Former renter in Greenwich Village, waiting out the turnaround in Manhattan's midtown. Working on a blog-to-book project about my NYC/NJ ancestors. Everyday I'm amazed by what I find with Ancestry and in old newspapers.

April 7, 2020

Indulging in Ancestry while staying at home: the great-grandmother who left England and put me in the U.S.

"Why did she come here?" I asked.

"She had a fight with her boyfriend," my grandmother said. I had asked about her mother who immigrated to the United States from England. I was in love with England. It was 1964 and I'd just seen Mary Poppins. When my mother told me we were English, I was eager to know more about the woman whose picture was on my grandmother's mantel.

"She was a governess," Grandma said. I was filled with visions of a great-grandmother who was like Mary Poppins and had a boyfriend as handsome as Bert and I thought why oh why did she come here only to marry a fireman, have six kids, and live in a small house in New Jersey?

"The English can be mean" was the explanation she gave me, and her cautionary words come back to me whenever I feel myself falling for an English accent or a man in a suit from Savile Row. But they sound like words Beatrice could have said herself. She never went back to England, even to visit relatives.

At a time when many of us are living under stay-at-home orders, I've been on Ancestry everyday marveling at the powerful search engine that instantaneously finds ancestors and official documents about Beatrice.

She came here in 1905 on the Caronia, . . .
. . . according to a passenger list I found on Ancestry, and stayed with a sister in East Orange. She married a year later and lived in the same house for the rest of her life.

What my grandmother told me was partly true but distorted by misunderstanding. Beatrice wasn't a governess but a domestic nurse, written in the census taken in 1901 when she was 23, and lived and worked in the English country home Moor Cross House in Cornwood, Devon. 

Moor Cross House, April 2020
Photo: Phil Abbott
Home to Mackworth Parker, the grandson to an admiral who served at the Battle of Trafalgar and built nearby Delamore House, the Moor Cross household consisted of a boy and girl ages four and five, their parents, four servants and Beatrice. I haven't found public records about Beatrice's training or education, but nannies at that time were called nurses. As one of eight children to a railway signalman in Middlesex, London, which was still above an ordinary laborer, living in this grand house must have been the high point of her life. 

Moor Cross House, April 2020
Photo: Phil Abbott
A meet at Moor Cross, April 1904
Credit: The Book of Cornwood and Lutton

By 1905, when Beatrice emigrated to the States, the Parker children were old enough to be sent away to public school so a nanny was no longer needed, Gavin Dollard of Delamore House told me.

While looking for another photograph, which I did not find, I came across this portrait of Beatrice that I'd never seen before. It was taken by photographer Edmund Wheeler of Brighton. My mother told me that Beatrice lived in Brighton but I have yet to find that address.

Beatrice Barrand, ca. 1901-05
Photographer: Edmund Wheeler of Brighton, England

Did Beatrice have another job after she left the Parker household or did she run off with a boyfriend to Brighton on holiday? What promises did they make to each other and didn't keep? What would have happened to her if she had stayed in England? A part of me wishes she hadn't left.

Contact: Debbie Carter, VillagerExpat@aol.com, (212) 925-3721

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