Week 1 – Start

Welcome to my first blog post! I started this blog to participate in Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. By participating, I’ll receive weekly prompts  with keywords to inspire me to write about a particular ancestor. This week’s prompt is, ‘Start’. There are no rigid rules, and you can interpret the prompts however you like. If you’d like to join in on the fun, you can sign up here.

I’ve always been interested in knowing more about my ancestors, but with little info to go on, didn’t think I ever would. My dad was adopted and my mom’s paternal side was a bit of a mystery, as my grandfather was raised by foster parents. When my dad passed away in 2011, I was tasked with settling his estate. One of the surprises I discovered was that he owned a share in a piece of property he had inherited from his adopted father. I was curious to see how my grandfather was related to the woman he inherited it from and I signed up for a free trial of a genealogy website. I quickly found what I was looking for, and, while I had the free trial, decided to look up Mom’s family. I was hooked on genealogy from that moment on!

One of the first records I found was my maternal 2nd great grandfather’s naturalization record.
I found myself staring at his signature on the document that renounced his allegiance to Queen Victoria. Wow! James Herbert Marsden was born 21 September, 1872 in Briggs Fold, Turton, Bolton, Lancashire, England to Alfred Marsden and Anne Marsden (nee Whittle). Alfred died in February of 1883 at the age of 33 when James was just 10 years old. Anne remarried and marriage records show she married her second husband in the first quarter of 1889.

Family lore has it that James did not get along with his step-father. The fact that his sister Annie, daughter of Anne and Alfred, was enumerated with Anne’s brother Robert and his family on the 1891 census seems to support this by suggesting Anne’s children did not have a relationship with their stepfather. In 1891, Anne was living 12 hours away from her daughter with her new husband and stepchildren. On 3 May, 1890, 17 year old James boarded the ship, Servia, in Liverpool, England. The ship, bound for New York,  had a total of 1050 passengers and crew. While the ship had provisions for 32 days, they arrived in New York 9 days later on 12 May, 1890. I can’t imagine being at sea for 9 days. I wonder if James suffered from seasickness like his great great grandaughter does.

James settled in Rhode Island and married Rose McKenna. Rose was born in Rhode Island to Irish immigrants. To parents born during the Famine, it was unthinkable that their daughter would marry an Englishman, and family legend has it that Rose was disowned by her family. The legend goes on to say that James ran into his mother-in-law in Providence one day, and asked her to return home with him to meet her grandchild. She refused, and he picked her up and carried her to his home. I hope this story is true; I like to picture her slung across his shoulder like a sack of potatoes!

James and Rose settled in Providence and had 12 children. The family moved to the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston in April of 1912. My great grandmother was 11 at the time of the move, and always remembered that the day after they arrived in Boston, her father read about the sinking of the Titanic in the newspaper. My great grandmother’s former classmate had been on the ship and, though his body was never identified, was presumed dead. The family remained in Boston until at least September of 1917 when the last of the children was born. The 1919 Providence City Directory lists James and 2 of his children. The Directory for 1918 does not have any of the Marsden family in Providence, so it is likely they returned during the time between the 1918 and 1919 directories being compiled.

Back home in England, James had worked as a grocer. The new country brought a new career in the silver industry. Prior to the move to Boston, he worked for Gorham Silver. Census records and City Directories list ‘silver polisher’ as his occupation. My aunt recalls hearing that her great grandfather was credited with inventing a silver polish for Gorham Silver. When he died in 1963 at the age of 91, his obituary stated he had retired a silver finisher for Tilden Thurber 21 years before.


My mother paints a clear picture of her great grandfather sitting in her grandmother’s home, smoking his pipe and reading the newspaper. He never lost his English accent. On occasion, he would give a few coins to one of his great grandchildren and ask that they buy him a paper. My mother was always glad to be asked, as there was always a little change left over for penny candy! Though he died before I was born, through my research and the memories of my mom and aunt, I feel I got the chance to know my 2nd great grandfather who got me started with this genealogy addiction.

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