Saturday, 20 December 2008

Musings and Memories of This and That

It's been quite a while since my last post, which was way back in early November. Wow! How time flies when you're busy doing other things. What things, you may ask? Well for one thing, I have taken on a volunteer position with my local genealogical society, the Halton Peel Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society. I've had various positions on the HP Executive for quite a while -- as Awards Co-ordinator, Chairperson, Past Chairperson, Programme Co-ordinator -- and now I'm Cemetery Co-ordinator. One of the aims of the Ontario Genealogical Society is to locate and transcribe all known cemeteries in Ontario. Transcribing cemeteries is done by a team of volunteers who painstakingly record what is inscribed on the tombstones. With the advent of digital photography many branches are now compiling both a visual and written record of the cemeteries in their area. More that 6,000 cemeteries have been located in this province, and over 5,700 have been transcribed by the thirty branches of the OGS. Halton Peel Branch still has some cemeteries to be recorded, as well as recorded cemeteries to be published.

Why transcribe cemeteries anyway? Well, not only is it one way to preserve our heritage, but it is also extremely helpful to people engaged in genealogical research. Quite often a cemetery transcription may be the only record one finds of an early ancestor. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, there appears to be no genealogical group in Jamaica doing this. There are all sorts of cemeteries in the island, many of which have fallen into disrepair and neglect, and few that have been entirely recorded. I am proud to say that much has been done to record our Jewish cemeteries on the island. I refer to the work of the late Jacob A. P. M. Andrade, whose book, A Record of the Jews in Jamaica from the English Conquest to the Present Time, contains transcriptions of the various Jewish cemeteries in the island. Unfortunately, the book, published in 1941, is out of print, but the cemetery records can be found on a subscription website, Jamaican Family Search. Another excellent book is that of Richard Barnett and Philip Wright -- The Jews of Jamaica: tombstone inscriptions, 1663-1880, which incorporates much of Andrade's work. And a new book has just been published, on the Hunt's Bay Cemetery, the oldest Jewish cemetery in Jamaica. This is The Knell of Parting Day, by Marilyn Delevante, who worked diligently to preserve this neglected cemetery.

It's a beautifully illustrated book and you can find out more about it at the Jews of Jamaica website.

Would that we had done more for the church and public cemeteries in Jamaica! Some work has been done by individuals on early monumental inscriptions, such as that by James Henry Lawrence-Archer in his book, Monumental Inscriptions of the British West Indies from the earliest date (1875) This has been transcribed by Patricia Jackson and is posted on her subscription website Jamaican Family Search. Another work is that of Philip Wright, Monumental Inscriptions of Jamaica (1966). Both of these books are currently out of print but have also been microfilmed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), aka Mormons and can be found in their library catalogue on the FamilySearch website. Most of the inscriptions recorded are mainly of Anglican churches. I know of no efforts made to record Catholic or public cemeteries.
One of the largest nondenominational cemeteries is the May Pen Cemetery, in Kingston, pictured below.
This cemetery, one of the oldest public cemeteries, has become very rundown and neglected, but efforts have been made within the past two years at cleaning it up. As far as I know this cemetery has not been recorded.

Madeleine Mitchell, in her book, Jamaican Ancestry: how to find out more (2008) comments on how dilapidated the various cemeteries of the island have become. Stones are almost illegible, cemetery plots are overgrown, and it's not unusual for people to take up residence in the cemetery or to allow their animals to graze there! Such, I understand, has been the case with the cemetery of the Kingston Parish Church

where higglers have set up shop. Similarly, I am told one should not wander through the churchyard of St. Andrew Parish Church, Half-way Tree without an escort!


Donald Lindo has collected over 7000 burial records of St. Andrew Parish Church covering 1657 to 2000, and these can be found on his CD, Genealogy of Jamaica, 2006. Thanks also to Donald I have a photograph of the grave of my Great uncle, Joseph Rodrigues Da Costa, who is buried in Calvary Roman Catholic Cemetery.

I wish there was a genealogical society in Jamaica which would take on the job of recording our cemeteries before they are all completely lost!

Before I close, I would like to mention that my blog has received an award from another blogger, Jacqueline Smith, who also writes a Jamaican blog, Jack Mandora's, a book-lover's nook. The award is the Arte y Pico Award, and I display it here with pride! Thanks, Jacqueline!

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Lest We Forget -- A Tribute to Those Who Served in the Great War

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn;
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We shall remember them. " -- Lawrence Binyon

The last item in Sarah Letitia Brown's Commonplace Book is a poem of three stanzas, written in my mother's handwriting, and headed "A Tribute to the memory of Victor Dey Smedmore, 1st Life Guards. Killed in action, Jan 29th 1918". At the top of the page she wrote "copy", so I do not believe she is the author of the poem, and I have no idea who that might have been.


The poem begins:

"We lift the voice lamenting from afar, while memory backward wends through buried years ..."

In my last post I had mentioned that I would comment on the contributions made by my grandfather to the commonplace book, but as November 11th comes closer I felt it was more appropriate to write about my uncle Victor and his sacrifice in the First World War, as well as the sacrifices of other Jamaican men who served in that conflict.

The very first post I did for this blog was about Victor. He was the eldest son of William Dey Smedmore and his wife, Amanda. He was born in 1886 in Port Royal, moved with the family to Kingston, and worked at D. Henderson and Company. He went to England in 1915, joined the First Life Guards, went overseas to France where he was wounded twice, and was killed in action January 1918. I often wondered why he decided to go to England to enlist when he could have enlisted in the West India Regiment but apparently there was a contingent of Jamaican men who did go to England for this purpose. The Gleaner reported on some of them on June 7, 1915:The men listed in the above Roll of Honour were members of the Kingston Parish Church, but there were apparently many more who went to England to join up. My curiosity was aroused as to when Victor sailed for England and thanks to new data on the subscription genealogy database, Ancestry, I found his name on a ship's manifest, that of the ss Coronado, sailing from Kingston to Bristol, arriving at that port on August 15th, 1915.

