My Grandfather’s Sword

Ornamental-SwordAs a young child I can remember opening my father’s closet and seeing a very fancy looking sword hanging in there. I don’t think I knew whose it was until I was older and learned it belonged to my mother’s father. My grandfather, Harold James Davis, died about 2 years before I was born. The one thing I remember being told about him was that he was a military man through and through. Tough, no-nonsense and a strict disciplinarian. However, I do think he had a soft spot as my older brothers’ remember Sundays when he would give them money for an ice cream … if they had finished all their dinner.

But back to that sword. Some time ago I was looking through photographs of my grandfather and noticed that sword at his side in his wedding photograph. Just barely peeking out but it immediately reminded me that I had no photographs of the actual sword. My mother still has it in her home in South Africa and I immediately asked her for photographs of it so I could document it in my files.

Here is the wedding photograph of my grandparents, Harold James Davis and Hazel Jane Keown on their wedding day, 19 June 1937 in Johannesburg, South Africa.1 It’s a little difficult to see as the resolution isn’t great but the yellow circle shows the hilt of the sword at his side, just near the hand of his wife as she holds onto his arm. You can also see the baldric (my new word of the day: a baldric is a belt worn over one shoulder that is typically used to carry a weapon (usually a sword) or other implement such as a bugle or drum.)2

HaroldJamesDavis1908_Weddin

There are no other photos of my grandfather wearing that sword. Used only for formal ceremonies, I imagine that there weren’t many of those that came up. He spent many years in the military, serving part-time at first in the Imperial Light Horse Regiment, then entering the South African Defense Force full-time during World War 2. He served in Egypt with the Allied Forces in the North African Campaign. He was honorably discharged in 1947 due to the partial demobilization of his unit.3 Family heirlooms have stories to tell. How have you used them in telling the stories of your ancestors?

 

 

 


  1. Harold James Davis and Hazel Jane Keown wedding photograph, 1937; digital copy in Sue McNelly collection, Phoenix, Arizona. Original photograph in possession of Estelle Davis Thomas, South Africa. 
  2. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki), “Baldric,” rev. 31 May 2018. 
  3. Harold James Davis military papers, compilation of enlistment and service records; privately held by Sue McNelly [address for private use], Phoenix, Arizona, 2018. This collection includes records from the S.A. Defense Force, unit service timelines, enlistment and discharge papers. 

St. Mary’s Changing Churchyard

Towards the end of 1945, Jean Mary Davis (my second cousin twice removed) married John Clement Rix at St. Mary’s, the parish church at Norton Cuckney in Nottinghamshire1. I recently came across this wonderful photograph of them stepping out of the front doors of the church just after they had been married2.

JeanDavis

The war had ended in September of 1945 and perhaps feeling hope for the first time in many years, couples flocked to their local parish churches or registration offices to get married. The Office for National Statistics notes the uptick in marriages in England in 1945. Although the number of marriages dropped during World War 2, by 1945, with the end of the war in sight, the number of marriages began to rise.3

I wondered if the church John and Jean married in was still standing. I was pleased to see that it was. However, what struck me was the change visible in the later photograph I found. A September 2011 photograph (photo credit to Andrew Jackson, user contributed content on Google Maps) shows that the headstones visible in background of the 1945 wedding photograph no longer appear. The actual building itself has not changed but the churchyard definitely has. The blue box outlines the area which appears in the background of the photo of John and Jean.

Rixcombo

The only reference I could find as to why the headstones no longer show on the 2011 photograph was from the Southwell and Nottingham Church History Project which stated that, “In 1948 a Faculty was granted to lay down the gravestones in the churchyard.”4 It is possible that the stones were laid flat and that in the intervening 70 years, they have sunk into the ground and grass has grown over them. This is just speculation at this point. If you have any insight into what may have happened, I’d love to hear it!

John Clement Rix and Jean Mary Davis had a very interesting life together. They traveled the world from Hong Kong to South Africa and Northern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). I’m still digging into their story so stop back soon for an update.

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 23 prompt: Going to the Chapel.

