Friday, 9 December 2011

The Smedmores of Port Royal

William Dey Smedmore and his family lived in Port Royal until about 1896, probably on a street very much like this one pictured above. In fact, they lived at two different addresses according to the records I have found. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s begin with his marriage, as I know very little about him prior to that event.

William married Amanda Brown at the Kingston Parish Church on 6th December 1882. He was a bachelor, aged forty-four, and gave his occupation as writer, H. M. Dockyard. Amanda was a spinster, aged twenty-one, no occupation. Both gave their abode as Port Royal. William gave his father’s name as William Dey Smedmore (dead), and Amanda’s was given as Daniel D. Brown.  They were married by the Rev. G. W. Downer, and the witnesses were B. Mortimer Dias and C. L. Cunha.

Well, there are a couple of problems with this record. No record has so far been found for William’s father, so we cannot be sure that this was indeed his name. Secondly, Amanda’s father’s name was Daniel Elias Brown, so the middle initial “D” is incorrect.  Another oddity is my grandmother’s age. I don’t know if my mother ever saw this marriage record, because, curiously enough, she always claimed that her mother’s birth date was 10 July 1864, and that she was actually only eighteen when she married William. However I have found the record of Amanda’s baptism in the Wesleyan Methodist church, in Jamaican Family Search, and she was definitely born on 9 August 1861, which would agree with her age at marriage. It seems odd to me that my grandmother’s children had a completely different date for her birth, not just a different year but a different month and day!

William’s occupation of “writer in H. M. Dockyard” was also puzzling. I discovered that a writer was  a clerk, a civilian employee in the Royal Navy, at the Dockyard in Port Royal. William’s close friend, George Christopher Baylis, who was a  connection through marriage to his wife’s half-sister, was also a writer at the naval yard.

The first three children were born at
Sime Street
in Port Royal. According to the birth records the two eldest, Sylvia and Victor, were born at no. 2 Sime Street, in 1884 and 1886 respectively, and the third child, Norman, was born in 1887 at no. 1 Sime Street. Shortly thereafter they moved to Fishers Row. I came across a brief note in The Gleaner of 1st May 1888 which mentioned this move.

So it appears that the Smedmore home was to be taken over to be used as barracks for the Army. Might this have had something to do with a story my mother told me about her older brother, Victor? As a young child he had reported seeing a soldier in military dress walking up and down the balcony or piazza of the house they were living in. The tale was that the house had been a barracks and that Victor had seen a ghost. Victor would have been about two years old at that time. It’s possible he saw a real soldier if military personnel came to the house to inspect it prior to taking it over.  At any rate the family moved from there to Fishers Row where the next four children were born – Elma in 1889, Owen in 1891, Maud in 1894 and Rodney in 1896. Then, some time after this they removed to Kingston where the last two children were born – Lucius in 1899 and Julian in 1902.  By 1896 William Dey Smedmore was sixty years old and had retired from his position at the Dock Yard. The family settled down in a large house at
49 Beeston Street
and I have written about that house in a previous post.

In my next post I’ll relate the stories I heard about my grandfather from my mother, as well as a few other items I found in The Gleaner  about him … gold to the enquiring genealogist!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

My Other Grandfather -- William Dey Smedmore

Having just about given up on finding out more about my elusive grandfather, Leopold Levy, I’ve decided to move to my maternal grandfather, William Dey Smedmore … not that’s he’s any easier to research. I have no idea who his father was, and only hearsay evidence as to the identity of his mother. I’ll explain why in a moment, but suffice it to say, I do at least know a great deal more about him than my other grandfather, thanks to the stories I’ve collected from my mother and her siblings over the years. I’ve also been able to find a few records pertaining to him as well as items about him in the Jamaica Gleaner.