The names are a bit small to read so here they are:

-- Lester Cecil Jacobs; Karl Everard Laidman; L. Cochrane Shackleton; Huntley Hearne; Maurice Hearne; Victor Dey Smedmore; Alfred George Ayers.

Now, these names mean nothing to me, except for Victor's. It was apparent that they had all seven travelled together on the same ship with the same intent in mind. My question was, had they all enlisted when they got to England? I therefore began a search for the other six. The first source I checked was the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, in the assumption that some of them might, like Victor, have been killed in the War.

The first one I searched for and found there was Karl Everard Laidman, the son of Herbert Edmund and Mary Jane Armstrong Laidman of 65 Norman Road, Kingston, Jamaica. Karl was a private in the Royal Fusilliers, aged 19, and he was killed on March 31st, 1916, a bare eight months after he arrived in England to enlist. He is buried in Lapugnoy Military Cemetery, Bethune, France.

Karl was not the only casualty of that group besides Victor. I also found an A. G. Ayers on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, a trooper in the 2nd Life Guards, who died 26 February 1917 and is buried in St. Sever Cemetery Extension, Rouen, France. What then of the other four?

I then searched the online edition of the Jamaica Gleaner to see if I could find any trace of them and I managed to find two more -- Lester Jacobs and Huntley Hearne. Both items were obituaries. Lester Jacobs died March 25th, 1971, at age 83, so I assume he was the Lester Cecil Jacobs listed on the ship's passenger list, though his war record was not mentioned. The obituary, which is brief, mentioned that he was the retired manager of Jamaica Retreading Company and that he was survived by a brother, Caryl, of Miami, Florida and other relatives. Huntley Hearne died April 13, 1964 and his obituary states that he was a "70-year old hero of the 1914 war and an acknowledged artist in the American advertising field". Huntley Hearne had been attached to the Royal Fusilliers and had been awarded the Military Medal for destroying a German pillbox.

I found a few references to Maurice Hearne, who I assume was Huntley's brother, mainly to do with his career as a cricketer. It would seem, then, that he also returned safely from the war. The only one that I could find nothing definitive about was L... Cochrane Shackleton. My searches in the Gleaner brought up articles on a Dr. T. F. Shackleton but this didn't seem to match the Shackleton on the passenger list ... then I noticed that his age was given as 42, whereas the other six men were all younger, between 18 and 29. Was this the doctor? It doesn't explain the differences in first names yet the Gleaner of September 25th 1916 noted that Dr. T. F. Shackleton had been posted to England to the Royal Army Medical Corps. I'm afraid this will remain a mystery!


"But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known,
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain." -- Lawrence Binyon

Sunday, 19 October 2008

The Commonplace Book -- the Contributors

It's been some time since my last post and I still want to continue with the story of my great-grandmother's commonplace book. However, first of all I want to mention a rather unpleasant comment I received on one of my earlier posts, in which I described going back to 5 Holborn Road in Jamaica. The person who left the comment did not identify themselves. Here it is:

"Where are all the black people?! Are you too good for them huh woman!! your despicable you old saggy lady!! "

Apart from the offensive nature of the comment I'm particularly incensed by the suggestion that I'm a racist. What Anonymous doesn't want to admit is that we Jamaicans are a mixture of all races and colours. Surely this is what the Jamaican coat of arms represents!
Out of many, one people ... I myself am a mixture ... Take my father's family for example! His father was a French Jew from Bas-Rhin, Alsace; his mother, though Catholic, was the daughter of a Sephardic Jew whose family, the Rodrigues Da Costas, I have managed to trace back to 1740. On my mother's side I am the product, I am sure, of both slaves and slave-owners, though it has been difficult for me to go back far enough to find the records that document this. Jamaica is home to people from all over the world and of all shades. Those of us whose families have lived there for a long while are the products of slavery, whether we wish to admit it or not. Thus I take exception to the above comment. I write about my family as I know it, based on my research.


Now, back to Sarah Letitia Brown's commonplace book. My great aunt, Susan Saunders Brown, the eldest of Sarah Letitia Brown's children, wrote four love poems in her mother's book. I have not been able to find their derivation, so for all I know they may be original. Here is one, titled " Love and Physic", and in brackets, "Leep[sic] Year", signed SSB, and dated 1.11.80.


Susan married a widower, John Cassis, on October 17th, 1883. John's first wife, Christiana Augusta Breckenridge, had died of cancer in 1880. Another of Susan's poems, also dated 1.11.80, is titled "Sympathy" and I wonder if it was directed to John. Did her commiseration for his loss eventually lead to love and then marriage? He was much older than her, aged 44 at their marriage while she was only 23. John already had a family of five children by his first wife. The eldest, Catherine, was a year older than Susan. Susan and John between them had four children, two of whom died young, and it seems that Susan did not get over the loss of her youngest, Laura, who died at five weeks, in 1891. Susan died in the Lunatic Asylum, now known as Bellevue Hospital, in November 1899. She may well have been suffering from depression as a result of the loss of her youngest child.

Susan and John's second son, John Madison Cassis, emigrated to Toronto, Canada where he married Fanny Stevens, of Todmorden, Ontario. They had seven children. Here is a picture of John in his garden in Toronto, with his next-door neighbour. John is on the left.

In my next post I'll mention a few other contributors to the commonplace book, one of them my grandfather, William Dey Smedmore.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

The Commonplace Book -- a Forensic Analysis

I've spent the past few weeks examining Sarah Letitia Brown's Commonplace Book. It's very fragile and I'm wondering how best to preserve it. As I wrote in my last post, the covers are gone, the stitching is coming loose as are several of the pages, and the pages themselves are very fragile and show signs of acidification. I'm thinking of taking it to a conservator in the hope that it can be preserved. My first choice would be Felton Bookbinding in Georgetown. Keith Felton has done excellent work with books from the Canadiana Collection at the Mississauga Library System.

In the mean time I'm considering both scanning and transcribing the pages which will be an awesome task! But first, let me describe the book and its contents. The pages are numbered and I wonder if the entries are in chronological order. If so, the first page with an actual date is page 13, a poem titled "Future -- in Darkness", of four verses, each four lines, dated 9th Sept. 1867 and signed "Robt. Raw, Port Royal." This, as I mentioned previously, was the Reverend Robert Raw, a Methodist minister who was known to be stationed in Port Royal between 1863 and 1868, and who had baptized some of the Brown children. The question I ask myself, then, is this: are pages 1 to 12 written prior to 1867? Unfortunately, they are not signed and I have been able to identify only two of the poems in this section, thanks to Google! One on page 10 is titled "Love" and begins:

"Why should I blush to own I love
'Tis love that rules the realms above;
Why should I blush to own to all
That virtue holds my heart in thrall?"

This poem, "To Love", I discovered is by Henry Kirke White,a Nottingham poet born in 1785 who died in 1806. Here is his portrait.
The other poem I was able to identify is titled "Italian Song", and is five stanzas of ten lines each. It comes from a book by William Henry Giles Kingston,(1814-1880) titled The Pirate of the Mediterranean, and is actually headed "Nina's Song". Kingston was born in London and wrote tales for boys, and spent most of his youth in Oporto, Portugal. To be honest, I never heard of either of these writers and one would have to guess that their fame has long since died out, but they must have been still popular when these poems were written in the commonplace book.

The next poem that I identified was actually written by an author whose name I recognized, Felicia Hemans, and was so indicated in the book. It was "The Bride's Lament" and is actually titled "The Bride of the Greek Isles", originally published in 1825 in New Monthly Magazine.

Felicia Hemans (1793-1835), born Felicia Dorothea Brown, was an English poet no longer in vogue. Her one famous poem which many may remember is "Casabianca", the first line of which is:

"The boy stood on the burning deck"

This entry is actually signed, but here again is a mystery. At the bottom of the poem is "Julia, Kingston". Who was Julia? I wish I knew! I'm intrigued by the fact that she clearly indicates she wasn't from Port Royal. Perhaps she was visiting the Brown family.

The entries in the commonplace book are representative of people who knew, understood and loved the literature of their period, some of it well known today, the rest not so much. On page 16 is an excerpt from "The Excursion" by William Wordsworth, followed by four lines of a poem from Drifted Snow Flakes, or Poetical Gatherings from Many Authors by Jane Hamilton Thomas on whom I can find nothing! This short excerpt is signed "Anna". Again, who is Anna? She indicated that the poem was by that prolific author, Anonymous.

Further on I found two verses from "The Corsair" by Byron, then on page 22 a poem in three stanzas, titled "Flora's Feast", which comes from Reunido, and Fugitive Pieces, 1864, by Anna Telluz. I can find nothing on line about Anna Telluz. I wonder if Anne Michaels got the idea for the title of her 1996 novel from the subtitle of this book?

This entry is initialled HDCM, and dated 22/2/71, February 22nd, 1871. On the preceding page is a beautiful illustration by the said HDCM.

I was able to find out something about this contributor. He was Henry DeClondesley Mitchell, and in the 1878 Kingston Directory he is listed as cashier at the Island Treasury. He was married to Susan Madeline Gully and in 1871 was living at 3 East Street.

I was surprised to find on page 30 an excerpt "from the Russian of Dershavin, translated by Dr. Bowring". From my research I discovered that it was written by Gavrila Romanovich Derzhavin, 1743-1816,
considered the greatest Russian poet before Pushkin. His works were translated by Sir John Bowring, 1792-1872, the fourth Governor of Hong Kong.
All in all, this commonplace book is an eclectic mix of poetry and prose which will keep me occupied for a good long time. In my next post I'll write about some of the people who contributed to the book and whom I've been able to identify.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Sarah Letitia Brown's Commonplace Book

The last time I saw my mother was in April 1976 when we all went to Jamaica to help celebrate my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. They were married April 27, 1926 at the Kingston Parish Church and had wedding pictures taken at my mother's home at 49 Beeston Street. Here is a picture of their wedding party:

My mother is seated in front, with my father at her right. Benind her is her bridesmaid, Vera Cox (who married Errol Henriques), and beside Vera is the best man, Julian Smedmore, my mother's youngest brother. The little boy at the left of the picture is Jack Duffus, who was the ring bearer.

All the parties who took part in my parents' wedding were at the fiftieth anniversary and posed for this photo:

From the left they are Vera Henriques, my mother, my father, Julian Smedmore and Jack Duffus. Sadly they are now all gone. My mother has planned to visit us in Ontario in early 1978 but died suddenly in her sleep on December 14, 1977. I made the trip down to Jamaica for her funeral and brought back with me various of her belongings such as photographs, jewellry, some letters, and a rather battered looking book, with no cover. The book meant nothing to me at the time ... it appeared to be full of handwritten verse and some prose, with the occasional illustration of a flower. There were different coloured pages, though rather acidified and the spine, such as it was, was falling apart. One could see that it had been sewn and that there had been a cover at one point.


It was some time before I really began to look carefully at this book. I discovered that some of the entries had initials beside them and with some effort I have been able to identify most of the people who wrote these entries. Only two entries have actual names beside them: one is "Julia", the other "Anna". (I think I know who Anna was.) A few have dates, and these are quite old. The earliest is 1867, and appears on page 13 ... the pages are numbered ... so for all we know the entries on the pages before this may be even earlier. Since the book was in my mother's possession ... though I never saw it in her lifetime ... it must have come down to her from one of her parents. I have no solid evidence to prove this but I believe the book may have belonged to my mother's grandmother, Sarah Letitia Brown. I shall try to explain why I believe this.