 


  1. “England & Wales, Marriage Index: 1916-2005,” database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 4 March 2015), entry for John C. Rix to Davis; citing Worksop district, December [quarter] 1945, vol. 7b: 134. 
  2. John C. Rix and Jean M. Davis wedding photograph, 1945; digital copy in Sue McNelly collection, Phoenix, Arizona. 
  3. The Office for National Statistics (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/articles/victoryineuropedayhowworldwariichangedtheuk/2015-05-08 : accessed 17 June 2018), “Victory in Europe Day: How World War II changed the UK”, 8 May 2015. 
  4. Southwell & Nottingham Church History Project (http://southwellchurches.nottingham.ac.uk/nottingham-st-mary/hchyard.php : accessed 18 June 2018), “Nottingham St Mary” 

The Goodman family of St. David, Arizona

Goodman-Home,-St-David
The Goodman homestead, St. David, Arizona

The Homestead Act of 1862 opened up the American West to settlement. Any person (a citizen or someone who intended to become a citizen) could apply for a section of land (160 acres) in any one of the “public domain states”. “Public domain states” were all the states except for the 13 original states and Maine, Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Texas. There were other conditions that also had to be met: the person must be the head of a family, or a single person over 21, who had never fought against the United States. The land had to be surveyed, and the homesteader had to pay a fee to claim the land temporarily. He had six months to begin living on the land, and had to live on the land continuously for five years, after which, the government would issue a patent or deed for the land. During those five years the homesteader must build a dwelling and cultivate some of the land. 1

The Goodman home stood in the small southern Arizona town of St. David. It was built about 1882 by William Nicholas Goodman, an English carpenter, and his sons, on land that was close to the St. David cemetery. 2

AZ-Map
Arizona map showing location of St. David.

St. David was settled in 1877 by Philemon C. Merrill, a member of the Mormon Battalion who had passed through the San Pedro River Valley in 1846 on the Battalion’s overland march to San Diego, California. St. David was a tight-knit Mormon community. 3 Mormons are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and William Nicholas Goodman had joined the church in England in 1851. 4

When William was only 10 years of age his mother, Maria (Mary) died in 1854. A few years later, in 1857, William’s father, Thomas Goodman, also died. 5 William and his three siblings were left as orphans.

Perhaps feeling that there were more opportunities in pioneer America, and a chance to be with fellow members of their church, the Goodman brothers, William and Nathaniel, made the decision to leave England. They were among the 32,000 British and Irish converts to the Mormon church who, from 1847 to 1869, left their homelands for America. 6 William (20), and his younger brother, Nathaniel (13), left Liverpool, England on 14 May 1862 aboard the William Tapscott. The journey lasted 42 days and they docked in New York on 25 June 1862. 7 With Utah as their final destination, the Goodman brothers traveled first by rail, then steamboat on the Missouri River to Florence, Nebraska where they stayed for 2 weeks. There they gathered provisions and made the rest of the journey to the Salt Lake valley by wagon. They arrived in Utah in October 1862. 8

William remained in Utah until the early 1880s. With his health failing and seeking warmer temperatures, he moved his family to Arizona, arriving in Mesa in the fall of 1882. They stayed only a short time before heading further south. William had married Margarett Ann Taylor in 1864. 9 Together with their nine children, the Goodman family prepared to settle in St. David, Arizona. Margarett’s sister, Maria, lived in St. David with her husband, Joseph McRae. With Joseph McRae’s help, the Goodman’s made adobe bricks and built their home east of the McRae homestead. 10

WilliamNicholasGoodman_Marg
William N. Goodman & Margarett Taylor Goodman

William Nicholas Goodman died at age 43 on 8 March 1885 in St. David, only a few years after moving there. 11 Margarett and the children continued to live in the home William had built. As the children grew older, many bought land and raised their own families in St. David. The connection between the Goodman family and the McRae family continued with the 1893 marriage of Joseph Thomas Goodman, son of William Nicholas Goodman, to Annie Maria McRae, daughter of Joseph and Maria McRae. 12

JosephGoodman1868_AnnieMcRa
Joseph Goodman & Annie McRae Goodman

In 1877 St. David was little more than a stone fort surrounded by crops of wheat and barley. Families like the Goodman’s worked extremely hard to build homes, cultivate land and provide a living for themselves, in conditions that were often difficult. Their legacy continues in St. David today where many of their descendants still live.

