Archive for the ‘Danforths’ Category

After sixteen years researching my families on three sides – mother, father and stepfather – there’s no doubt the folk I enjoy discovering the most are the naughty ones. Those who broke society’s rules, willingly or not.

Many of my researcher friends say the same, but there are plenty of others who find ancestral transgressions hard to think about. It’s interesting to consider why there’s such a need for rosey specs when we build the lives and characters of our relatives beyond the bare bones of BMDs.

I guess we all prefer to feel proud of our kin and often that means being able to tell positive stories of work success, personal achievement, happy marriages, warm homes and plenty to eat, much like the Christmas Round Robin.

For people my age, born in the fifties, and particularly for the next generation back, there’s still a powerful fear of social shame even though society has changed so much since our childhoods. The old stigmas that tainted so many lives in the past can still hold sway: being ‘illegitimate’, an unmarried mother, divorcee, deserted wife, on the dole – or simply poor. Not to mention gay. Or criminal – lugged to court or serving time. Women who ‘slept around’ or left their husbands were scandalous, even when escaping violence (which of course was never spoken of).

All these pulls of shame can still operate when we discover an ancestor was one of the above – there can be an anxious urge to tug a curtain over vintage shame. But I’ve found myself becoming increasingly proud and happy with my family transgressors. Maybe that’s because I’ve found so many of them, especially on my father’s side. First in the league is my great-granny Isabella Clavering, whose life was so eventful I’m currently writing a novel based on her life.

As a taster (far from the complete story), I now know that Isabella’s second husband, William Danforth (a south Yorkshire steelworker) married her bigamously, that his first wife Elizabeth Ellen had run off with another man, steelworker Richard Price, and lived with him ‘as married’ until his death. I’ve found that Isabella’s sister Dora ran off to Scotland with another steelworker, Charles White and also lived with him ‘as married’ until her death, while he stayed in contact with his legal wife and three children in Sheffield.

Effectively triple bigamy in one family. Maybe it was part of a steelworker’s job description.

To add to that, Elizabeth Ellen returned with ‘husband’ Richard to her birthplace Hoyland Nether in Yorkshire, and he died there (what?). Her legal husband Bigamous Bill Danforth returned there too from Glasgow after Isabella’s death, to live with his son from his first marriage (what?). For the last few years of his life, Bill and Ellen were living within a few doors of each other in Hoyland (what?). As for Charlie White, after Dora died, he married twice more in Glasgow, the last one, Annie, being only 22 when he was 62. And Annie went to visit Charlie’s Sheffield family in the 1930s, probably at the time of his death in 1938 (what?).

All those whats relate to the fact that bigamists and family-deserters never normally returned to their old haunts or kept contact with those left behind. My family seem to have made a habit of it.

I’m delighting in all this non-conformity, and it certainly makes for good plot-lines in the novel, but I do wonder how other descendants of Bella, Bill, Richard, Ellen, Dora and Charlie might feel about their ancestors’ transgressions being laid bare with scant rosiness applied. It comes down to a question all family researchers have to face – how much truth to tell.



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People who are as ancient as me will remember the Andrews Sisters singing “Is you is or is you aint my baby?” It jumped into my mind from the darkest depths of childhood memory, just now, as I mouthed curses at my brickwall Danforth ancestor or rather the baby born in 1684/5 who SHOULD be him.

Every family researcher will recognise the agony. A brickwall that’s stood for a decade or more and when you find what you think is the right baptism…. there’s an inkblot in just the wrong place, the second crucial line has been eaten away by mice, or the vicar forgot to write the year or the father’s name… you can guarantee there’ll be something. And so it is for me.

The brickwall in my paternal Danforth line for nearly 15 years has been my 6xgreat-grandfather John Danforth, currier, of Kexbrough in Darton parish, West Riding of Yorkshire (nowadays in South Yorkshire) who married Mary Hinch in Rotherham on 30 December 1712. He even got himself a licence to seal the deal which, for a modestly placed person like him, was unusual at such an early date. That licence raises eyebrows just on its own.

When John obtained the licence, he gave his abode as Darton, but when he married Mary, the Rotherham register entry recorded his abode as nearby Thornhill. That makes sense because John was the first Danforth ever to appear in Darton while Thornhill was fit to bursting with Danforths (actually Dunforths to begin with) from the start of the PRs in Tudor times onwards. So there we have a nice neat link between Darton and Thornhill which, surely, should solve all the issues.

