A Blank Research Plan for Harry Kenneth Jackson

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

Death Certificate

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]


SNGF: 1940 Census Hunt

Randy set out an Easter Egg (or Ancestor) hunt for us.  Pick an ancestor and find them in the 1940 census using Steve Morse’s address locating utility.

I’ve already been using the utility.  I’ve been through 6 or 8 different enumeration district in Hawaii and California.  It really pays when your people stick to the same communities for 40-50 years.

I decided to pick someone more difficult to locate at any time:  Harry Kenneth Jackson.  He was my great grandfather and a regular Houdini.  I never did find him in the 1930 census.  Beyond a couple earlier census records, city directories, and an obituary, Harry didn’t leave much else behind.

I suspect there were some factors to his invisibility.  His daughter told me Harry was refused US citizenship.  So, I have to assume he was in the US illegally.  He did marry a US citizen (my great grandmother) but they divorced around 1928, a very messy divorce where he tried to burn the family home down.  Arson does get between family members.  As far as I know, their son was the only one who kept contact with Harry after that point (the son was on the outs too, but that’s a story for another day).

So off I went to find Harry on Shafter Avenue in Oakland, CA.  I located the possible EDs 61-3 and 61-4.  Shafter is very long so even with the cross streets I couldn’t narrow it down to just one.  I started with 61-4 but Shafter only appeared 3 times.  61-3 was closer to what I wanted.  I found Shafter several times, but it jumped from the 4000s over the other end of 5000.

Since the numbers went from high to low, I decided to check out 61-2 (though it was not listed in the search results from the utility).  Again, I found entries for Shafter.  Harry lived at 5102.  I started to see low 5000s.  I got closer and closer and…it jumped right over Harry’s house number!  There are 5100, 5101, 5103, 5104…No 5102.  I checked names just in case the number was written wrong.

I will wait until the indexes are available.  It’s possible Harry moved between the time the city directory was written and the census was taken.  It’s possible I have the wrong house number.

Once again, Harry Kenneth Jackson has foiled me!


Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: Most Recent Unknown Ancestor

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.