My mother never spoke of her grandparents, probably because she didn't know them. Her grandfather, Daniel Elias Brown, died before she was born and she would have been only four years old when her grandmother, Sarah, died. What little I know about Sarah comes only from the research I have done. When I first began the research I questioned my uncle, Rodney Smedmore, about the family. He knew that his grandfather was Daniel Elias Brown but he thought that his grandmother had been a Miss Williamson who had married a McDonald, and then married Daniel on the death of her husband. He knew this because his family knew Daniel's step-daughter, Elizabeth McDonald who married George Christopher Baylis, who like my grandfather, William Dey Smedmdore, was employed at the Port Royal Dockyard. So I searched for the record of Sarah's first marriage and found that her maiden name was Huggins, not Williamson. (I have no idea where Rodney got that name ... A cautionary warning to anyone doing research: check the family stories carefully. Quite often there are mistakes in people's memory!)

I found Sarah's baptism in the Port Royal Copy Register. It's difficult to reproduce the image here. According to the record she was born in Port Royal on August 21, 1832 and baptized by the Rev. T. Alves on October 28th. Her parents were James and Mary Huggins of Port Royal and she is described as being "of colour". She married Donald McDonald, a shoemaker of Port Royal and they had two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary. Donald apparently died shortly after the birth of the second child and Sarah remarried to my grandfather, Daniel Elias Brown. They had seven children, all born in Port Royal. Sarah died in 1898 in Kingston. Daniel had died seven years earlier.

Not much to go on, so why do I think that the book I found was hers? Well, based on one entry, by Robert Raw, dated 9th September 1867, I think it has to belong to her. Robert Raw was the Methodist minister in Port Royal between 1863 and 1868. He baptized three of Sarah's children: Sarah Letitia Webster in 1863, Richard Elias in 1866, and Bertha Rose (who was actually baptized Bertha Raw but seems to have changed her middle name) in 1868. At the time that Robert Raw wrote his verse in the book Sarah Letitia Brown was then pregnant with Bertha.

Why do I call it a commonplace book? Wikipedia defines "commonplace book" as "a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books... Each commonplace book was unique in its creator's particular interests". In a way this little book reminds me of the autograph books I grew up with, where one would invite one's friends to write little verses or comments. The contents of this book reflect the literary interests of the Brown family and their friends and is a window into their lives.

In my next post I will go into more detail about the commonplace book and the people who wrote in it.

Monday, 11 August 2008

My Maternal Family -- Browns, Huggins, Vashons

I've been remiss in updating my blog for the past month. I've been spending time working on a presentation for a recent conference, African Roots in Canada, organized by the Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society in cooperation with the Ontario Black History Society and the Toronto Public Library. The conference took place last Saturday, August 9th, 2008, at the North York Central Library, and was well attended with about 75 people registered. My part in this first-time conference was a presentation on Researching Your Jamaican Ancestry from Canada. At the end of my presentation I showed slides of a few records from my Brown ancestry. It occurs to me that I wrote one post, back on April 1st, 2008, about the Browns, but never followed up on them even though I indicated I would. So I thought I might expand on the Brown family to the best of my ability, showing some of the records I've come across in my research.




As I wrote in the earlier post, the Brown family came from Port Royal. I do not know for sure exactly where they lived there, but it could have been on a street similar to this one.


As I have already written, my great-grandfather, Daniel Elias Brown, was a shipwright, employed at the Port Royal Dockyard. I have not, so far, been able to find out much about his parents. He was born in Kingston 25 February 1827, on King Street, the son of Edward and Sarah Brown, and baptized on 3 May 1827. I have no further information on his parents, except that they had three other children, that I've found -- a daughter, Sarah Saunders Brown, born 24 December 1828 in Pink Lane, Kingston,and baptized in April 1828; another daughter, Eliza, born 9 May 1832 in Princes Street, Kingston, and a son, Jonas, born 25 August 1834, also in Princes Street. Both Eliza and Jonas were baptized 8 January 1837.

So, as I've indicated in my title, this is not just the story of the Brown family. Unable to find out more about Daniel's parents' origins, I moved to his wife's family. Daniel married a widow, Sarah Letitia McDonald. Sarah had married one Donald McDonald, a shoemaker in Port Royal, in 1851 in Port Royal. They were married in the Wesleyan Methodist Church by the Rev. William Tyson. This marriage record, part of the Dissenter Marriage Registers microfilmed by the Mormons, does not give the ages or names of parents of the parties, though it does indicate that permission was given for the bride to be married by her mother, "Mary Smith, surviving parent", whereas the groom was listed as being of "full age". By that we can deduce that Donald was over 21 and Sarah was not. Sarah's full name was given as Sarah Letitia Huggins, and I discovered in my research that her parents were James Vashon Huggins and Mary Goldson, both of Port Royal. By this time James Huggins was dead and Mary Huggins had remarried in 1845 to George Pitblade Smith.

Donald and Sarah had two daughters, Elizabeth Huggins McDonald, born 1852, and Mary Noel, born 1854. I have so far been unable to find a burial record in Port Royal for Donald McDonald, who must have died prior to 1858 when Sarah married Daniel Elias Brown. Here is the record of their marriage, from the Dissenter Marriage Registers for Port Royal:

This marriage also took place in the Wesleyan Methodist denomination; the officiating minister was the Rev. James Cox, another person who fits into my family research, though again, I have been unable to find out much about him except for a small entry in Philip Wright's Monumental Inscriptions of Jamaica, published by the Society of Genealogists in 1966. According to a mural tablet in the Wesley Church, Tower Street, "the Rev. James Cox died at Morant Bay, 30 May 1859, aged 55", apparently not too long after he married Daniel and Sarah. In corresponding with another Cox researcher I have learned that James Cox may have been born in Bermuda. He settled in Jamaica, married and fathered two sons that I know of: Theophilus Pugh Cox, born about 1844, who became the Headmaster of the Government Training College, Spanish Town, and Henry Martyn Hill Cox, born about 1845, who also became a Methodist minister. These brothers married two sisters, Mary Ann Barned and Lucinda Baker Barned, respectively.

