Saturday, May 08, 2010

My Brickwall: John's Mysterious Disappearance

After 1880, John Platts completely disappears from anything I can find. Without definite proof, there are several things that could have happened, but first, it is clear that the family moved Lockport, NY in 1882. However, I have not been able to track where they went. My theories on what happened to John:

(a) John was actually living with the family but not working from 1888 to 1893 when only Sarah is listed as head of household. While this is possible, it is not probable. The thinking of the time was to list all adults over 16 in the household, and that even if sick and unable to work, John was still head of household. It is rare that a woman would take this position if her husband was still alive.

(b) very shortly after the family moved, John dies. This would be someone's first assumption, but there is evidence to the contrary. Mainly the Lockport directories, which list Sarah Platts but not as a widow until 1893. Typically, if a woman was a widow, it is listed as such and there were many examples of this throughout the directories (so it was directory protocol to list widows when they knew).

(c) John was separated from the family while looking for work. This is a typical pattern for families during hard times: the head of the family goes out looking for work in a place where he has heard they are hiring, he gets a job and establishes himself and sends for his family. In this scenario, John would be looking for work from at least 1887 (when the directory took information for the 1888 directory where Sarah is first listed alone), until his death sometime in 1892 (when the directory took information for the 1893 directory when Sarah is first listed as a widow).

(d) John abandoned his family. There is a family rumor that this happened, although my father-in-law heard it was about his grandfather, Albert Platts. Albert is John and Sarah's son, and my research shows (and I'll be posting in future blogs) he was living with his family right up until his death. So the rumor was probably not about Albert, but may have been about John. Given that he was not finding consistent work, he had 8 children and a wife to care for, the economics of the time were hard and his expertise was being replaced by newer technology, and the possibility of drink, it is not hard to imagine that someone might be overwhelmed and walk away. It happened more times than we would like to think, and was easier than it would be today. There were no social security numbers or computer tracking; one could easily change their name or just walk off. I am currently looking for advertisements in Niagara County or Ontario papers regarding John Platts to see if this was the case. The wife or husband (women ran away too!) would have to advertise a missing person to see if any information could be found. If none was forth-coming, after a certain number of years (varied depending on the laws where you lived), abandonment could be claimed and a divorce granted. I am looking for that paperwork too. Rather than state "divorced," which was scandalous, many claimed to be widowed.
     Obviously a death certificate or news article could give us a lot of information, and I will continue to look for it, and will certainly post it when I find it!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Platts between 1880 and 1900

The 1890 U.S. Census went up in flames during a basement fire in the Commerce Building in Washington, D.C., and genealogists lost an invaluable source of information. We therefore must cobble together other documents and records to discover what happened during these 20 years.
     One of the main sources of information during this time is directories. Long before there were telephones, there were city directories listing who lived in the city and businesses. Even though they couldn't pick up the phone and call Roto-rooter, they still had needs for plumbers, electricians, etc. and many weren't just around the corner. Buffalo, NY has directories starting in the 1830s and other towns followed suit quickly. Our current telephone directories did evolve from these city directories.
     I had a chance to stop by the Niagara Historical Society in Lockport when I visited there and photograph pages from some of their directories. Rather than show you many of pages of them, I will just list my findings:

= 1880-1881 directory: John Platt listed in the Lockport Directory as living at 31 Price. This is consistent with the data from the 1880 Census.
= 1882-1883 through 1887 directories: No Platts listed in Lockport at all.
= 1888 directory: Mrs. Sarah Platts, domestic, listed as living at 165 Pine, Lockport. An Anna Platts is also listed as a domestic but living at 130 Locust. It is unknown if this Sarah & John's daughter, who would have been 18 or 19 years old in 1888.
= 1891 directory: Sarah Platts, listed as living over 7 Pine in Lockport. Anna is not listed, but an Albert Platt (no S) is listed as a tinsmith, boarding at 157 Pine and William H. Platt (again no S) is shown as a blacksmith living at 280 Chestnut. Again it is not known if this two men are the children of Sarah and John, but despite the misspelling it could be. The boys would have been 18 and 20 respectively at this time.
= 1893, 1894 and 1895 directories: Sarah Platts, widow of John, listed as living over 5 West in Lockport. William Platt is also listed in same location as in 1892.
= 1897 directory: Sarah Platts, widow of John, listed as living at 161 Prospect in Lockport. Again listed as under Platt (no S) are, but unknown if they are the sons of Sarah and John: (a) Albert J, laborer, h 435 Vine, (b) Thomas, laborer, h 9 Lagrange, and (c) William H, laborer, blacksmith, h 61 Lock.
= 1898 directory: Sarah Platts, widow of John, listed as living at 161 Prospect in Lockport. Again listed as under Platt (no S) are, but unknown if they are the sons of Sarah and John: (a) Albert J, laborer, h 17 Dayton, (b) Thomas J., laborer, h 9 Lagrange

