You may have seen me refer to what a pain in the butt my great grandfather, Harry Kenneth Jackson, has been to research in my article “Harry Jackson, I Need To Talk To You“. I’ve been trying to figure out who his parents were and where he was from for decades without any luck. Spots have remained empty on my genealogy chart for over 30 years. I finally burst through this brick wall with a gentle push from a friend and I’m going to show you how I did it.
The Myth And The Man
According to his daughters, Harry had quite a story. He came from a large family of 16 or 17 siblings. His mother died when he was 9. His father remarried right after.
Harry couldn’t fathom his stepmother. So, one day he just walked away and never looked back. He stowed away on a ship, then spent the next couple of years as a sailor traveling the world.
At some point, he washed ashore in San Francisco, California. And, he never looked back.
When I started my family tree, I knew what I thought was a lot about my great grandfather. He was Harry Kenneth Jackson. He was born in Bristol, England, 24th of January 1871 (or anywhere from 1869 to 1872). He married Marguerite Jones in San Francisco in 1904.
He was a marine fireman and worked the ferry boats from Oakland to San Francisco. He was employed by Key System for many years.
I can follow Harry all the way to the day he dies. But, I couldn’t find anything on him before 1904.
How do you prove a man’s story when there are no records to do so? Even if the records existed, they were most likely destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire.
A Gentle Push From A Friend And I’m Lost In DNA Matches
I had mentioned to my genealogy friend, Melinda, that I was stuck on my great grandfather. She insisted this mystery could be solved and gave me some tips on how to use my DNA matches to figure out who Harry’s people were.
I don’t have a whole lot of DNA matches at AncestryDNA on this side of my family. But, because some of my Jones and Kelly cousins have tested, I could identify matches who matched my Jackson cousins and no one else.
I had a short list. Maybe 15 people to work with. Only about 8 had trees. But, that’s where I started.
Building Out The Trees Of My Matches
I started to input the family trees of these matches into my own family tree. I could have created separate trees, but this seemed like a hassle once I found my connection. I’d have to reinput everyone.
Instead, I added the match as a child of myself, then unlinked them. In this way, I could created an independent tree within my tree.
After inputting about 3 trees, it became clear who my England ancestors were: Arthur William Jobson and Susanna Bellars married in West Ham in 1863. But, where did they fit? Neither was a Jackson. Maybe they belonged to Harry’s mother’s side.
I continued to input these matches and found that many of them were related to this couple in one way or another. Now, I had to figure out what the connection was to me.
I am used to working from newest generation to oldest. Working from a living person to a section of their tree is challenging. But, it can be done if the records exist and with a little luck.
Reaching Out To Matches Is Beneficial
A year or so ago, I had identified a few matches that I thought belonged to Harry. I wrote them, got a couple responses back, but nothing fit. I reached out again to two of them with sizable trees to see if they had Jobsons and if they might hold the missing puzzle piece.
One of these matches, Sally, wrote me back very eager to help. She combed over her tree and found a candidate for my missing great grandfather: Ernest Jobson, son of Arthur and Susanna.
Just like my Harry, Ernest disappeared as a child. He never appears in the records after about the age of 10.
Comparing data and matches, we felt we had the right guy. The DNA matches were lining up behind this theory. Ernest Jobson must be Harry Jackson.
That Documents That Proves It
I didn’t really expect to find a piece of paper that said “Harry Jackson changed his name to Ernest Jobson”. If it existed, I would have found it already.
On a whim, I decided to see if there was an Ernest Jobson living in California. Boy, did my mouth drop to the ground when I found him in the 1900 census in San Francisco. Ernest Jobson, a sailor, was boarding with another family.
Could this be him? It was very likely. Jobson was incredibly uncommon in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1900. Maybe three families. But, like most genealogists I needed that bit of final proof. It came in the form of city directories.
Since I had the census, I had his address. I started to follow him in the city directories. And, there it was one year a marine fireman named Ernest Jobson lives at the 556B Folsom Street and the next year it is Harry Jackson.
This is what Ernest Jobson’s entry looks like in the 1900 San Francisco City Directory:
This is what Harry Jackson’s entry looks like in 1901:
My great grandfather changed his name between 1900 and 1901.
Ernest Jobson was Harry Jackson!
Did My Great Grandmother Know?
Marguerite Jones married Harry Jackson in 1904, three years after he changed his identity. They were married about 22 years before divorcing. After, she only referred to him as “That Damn Jackson”.
Since learning this story, I’ve often wondered. Did Marguerite know she was living with a fraud? Did she know that the man she married was not who he said he was? Did she know that he had taken on a new name only a short time before he met her?
I know that by the early 1920s their relationship was fracturing. I remember one story about how Marguerite inherited some money when her father died in 1923. Instead of giving it to her husband, she defiantly bought herself a new outfit.
I know that Harry burned bridges more than once. During the divorce he did something that caused a rift with his daughters that was never mended. I wrote about it in “What Harry Jackson Did To Become Estranged From His Daughters.”
I will never know if Marguerite knew. Who knows? Maybe she learned his secret and that’s what ended their marriage. However, my grandma nor her sister never alluded to this fact. They never said their father was known as Harry and Ernest.
All I know is Ernest’s secret is out now. Given the loss of records in San Francisco, I’ll probably never have an answer as to why he changed his name. There is more to Ernest’s story and that will be reserved for another day.
2 thoughts on “How I Knocked Down My Longest Standing Genealogy Brick Wall: DNA, Collaboration, Documents, And Luck”
If you haven’t already found Ernest’s birth registration, the following looks like it may be it: Jobson, Ernest Jones; mother’s maiden name: Bellears; GRO ref: 1870, Jan-Feb-Mar quarter, West Ham, vol 4A, p. 54. You can order a copy at http://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/certificates/login.asp.
Thank you Melody for sharing this story. Like you I have been stuck trying to determine the parents of my great grandfather. And, like you, I have about 14 DNA matches on Ancestry.com to work with. I have made more mirror trees than I know what to do with, but have never used your approach to connecting them to yourself and then unlinking them. I can’t thank you enough for giving me another way to approach this brick wall of mine.
I follow your posts mainly for the stories about your Azorean roots. Mine are plentiful in the Bay Area, too. But here you have given me a great idea for working my tangled Spanish roots.