Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Most Recent Unknown Ancestor

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Most Recent Unknown Ancestor

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This week Randy at Genea Musings asks us to write about our most recent unknown ancestor.  I didn’t even have to think about it.  It’s my Great Grandfather, Harry Kenneth Jackson, who is #14 on my Ahnentafel chart.

Harry, what can I say about Harry?  Almost nothing!  I know about as much about him as the day I started research almost 20 years ago.  His daugther, my Grandmother, told me he was one of 18 children.  He was born in Bristol, England 24 Jan 1871.  When his Father remarried after his Mother’s death, Harry stowed away aboard a ship.  He was alledged to be 9 years old.

He traveled the world for a few years.  He settled in port at San Francisco and there he stayed.  My Great Aunt added to the story by telling me he was married before he met my Great Grandmother and that he did something that prevented him from being a US citizen.

I don’t know if either of those stories are true.  All I know is that Harry Jackson was damn good at covering his trail.  The 1910 and 1920 census show the family in Oakland.  There are a smattering of city directory entries which show where he lived up until my Great Grandparents divorced around 1929.  He was an employee for Key System and the Ferry boats for most of his life.

And, then he vanishes until 1943 when he is given as the informant on his son, John Jackson’s, death certificate.  It’s quite possible he was in prison during that time.  During the divorce he was accused of trying to burn the house down so my Great Grandmother wouldn’t get it.

He died in Oakland in 1950.  His death certificate is full of blanks.  The informant is an unknown.  A neighbor, a landlady, a lover, who knows.

I have never researched anyone so dang blasted frustrating as Harry!  His documentation trail is almost none existent and what there is leaves no clues to his parentage.  I tried to locate my Great Grandparent’s divorce records but didn’t have any luck.  I tried a Freedom of Information Act request to see if there was a file on Harry since his daughter said he was prevented from earning citizenship.  The search came up empty.  The dummies married in San Francisco sometime between 1900 and 1906.  That means the marriage certificate poofed away during the earthquake and fire.

I did recently do some research online in Bristol, England and found a possible family in census records.  But, without a document linking them to a Harry Kenneth Jackson in California, I’ve got nothing.  Despite having a birth date, I have not been able to locate his birth certificate.

If I could find his prison records (if he did in fact go to prison for attempted arson), I might find a clue there.  Or, if I could locate an obituary in a British newspaper showing a connection with my family and Harry in Oakland, that would be most helpful as well.

For now, Mr. Jackson is big fat blank on my chart.  A name with a death date and a place of employment.  Maybe someday that elusive clue will come my way.  I’ll be waiting for it.  In the meantime, Harry Kenneth Jackson remains an unknown.

Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website,

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