The next directory was the 1900 one, a year which I will cover with the 1900 US Census.

Platts in the 1880 U.S. Census


In 1880, the Platts family was living in Lockport as shown by the U.S. Census of that year. My best transcription, with handwritten entries in italic:

Inhabitants in the 4th ward of Lockport, in the County of Niagara, State of N.Y., enumerated by me on the 9th day of June, 1880. Lyman A. Dietrick.

Living on Price St.

Name/Color/Sex/Age/Marital Status/Occupation/Employment Status*/Disability Status/Literate Status/Birthplace/Birthplace of Father/Birthplace of Mother

= Line #1, John Platts, White, M, 43, Head, Married, Machinist, Checkmark for employment status*, no disabilities listed, can read and write, born in England as well as both parents
= Line #2, Sarah Platts, White, F, 33, Wife, Married, Keeping House, No employment or disability status, can read and write, born in England as well as both parents
=Line #3, Samuel Platts, White, M, 12, son, at school, no employment or disability status, attended school this year, born in England as well as both parents
= Line #4, Anna E. Platts, White, F, 11, daughter, at school, no employment or disability status, attended school this year, born in England as well as both parents
= Line #5, William Platts, White, M, 9, son, at school, no employment or disability status, attended school this year, born in England as well as both parents
= Line #6, Albert Platts, White, M, 8, son, at school, no employment or disability status, attended school this year, born in Canada, both parents born in England
= Line #7, Thomas Platts, White, M, 6, son, at school, no employment or disability status, attended school this year, born in Canada, both parents born in England
= Line #8, Mary Platts, White, F, 5, daughter, no employment or disability status, born in Canada, both parents born in England
= Line #9, Clara Platts, White, F, 3, daughter, no employment or disability status, born in Canada, both parents born in England
= Line #10, Alfred Platts, White, M, 10mo (b. Aug of prev yr), son, no employment or disability status, born in Canada, both parents born in England

*Employment status: The questions asks how many months, if any, was the person unemployed in the year previous to the census. This was in response to several fiscal crises in the US and was designed to see how many people had been out of work. However, the information was deemed too erratic and unuseable.

A brief stop in Canada

It is hard to say where John Platts was at the time of his mother's death. He could have been living nearby in Holloway, Derbyshire, England. Or he may have already sailed to Canada. Since I have not found the his name on a ships' list yet, it is hard to determine.
     What is known is that he and his family were listed on the 1871 English Census, then he and Sarah appear in the Wellington, Ontario, Canada Birth Registry with the 16 June 1873 birth of Albert (previous blog, 1/20/07). Four more children follow quickly: Thomas on 23 March 1875, Mary Ellen on 9 Dec 1876, Clara on 10 July 1878 and Alfred on 29 Sept 1879. So within 12 years of marrying, Sarah had given birth to 8 children that we know of.
     There is no census or other records that I have found showing what they did or where they went during their stay in Canada, nor their reason for immigration. My best guess is that they were following where the work was, and that there had been some kind of depression or loss of work in Derbyshire.
     Upstate and Western New York, as well as parts of Ontario, Canada were evidently well known in parts of Derbyshire and Yorkshire. I met a University of Buffalo professor who was studying the connection of quarrymen between these parts of the globe. Evidently, good quarrymen were hard to come by and once they found places to quarry in New York and Ontario (like when they were building the Erie Canal), many were recruited from England. A lot of Yorkshire and parts of its neighboring county, Derbyshire had lots of quarries in which men were trained and recruited from. As we saw in previous census, Lea/Holloway was one of the Derbyshire area that had quarrying nearby. Many of these men would work in New York during the warm months, then winter in England where they could work in better temperatures. Kind of an 19th century snowbirds!
     With stone masons in the family and living around them, John and Sarah probably knew or heard about New York and Ontario from these men. And when times got tough, they probably followed them or at least heard about greener pastures from them.
     I will post more in future blogs about the economic conditions of the times in both Derbyshire and Ontario as I find out about them.