This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 13 prompt: The Old Homestead

 

 


  1. Greg Bradsher, “How the West was Settled”, Prologue. Winter 2012. National Archives (https://www.archives.gov/files/publications/prologue/2012/winter/homestead.pdf : accessed 28 March 2018). 
  2. Life sketch of William Nicholas Goodman, no author noted. Familysearch.org (https:www.familysearch.org : accessed 28 March 2018). 
  3. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._David,_Arizona : accessed 27 March 2018), St. David, Arizona. 
  4. Life sketch, p.1 
  5. Life sketch, p. 2 
  6. Encyclopedia of Mormonism, BYU Harold B. Lee Digital Collections (http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/British_Isles,_the_Church_in : accessed 28 March 2018), “The Church in British Isles”. 
  7. Mormon Migration (https://mormonmigration.lib.byu.edu/mii/voyage/435?query=William+Goodman&dateTo=&voyage=on&netherlands=on&passenger=on&scandinavia=on&sweden=on&mii=on&europe=on&account=on&dateFrom= : accessed 29 March 2018), “William Goodman.” 
  8. Larrabee, Caroline E. W. W., [Autobiography], Our Pioneer Heritage, Comp. By Kate B. Carter, vol. 17 (Salt Lake City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1974) pp. 290-292. 
  9. Life sketch, p. 1 
  10. Life sketch, p. 1 
  11. “Find A Grave Index,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/QVKV-CF4L : 13 December 2015), William Nichlas Goodman, 1885; Burial, Saint David, Cochise, Arizona, Saint David Cemetery; citing record ID 49710174, Find a Grave, http://www.findagrave.com. 
  12. California, County Birth, Marriage, and Death Records, 1849-1980, Marriage Register, 1891-1895, Ancestry (https: www. ancestry.com : accessed 29 March 2018), Annie McRae and Joseph Goodman, July 12, 1893. 

Longevity (or the lack thereof) in County Durham Coal Miners.

Longevity (or in my coal mining ancestors, the lack thereof)

Coal mining was not an occupation that promoted longevity in those who worked from before daybreak to after dark, six out of seven days a week, month after month and year after year. Most miners began work down the mines as young as age 8. Back breaking, dangerous and physically exhausting labor, accidents and disease, most often meant that many miners never reached old age. While David Bellis, a Welsh coal miner, and my 2nd great grandfather, lived to the age of 81 and his son, John Bellas (the name is spelled both Bellis and Bellas in the records), my great grandfather, lived to age 78, the majority of their sons and extended family died fairly young. All of them spent their entire working lives in the mine.

Name Year of Birth Year of Death Age at death
John Bellis (3rd great grandfather) 1793 1840 47
John Bellis (2nd great granduncle) 1814 1871 57
Hugh Bellis (2nd great granduncle) 1825 1860 35
David Bellis (2nd great grandfather) 1822 1903 81
John Bellas (Great grandfather) 1859 1938 78
John W. Bellis (1st Cousin 3R) 1860 1883 23
Thomas Bellas (Great granduncle) 1861 1901 40
William Bellas (Great granduncle) 1866 1915 49
Tom Bellas (granduncle) 1888 1933 45

John William Bellis died while working in Etherley Colliery near Escomb, County Durham, England in 1883. John was an Incline Man which was someone who “attended to work on an incline plane”[1]. The Mine Inspectors Report described the accident as “died from the effects of a sprain received on 22nd January last while lifting a tub on the way.”[2] Sadly, John was only 23 years old.

Read any of the historical data on mining deaths in England in the 1800s and you will come across lives lost far too young. The risk of accidental death or disease was high but for many families of Northeast England it was the only occupation open to them.

