AlisonSarrellMg1863Today marks the 142nd Anniversary of the death of my 4th Great Grand Uncle, a strange, and interesting, figure in history whom I only learned about by accident.

Charles Wright Parker Alison was the second son of Captain Harry and Frances (Sinclair) Alison and the brother of my 4th Great Grandmother Jane (Alison) Massy. Charles was born in 1811 (possibly on St. Vincent in the West Indies) and raised around the world while his father served as a Paymaster for the 90th Regiment Light Infantry (the Perthshire Volunteers). His youngest brother in a memoir credits Charles as being “the only one of the family that left his mark in the world.” Where his older brothers followed their father into the military, Charles took another route to service. He instead joined the Foreign Service and had a highly successful if eccentric career as an envoy for the British Empire.

Charles early career included stints in Albania, Egypt, Syria, Samos, Serbia, Bosnia, and Wallachia. On 20 Feb 1857 he was appointed Oriental Secretary at Constantinople and in December was promoted to Secretary of her Majesty’s Embassy there. In 1858 Queen Victoria appointed him Her Majesty’s Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Shah of Persia and in 1860 he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Bath.

After likely meeting while he served in Constantinople, Charles married Eliza (Sarrell) Baltazzi, the widow of banker Theodore Baltazzi, on 28 Feb 1863 in Paris, France. But the marriage was short-lived. While Charles was on assignment in Tehran, Persia, Eliza traveled to Cairo, Egypt with her daughter Helen Baltazzi, fell ill and died on 27 Dec 1863 at the Hotel D’Orient. Charles did maintain some connection with her family as her nephew Henry Hardy Ongley was appointed with him in Persia as well as served as his personal secretary for a time. Charles was also one of the godparents of another nephew, Philip Charles Sarrell, in 1866.

In The English Amongst the Persians historian Denis Wright notes that Charles did “acquire an Armenian mistress” and with her had at least one child, Victoria. He also spends a bit of time on his career and rumors about his conduct in Tehran.1 In fact there is an interesting Chancery case noted in The Weekly Reporter in January of 1875 regarding both Alison’s alleged children and a subsequent marriage between his mistress, Vardine Rafael, and his nephew Henry Ongley.

By contrast to Wright’s descriptions, one of Alison’s contemporaries and friends, Sir Austin Henry Layard described him thus:

He had real genius and was singularly gifted. He was, perhaps, the man the most highly endowed by nature that I have ever known. His qualities of head and heart were equally remarkable. He was generous, affectionate, and unselfish, of the most amiable disposition and the most equal temper. He was an accomplished linguist, speaking and writing Turkish, Persian, and Greek, and several European languages, with perfect facility, and having a sufficient knowledge of Arabic. He was a skillful musician, playing on several instruments, and would have been an excellent artist had he given himself seriously to art. His memory was singularly tenacious, and although he had not read much, he had retained all that he had read.2

A description that echoes the list of accomplishments his brother described of most of their siblings as well as their mother.

Charles served in Persia until April of 1872 where after a twenty day illness he succumbed to pneumonia attended by the British Doctor to the embassy and the Shah’s own chief physician, as well as the tender ministrations of his sister Mrs. Julia Dixon (Alison) Hill. He died the 29th of April and was buried in the Armenian Church of Saints Teddy and Bartholomew in Tehran, Persia.

I’d love to find out more about Charles and I am very curious to know if his line (the children of Vardine Rafael) survived.

Happy hunting,

Jess

  1. Wright, Denis. The Persians Amongst the English: Episodes in Anglo-Persian History. London: I.B. Tauris, 2001, p. 26.
  2. Layard, Austen H. Early Adventures in Persia, Susiana, and Babylonia: Including a Residence Among the Bakhtiyari and Other Wild Tribes Before the Discovery of Nineveh. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011, 439-440.

As I mentioned yesterday, part of this trip was inspired by the detailed footnotes in Eleanor Neilsen’s The Egremont Road which has a lovely section on the Alisons and their allied families. And one of the main sources she pointed to was a memoir created by Peter John Alison, Harry’s youngest child, which is held at the Western Archives at Western University in London, Ontario. So, another one of our stops was in London so that I could look at the manuscript as well as an Alison photo album that I found in their catalogue when I was searching for the memoir.

The Archives is located in the D. B. Weldon Library on campus and getting to it was a little trickier that I thought it would be. But when you reach the building it’s huge and, at least for the day I was there, it was consistently packed. Luckily, the Archives are tucked into the back corner of a large Main Floor and you feel miles away from anyone when you’re tucked into the cozy reading room and working.