Daniel, in marrying Sarah, took on her two daughters who would have been six and four years old, and not long after began a family of his own, seven children in all, six daughters and a son. All were born in Port Royal and baptized there in the Wesleyan Methodist church. I have written about some of them in previous posts -- Susan Saunders Brown who married John Cassis; my grandmother, Amanda, who married William Dey Smedmore; Bertha Rose who married Charles Percival Esterine and emigrated to New York; and Theresa Eugenie, who never married. It appears that, like the Smedmore family, the Brown family also left Port Royal at some point to settle in Kingston, since Daniel Elias Brown died there 7 April 1891, at 115 East Street. His death was registered by his daughter, Sarah Letitia Webster Brown, whose address was given as 49 Rose Lane, and that is where Sarah, Daniel's widow, died 25 July 1898. Perhaps Daniel and Sarah had lived at 115 East Street and after he died she went to live with her unmarried daughter, Sarah, who had been named after her.

In my next post I will pursue the story of Sarah Letitia Brown, my great-grandmother and her family history.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Coming to America -- Uncle Joe and Candid Camera

Do you remember this catchy little theme song?
When it's least expected - you're elected. You're the star today
Smile! You're on Candid Camera!
With a hocus-pocus - you're in focus. It's your lucky day
Smile! You're on Candid Camera!

It's fun to laugh at yourself. It's a tonic, tried and true.
It's fun to laugh at yourself as other people do.

How's your sense of humor? There's a rumor: Laughter's on its way.
Smile! You're on Candid Camera! Smile! You're on Candid Camera!

Candid Camera was a really popular show, one of the earliest reality shows, the premise of which was to catch people off guard "in the act of being themselves", as the show's creator, Allen Funt, claimed.
You may also remember Allen Funt's sidekick, Durward Kirby.

Durward Kirby appeared on Candid Camera between 1961 and 1966. I also remember him on the Garry Moore Show and the Carol Burnett Show.
I used to watch Candid Camera while we lived in Winnipeg. We had settled there in 1960 after leaving Trinidad and Jamaica. As I mentioned in my last post, we visited Uncle Joe for a few days en route from Jamaica to Canada. I didn't expect to see Uncle Joe again for quite some time, if at all, until one afternoon in 1964 when I saw him on Candid Camera. There were four vignettes on the half-hour show, and the last one was the one Uncle Joe was on. The set-up was this: Uncle Joe, whose job at the time apparently was to run errands, was called to an office in Manhattan. There, behind a screen, was a man who asked Joe to take his pants to the cleaners, and a pair of shoes to be shined. The trick to this sequence was that the pants had three legs. What Candid Camera wanted to elicit was Joe's reaction to this odd pair of pants.
Well, he looked the pants over carefully. The man behind the screen asked him to check the pockets to make sure nothing was left in them,
and that was when Uncle Joe realized that the pants not only had three back pockets, but had three legs! Uncle Joe, however, did not react right away. In answer to the comments by the man behind the screen he admired the cut and material of the pants, and even the colour, but he did comment that there were too many back pockets. Next the man asked Joe to take his shoes to be cleaned, and proceeded to pass three shoes over the top of the screen -- a left shoe, a right shoe and a middle shoe. Once again, Joe did not react. Then he was asked to call a number to speak to the man's wife, and of course, was connected to Candid Camera. He didn't seem to catch on then, until the man came from behind the screen and told him he was on Candid Camera.

Joe took it well. He laughed and said: "You know what the problem was? You had too many pockets!" And he smiled into the camera.

After I saw the show I wrote to Uncle Joe to ask him if it really was him on Candid Camera. He wrote back to assure me that it was indeed him, but he had a different take on his reaction to the skit, in comparison to comments made by Allen Funt. Funt stated that Joe just didn't want to believe what he was seeing, hence showed no reaction. According to Uncle Joe, he didn't want to embarrass the man who apparently had a pair of pants with three legs.

The last time we saw Uncle Joe was when he visited us in 1973. We were living in Burlington, Ontario by then and my parents had come up to visit us. Joe and Alice took a bus from New York to spend a few days in Burlington and so the brothers were united for the last time. Here they are, with Alice. You can see the strong family resemblance between my Dad and Uncle Joe.

The Watergate scandal was in the news while Joe and Alice were visiting us. I asked Uncle Joe what he thought of the affair and he got very excited about it. I don't know whether or not Uncle Joe was a Democrat, of if he had any political leanings, but he was highly incensed about Watergate and the part played by H. R. Haldenman and John Erlichman.

"Ehrlichman", he said. "Do you know what the name means in German? 'Ehrlich' means 'honest, honourable' ... 'Ehrlichman' means 'honourable man'!"

Uncle Joe died the next year in 1974 of liver failure. Alice, who was eleven years younger than Joe, lived for another thirty years, dying in April 2004 in a nursing home.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Coming to America -- Visiting Uncle Joe

In April 1960 we left Trinidad to return to Canada, via Jamaica. We flew from Piarco Airport, near Port-of-Spain
and arrived at Palisadoes Airport, near Kingston,
where we planned to stay with family for a week or so before going to Canada. The plan was that we would fly to Toronto via New York and visit my Uncle Joe for about three days. In order to stay even for that space of time we had to get visas from the US consulate.

We flew to New York from Palisadoes on BOAC, British Overseas Airway Corporation, now known as British Air. (The acronym was sometimes humourously rendered as "Better on a Camel", much the same way that BWIA (British West Indian Airways) was known colloquially as "But Will it Arrive" or Better Walk if Able".) I remember that we flew first class, which entailed excellent food served on fine china and complimentary wine and liquor! Ah, those were the days of air travel. We shall not see their like again.

We landed at LaGuardia Airport and were met by Uncle Joe and his wife, Alice. We went by cab to their apartment at 1575 Theriot Avenue in the Bronx.As we had only three days I really wanted to see as much of New York City as I could. Uncle Joe, however, was not that keen on the idea. When I expressed the desire to visit the Empire State Building, his response, in his best Bronx accent, was: "The Empire State Building? That's for hicks!" It turned out that Uncle Joe had never gone there nor had he visited the Rockefeller Centre, the United Nations, or any of those other place the average tourist wants to see. Nevertheless he complied and we travelled by subway and managed to pack in quite a few places of interest.

