Before I started genealogy, if I had had to take a guess about the origins of my mother’s family, I would have said maybe they arrived in Rhode Island in the mid 1800’s, from England. Research quickly showed me that was not true; many had been in Rhode Island and Massachusetts since the earliest settlements in the 1600’s. But for mom’s great grandparents Louis and Jessie (MacLeod) Murdock (the parents of my great-grandmother, Eva Louise Murdock Darling), their story actually does come close to the guess I had in mind.
Both Louis and Jessie experienced some form of adoption when they were young – in both cases, I suspect one parent was an actual parent, or closely related to an actual parent. I also suspect that Jessie left her Pictou, Nova Scotia family (my post about that HERE) and came to Rhode Island to be with relatives — Louis’ family. So I am researching Louis’ family BOTH for evidence of his origins, and for evidence of Jessie’s. Before I can tackle the Pictou questions, I am compiling all the details I can about their early years in Rhode Island.
I explored the family that adopted Louis Rufus Murdock in an earlier post. William and Eliza (Coghill) Murdock came to Rhode Island from New Glasgow, Pictou, Nova Scotia in the 1860’s. They had five daughters. After wife Eliza died, William married in 1865 Margaret “Maggie” Lawrence in Providence. The couple had one additional child in 1867, William Clark Murdock. Louis was in the household from the beginning.
I had glossed over Maggie’s family, the Lawrences, for several years because of the well-known “adoption” of Louis, known as a family story and also from his marriage license. I didn’t understand what my relationship to them should be, other than gratitude. But that all changed recently when I found Louis living in the Lawrence household in 1865, age 1, with Maggie, some siblings of hers, and her parents. The parents were clearly beyond the child producing years. Maggie didn’t marry William Murdock until the following October, obviously bringing the toddler with her.
I think Louis is either Maggie’s son by a mysterious first marriage, for which I have not yet found a marriage or divorce record (but it was mentioned on her marriage license when marrying William), or is the son of one of Maggie’s siblings. Being war time, if Maggie’s husband died, I don’t see why that would forever be referred to as “adoption”. It’s hard to picture Maggie voluntarily adopting a child when she was single. In fact I’m not sure if she would have had a legal right to do that. And I just don’t see the Lawrences taking in the neighborhood foundling — for one thing, the net worth of the Lawrences in the 1870 census was below that of the neighbors. Also, Louis became a machinist like his grandfather James Laurence … could that be nature, or nurture?
Here is the closest thing I have to proof: in the 1900 federal census, Maggie’s entry reports 2 children born, and two living. Her 1910 entry says one child born, and one living, however, I think son William Clark Murdock completed her 1910 entry, because the responder didn’t seem to know where Maggie’s parents had been born (something she would clearly have known). This seems like the only real evidence I have so far that Maggie considered herself to be Louis’ mother, but others didn’t. I actually feel that I might someday determine what the story was. For now, I am realizing that I am likely to be descended from the Lawrences.
So, I am only now researching my ggg-grandparents.
On America Street
Maggie’s parents were James Lawrence (1807-1882) and Ann Shortridge (1810-1897), both born in England. The first evidence I found for them was a R.I. state census record from their Providence home, taken in 1865:
I was surprised to see that the parents were born in England. I was even more surprised to see that the children were born in South Carolina, North Carolina, Connecticut, and Providence. What a road map to a family’s journey! At other times I have also seen Georgia, Maine and Virginia given as birth places for the children.
When I realized that parents James and Anna were born in England, I found it especially touching that my immigrant ancestors lived at 28 America Street, in Providence. Did it ever strike them as a symbol of the life they had made? This neighborhood is to the immediate west of downtown, between Atwells and Broadway. Over the years the Lawrences stayed in that neighborhood; and at the time of James’ death in 1882 their address was 38 America Street.
I visited the neighborhood. The area of 28 – 38 America Street was now a vacant lot. I believe the America Street School, built in 1905, was once in the spot, but apparently burned in the last decade or so, and the land has been leveled. Back in 1865, there would have been large factories in Providence, and no doubt James, a machinist, was employed nearby.
James Lawrence and Ann Shortridge had five children that I know about:
- Margaret A. “Maggie” Lawrence (1838-1921), married William Murdock in 1865 and then Jeremiah Johnson Knight in 1896. Clearly she was born in the south, although I’m not sure in which state. She may have had a first husband prior to these two.
- John Lawrence (1840 – ). I can’t seem to trace him after the 1860 census.
- William J Lawrence (1845-1865). Sadly, young William died of Typhoid fever in Providence at age 20.
- Elizabeth Jane Lawrence (1849-1937), married John Thayer Scott, a house painter, in 1867. “Lizzie” and John Scott were living with her parents in 1870. They had several children in Providence.
- Ella J. Lawrence (1852-1923) married machinist Sidney Goldsworthy Stamp in 1870, after he had been a boarder in her parents’ home. They had at least two children, Sidney and Ella (who died at age 7). There is evidence that Ella ended up at the Rhode Island State Hospital for the Insane for many years.
I have found nothing yet about James Lawrence’s origins in England.