It’s suggested that you contact the Archives ahead of time for materials that they need to pull from storage (as pulls are only done three times a day) so I had struck up a conversation with one of their staff by email and both boxes were pretty much waiting for me on arrival. I settled in and spent most of the day on Peter’s memoir which, according to the top page was created to satisfy a persistent cousin to whom he remarks:

You have asked me so often to write you an account of my early days in the back woods of Ontario, Canada, that I think I will have to do as the Unjust Judge did with the widow – Grant your request to get rid of you.

The document gives a rough background to the family but it is full of interesting tidbits about his parents and siblings through the eyes of the baby of the family (he was six at the time of their move to Canada). He didn’t display a lot of respect for his elder brothers whom he felt were no help to their father in the initial establishment of their households in Warwick commenting:

My eldest brother had been in the Army with my father’s regiment, and my next brother had been in the Navy, they were not fitted for the bush life at all. It was pitiful to see them using an axe, the one most useful tool of those early days. They would chop around a tree like a beaver, then of course, they would not know which way the tree was going to fall, except it had decided leaning in one direction.

But he did admire his sisters (at least in retrospect) and their accomplishments:

My sisters were all highly accomplished for my mother had them taught by the best French and English masters, it was delightful to hear them play and sing to the piano, harp and guitar, and they spoke Greek and Italian as well as they could English.

In the memoir he shares his memories of his sisters Frances and Julia’s courtships (with Thomas Rothwell and Robert Hill respectively) in detail and humorously.

The manuscript by itself was worth the trip but the other item I had pulled turned out to be a photo album given to Frances (Travers) Alison, Peter John’s wife, in February of 1880. Very few of the pictures are labeled but among the ones that are is a picture of Peter’s brother, Brisbain. I would love to be able to identify more of the images through my research but we’ll see how that works out.

The staff at the archives were very helpful and a pleasure to work with!

Happy hunting,

Jess

Updated: 9:26 am with a better image. jt

I spent the past week road-tripping across Western Ontario in search of my maternal grandmother’s roots and this is the first of a series of related posts talking about that trip.

So my intrepid crew (Mom & and Gran) and I started our journey on a sunny Sunday morning with the a plan to drive into Canada via the Blue Water Bridge and take the 402 into North West Lambton County swinging North around Warwick and driving down the Egremont Road, one of the earliest in the area built by and for the Irish and British emigrants in the 1830s.

Gran’s family, led by my 5th Great Grandfather Captain Harry Alison, came to Canada in 1832 after Harry and his eldest son Rowland Hill Alison each sold out of the British Army. Both served with the 90th Regiment Light Infantry (the Perthshire Volunteers) along with Lieutenant Hugh Massy who married Harry’s eldest daughter Jane Alison (my 4th Great Grandparents).  Harry parked his family in Ancaster, near Hamilton, Ontario, while he, Rowland, and his next son, Brisbane, scouted out a lot in Warwick Township. They settled on the highest lots along the Main Road just inside the Middlesex County border exactly midway between Sarnia and London. The settlement that sprang up around them became unofficially known as Captain Alison’s settlement.

The one site that I knew still existed is St. Paul’s Anglican Church on the Southeast corner of Egremont and Wisbeach Road where Harry, his wife, Francis Sinclair, and my 3rd Great Aunt Frederica (Massy) Rothwell were laid to rest. So that was where we made our first stop.

The little lot is picturesque. The plaque on the church reads 1856 to 1906. Harry’s grave stone is lying on the ground near the front door of the church. In the picture to the left (taken from the entrance) it is just in front and slightly to the right of the prominent tree in the background on the left.

For more information about the history of the Egremont Road and my inspiration for this leg of our journey, check out The Egremont Road: Historic Route From Lobo to Lake Huron by Eleanor Nielsen, published by the Lambton County Historical Society. It’s a fabulous read and meticulously footnoted with great primary materials that I otherwise would never have known existed.

More to come from Canada soon!

Happy hunting,

Jess

I took a very short road trip today with a run out to the Archives of Michigan to do a little research using their Naturalization records. For those of you not familiar with these, the State Archives has made this very easy for many researchers with great online finding aids for many of the counties in Michigan, with one notable exception—and of course the one I have the most relatives in—Wayne County (which is not to say they’re not trying). So, I went with a few names with exact index information that I just wanted to print or copy and a few names that I knew I’d have to work for—if I was lucky enough to find anything.