I had hoped to see my Uncle Leo as well, but that Joe adamantly refused to arrange. He was, apparently, estranged from his brother and would have nothing to do with him. Alice said that Leo had "done something" to Joe which he could not forgive. I had the impression it had something to do with money. Uncle Leo, it appeared, was inclined to frequent the track where he bet whatever money he had on the horses, not always successfully. The impression I got was that Leo, whose occupation was that of master house painter, would work at various jobs in order to make enough money to go to the races. I am sorry now that I did not insist on knowing more about him because I have found Leo to be quite elusive. I cannot find when and how he got to New York, nor can I find him in any census. My searches on Ancestry have turned up only one record for him ... his draft card from the World War II Draft Registration, 1942, known as the "old man's registration" for those born between 1877 and 1897. Here is the front of Leo's card:

On the other side of the card he is described as five ft. 3 1/2 inches tall, 145 lbs., with blue eyes, grey hair and a ruddy complexion, and with a scar on his right wrist. He was then 47 years old, and according to the front of the card, was unemployed. And that's all I know about him.

At the end of our three day visit we left Joe and Alice. Here I am with Alice in the lobby of the apartment building on Theriot Avenue.I should point out that I was then expecting our second child. And here are Joe and Alice at the airport, seeing us off to Toronto.

This wasn't the last time we saw Uncle Joe, but more of that in my next post.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Coming to America -- My Surprising Uncle Joe

Joseph Dudley Levy was the youngest of the Levy family. He may have been the first one to leave Jamaica and go to New York, but I cannot be sure of this, as I have not so far been able to find any record of his brother, Leo's emigration, also to New York. As I mentioned in a previous post, Joe sailed from Port Antonio on board the ss Catherine Cuneo, on August 28th, 1917, and arrived at the Port of New York on September 4th. According to the ship's manifest he was age seventeen, and going to a Mrs. Warner, a friend, at 346 Summer Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. I have no idea who this Mrs. Warner might have been. Under the column "Name and complete address of nearest relative or friend in country whence alien came", Joe listed his mother, Mrs. Alice Levy, 22 Beeston Street, Kingston, Jamaica. Also on the first page of the manifest is a column headed "Race or People". It is typical of the mindset of the American authorities at that time that anyone coming from Jamaica was immediately labelled "African Black". Thus was my Uncle Joe labelled, yet at the same time he was described as fair complexion, with brown eyes and brown hair, and with a deformed right thumb.

What happened to him immediately after his arrival in New York is a mystery, as I have been unable to find him in the 1920 census. However, he does show up in the 1930 census for Manhattan, District 787, as a boarder in a household on 113th Street, headed by one Harry Petrous. It appears to have been some kind of tenement, and also in the same household were two of Joe's cousins, Adwin and Aaron Da Costa, the eldest and youngest sons of Alice's brother, Melbourne Rodrigues Da Costa. But now comes the curious part! For Joe is no longer Joseph Levy, but instead is calling himself Joseph Lavell, and in the column for birthplace he gives the information that he was born in Pennsylvania!

Here I must digress for a moment. I knew that Uncle Joe had changed his name to Lavell -- though whether or not he did it officially is not known. His rationale for doing this was that he would have faced discrimination in New York with a Jewish name, even though he was not Jewish but Catholic. I have a sneaky feeling that the name change may have had something to do with his eventual marriage, though at the time of the 1930 census he was listed as single, and in fact did not get married until 5 June 1937, but it's possible that he had already met his future wife, Alice Savitski, who interestingly enough, was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Was this why Joe claimed from then on to have been born there?

Joe applied for and received United States citizenship in November 1924. I am very grateful to a researcher in New York, David Priever, who searched for me and found Joe's Declaration of Intention, in which his name is definitely given as Joseph Dudley Levy.

It appears, then, that Joe changed his name some time between his declaration of intention to become a US citizen and 1930 when he was calling himself Joseph Lavell.
I first met my Uncle Joe in person in 1955 when he came to Jamaica for a visit. It had been a very long time since he had seen my father, his brother. I imagine that he knew my mother, since the Smedmores lived across the street from the Levy family on Beeston Street. In fact, when my uncle, Norman Dey Smedmore, emigrated to New York in 1918 he gave Joe's name on the manifest as the person he was going to in New York City. Joe's address at the time was 1121 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn. Although by now Joe was married he did not bring Alice with him, as she apparently did not like the idea of flying. I remember my Uncle Joe as being very American indeed in accent and behaviour. I know that my father was extremely happy to see him again after all that time.
In my next post I'll write about my visit to New York with my family, when we stayed for three days with Uncle Joe and Alice and got to know him better.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Father Joseph Dupont's Statue

It's been a while since my last post. A little over two weeks ago I had surgery -- total knee replacement, and so it's slowed me down a bit.

I want to return briefly to the 1907 Earthquake and one of the stories of the quake, the damage to the statue of Father Joseph Dupont. You may remember that this is what it looked like after the earthquake:


The statue was quite badly damaged as you can see. You may also remember that I showed another photo, taken about 1940, showing the statue after it had been repaired.


I didn't give much thought to what had happened in between, such as when was the repair done and how it was accomplished, until, while browsing through Father Francis X. Delaney's History of the Catholic Church in Jamaica, B.W.I., 1494 to 1929 (New York: Jesuit Mission Press, 1930) I came across the story behind the repair of the statue. On page 256, Father Delaney writes:

"Since the day of the great earthquake, January 14, 1907, the pedestal that supported the statue of Father Dupont, had stood empty in the Kingston Parade. It had become a spectacle of the great disaster, as well as of civic neglect and ingratitude. In the course of the year 1924, Mr. Alexander Falla started a movement to have the monument restored. A public-spirited citizen, Mr. S. J. Streadwick, opened the fund, and Mr. James Dunn contributed the substantial sum of fifty pounds. The editors of Catholic Opinion and of the daily Gleaner took up the cause and the result was that about two hundred and twenty pounds were collected from people of every class and creed. The statue was publicly unveiled by the Governor of Jamaica, Sir Edward Stubbs, and presented to the city of Kingston, represented by the Mayor, Honorable A. E. DaCosta, on Sunday, September 11, 1927, the year which marks the eightieth anniversary of Father Dupont's coming to Jamaica and the very day which marks the fortieth anniversary of Father Dupont's leaving his adopted Jamaica for his home in Heaven".