My mother’s family lived in Port Royal. My maternal grandmother, Amanda Brown’s family had deep roots there and it’s where my grandfather, William Dey Smedmore, was born.
This is a view of Port Royal about 1890, showing the church and town, looking west towards the entrance to Kingston Harbour.  The town’s heyday was in the seventeenth century when it served as headquarters for the buccaneers who pillaged the Spanish Main, but all that came to an end with the disastrous earthquake of 1692 when more than half of the town was swallowed up by the sea. What remained was a small fishing village with a naval station and dockyard, but even that would pass away. By 1881 the population was 1205, exclusive of shipping. According to Michael Pawson and David Buisseret in their book, Port Royal, Jamaica (1975):

"By [1900] Port Royal's days as a naval base were numbered. The later nineteenth century had seen the rise of the so-called 'blue water school' of British imperial strategists, advocating very powerful fleets operating out of the United Kingdom, supported by a small number of strongly-fortified bases.  The Port Royal yard was too small to rank as one of these, and so in 1905, following the reorganization directed by Admiral Sir John Fisher, her last  commodore, F.W. Fisher, hauled down his flag."

My grandfather, William Smedmore, was employed at the Dockyard as an Admiralty writer, but seems to have retired some time between 1896 and 1899 when the family removed to Kingston.

The image below is of the baptismal record for my grandfather, William Dey Smedmore. As you can see, no parents are named in this record, a clear sign that he was illegitimate. For reasons that are highly frustrating to Jamaican researchers, there is a period of time in the baptismal records where many Anglican priests would not record the names of either parent if the child was born out of wedlock. Some would (very few), and some would at least record the mother’s name. Curiously, the very early registers prior to 1825 recorded all this information, including the fact that the parents were not married, but not so by the 1830s.

William Dey Smedmore … and no one can figure out where the name “Dey” came from … was born 29th October 1836, and baptized on 1st January, 1837. On June 20th of that same year Victoria ascended to the British throne. My grandfather, from all that I’ve learned about him, was a Victorian paterfamilias through and through. He appears to have ruled his family in strict Victorian style and was much loved and feared by his nine children, who called him Papa.  His word was law, and no one defied it. All of the children lived at home after they moved to Kingston from Port Royal. None of those who married did so before his death, and even the eldest son, Victor, who went to England to enlist in the Army in the First World War, waited till 1915 after his father had been dead for over a year.
I know very little of my grandfather’s life between his baptism and his marriage to Amanda Brown in 1882. It was my mother who told me, when I was about fifteen, that my grandfather was illegitimate.  I was warned on pain of death not to let on to my two aunts, Sylvia and Elma, that I knew this. According to my mother, William Dey Smedmore was the son of an English sailor and a woman of Port Royal by the name of Ann Wood. When I began my family history research I searched the Port Royal baptismal records and did find a baptism for an Ann Wood, born in Port Royal 2 February, 1811 and baptized 12 October 1813.

Assuming this is my Ann Wood she was the illegitimate daughter of a Port Royal slave owner and vestryman named John Owen Wood. Her mother was one Mary Holms. I cannot, however, prove that she was the mother of William Smedmore. If she were, then she would have been 25 years old when he was born. I have not so far been able to find out anything more about her … whether she married, or when she died.  My mother told me that her father had been brought up by two aunts, but I have no evidence for this and do not even know who they could have been. Indeed, his birth is a mystery!

I found one more mystery surrounding my grandfather. Purely by chance I came across a birth record in Port Royal for one Dorothy Priscilla Theodosia Smedmore, the daughter of an Elizabeth Handfield, born 6 July 1879. No father is named in the record. Could this have been an illegitimate child of William Dey Smedmore? I know of no other Smedmores apart from my mother’s family. This child was born before the marriage of my grandfather. One thing is certain … no member of the family ever mentioned this child and I’m inclined to think that they knew nothing about this, assuming again, that this was my grandfather’s child.

In my next post I’ll continue the story of William Dey Smedmore.

Friday, 5 August 2011

My Grandfather Leopold -- Still a Mystery!

Okay, I know what you must all be thinking! Why have I waited so long to get another blog post up? To be honest, I’ve been bitterly disappointed by my inability to find out more about my elusive grandfather, Leopold Levy. As I reported in my last post, I thought I had found his birth and the marriage of his parents. The Leopold Levy I found … indeed the only one who showed up in the birth indexes for Strasbourg for the right time period … was born 6 December 1846 to Benjamin Levy and his wife, Marie Ann Bloch, at 115 Grand’ rue, Bas Rhin, Strasbourg. This fitted with what I knew about him so far, but in order to confirm that what I had found was correct, I really needed another piece of the puzzle – his marriage record which would most likely give the name of his father.

