The Michael Nevins Mystery: Part 2

NevinsTreeSo, I found out that my great-great grandpa didn’t have some other family out there, and in fact had died of TB at the age of 28, leaving a young wife and two-year-old daughter behind. I wanted to know where he came from though. Now that I had his death certificate,  I knew his parents names. Michael J. Nevins and Ann J. Conlon. All three of their birthplaces were England in this document.

The next piece of the puzzle lay in England. I dug up an 1881 UK Census from Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire, England. Michael Sr., Ann, a four-year-old daughter Mary and a two-year-old son- Michael. I learned that Michael Sr., 27 at the time, was originally from Ireland.

1881 UK Census in Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire, England (Cropped)

1881 UK Census in Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire, England (Cropped)

Around three years later the growing family must have decided to try for a better life in America, because I got my hands on (so to speak) a passenger list for the S.S. Borderer sailing from Liverpool to Boston on September 24, 1884.

S.S. Borderer Passenger List (Cropped) Sept. 24, 1884

S.S. Borderer Passenger List (Cropped) Sept. 24, 1884

The only strange thing is how off the children’s ages were compared to the next documents I found that were consistent with themselves (US censuses, marriage records, birth records of their children once in the US). There are so many errors and inconsistencies within these documents- I mean, let’s think about it, even in 2013 with all of our technology all of us have had a company, organization or the government spell our name wrong, or get our birthdate wrong somehow. So I’m giving the steward, this John H. Hill that wrote the manifest in 1884, a break. By the way, dude, you spelled their last name wrong, too. It’s Nevins, not Naven.

They arrive in Boston and find a place to call home in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Lawrence was known as Immigrant City, so naturally they would have heard about it back in England and had a plan when they arrived. The woolen mills gave employment to hundreds of immigrants and the Nevins were no different. Michael Sr. was a Woolen Carpet Weaver back in Heckmondwike so this move made sense. The blasted 1890 US census was lost to a fire, so the best I have is what I learned about Michael and family in 1900. Michael Sr. was missing. Ann was a widow.


Walnut St., Lawrence, MA 1900 US Census (cropped)

So I had to back track again. This time I found Michael Sr.’s death certificate. Only 38, he died in 1891 of Apoplexy (a stroke is what I assume). At this point I always get bogged down with dates and names and occupations that I have to stop and remind myself of what was happening all around. What they may have been feeling. If they did come to America for a new start, there were certainly no shortage of rough times.

In 1889, Michael and Ann had their 7th child, Richard in January. Sadly he came down with Infant Cholera and died in June, only 6 months old.

The following year, 1890, they lost their 6 year old daughter, Ann, and Michael Sr.’s father, Anthony. The incredibly sad thing I can’t wrap my head around is that Ann died of Marasmus. Which is essentially malnutrition. It was common for infants and the elderly to have this as their cause of death at the turn of the 20th century, but a 6 year old? I don’t know what kind of conditions they lived in, or what access to food they had, but I felt so sad to read that about their little girl, my great-great grandfather’s young sister. Once I learned more about what cholera was, I was convinced that their living conditions could have been poor enough to have contaminated drinking water, not much food and obviously crowded spaces. I found a couple of excerpts from “The Journal of Infectious Diseases” from 1910 and it sheds light on the conditions in Lawrence, Mass. and surrounding areas during the 1880s and 90s. Apparently they saw a drop in disease related deaths after the area began a water purification program. Huh.

Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 11.47.51 PM

And as I read, I saw that Cholera was sometimes brought on because people were mixing raw river water with milk and giving it to their infants. Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 11.49.28 PM

Two children gone in a year’s time and the patriarch from Ireland. Then in 1891, Michael Sr. dies. Now a single mother, Ann raised the rest of the children on her own- Sarah,16, Mary,13, Michael Jr.,11, Catherine,9, and 6 year old Patrick. As they get older, the oldest ones go off and marry and start their own families-  but even in those records I find a child of theirs here and there dies young because of malnutrition or illness. In 1900, Michael, Catherine and Patrick were still living with their mother but by May of 1905 Michael had married a fellow English immigrant named Ellen Taylor. Ellen came to the Methuen/Lawrence, Massachusetts area in 1898 on the S.S. New England at the age of 14 with her parents and sister, Maud. Nine months later, little Elizabeth Nevins arrives on February 23, 1906. Michael still worked as a carriage painter just like in the 1900 census. They married in 1905 (see below) and we all know what happens three years later. His younger brother Patrick would die from the same illness (TB) in 1910, only 25 years old. The same year Ellen gets remarried to Peter Beeley. They would spend the rest of their lives together.

Lastly, I came across Michael and Ellen’s marriage record, which further gives me more solid proof to back up all the other finds. Apparently he took a break in between his carriage painter profession to be a dairy man, because that’s what is listed as his occupation in their marriage record. Hmmm. So my great-grandma could really say her daddy was the milk-man? Well, carriage painter turned milk-man, turned carriage painter once more.


Michael Nevins and Ellen Taylor Marriage Record 1905

Sometime I want to gather up all these addresses I find on censuses and records and do more than try to find them on google maps. If the buildings are still standing (which many are not from the looks of them by way of satellite) I want to go there myself and look around, be a creep and take a stealthy picture or two. Unless I journey all the way there to find that the crowded tenement my immigrant ancestors fought hard to survive in is now a Sheetz or something. Rotating over-cooked hot dog, anyone?


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