But of course, there is no suitable baptism for John in Thornhill. Well, a John Danforth was baptised there at the right time period but he seems to have stayed put, married and died in Thornhill, so can’t be the one who wandered to Darton.

I was overjoyed a few years ago to find on Ancestry a baptism on 1 February 1684/5 at Darton for John Danforth, son of John… until I checked the original. Reader, this is the classic example of the ACTO rule, the number one rule of Genealogy: Always Check The Original!

In an image of the page in the register which shows baptisms of February 1684/5, I found this:

It reads: “John Danforth son of John ^Danforth (ie. inserted above the line, followed up by a squiggle) Sladen. Bapt: Feb: first (1684/5)

Seldom in the history of genealogy has a squiggle been so crucial.

After huge amounts of lip-chewing and comparison between this and the vicar’s signature (who always signed ‘Ric. Smethurst, vic.’), I’ve concluded the squiggle says ‘vic’ and is an indication that the vicar made the change, signing to show it’s legit. This was vital in the days when a parish register entry was usually the only way to prove identity. The only other word I can read into the squiggle is ‘viz’ (or where we would nowadays put ‘ie.’)

So the logical reading of the entry is: John Danforth (surname Sladen) son of John Danforth Sladen.

But… in the 15 years before that entry in the parish register (which I have today gone through inch by inch), there is absolutely no other entry where a middle name or a double-barrelled surname appears. It just didn’t happen in those days, not even among the rich. What used to appear instead were ‘aliases’, and there are a number of those in Darton’s register, eg. Baptism 8 November 1682 for the son of Joshua LEE alias HAIGE.

We tend to assume in our modern world that when an alias appears, it’s associated with crime or deception but that didn’t apply in 1685. It might indicate an out-of-wedlock birth, with the alleged father’s surname thrown in beside the mother’s, but most often it was to do with inheritance. Many early deaths in those days, and many remarriages… it could be crucial to be known legally by both or all heritable surnames.

Considering that possibility I tried every squint and magnification in my power to turn that crucial squiggle in the baptism entry into ‘als’ for ‘alias’ but no can do.

So now what I’m left with is the most mysterious entry in the Darton parish register (so far at least), about half a dozen different possible interpretations of it and a perfectly solid Danforth brickwall still standing.

Any help or suggestions gratefully received.

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Last week, it finally arrived, after nine horrendous months – the day I settled into my new home. I’ve made the tremendous leap north of twelve miles from Chesterfield to the leafy S11 area of Sheffield. I am extraordinarily happy to be in a city again, with all its buzz and opportunities, but especially THIS city.

Here’s why. Not just because it has the reputation as one of the safest cities in the country. Or because its residents are so friendly. And there’s real feminist activity going on (Feminists Over Fifty overflowing with members), and the independent cinema shows all the latest films WITH SUBTITLES every Monday…

For my research addiction, archives and local studies library are just a bus ride away. But most of all, I’m following my forefathers’ footsteps. Or more accurately, their short sojourn here, but it was a significant one. On 16 August 1878, my grandfather Ernest Danforth was born here, at 23 Sussex Street (in the south-east area of Darnall/Wicker near the present-day Cobweb Bridge). That was just seven months and a bit after the (bigamous) marriage of his parents William Danforth and Isabella Tamplin nee Clavering on 5 January 1878. We probably don’t need to ask why they married, in a Register Office, with unrelated witnesses.

The reason they were in Sheffield at all was only because Isabella, a Gateshead girl by birth, moved here from Manchester with first husband Joe Tamplin, an early Sheffield policeman. By the time she fell pregnant with grandad Ernest, Bella had lost Joe to TB only six months before, and all three of her previous children to scarlatina in 1875. A destitute widow, she brought in some pennies by running a little shop from her front room in Sussex Street. Perhaps Bill frequented her shop. As a steel puddler from Hoyland Nether just up t’road near Barnsley, he may have worked in the steelworks on Sussex Street (a decidedly industrial location) and called in to Mrs Tamplin’s shop for small purchases. More likely they met in the North Pole inn.