According to the notice in the Gleaner of Friday, July 23, 1886, Leopold and my grandmother, Alice Rodrigues Da Costa, had been married in Colon by the Registrar on 16 July of that year. All attempts so far – with help from others – to find a record of this marriage have been in vain. It is not clear whether the record is in Colon, Panama, or in Colombia, since Panama in 1886 would have been a province of Colombia. I have two documents which show that Leopold was in Colon. One is the birth record for his eldest child, Daisy, who was born in Kingston two months after the marriage, so presumably Alice returned to Jamaica as soon as she could after the marriage, but, one assumes, without Leopold.

Leopold’s occupation is given as merchant and his place of residence as Colon. One other document I have – thanks to another researcher, Jacky Paul Bentzinger of Bogotá, Colombia – refers to Leopold as a shopkeeper in Colon. It is on a page in French from a business ledger where his name is listed along with other French business people who had apparently suffered losses because of a fire. Other occupations listed on the page are of the manager of a section of the French Canal Company, and of an agent of the same. Leopold’s loss in francs appears to be 2363.00

There is no date on this ledger and that is all I have about him in Colon!

The reason he is still a mystery is that since my research into his supposed birth in Strasbourg I have found evidence on line which shows that the Leopold Levy I found cannot possibly be my grandfather! While trolling on Ancestry I came across two records for a Leopold Levy, born 6 December 1846. Here is the first one:

This is a record of a Leopold Levy, born 6 December 1846 in Strasbourg, who opted to become a French citizen on 28 May 1872. A little background here -- Germany having won the Franco-Prussian War, annexed the French departments of Bas-Rhin, Haut-Rhin, Moselle, a third of Meurthe, and some of Vosges. The Treaty of Frankfort contained a provision for French citizens of the region to retain their nationality and to be allowed to move to France. Many of the Jews of Alsace did this, becoming, in effect, refugees from their homeland as they had to leave Alsace. Now, this particular record might indeed refer to my Leopold, since I have no idea when he would have immigrated from Alsace or France to the West Indies. However, the second document completely destroyed my research! Here it is:

This is a record from the Electoral Rolls of Paris in 1891. It shows the same Leopold Levy, the optant, born 6 December 1846, now living in Paris, at 2 Championner, and his occupation is given as “cocher”, i.e. coach driver. This cannot be my grandfather, who, when his fourth child, Essie Gertrude Levy, was born 30 March 1891, was at that time an accountant in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

All that research – for naught! The Leopold Levy born in 1846 in Strasbourg could not possibly be my grandfather. And that is why I need to have his marriage record, assuming that one exists, in the faint hope that it would give his parents’ names and once and for all confirm who he was, and where and when he was born.

I gave my previous post the caption – “A Cautionary Tale”. One cannot jump to conclusions based on one or two pieces of evidence. Genealogical research requires more than that to confirm one’s conclusions. I am missing the most crucial piece of information which might indeed settle once and for all the identity of my elusive grandfather!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Finding Leopold -- But Did I? A Cautionary Tale

It’s been several months since my last post, about my elusive grandfather, Leopold Levy. I apologize for the delay which in many ways mirrors the difficulty and frustration I have experienced in trying to discover more about him. At one point I thought I had indeed found out who he was and where he came from, and then other information surfaced and now I’m once again unsure … This is why I call this a cautionary tale because so often we think we’ve found the records we need to round out our genealogical research and then something else comes along which throws a spanner in the works.

In my previous post I said that I had found an item in the Gleaner which set me on the trail. This was his death notice in the Gleaner of March 5, 1917. Up to this point I didn’t even know when he had died. All I had been told was that he died in Havana, Cuba. Well, even this was incorrect!

Leopold had died in Cuba all right, but in Santiago-de-Cuba, on the south coast of the island, west of Guantanamo, and nowhere near Havana, which is on the north coast. Santiago-de-Cuba would have been much closer to Jamaica for purposes of travel. The notice, which I assume was placed by his widow, Alice, indicated that he had been born in Strasbourg, Alsace, and that he was 69 years old. Based on this information, then, my next task was to search for the birth of a Leopold Levy in the birth indexes for Strasbourg. These records, fortunately, had been microfilmed by the LDS.  I assumed a birth date for Leopold of approximately 1848 and that is where I began.