children miners
Child miners. Photograph in public domain.
“The little trapper of eight years of ages lies quiet in bed…It is now between two and three in the morning, and his mother shakes him, and desires him to rise, and tells him that his father has an hour ago gone off to the pit. He turns on his side, rubs his eyes, and gets up, and comes to the blazing fire, and puts on his clothes. His coffee, such as it is, stands by the side of the fire, and bread is laid down for him…He then fills his tin bottle with coffee, and takes a lump of bread, and sets out for the pit, into which he goes down in the cage, and walking along the horseway for upwards of a mile…He knows his place of work. It is inside one of the doors called trap-doors, for the purpose of forcing the stream of air, which passes in its long, many miled course from the down shaft to the up-shaft of the pit; but which door must be opened whenever men or boys, with or without carriages, may wish to pass through. He seats himself in a little hole, about the size of a common fire-place, and with the string in his hand: and all his work is to pull that string when he has to open the door, and when man or boy has passed through, then to allow the door to shut itself…He may not stir above a dozen steps with safety from his charge, lest he should be found neglecting his duty, and suffer for the same. He sits solitary by himself, and has no one to talk to him; …. For he himself has no light. His hours, except at such times, are passed in total darkness. For the first week of his service in the pit his father had allowed him candles to light one after another, but the expense of three halfpence a-day was so extravagant expenditure out of ten pence, the boy’s daily wages, that his father, of course, withdrew that allowance the second week, all except one or two candles in the morning, and the week after the allowance was altogether taken away; and now, except a neighbour kinder than his father now and then drop him a candle, as he passes, the boy has no light of his own.”
Dr. Mitchell’s report of the Collieries of South Wales, Children in Mines and Collieries, 1839, p38-39. “The History of Mining in Durham & Northumberland”, Newcastle University, (http://www.ncl.ac.uk/library/services/education-outreach/outreach/mining/children.php : accessed 17 January 2018).
[1] “Mining Occupations”, Durham Mining Museum, (http://www.dmm.org.uk/educate/mineocc.htm#inclineman : accessed 16 January 2018).
[2] “In Memoriam”, Durham Mining Museum, (http://www.dmm.org.uk/individ0/i06704.htm : accessed 16 January 2018).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Favorite Photo : The men of the Thomas/Bellas/Stables family of County Durham, England.

Amy Johnson Crow has a new challenge for us called 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. You can learn more about it here and sign up if you think you would be interested. It’s a great way to share some of our data and as I looked through my photographs for the Week 2 prompt “Favorite Photo”, I not only enjoyed a quick refresher seeing some of my favorite photos but it also jogged my mind as to a few things I had meant to do with those photos and hadn’t yet. Thanks, Amy!

It’s not easy picking a favorite photograph. There are so many great ones that I like for different reasons. I finally settled on one that has some of my favorite people in it. It not only has my grandfather in it but also my favorite uncle, who we nicknamed ‘Uncle Snoozy’ as he would come from England to visit us in South Africa and would fall asleep each afternoon lying in the warm South African sun.

JamesThomas1894_photo family all men

This photograph was taken late 1950s/early 1960s and shows several generations of the Thomas/Bellas/Stables family. It was taken either in Shiney Row, County Durham, England or Edmonton, London where the Stables family lived. The original is in my father’s possession and I have a digital copy. I’m not sure what the occasion was but there is another photograph, obviously taken at the same time, with all the wives and children. It looks to be a happy occasion whatever it was.

In the front is my grandfather, James Thomas, who was born in 1894 and whom I unfortunately never got to meet. He served during the First World War with the Tyneside Scottish, attached to the 21st Northumberland Fusiliers and spent his 21st birthday on the front. My father clearly remembers that his father forever hated the sound of bagpipes after the war as it reminded him of going ‘up and over’ the trenches to meet the enemy.

Behind my grandfather is “Uncle Snoozy”, Leslie Bruce Thomas. He was the oldest of my father’s siblings and I knew him well from visits to England and him visiting us in South Africa. He was a lovely man, a talented musician and always kind and loving. He passed away in 2013 but I can hear his voice with its’ Geordie accent calling me ‘Pet’.

Behind “Uncle Snoozy” is his son, also Leslie Thomas. Behind him is my great aunt’s husband, William ‘Bill’ Stables. Next comes another Leslie (a popular name in our family back then), this is Leslie Bellas. He fits into the Bellas side of the family as it was Elizabeth Bellas who married my grandfather, James Thomas. And finally, right at the back of the row, is Thomas Stables. He was the son of William ‘Bill’ Stables and Margaret Bellas (Elizabeth Bellas’ sister). Thomas Stables died in 1962 of renal failure, he was only 21. A favorite multi-generational photograph and one which makes me happy when I see it.