They didn’t stay long. By the 1881 census, they were in Brinsworth in Rotherham and Bill was a mill labourer, no longer using his muscles for steel-puddling. Local newspapers report devastating levels of poverty and destitution in Sheffield in the 1870s-80s as its steel manufacturers lost out to works in other parts of the country. The family’s further move to Glasgow a year or two later was probably a search for work (Bill had been there before in the 1860s with his first wife), although the long arm of the anti-bigamy law might have been a push factor too. As a result, grandad Ernest grew up a thoroughly east-Glasgow lad, reportedly with such a strong Glaswegian accent, no-one knew his Yorkshire roots. And for the rest of his life, his was the only Danforth family in Scotland.

In fact, the Danforth name is pretty rare in the UK generally. Thick on the ground in the USA because of two Danforth pilgrims from Framlingham in Suffolk who migrated in the early 17th century. But they are not related to my lot. In Thornhill, south Yorkshire, the name was first Dunforth, locational after a small habitation in that area, and probably pronounced in the local accent something like D’nf’d, so Dunford and Danford are regular variants, as well as many stranger ones.

Moving back to my Yorkshire roots at the start of the new-old year (March 25th) seems an appropriate time to launch a Yorkshire Danforth One Name Study. Well, more of a gentle push into the genealogical boating pond. Later I’ll set up an ONS website or blog but now is the start of data-gathering, and contacting potential Danforth matches via DNA test results (more about that to come).

Anyone reading this who is a Yorkshire Danforth, Danford or Dunford, please get in touch! Leave a comment below, or email me: celiarenshawATgmail.com.

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An American colleague and I were agreeing the other day that some of the most exciting finds in our years of ancestor-chasing were discovered when we wandered off the straight and narrow road of research. Instead of just looking at the most logical locations and sources for ancestors, it was often fun to mosey down side roads and muddy paths – in defiance of logic, and the rules we’d been taught. Just because… because it felt like fun, a vague hunch took us there, an unusual occupation turned up, or no apparent reason at all. With the internet, of course, this ‘stream of consciousness’ kind of research has become far easier to do than when it was all paper and pencil in actual archives.

I’m convinced that a willingness to follow a hunch and wander about for no definite reason only develops with experience. When we’re newbies, most often we think in straight lines, chasing single surnames, and the next ancestor up the tree. In those days, the discovery moments, when we find out who each of our great-greats were, these are moments of glory, air-punching excitement, and we don’t feel a need to stop and look round corners. Once we’ve filled a lot of our tree however, those triumphs are sadly rare – unless we look further afield.

Our ancestors were human after all. Just like us now, they often acted unpredictably. We can’t expect their lives to have been lived entirely on the straight and narrow, even if the superficial neat-and-tidiness of birth, marriage and death registrations, parish registers and census records give us that impression. We can rediscover that old, breath-taking excitement of discovery, when we look for and find them in unlikely places.

Recently, after discovering that a couple of my Danforth cousins had emigrated in the 19th century, I decided to do a search for any other British Danforths in foreign records. As far as I knew, no-one in my dad’s immediate family, other than my lost aunt Christina, had jumped any ponds. So here was a muddy path I decided to mosey along, just on a whim.

To my absolute astonishment, I found a passenger list of 1929, for the ship Doric, sailing from Greenock to Montreal that included my Scottish uncle Ernest Clavering Danforth (born Clydebank in 1908), my dad’s carrot-haired brother, my uncle Ernie. Who had lived all his life in Scotland – hadn’t he?

The details in the passenger list suggested he was aiming to settle in Canada, farming in Winnipeg, where his aunt Susan had already made a home some years previously. This was information that had never been mentioned in my family before, so I now have more side roads to look down in Canada.

Ernest & Nan (Wren) Danforth on bench1a

Ernie & Nan Danforth

Ernie didn’t stay there though, he was home by 1942 when he married aunt Nan, back in Scotland, where they both died. But this trip to Canada may explain where he was in otherwise lost years between 1929 and 1942.

So my advice to newbies and oldies in family research: get the boots on and start walking down the muddy paths, check unlikely sources and places, take time to ‘smell the roses’ too. By that I mean, stopping to look again at what you’ve already found: what IS this record I’m viewing? what else does it tell me, other than names and dates? who’s living next door? what was going on, locally and nationally, at that time? why was that person a witness? any question you can think of.

It’s amazing how much more we can find out about our relatives when we get off the main roads, look for more than names and dates, chase the unexpected – and it’s much more fun than sticking to the ‘rules and regs’ of family research.

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My father’s Danforth family came from Yorkshire, via Clydebank and Glasgow.

It was always rumoured that despite possessing the thickest of Glasgow accents, dad’s father, Ernest Danforth, was born in Yorkshire, and that proved to be true. Ernest was born to William Danforth and Isabella (nee Clavering) on 16 August 1878 in Sheffield, at 23 Sussex Street. Sadly, by the time I held the certificate in my hands, there was no-one to share the news. All my Danforth family had passed on, my grandparents, my dad, his two brothers and adopted sister, all by then interred in Scottish cemeteries. My two uncles, Robert and Ernest, had no children and my aunt Margaret, who was a Kemp by birth, bestowed her husband’s French name on her children. So, in the Scottish tradition whereby wives retain their maiden name as well as married name, for years I believed I was the only Danforth left from my grandad Ernest’s line.

But I’m far from being the only blood-descendant of Ernest’s father William Danforth.

Bill arrived on 25 May 1838 in Hoyland Nether near Barnsley, the third of ten rumbunctious children born to John Danforth and Hannah (nee May). Eight were girls – two died young and three thought little of producing baby Danforths without benefit of marriage. The eldest, Mary, had three, in the space of 13 years, and never married. But none of these out-of-wedlocks produced male descendants. From William’s generation, only his brother, my great-great-uncle Daniel, was fated to keep the Danforth flag flying in the Hoyland area.

Bigamous Bill

Bill meanwhile, ventured far away from Hoyland, to the steelworks and tenements of east Glasgow, before retiring back home again. He married a Hoyland girl first (Elizabeth Ellen Greenwood) and produced two sons with her – John William and Walter. But before the 1881 census, Ellen had disappeared, resurfacing in Cumbria in 1891 with a ‘husband’ named Richard Price. Both sons ended up there too, in Workington and Maryport, and the sizeable dynasties of Danforths they produced have scattered around the world, though some returned to Hoyland before spreading into other parts of Yorkshire.

I strongly suspect that first wife Ellen did a runner, for reasons we can only guess, leaving her grown sons with Bill. She must have left before 1878 because on 5 January that year, at Sheffield Register Office, Bill remarried to my great-grandmother Isabella. Bill lied that he was a widower and Isabella must have been just pregnant, since grandfather Ernest was born in early August. Strictly speaking therefore, grandad was ‘illegitimate’.

Bill, Isabella and Ernest were in Rotherham in 1881 but by 1885 they had settled in the east end of Glasgow where Bill no doubt puddled steel in the vast works at Parkhead Forge. Perhaps he was escaping the law. Bigamy, it turns out, was very common in the Victorian era when most people were unable to obtain divorces. Desertion, never to be seen again by the family left behind, was considered the ‘poor man’s divorce’ – but those caught were still severely punished by the law. Second wife Isabella died in Glasgow in 1906. Bill stayed on for a few years, and saw son Ernest respectably employed as a Postman and married to my grandmother Cecilia, but then came the strangest development. By the 1911 census, Bill had returned to Hoyland Nether, to live with son John William in Elizabeth Street – and just a few doors away in the same street was none other than first wife Ellen, still calling herself Price.

They must have continued in this close proximity until their deaths, Bill in 1914 and Ellen in 1920. Both died in son John William’s house. The big surprise is that they weren’t buried together. They had separate graves in Hoyland church’s burial ground – but John William buried his mum as a Danforth, not Price. I have never heard of any other story of desertion or bigamy where the parties ended up back in the same place together.

So now, my great-grandfather William Danforth is always ‘Bigamous Bill’ to me, and stories of his life and my great-grandmother Isabella’s could surely spawn a thick family saga or two.

Inspired by them, I have now reignited my Danforth research, treating the Yorkshire Danforths as a one-name-study, so look out for plenty more articles to come.





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WilliamRobertsonWillison,original close-up_ReTouchedMy half-uncle, William Robertson Willison, probably better known as ‘Wullie’ to friends and family, was born on 17 August 1901 in Parkhead in the east end of Glasgow.  Although he died when I was 22, I never had the good fortune to know him or his two children, and there was only one reason for that.  Willie’s parents Robina Willison and Ernest Danforth (my grandad) weren’t married and in the past, until quite recently, a fact like that was kept very quiet.

I’ve discovered that Ernest paid child maintenance to Robina for seven years after she proved his paternity in Glasgow Sheriff Court, but the minute the last payment was made in 1907, Ernest married my granny Cecilia Inch of Clydebank.  As far as I’m aware, the existence of Willie was never afterwards mentioned in the Danforth family – my dad certainly never said he had a half-brother – and there’s no way to know why Ernest didn’t marry Robina.

As I said in my previous article, I want to chase away the stigma of ‘illegitimacy’ and celebrate the life of the uncle I never knew, so this is some of what I have learned from birth, marriage and death certificates, two blurred photographs and a few family stories.  It isn’t much so there’s plenty more to learn, and I hope that one day another cousin or two will be in touch and help me know more about Willie as a real person instead of just a name.

Willie was born in 9 Hutcheson Street, Glasgow at the home and pub of his aunt Margaret (Maggie) Robertson (probably explaining Willie’s middle name).  Maggie was the wife of Robina’s brother Valentine and it looks as though their two families were particularly close.  For his first few years, Willie probably grew up in 55 Burgher Street in Parkhead, Glasgow with his mum Robina and her parents, James and Margaret Willison.  James died in 1904 and Robina married a Samuel Ritchie in 1905 so from then Willie appears to have lived with granny Margaret, until her death in 1920.

Sharing the same house at 55 Burgher Street, was Robina’s brother John, his wife Mary and their children, including a son James who was only one year older than Willie.  James and Willie were very close and grew up together as brothers rather than cousins.  After granny Margaret died, Willie had sleeping room alongside James in John’s home at 29 Burgher Street.

Throughout his working life, Willie worked with metal, first as a ‘Riveter’s Holder-On’ then as a Forge Slinger and finally a Steel Erector.  This meant he had strong muscles and his work was hard.  By the look of it, he faced tough times in his personal life too.  He married twice (Grace Gribben Howat in 1923 and Margaret McKirdy Lamont in 1928) and sadly both wives died young.  Equally sadly, three of their five children died young too, Grace aged 13, John aged 9 months and Isabella aged 10.  It hardly bears thinking about, how Willie lost so many of his loved ones, especially as his own end was sad too, on 21 April 1973 after a fire in his Baillieston home.  But on the positive side, his daughter Margaret (1925-2006) and son Samuel (1929-1996) lived to marry and have children and grand-children, still alive today in and near Glasgow.

Everything I’ve discovered so far suggests that uncle Willie had a very hard life, not least because of the stigma of his birth, but from the photos I’ve seen, I think I can detect a glint of fun and mischief in his eyes and in those of his son Sam, and I really wish I had been allowed to know them.

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When I started researching my family tree in 2002, there was one thing I felt absolutely sure about, and that was the number of aunts and uncles I had.  I grew up knowing my mum’s two brothers in England and my dad’s sister in Scotland, and there were photographs of my dad’s two Scottish brothers.  So, while most things in family history have to be hedged about with maybes, the number of my parents’ siblings was surely incontestable.

Well, as my last article showed, even when we think something is 100% true about a family tree, we still have to be cautious.  Thirteen years into my researches and I have suddenly learned the almost unbelievable fact that my dad had another sister and brother.  Whether he knew both of them is another question, but they were certainly real.

The reason I never knew them is simple: they were both ‘illegitimate’ and therefore taboo, hinted and whispered about at best, but mostly unmentionable.  And if I’m finding it hard to come to terms with having an aunt and an uncle who both died unknown to me simply because they were born “out of wedlock”, how much harder must their own lives have been?

I think we can barely appreciate how tough life was for people in the past who were born on the ‘wrong side of the blanket’.  So, as a little compensation and belated as it is, I am celebrating my aunt Christina’s and uncle Willie’s lives, here on this blog, starting with Christina

Christina Inch or Jeffrey was born on 21 December 1902 in Glasgow Maternity Hospital on Rotten Row.  Only her mum (my grandmother) is named on the birth certificate: Cecilia Inch, occupation Steel Filer, who gave the hospital as her home address, an immediate indication that she couldn’t be open and frank about this baby’s birth.  Cecilia was aged 22 and probably still living with her parents, Robert and Cecilia, since she was resident with them in the 1901 census at 67 Kilbowie Gardens, Clydebank.