I was to discover later that the name Leopold Levy is fairly common, but my search in the microfilm turned up just one that seemed the most likely … even though the birth date given was 5 December 1846. This Leopold Levy was the son of one Benjamin Levy and his wife, Marie Anne Bloch.

The record, of course, was in French, as follows:


La six Décembre, mil huit cent quarante-six, a dix heures ........ faisant fonctions de l’Etat civil de la ville de Strasbourg .... département du Bas-Rhin, est comparu BENJAMIN LEVY, age de quarante six ans, et profession de Commissionaire domicilie a Strasbourg, ... nous a présenté un enfant du sexe masculin, ne a Strasbourg, ne le cinq Décembre mil huit cent quarante six a onze heures du soir a Grand ‘ rue, No. 115.... fils de lui déclarant et de MARIE ANNE BLOCH, son Epouse. ... et a donné le prénom de Léopold.

According to the above Leopold’s father was one Benjamin Levy, age 46, a commissionaire living in Strasbourg at no. 115 Grand’ rue. Witnesses to the birth registration were Jacques Maas, commissionaire, and Jacques Hoffmann, garcon brasseur, both of Strasbourg. [A commissionaire is an agent of some sort and a garcon brasseur would have worked in a brewery].

I then went looking for a marriage record for Benjamin Levy and Marie Anne Bloch. I was hoping that there might be a further clue in the names of their parents which might tie them to Alice’s and Leopold’s children. So far, I had found no such naming patterns. I did find a marriage record for them as follows:


Le Onzième jour du mois d’Octobre de l’an 1842, à 10 heures du matin Acte de mariage de Benjamin LEVY, majeur d’ans, né en légitime mariage le 20 floréal an 8, à Strasbourg, domicilié à Strasbourg Profession commissionnaire, veuf de Barbe STÜFFEL, décédée en cette ville le 2 février 1840, Fils de feu Juda LEVY, colporteur, décédé en cette ville le 19 septembre 1826, et de feu Agathe MAYER, décédée en cette ville le 23 mai 1822, Et de Marie Anne BLOCH, majeure d’ans, née en légitime mariage, le 15 décembre 18 06, à Matzenheim (Bas-Rhin), domiciliée à Mülhausen (Haut-Rhin), fille de feu Simon BLOCH, chaudronnier, décédé à Matzenheim le 5 mars 1820, et de feue Rosine DREYFUSS, décédée à Matzenheim le 19 mai 1810.

One thing I’ll say for French records … they are indeed comprehensive! The above record told me that Benjamin Levy had been previously married to Barbe Stuffel, who had died 2 February 1840, that he was the son of Juda Levy, a peddler, who had died 19 September 1826, and his wife, Agathe Mayer, who had died 23 May 1822. Benjamin married Anne Marie Bloch 11 October 1842, and she was the legitimate child of Simon Bloch, a tinker, and his wife, Rosine Dreyfuss.

Assuming all this was indeed correct it really didn’t give me any clue as to how Leopold got to the Caribbean. His origins appeared to be humble, yet I had been told that my grandfather could speak about seven or eight languages.  He would have spoken French and probably German or Yiddish, and he obviously spoke English and must have been able to converse in Spanish as he spent time in Colon, Panama and Cuba. As I mentioned in my previous post, the family claimed he was an oculist, though I never found that term applied to him. He was, according to the records I found, a book-keeper, a merchant, a clerk … but still an educated man. This didn’t seem to fit with the humble background I had found. What I really needed, of course, was to see his marriage record, which hopefully would give his father’s name. As for how he got to the West Indies … again I was unable to find any record through Ancestry for a passport issued to him.  So, the question remained … did I have the right Leopold Levy? As I said at the beginning … this is a cautionary tale and in my next post you will see why.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Looking for Leopold: My Search for my Elusive Grandfather

Back in November and December 2007 I wrote about my research into my Levy family, specifically my attempts to find out more about my elusive grandfather, Leopold Levy. In those posts I wrote of what little I knew of him -- the story that he came from Alsace, was proficient in seven languages and had supposedly married my grandmother, Alice Rodrigues Da Costa, in Haiti. I also described how I found out that the marriage had actually taken place in Colon, Panama, that they lived in Kingston where their seven children were born, how three of those children died in childhood and that the family had moved around, living at various addresses in Kingston. Later on, in 2009, I wrote about my grandmother, Alice Rodrigues Da Costa, but somehow I never returned to Leopold. It’s time for me to go back to my paternal grandfather and what little more I’ve been able to find out about him.