This was indeed an ecumnical effort to restore Father Dupont's statue. S. J. Streadwick, for example, was a staunch Anglican, yet, as Father Delaney writes, people of all classes and creeds moved together to subscribe to the statue's repair.

I'm interested in Father Dupont because he baptized some of the children of my great grandparents, Jacob Rodrigues Da Costa and his wife, Selina Jane Roberts. Here, from Father Delaney's book, is a picture of Father Dupont.


According to a brief story in the Gleaner of January 28, 2007, Father Dupont was born in Savoy, France in 1809, and came to Jamaica as a priest in 1847 where he remained for forty years ministering to the poor and establishing missions all over the island. The original statue to his memory was erected in 1892, by public subscription and the Gleaner notes that Father Dupont was the only clergyman to have a statue erected in his honour in Jamaica, so he must have been universally loved and respected.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Remembering My Brother, Micky

If he had lived, my brother Micky would have been eighty-one years old today. Sadly, he died far too young, at thirty-six, leaving a wife and three very young children. This post is dedicated to his memory.

My parents, Michael Leopold Levy and Maud Dey Smedmore, were married April 27, 1926. A year later, April 2, 1927, their eldest child, a son, was born and christened Michael Owen Dey Levy, but known by everyone as Micky. He was the first nephew and grandchild in the family. Although my mother was one of nine Smedmore children, and my father, Michael, was one of seven, their generation had not proved as fruitful. Only two of the Smedmores were married by 1927 -- my uncle Lucius, who had two daughters, and my mother. Two Smedmore men, Rodney and Julian would marry eventually but they had no children. Micky, therefore, occupied a unique place as the first boy in that generation. Here he is with his mother, probably at their first house on Anderson Road:

My mother kept his hair long till he was about two years old, a fact he hated to be reminded of. Here he is again, sitting on the steps of the house at Anderson Road.

My mother did not get pregnant again until Micky was about six, so he was the only child for quite a while and, according to my mother, quite spoilt by his aunts and uncles. My mother had a miscarriage, which was a great disappointment to her, and then shortly after became pregnant with me and I was born at the end of May in 1935, by which time Micky was eight years old. He had been the favourite of my great aunt, Tess, but when I came along Aunt Tess turned all her attention to the new baby and "Micky's nose was out of joint", as my mother put it. This was her explanation for why we were not close as brother and sister, but I think the difference in age had a lot to do with it.

Micky went to school at Jamaica College when Reginald Murray, known as "Reggie", was Headmaster.

I believe he sat the Senior Cambridge Exam but left school without going on to the Cambridge Higher Schools Examination. With the help of a family friend, Cyril Tame, Micky went to work at Barclays Bank in Kingston, where he worked for many years. Men who joined the Bank at that time could expect to be sent all over the island and even to other islands where the Bank had branches, so I did not see much of Micky in this time period. One of his postings was to Trinidad so he was away for some time and there was little chance for us to develop a relationship. In fact, I would have to say that our relationship consisted of a certain amount of hero worship on my part and bare tolerance on his. He was a dreadful tease and would make my life quite miserable at times, so we just weren't that close.

Micky was incredibly popular, however, with his friends both male and female. He was very involved in rifle and pistol shooting and competed in the sport and was also a motor car enthusiast and took part in motor rallies.

One of his favourite sports was hunting alligators,(actually crocodiles), which are now an endangered species in Jamaica, but were fair game back in the forties and fifties. He would tell the story of how, on one of his alligator hunting expeditions, his life was saved by the gristle in his mother's roast beef sandwich. Micky was squatting by the shore, eating his sandwich, and turned to spit out a piece of gristle. There, aproaching him, was an alligator with its jaws wide open. He just had time to grab his rifle and shoot it.

At a time when I was older and we could have developed a closer relationship we were once again separated by circumstances. Micky got married and emigrated to Canada where his eldest child was born. Here he is, with his son, Michael, reading one of his favourite magazines.

By the time he and his family returned to Jamaica it was I who was getting married and leaving the island. We would see each other whenever I returned home for a visit. In 1963, when he died of a cerebral haemorrhage, I was living in Winnipeg. We had never really gotten to know each other as adults, and that is what I regret most of all.

Friday, 7 March 2008

The Levy Family -- Coming to America

Of the four surviving children of Leopold and Alice Levy three went to the United States. My father, Michael, was the only one who remained in Jamaica, to take care of his mother who had been widowed in 1917. Michael joined the Civil Service in 1908 at the age of nineteen and remained there until his retirement at age sixty. Here is a view of the Governernment Buildings as they would have been in his time there.



Michael worked in the Administrator General's office, eventually becoming Trustee in Bankruptcy in 1948. This photo of him was taken inside the government offices.


After my father retired from the Civil Service he took another job, as his pension was not large enough to support the family, but that's another story ... For now I want to write about my aunt and uncles who did not remain in Jamaica but made a life for themselves in America.

The story of Jamaicans is one of movement away from Jamaica ... to other islands, to Central and South America, to the United States, to Britain and to Canada, always on the lookout for a better life, a better job, or perhaps just to get away. Just as Jamaica attracted all sorts of people from various parts of the world so too Jamaicans have left the island and settled elsewhere. In the 1900s they flocked to the United States, most of them to live in New York. On pages of the 1930 U.S. Federal Census one finds Jamaicans living together in groups in such boroughs as Manhattan.

The Ellis Island database is a wonderful source for this movement of people to the U.S. Another great source is the subscription website, Ancestry. I have used both to try to find information on my father's siblings. I have found his sister, Essie and his brother, Joseph, travelling to New York, but Leo, the other brother, continues to elude me. More of him later.

