Now that I know who my great grandfather really is, I’m curious how much the story he invented compares to his real life story. You may know that after 30 years of research I learned that my great grandfather was living in the United States under an alias. Harry Kenneth Jackson was a made up name. His real name was Ernest Jobson.
He weaved quite a tale of his life before San Francisco that he told to his children. Let’s see how close it was to reality.
Before we move on, you might like to read how I broke down this brick wall using DNA, documents, and the support of a friend.
This Is What I Was Told About Harry
I was able to interview both my grandmother and great aunt about their father. Their recollections were very similar.
- Harry was born on the 24th of January anywhere from 1868 to 1872 in Bristol, England.
- Harry was from a big family. He had 16-18 siblings depending on who was telling it.
- Harry’s mother died when he was 9 or 10.
- Harry’s father remarried almost immediately after her death.
- Harry hated his stepmother, so one day he just up and left.
- Harry stowed away on a ship, worked as a cabin boy, and spent a couple of years as a sailor. He traveled the world 7 times.
- Around 1900, he came to San Francisco. He walked off that ship and never looked back.
- He was married once before he met my great grandmother.
- He could not become a US citizen.
Here’s What I Learned About Ernest
Although not exactly the same, there are striking similarities between the stories and the truth.
- Ernest was born on the 24 of January in 1871 in Canning Town, London, England.
- Ernest had 4 siblings…not even close to 16.
- Ernest’s mother died when he was 10.
- His father remarried that same year.
- After their marriage in 1881, there is no more mention of Ernest in records.
- He was listed in records as a sailor and marine fireman.
- He arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area around 1887.
- He was married in 1893 to Marian Goudie. The couple lived in Oakland, but divorced within 2-3 years.
- Ernest moved to San Francisco in 1897.
- Ernest Jobson changed his name to Harry Jackson in between 1900 and 1901 according to the city directory entries.
The Legend Holds Up Under Scrutiny
There are striking similarities between the facts we know about Ernest Jobson and the things Harry Jackson told his children. He was from England, his mother died when he was young, and his father remarried right away. There’s about 10 siblings missing, though we will forgive him for the embellishment.
He was a sailor, though I cannot confirm he traveled the world 7 times. Seems like a lot of times for someone who would have only been at sea about 6 years.
He was in California much earlier than his daughter’s thought. But, he was married before he met their mother just like my great aunt said.
So, Why Couldn’t He Become A Citizen?
I’ve spent a lot of time over the years trying to figure this one out. Did he commit a crime, kill someone, steal someone’s identity?
That last one is closest to the truth. At this point, I don’t know why Ernest changed his name. I’ll guarantee that it wasn’t a legal name change though.
And, that right there answers my question. Harry Jackson could not apply for citizenship because once he changed his name he could not prove who he was. Before 1901, Harry Jackson did not exist.
Or, it could be he was charged with attempted arson. He tried to burn down their house when my great grandmother filed for divorce in the mid-1920s.
But, I am going with the name change. He was a free man with a clean record and no trail in 1901. Free from what, I do not know.
I’d say that my grandma and her sister got it pretty close. Not all the facts were right, but many of them were. That made proving Ernest is Harry a whole lot easier. It is interesting he chose to keep so many details of his former life in his narrative.
Do you have an ancestor who changed their name or their identity? Tell us about it in the comments!
This post was written for the Curious prompt in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge.