was occupied for some time by my Aunt Tess when she lived with us. In the middle of all this was the dining room, off which the other rooms were situated, and at the back an enclosed latticed verandah. To me the house was quite large. It sat on a quarter acre of land. In the front there were two gates and a grassy driveway connecting them, and a lawn enclosed by a privet hedge. (It was not really privet, as I discovered later, but a type of barberry.) My mother's pride and joy were the garden beds in which she grew flowers. The ones I mainly remember were gerberas, also called African Daisies.
We had a detached garage, though for a long time we had no car. This sat at the end of the driveway leading from the south gate entrance.
By the time this photo was taken we did have a car. These photos aren't that great. They were taken with a Brownie 120 camera, but hopefully you get the idea. Though it's a bit hard to make out, on the right side of the photo you can see that there was a separate entrance to the bedroom on the left side of the house (Micky's bedroom aka the spare bedroom).
In the backyard we had all sorts of trees: a huge breadfruit tree which my brother climbed and claimed he could see Kingston Harbour from it -- a grapefruit tree, a Valencia orange tree, mango trees (Bombay, Julie, Number Eleven, Hairy), an ackee tree ... and we also had a chicken coop and kept a few chickens who came to a sticky end so we could have chicken dinner.These are my memories and I think this photo of me with my parents is one of my favourites.
On either side of the verandah were planted pink oleander. I remember also that we had pointsettias and euphorbia which were a riot of colour, red and white, come Christmas.
These are my memories of the house at 5 Holborn Road. My parents sold the house after I left home. By then my brother was married and the place was too big for them. They sold the house to a Canadian from Guelph who turned it into a hotel ... more of this later ... and moved to 11 Dunrobin Avenue. Later they moved with my Uncle Rodney to 4 Carvalho Drive.
The house at 5 Holborn Road still lives in my memory as my home till I was 22 years old and left Jamaica. It has changed dramatically, and those changes will be the subject of my next post. But still ... the memories are there and they are what I see when I think of "home".