At the NEHGS Library
In the midst of this, I traveled to Boston on a bus trip with some Rhode Island Genealogical Society members. I spent the day at the New England Historic Genealogical Society Library on Newbury Street.
After getting through some other research I turned my attention to the Lawrences. I knew from various death records I had for the children that Ann Lawrence’s maiden name was Shortridge. I had seen on Ancestry.com in a transcription of some marriage records from Dorchester, Massachusetts (today a section of Boston) that James Lawrence married Ann Shortriggs on May 16, 1835. That date would correspond reasonably with the birth of Maggie in 1838. But Shortriggs seemed like a bit more than a normal spelling variation of Shortridge, and finding them in Boston would add yet one more stop to their dizzying criss-cross years on the east coast. I thought I would like to see the original records from Dorchester, in case there was more information.
I approached librarian and genealogist Marie Daly with my question about Dorchester records, possibly on microfilm. There were no other versions available, but as Marie asked questions about the marriage she became curious about the immigration of the couple, and in particular, of Ann Shortriggs and her family. Let me point out several smart strategies that she used:
- she took the spelling “Shortriggs” seriously. I had sort of dismissed it because I had seen “Shortridge” so many more times. But thinking about it, Shortridge was used by the children later, when recording their own life events. The Dorchester marriage record was more contemporary to the arrival from England.
- She knew offhand that Shortridge and Shortriggs do not index the same in a Soundex indexing system, so we should avoid Soundex in any search we were using (she opted for phonetic matches). That’s not something I think about enough.
- When searching in Ancestry, she used the “Match all terms exactly” box and then entered very limited search criteria. When you are searching in your own tree the search screen doesn’t normally come up that way, so I don’t try that nearly enough.
- She used “Shortr*” to search for the last name, but when that failed us (Ancestry indexing can be unpredictable) she went to a first name + ship name search (since by that time we knew the name of the ship), using the Immigration & Travel / Passenger Lists category. She may have added the year to that search. It worked. Ancestry.com had it indexed as “John Shorterrgs”.
- She paid attention to the name of the minister, hoping it could lead to further church records. I am still researching that.
She managed to find the original passenger list on the “Hibernia” which sailed from Liverpool (according to the abstract on the prior page), arriving in New York January 3, 1832, in the New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 collection on Ancestry.com (Roll M237, 1820-1897, Roll 015, sheet 768 of 897).
John Shortriggs was listed as a Labourer, belonging to Great Britain, intending to inhabit the United States. Since I had seen on her death record that Ann’s parents were John and Margaret, this seemed likely to be her family.
Marie Daly got curious about their origins in England and managed to find the marriage license as well as the birth records for the Shortriggs children in Irthington, Rockcliffe and Stanwix, near Carlisle, Cumberland, England. It’s in the north, not that far from Gretna Green, Scotland.
Here is what I know about the Shortridges (Shortriggs) so far. John Shortriggs married Margaret Balmour on May 16, 1807 in Saint Mary, Carlisle, Cumberland, England. In 1832 they came to New York on the Hibernia, from Liverpool, with their six children. Daughter Ann married in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1835 so perhaps they were living there, perhaps not. In 1841 Margaret was a widow, living on Field Street (?) in Providence. In 1865, widow Margaret was living with daughter Mary.
- Mary, birth details unknown, married William Bamford. According to the 1850 federal census record, their children were born in England, South Carolina, and Maine. William was working as a mule spinner at that time. By 1865, he and Mary were running a saloon at 92 Point Street in Providence. Mary died in 1883.
- William, born 1808 in Rockcliffe, Cumberland, England, was not on the list (above) on the journey to New York in 1832. I know nothing further.
- Ann (1810 – 1897), born 1810 in Irthington, Cumberland, England, married James Lawrence in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1835. Their children were born in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Connecticut, and they lived in Providence by 1860. James was a machinist.
- Jane, born 1813 in Irthington, Cumberland, England, was on the list for the 1832 trip to New York. I have nothing further.
- Margaret, born 1815 in Irthington, married William Hardman, machinist, in 1845, in Providence. There is a 14 year old Hardman child in the household, as well as 3 small children, in 1850 so possibly William had been married previously. She died in 1892 in Rhode Island.
- John, born 1817 in Stanwix, Cumberland, England, came on the ship with the others to New York. I have not been able to distinguish the various John Shortriggs records yet to know what happened to John, but I do not believe he settled in Rhode Island.
- Elizabeth, born 1822 in Irthington, married Archibald McMillan, a Scottish cotton mill worker, in 1844 in Providence. He later became a painter. They had daughters who in turn worked in the cotton mills. Elizabeth died in 1882.
I am hoping, eventually, to find that siblings Mary and Ann were near each other in the various states where their children were born in the 1840’s-50’s. So far, I am having trouble retracing those moves.
Previously, my only immigrant ancestors were those trekking back and forth between Nova Scotia and New England, an activity that, in terms of records, brought a big yawn from the immigration authorities and a “yea, it’s time for my lunch anyway.” So prior to my day at the NEHGS, I don’t think I really saw anything like that passenger list and the careful birth records to match. A quick search has not turned up naturalization records yet, but they may exist and I will keep trying. At last, I could walk into the National Archives with a real mission. Maybe someday.
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