It seems possible that Christina was passed off as the child of her grandparents because in the 1911 census she was with them at 7 Barnes Street, Clydebank and described as their daughter.  Evidence suggests that after her mother Cecilia married Ernest Danforth in 1907, the couple lived with Ernest’s father William in Glasgow and only moved to Clydebank after William returned to his birthplace (Hoyland Nether, Yorkshire) in 1909-10.  It’s highly likely that Christina remained with her grandparents during those first years, and perhaps didn’t know for some time that her ‘sister’ Cecilia was actually her mother.

She did eventually find out however.  By the time she married for the first time, in Detroit in 1923, she gave her mother’s name as Cecilia Inch – and her father’s as Daniel Jeffrey.  So she had found out both her parents’ names.

With that information in hand, I was able to discover that Christina left Scotland for the USA in 1919, when she was only sixteen.  She sailed from Liverpool on 27 June  1919, aboard the Metagama bound for Quebec, travelling as Christine Jeffrey, schoolgirl, with a note next to her name saying: “to Father, 1571 Nabush Avenue, Detroit”.  They were together on 1 January 1920 in the US census, living in a lodging house in Detroit.  Four months later, on 25 April 1920, Daniel died in an Ontario hospital as a result of diabetes, and was buried back in Detroit.  His death is recorded as a military casualty, because he had fought with the 20th battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in WW1.

So we can see that Christina had sailed to the USA, alone, at the young age of sixteen, knowing who her father was and using his name, only to have a bare nine months with him before he died.  On the card recording his death, his next of kin is given as: “Daughter, Miss Christine Jeffrey, address 18 Alfred Street, Detroit, Michigan” but these details have been scored out, replaced by the name of Mrs Anne Mabee (Daniel’s sister) and her address in Michigan – evidence perhaps that Christina was unwelcome to the Jeffrey family?

We know from the 1921 Canadian census, that Christina (using the surname Jeffrey) then went to live with her mother’s sister Susan Smillie in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Two years later, on 7 July 1923, she married in Detroit to Richard Alexander Pulfer.  This ended in divorce on 8 March 1929 citing Richard’s “extreme cruelty” and Christina remarried shortly afterwards to Alexander Stobo Crighton, on 18 July 1929 in Lucas, Ohio.  Christina probably spent the rest of her life with him in Detroit, and was naturalised in 1942, though I haven’t yet found her death certificate or burial record.  Alexander died in Detroit in 1972.

But there was an interesting turn of events before the divorce from Richard Pulfer.  On 6 August 1926, Christine Pulfer arrived in Glasgow aboard the Montrose, a housewife resident in the USA, aged 23, visiting 38 Livingstone Street, Clydebank.  This was the address then of her mother Cecilia and Ernest Danforth.  With them would have been their sons Ernest jnr, aged 18, Robert aged 14 and Walter John (my dad) aged 7, and their adopted daughter Margaret aged 3.  Christina did not sail back to the USA until 19 March 1927, seven months later – which strongly suggests that her existence was known to the whole Danforth family.  And that makes it even more surprising that my dad never mentioned her.

On the bright side, it’s heartening to know that my grandmother Cecilia saw her daughter again, and Christina’s aunt Mary (sister of Cecilia) stayed in touch, sending Christmas parcels to the USA until sometime in the sixties when (my Scottish cousin remembers) one parcel was returned with “deceased” written on it.

So far I haven’t found any children for Christina from her second marriage – there were none from the first, according to the divorce decree.   And I’ve also failed to find living relatives from the Jeffrey and Crighton families.  I have no photograph of her, my one hope being that her naturalisation file will contain one – an American friend has applied for the file, but it’s a long wait.  So Christina remains a shadowy figure, hidden away by prejudice and shame while she was alive and for years afterwards.  She certainly had a traumatic time from 1919 into the 20s, finding and losing her father, and a difficult first marriage, in a foreign country far from family.  I can only hope she found happiness with her second husband and acceptance, perhaps, from her Crighton in-laws.

If anyone reading this knows more about Christina, or the Jeffrey and Crighton families, please message me on Facebook.

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