Interestingly enough, it became a bit of a lesson in being prepared and flexible. When I arrived I was behind another researcher who was fairly certain that the rules about not taking in coats, pens, etc. didn’t apply to him, which was a tad uncomfortable to watch the attendant have to deal with—though she was great. But it made me think about some of the other places I’ve researched lately and some of the encounters I’ve witnessed… and the librarian in me couldn’t help but take over for this post.

I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted (mostly) but as a researcher, a librarian and someone who has more than once worked in situations such as these:

  • It works a lot better for all involved if you know what you’re looking for—go in with a few solid goals or record groups to work with.
  • Know the rules of the place you’re visiting (and follow them)—including be aware of what they allow you to bring in.
  • Be patient—even the best staffed institutions can be overwhelmed with researchers and most places, due to the economy, are not staffed or equipped optimally for demand.

Many places have clearly laid out rules and a lot of collection information on their websites. Most have email and you can request rules and inquire about records ahead of time if you can’t find them online. And, of course, telephones work too.

None of this is new… but it doesn’t hurt to throw this out into the aether as a friendly reminder.

As it happened, there was a pretty large group already working on readers and printers so, I wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped to be. But it was easy enough to make arrangements to leave my list and have the copies mailed to me. Plus, I did hit on one of my Wayne County folk—needless to say it wasn’t H. R. Massy—but it appears my 5th Great Uncle, Captain Rowland Hill Alison, did start his naturalization paperwork in Wayne County.

Happy (and respectful) hunting!

Jess

We had an uneventful trip to Springfield, IL but before I start talking about FGS2011 I spent my first full day in Illinois on a side research trip to Logan County (about a half hour north of Springfield)

In all my prep and planning I missed the resource most dear to my heart, at least until the night before my side roadtrip. Then it finally dawned on me that the Lincoln Public Library opened two hours ahead of the Logan County Genealogical and Historical Society Research Center. So, I could look at their local history collection and newspapers if I revised my plans and got up and out of the hotel in the morning. So with a new plan… I still got out of town later than I planned but I was on the road to Lincoln at a reasonable time.

The trip itself was relatively uneventful though I miss having a handy sidekick and map reader. I took a few wrong turns in Lincoln and drove around the block a few times but I made it to their lovely 1902 Carnegie Library with more than enough time to look through microfilm newspapers. The staff was very helpful. They set me up at a reader/printer with my first reel loaded and I was off. My find of the day was H. R. Allison’s obituary. It was a lovely moment only slightly marred by the number of times it took to get it printed legibly. I did spend additional time looking for his wife’s obituary as well—but to be honest too much time looking at microfilm makes me ill.

Next stop was walking around the block to the LCGHS Research Center where a genial volunteer loaded me up with resources. Oddly enough, they had shelves of binders with obituaries but neither Harry nor Nancy was among them—I am so glad I finally remembered to try the library. But, if you have Logan County family, they have a Centenarian who is indexing the local sections of Lincoln newspapers. Not all of them are indexed yet, but there are 80 binders plus if you have time to work through them. I found a couple of interesting tidbits that way. For example, I don’t think I knew that Harry had been a village trustee on the People’s Ticket in 1899. There’s enough there that I may make a return trip to the Center again someday or at least contact one of the society researchers for assistance.

The last leg of my trip was to take a long drive down country roads to what felt like the middle of nowhere to a well-kept cemetery set way off the main road. Like my time in Lincoln this took a little circling but this time it was on foot. I had a rough layout of the cemetery from LCGHS and a location for Harry and Nancy (Thank you, Logan County GenWeb!) but I didn’t really understand the map until after I found them. I ended up getting in my exercise walking through the majority of the cemetery before I found the headstone on the back in the lot of his stepdaughter’s family. When I found him it felt like I was coming face to face with someone I’d been chasing for 16  years… I’ve finally caught him but I still have so many questions.

        

But that’s for another time.

Happy hunting!

Jess

I’m attending my first FGS Conference this year in Springfield, IL. I chickened out on the one in Arkansas a couple of years ago when it would have given me the impetus I needed to get down to Bradley County and do research—and I regret it. So this year, when I’ll be 45 minutes tops from Logan County, IL—the later stomping grounds of my most untrustworthy and probably most fascinating ancestor—I couldn’t pass it up. So, now I’m making lists—stuff to pack, finding directions, and trying to decide the best way to sneak off and experience a little bit of Harry R. Alison’s Logan County.

But you need to know a little about Harry … back when he was Henry.

He was an Irish cop in DetroitThat’s the only lead my grandmother, Ethel, and her sister, June, could give me in my quest to find their great-grandfather. Their grandmother, Flora Jane (Massey) Packer, shared very little about her parents—and possibly knew very little. They said an aunt and uncle had raised Flora when her mother died and passed on little information—about her father in particular. She knew he was an Irish policeman in Detroit for a time but beyond that her questions weren’t answered. Aunt June suspected that there was more to the story and I had been trying to figure out what that was for 10 years.