Death of Martha Platts

. .

Above is the Death Certificate for Marth Stocks Platts. Following her death, I have lost track of John's siblings. I will post any findings in future blogs as I discover them. My best transcription of the above certificate, with hand-written entries in italic and typed ones in bold:

Certified Copy of an Entry of Death
Given at the General Registry Office

Application No. COL864309

Registration District: Belper
1872 Death in the Sub-District of Wirksworth in the County of Derby
No. 436

Where and When Died: Twenty first April 1872, Lea
Name and Surname: Martha Platts
Sex: Female
Age: 70 years
Condition: Widow of Josiah Platts, a bookkeeper
Cause of Death: Bronchitis Emphysema Certified
Signature, description and residence of informant: Samuel Platts, Present at the death, Lea
When Registered: Twenty fifth April 1872
Signature of Registrar: John Bacon, Registrar

Remainder of document is modern day legalese about authenticity, etc.

(1) Bronchitis Emphysema would have been a respiratory disease, very similar to modern-day emphysema. Certified means that a doctor had signed or reported the disease and that the clerk or sheriff had looked into this and not found it suspicious.
(2) Samuel, who was present at the death of his father and reported it, also did the same for his mother.

Platts in the 1871 Census (Part II: John & Sarah)

.John and Sarah's family is the third family listed on this census. My best transcription:

Civil Parish of Ashover, Village of Holloway
Family number: 8
Where lived: Gregory Tunnel

Name/Relationship/Condition/Age and Sex/Occupation/Place of Birth
= John Platts, Head of Household, Married, 32 male, Hosiery Power Frame Fitter, Derbyshire Holloway
= Sarah Platts, Wife, Married, 23 female, occupation lined through, Derbyshire Matlock Riber
= Samuel Platts, Son, Unmarried, 3 male, Scholar, Derbyshire Ashover Holloway
= Anne E. Platts, Daughter, Unmarried, 2 female, Scholar, Derbyshire Ashover Holloway
= William H. Platts, Son, Unmarried, 10mo. male, Scholar, Derbyshire Ashover Holloway

(1) The ages of John and Sarah match the ones on their marriage certificate. In addition, I now have the birthplace of Sarah so I can hopefully find out more about her and her family.
(2) Note that in roughly 3-1/2 years that Sarah has had three children, all close to one year apart.
(3) In the manufacture of hosiery, a power frame was basically the machine that made the fabric or hosiery. Often there would be more than 100 of these machines running at one time, tended by someone in charge of 6 to 24 of them. In Lowell, MA there is a textile mill/factory as part of the National Park. They have a floor of these machines to give you a feel for what it was like. Even though there are about 100 on the floor, only a third of them are working at any time (in the exhibit, in real life there was little down time for any machine and all of them would have been running). Even so, with only a third of the machines, the noise was horrendous. Many factory workers had their hearing damaged at young ages from working in the factories.
     Also, the vibration from these machines shuttling back and forth was terrific. In Lowell, the factory actually moved the machines from the third floor to the first less than a year after opening. Having the machines on the third floor was actually shaking their new brick building apart!
     If John also repaired the machinery, he had a dangerous, complicated dance to perform. First, unless the machine had actually died, he had to coordinate with the foreman and person in charge of the loom when to take down the machine for repairs. This was to maximize the efficiency and production of the machine. Second, repairs were often made while the machine was running, which is obviously dangerous. Again, this was for maximum production. Lastly, the machines themselves were dangerous and the mill floor was not a safe place. Spindles or other bits of machinery would break and go flying off (remember, they were run 24/7), often into a person or into another machine which would then send its own shrapnel flying. Pulley and belts were not enclosed and one could easily catch hair or a piece of clothing in them -- losing a limb or even your life.