A few years ago I made contact with a cousin in the United States. My cousin, Cheryl, is the granddaughter of my Aunt Essie, my father’s sister. Although my mother did keep in touch with Essie and her daughter-in-law, Gloria, Cheryl’s mother, the family was never close, though I do recall that Essie would send us a box of Whitman’s Sampler chocolates at Christmas. Cheryl and I corresponded several times by good old snail mail, and she sent me a number of photographs which she had found in her grandmother’s possession. Most were not identified, but I am pretty sure that a couple of them were of my grandfather, Leopold, and of his wife, Alice. Here is the photo which I believe to be of Leopold:
Of course, I have no proof that it is him, but I like to think that it is. Also in the photos I received was this one, which I am quite sure is of Alice and two of her children, my father, Michael and his sister, Essie.
I see the resemblance to my father in the eyes of the little boy, but I’m even more sure of the little girl, especially when I compare her face to the one in this photo of my Aunt Essie:

It’s always been one of my regrets that I never knew either of my grandfathers, both being so much older and dying long before I came on the scene. Ironically, I have no photograph of my grandfather, William Dey Smedmore, but I certainly knew quite a bit about him, thanks to my mother and her siblings. My grandfather, Leopold, was a mystery. He was from Alsace, or as the family called it, Alsace-Lorraine, that unfortunate part of Europe between France and Germany which seemed to bounce back and forth between the two countries. I knew nothing of how he came to be in the West Indies, or how he met my grandmother. I knew that they had married in Colon in 1886, barely two months before the birth of their eldest child. I knew this because of a notice in the Gleaner which had been pointed out to me by Madeleine Mitchell who had come across it while extracting information from the microfilm of the Gleaner. Once the Gleaner went on line I was able to find the notice myself.
So now I knew exactly where they were married, but more questions arose. Where did they meet?  Was it in Jamaica? Did Alice go to Colon to get Leopold to marry her?  I wondered if Alice’s pregnancy had become a scandal in Kingston and that marriage was the only option. The notice in the Gleaner might well have helped to stop some of the gossip. Again, who knows? Leopold was Jewish, Alice was Catholic, and marriage in a church must have been out of the question, hence they were married by the registrar. Unfortunately I have been unable to find a record of the marriage. At that time Panama would have been a colony of Colombia and I assume records of civil registration for Panama in the 19th century must be somewhere in Colombia, but I have not been able to discover how to access them.

From what little information I could glean about my grandfather it appeared that he was a traveller of sorts. According to the family story, he was an optometrist, and I found the same information in my father’s entry in the Jamaica Who’s Who of 1941-46, keeping in  mind, of course, that he would have given that information
However, I never found any evidence to support this. On the various records of birth and death for his children, I found Leopold’s occupation variously described as “merchant”, “book clerk”, “accountant”, “book-keeper”, and “clerk” – no mention whatsoever of “optometrist”.  He married Alice in Colon in 1886, was still there when Daisy, the eldest child, was born. He was in Kingston for the birth of his second child, Lucien, but was listed as being in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, when Essie was born in 1891. He was back in Kingston for the birth of Gustave in 1894, and I have no idea where he was for the births of Leo and Joe in 1895 and 1900 respectively, as he was not the informant for either event.  As I mentioned before in an earlier post, the family seems to have moved from one address to another in Kingston; in fact, they lived in seven different places in the span of fourteen years between 1886 and 1900.  

Apart from the above the only other tangible record I had for Leopold was his signature on two documents – the birth of his son, Lucien in 1887:
and as a witness at the marriage in 1907 of his wife’s niece, Naomi Da Costa, to Gabriel Oppenheim Alexander.
So at least I knew that he was in Jamaica in 1907, but that was all.  When did he die and where, and was it possible to find out when and where he had been born? In my next post I’ll write about the discoveries I did make as a result of finding a notice of Leopold’s death in the Gleaner.

Arras Memorial

Arras Memorial

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore
My uncle Victor