At this point I must explain that I did know Uncle Joe, who visited Jamaica in the 1950s and whom I visited with my family in 1960 when we left Jamaica to go to Canada. Unfortunately, at that time I wasn't particularly interested in family history research and didn't ask the questions I should have, so much of what I now know about my uncle Joe has been through research carried out some time after his death.

The same year that my grandfather Leopold died Joe left Jamaica to go to the U.S. The story I was told about why my father's siblings left Jamaica was this: my grandmother, Alice, was afraid that the younger boys would have to join up to fight in the first World War. (My father, apparently, was not eligible to join up because of some medical reason.) She wanted them to go the U.S. because America wasn't in the war. Joe arrived in New York in September 1917, but the U.S. had entered the war on April 6, 1917, so this story doesn't really make sense to me. At any rate, I found Joe in the Ellis Island database, travelling to New York on board the ss Catherine Cuneo, leaving Port Antonio on August 28th and arriving on September 5th. Here is what the first page of the ship's manifest looks like.



Under the column "Name and complete address of nearest relative of friend in country whence alien came" Joe gave his mother's name and this is how I knew that by 1917 she was living at 22 Beeston Street. On page two of the manifest, under the heading "Whether going to join a relative or frined...", Joe gave the name, "Mrs. Warner (friend), 346 Summer Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y." I have no idea who this Mrs. Warner could be! So often the records we find produce more questions than answers.

In my next post I'll write about some of the other surprising things I learned about my uncle Joe.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Falling Walls -- the 1907 Earthquake -- part 2

It is not known exactly how many people perished in the 1907 earthquake and subsequent fire that ravaged the city of Kingston on January 14th, 1907. Estimates range from 600 to 1000. Lists of the dead and injured can be found on line: on the Jamaican Family Search website, as reported in the Gleaner of January 18, 1907 and a further list of victims in the paper of January 21, 1907. The Genealogy of Jamaica webpage also lists victims of the earthquake, extracted from the Gleaner of March 2, 1907. I have spent some time going through the death registrations for 1907 for Kingston. There are names that appear on the death lists for whom there is no registration, and conversely, death registrations for some whose names are not on the lists. For the majority of those killed on January 14th the cause of death given is "Killed by falling walls". Not everyone died instantly; many died later in hospitals as a result of their injuries or of tetanus from amputation of a limb or limbs. The Mayor of Kingston, Charles Walter Tait, was one who died later -- on 10 February 1907, of "concussion of the spine".


The downtown business area of Kingston was most affected by the quake. Some places of business lost a number of workers. Nine staff members at the Myrtle Bank Hotel were killed. Here are two postcards of the Myrtle Bank Hotel, before and after the earthquake:


I found death registrations for six members of the staff of Emanuel Lyons and Sons Ltd. at the corner of King and Harbour Streets. This postcard of what was left of the building shows how devastating the damage must have been.


As I read through the records I found a variety of comments under cause of death. One woman, Lucinda Allen of 4 James Steet, married, age 40, died "apparently from fright -- no injury". Thomas Bernard Philpotts, cigar maker, age 57, died of "heart disease and fright due to the earthquake". Another woman, Henrietta Pinnock, "died after premature delivery brought on by shock received from the earthquake". One of the saddest I found was the record for a little girl, Emily Letitia Jopp, age 6. On her record this note was added: "This little girl was found dead with a slate beside her on which she had just written 'God is Love'".


It would be too easy to say that people died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time -- that sentiment could refer to all those who lost their lives, but some deaths stand out, such as that of Marcus Moses Delgado. Thanks to Stephen Delgado Porter I know something of Marcus' history. He was the son of Edwin Delgado and had married Miriam Brandon, daugher of Nathaniel Brandon. They had six children. In December 1904 Marcus emigrated to Cartagena, Colombia, to improve his fortune, leaving his wife and children in Kingston. He returned to his family at Christmas 1906 and on January 14th, 1907, went downtown to buy his daughter, Sybil, a birthday present -- that day was her eleventh birthday. Marcus was killed by falling walls, at the corner of Harbour and Duke Streets. He was 48 years old.


Another casualty,somewhat closer to me. was that of Bertie Bold Vendryes, the wife of Philip Camille Vendryes. Bertie was the daughter of George Christopher Baylis and his wife, Elizabeth McDonald. Elizabeth was the step-daughter of my great grandfather, Daniel Elias Brown who had married her mother, the widow of Donald McDonald. Not only were the Brown and the Baylis families close but George Baylis worked at the Dock Yard in Port Royal along with my grandfather, William Dey Smedmore. Bertie, who was pregnant at the time, died on January 23rd at Winchester Hospital,as a result of premature delivery brought on by the earthquake,as well as puerperal fever and heart failure. The child, a boy, Joseph, did not survive. Also killed on January 14th was Bertie's and Philip's daughter, Vida, who was nine years old. So Philip lost his wife, his daughter and his newly born son.

Many well-known buildings in Kingston and elsewhere in the island were damaged or totally destroyed. The Kingston Parish Church lost its steeple and its clock.


The tower and clock were restored but without the steeple.

Some odd things happened as a result of the earthquake; for example, the statue of Queen Victoria at the Parade was turned completely around,



and the statue of Father Joseph Dupont, one of the longest-serving Jesuit priests in Jamaica, was knocked completely off its pedestal.

It is no wonder that there are so many postcards of the damage wrought by this earthquake, the worst that Jamaica had experienced since the 1692 quake which destroyed the town of Port Royal. In a matter of a minute or two so many buildings in the city were reduced to rubble and so many people died. Yet the people of Kingston would come back from this devastation. As the Gleaner of January 18, 1907, put it:

"Just when we were talking of returning prosperity the hand of adversity has again touched us, and once more we are called upon to fight our way forward. We will do so. We will not allow ourselves to be terrified. We will build Kingston again and, with God's help, will build it better."

Arras Memorial

Arras Memorial

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore
My uncle Victor