To begin with, Flora’s death certificate lists her as the daughter of  Henry Massey and Augusta Cory… and for the longest time searching for the pair through census indexes the closest I could find was John O. Massey, a policeman in Detroit. Eventually—as online indexes improved—I  found Augusta and Flora living in Detroit with Augusta’s parents John B. and Nancy Cory in 1870… but no Henry.

However from there I was able to gather a great deal of information. I started looking at Detroit Directories and found Henry and John O. Massy listed as policeman and as I worked backwards I could place them in the same residence. I also found a transcription of Henry and Augusta’s marriage license from 14 Aug 1866 and while I have been unable to locate an existent copy of Flora’s birth certificate, she lists her birth date as 14 Jan 1867. Given the state of healthcare at the time, I would argue that Augusta was about 4 months pregnant at the time of their wedding.

Patrolman H. R. MasseyIn addition I pulled up HeritageQuest and searched Persi for anything on the Police in Wayne County, Michigan. I was thrilled to find a Detroit Society for Genealogical Research Magazine transcription from the Applications to Detroit Police Department, 1865-1871. I found John O. Massy’s application. It included when he applied and how he was honorably discharged much like every other applicant. And then there was Henry’s. It was unlike any other… his had notes:

  • Patrolman Henry R. Massey was arraigned before the Board on the twelfth day of December A. D. 1866, charged with “sleeping while on duty and with remaining in Skating Rink for two or three hours. He was found guilty of violating the Rules and was fined five day’s loss of pay. [no endquote in original]
  • Patrolman H. R. Massey was charged with leaving his beat on the night of October 28th 1868 and going into a building corner of Hastings and Atwater Sts and while there with going to sleep. The charge was investigated by the Board Oct 28th 1868. He was found “Guilty” and fined five dollars.
  • Patrolman H. R. Massey was arraigned before the Board on the 31st day of March 1869 charged with leaving his beat and going into Burn’s bakery corner of Woodward Ave. and Grand River St. and upon another charge of visiting a house of prostitution on Franklin St. He admitted both of the charges as specified and gave as a reason of going to the house of prostitution that he was looking for a prisoner. Upon the latter charge the judgment of the Board was that he be dismissed from the Police Force. J. S. Booth, Secretary.

Dismissed in 1869 and gone in 1870.

The original book of applications is housed at The Burton Historical Collection at the Main Library of Detroit Public Library.

More later,

Jess

Charles F. Clark's annual city directory, 1968-1969

Charles F. Clark's annual city directory of the inhabitants, business firms, incorporated companies, etc., of the city of Detroit, for 1868-9, p. 256.

So while my mother and grandmother explored the sights in Fort Wayne, I settled in at The Genealogy Center at Allen County Public Library for two days of research. One of my major goals was to verify death dates and locations for my 4th great grandparents Lt. Hugh Massy and his wife Jane Alison Massy. I have a date for Hugh from Burke’s Irish Family Records but I haven’t been able to locate a place of death or burial. As for Jane I have her showing up in Detroit directories up through 1869, nothing in the 1870 Census, likely death record in Middlesex Co, Ontario in 1870, and written testimony from her son, Henry R. (my single most untrustworthy ancestor to date) who said she went back to Canada to visit a daughter and died there sometime around 1863. I spent hours going through cemetery transcriptions—especially around Strathroy and Wisbeach (Lambton Co), where other family members are buried, but still no luck. I did however take the opportunity to go through just about all the materials published by the Lambton Co., Ontario Genealogical Society and a good chunk of Middlesex Co., as well.

I was also able to track some of the families that married into Lt. Massy’s extensive family who were landowners in Co. Limerick, Ireland. A number of Burke’s volumes include information about the Massy’s—two of which I was able to work with at the Library of Michigan in Lansing. But entries in those books referred to other editions that I was able to work with at ACPL. Going through those volumes kept me busy for the afternoon. I photocopied a lot of pages and have a huge number of leads to work with on the matrilineal lines (including a sketchy but intriguing connection to Sir Edmund Spenser, author of The Faerie Queen) through the Travers family.

I also got to tell Gran that while a portion of her family has been present in Ireland for 300 years she’s still in that category of Brit transplant to Ireland.  She was not amused. She still has high hopes that the Shea’s will prove to be the stereotypical Celts—Irish Catholic to the core and anti-British. She might win out there but one never knows with her family.

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