As I work through these Genealympics challenges, I was faced with end of the line ancestor, Harry Kenneth Jackson. Harry Kenneth Jackson is a brick wall covered in concrete and topped with crazy glue–and maybe wrapped with duct tape. Not only did Harry leave no clues of his parentage or siblings, he had the audacity to arrive on San Francisco’s shores before the 1906 earthquake and fire.
I thought that instead of doing a research plan, I’d throw it out to the genealogy community to see what ideas you might come up with. How would you research Harry Kenneth Jackson.
What I know about Harry
Most of what I’ve learned about Harry came from his daughter, Julie, and my Grandmother. My Grandma told somewhat rosey stories about her father, while her sister was more realistic. It wasn’t until I began researching that I learned that Harry and my great grandmother were divorced…a little fact my Grandma neglected to tell me.
Harry was born into a large family in Bristol, England on or about 24 Jan 1871. His parents are unknown. I was told that when Harry was around 11 years old, his father remarried to someone he hated. He skipped town and stowed away on a ship. A familiar story, isn’t it?
My Grandma told me he sailed the world 7 times ending up in San Francisco, CA in the 1890s. Julie told me that he married and divorced before he met my great grandmother. Some census records point to an immigration year of 1898. I have not found him in the 1900 census.
My earliest real proof of Harry is the marriage licence entry in the San Francisco Call newspaper dated 8 Mar 1904, San Francisco, CA. This is his marriage to my great grandmother, Marguerite Mary Jones.
From there the record keeping gets a bit better. I have located Harry in several city directories starting with 1908 in San Francisco, and then, 1911 in Oakland, CA. He stayed in Oakland the rest of his life.
Harry worked for the Key Systems. In 1908 he was a marine fireman for ferry boat. My Grandmother told me that when she was a child he worked on the ferry boats themselves. There is a story about how my Grandma was responsible for the release of a couple buckets of frogs on a ferry boat around 1917, but that’s a story for another day. In 1918 he was an oiler for Key Systems. In 1920, he was a steamship laborer. In 1939, he was a fireman for Key Systems. I believe all these positions may have been with Key Systems which if I understand it correctly operated ferrboats and trolleys in the San Francisco Bay Area. It coincides with what family has said.
I have found Harry in the 1910, 1920, and 1940 censuses. 1910 in San Francisco. 1920 and 1940 in Oakland. The gap in 1930 is represented by his divorce from Marguerite. Using city directories and the 1930 census, the divorce occured sometime between 1925 and 1930. The 1930 city directory shows Harry living on 10th Avenue in Oakland, though he may have been gone from this address by the time the census was done.
I found Harry on Shafter Avenue in Oakland in 1940. I went back to 1930 to see if Shafter Avenue or 10th Avenue matched anything, but came up empty. There may be a good reason he is not listed. He might be in jail. During the divorce proceedings, things got messy. Harry got it in his head that if he couldn’t have the house on 25th Avenue in Oakland, no one could. He attempted to burn it down even though his wife and two youngest daughters were still living there. Since I haven’t found the divorce records, I am not sure whether he was formally charged.
Harry lived alone after the divorce. He died in Oakland on 13 Jul 1950. His death certificate was filled out by a neighbor or his landlady. The information provides no clues. It does say he was born in Liverpool, England. I’m reluctant to take this as fact since it conflicts with the family’s information.
The only other information I have is that Harry might have been a religious man, though he might not have had ascribed to the same religion as his wife. Marguerite was Catholic, but according to my Mom, my Grandmother and her sisters were not. So, it may be that they were raised under Harry’s faith.
Harry was buried at Mt. View Cemetery in Oakland, CA. I’m not sure if the choice of cemetery gives any clues. The website doesn’t give any details as to what religion sect it might be connected to. It is not one of the two Catholic cemeteries like the rest of the family. I know of another person buried there who was a Seventh Day Adventist.
The reason I conclude he was religious is because of a story my Grandmother told me. His daughter, Viola, was left handed. She came home from school one day with bruises on her left hand. When Harry and Marguerite inquired about it, she told them that the teacher had hit her several times with a yard stick to make her write with the correct hand. Harry was furious. He marched down to the school the next day and told the teacher that his daughter was fine the way God made her and that teacher better not interfere anymore. It’s a little difficult to think of him as religious considering that about 10 years later he attempted arson.
There is one clue that I nearly forgot. Julie told me that Harry had applied for citizenship but was denied. If this is true, I wonder what went on in his past that prevented him from gaining citizenship?
If only he had arrived in San Francisco in 1907 after the earthquake and fire. I think I would be telling a different story!
So, if Harry Kenneth Jackson was your brick wall ancestor, how would you research him? He is well established from 1904 to 1950 when he died. How would you find him prior to 1904 when many of the records for San Francisco were destroyed?
Wrap up of records I have
Tombstone information at Mt. View Cemetery
1910, 1920, and 1940 census
Various city directory entries from 1904-1950
Birth certificate of daughter, Anna, in 1912
Marriage license entry in the SF Call Newspaper, 1904
[I won’t give myself credit for this research plan since I didn’t really come up with one…LOL]
Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website, yourislandroutes.com