Platts in the 1871 English Census (Part I: Martha)

. .
With their marriage in 1867, John and Sarah Platts had established their own household separate from Martha Platts. I will be looking at both their households in the 1871 census in this blog and the one following.
     Martha Platts' family is the third from the top. Here is the my best transcription of their information:

Family #94
Where Lived: Lea

Name/Relationship/Condition/Age & Sex/Occupation/Where Born

= Martha Platts, Head of Household, Widowed, 69 Female, Hosiery Trimmer, Derbyshire Ashover
= Anne Platts, Daughter, Unmarried, 43, Hosiery Trimmer, Derbyshire Ashover
= Samuel Platts, Son, Unmarried, 37, Wool Sorter, Derbyshire Ashover

(1) Martha has returned to work, indicating that the loss of John's income has tightened their purse strings. At 69 in 1871, this could not have been easy. When Germany set the first retirement age (65!) for their pension system in the late 1800s, they chose an age where most people would be too feeble and near certain death to work or earn any monies, thus requiring the aid of the state. Given a life of hard and constant labor, where everything had to be hand-done, and poor medical practices, a person's body had taken quite a pounding by this time. To still be working, and at such close work as sewing (hosiery trimming was a specialized form of sewing) would be quite difficult. Martha probably had arthritis (many women developed this early, like in their 30s, due to the lye in the soap they were constantly having their hands in when cleaning or washing), and her eyesight must have been strained doing such fine work (11 stitches to the inch was considered an acceptable stitch size). Much of this, if not all, was done by lamplight as she probably didn't have electrical light in her lifetime. Most of the cottages at that time had small windows and thick walls and roof (to keep in heat). Even during the day they could be dimly lit, so candles would have been used unless it was nice enough to sit outside.

(2) Her place of birth has changed from Crich (listed 1841) to Ashover, although both are in Derbyshire. This probably indicates that she wasn't the one who gave the census taker their information, but one of her children. Since all of them were born in Ashover, they either assumed she was too or didn't know and gave the census taker the quick answer.

(3) The occupations on this page tend to reflect less of an industrial city. Besides the Platts' occupations, the occupations are: Tailor, Dressmaker, miller/farmer, butcher/farmer, and scholars (both boys and girls noted in this manner). Either the neighborhood changed to a more suburban outskirts of town or the Platts have relocated. It is hard to tell which one as their address or street has not be listed on any census.

The Death of Maria Bunting Platts

. .

Above is the Death Certificate for Maria Bunting Platts. My best transcription, with the handwritten items in italic and typed ones in bold:

Certified Copy of an Entry of Death

Given at the General Registry Office

Application No. COL199776

Registration District: Bakewell in the County of Derby

1865 Death in the Sub-District of Matlock

No. 344

When and Where Died: Fifth June 1865, Upperwood, Matlock Bath

Name and Surname: Maria Platts

Sex: Female

Age: 25 years

Occupation: Wife of John Platts, a Framesmith Journeyman

Cause of Death: Tubercular Peritonitis Certified

Signature, description and residence of informant: John Platts, Present at the Death, Upperwood, Matlock Bath

When Registered: Sixth June 1865

Signature of Registrar: Joseph Hallows, Registrar

(remainder of writing pertains to modern day assurances of authenticity)


(1) With their wedding date of 16 July 1864 and a death date of 5 June 1865, John and Maria were married less than a year. In addition, John married Sarah Redfern on 12 June 1867, just about two years after Maria's death. If this seems fast, it was quite common in those days, with many people dying young. Often a widower with small children would remarry within six months of the death of his wife. This was for the practical reason of who would take care of the kids and manage the house (no small task itself).

(2) It is interesting to note that she was 21 on her wedding certificate, but in one year, she aged to 25 on her death certificate.

(3) Tubercular Peritonitis is defined (in 1907 medical terms) as Chronic inflammation of the peritoneum, with thickening and degeneration of this layer. (The peritoneum is the membrane that forms the lining of the abdominal cavity, and covers most of the intra-abdominal organs.) According to the 1907 document I read, this disease "develops insidiously, the symptoms in the earlier stages being more or less obscure, and of little clinical significance. Disorders of digestion are always present to some extent". The disease then progressed undetected until it was very painful and the outlook was not favorable. If one did not catch it in the early stages (when it was easy to pass off as indigestion or gas), then it was usually fatal. A change of diet and climate were often prescribed.

(4) Matlock Bath is best known as a fashionable retreat for the wealthy and a setting for many Jane Austin novels. However, it was also home to many sanitoriums for health where the sick would go for a change in climate as well as care. It may be this reason that John and Maria were there at the time of her death, and not in Lea/Holloway.