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040-12 John Thomas & Ellen Ribbons, USA

John Thomas 1144 seems to have married Ellen Ribbons 3362, formerly Guntsen in Taverham in 1881. Their children were: Emma Annie 3365 in 1883 and Thomas Henry 3364 b 1886, both in Costessy. Ellen died in the asylum in 1894, but Thomas appears to have emigrated to USA and had a daughter by a Sarah 3363 Newman called Harriett A 3366 who married Edward Mahoney in Rochester USA in 1925.

The research by Ian Gotts of Kings Lynn and Ernest Gotts is discussed below.

A Rochester Riddle


The finding among official records of the township of Rochester, Monroe County, New York State, of two English emigrants, father and son, and both named Thomas GOTTS, has triggered some speculation with regard to their identity. The year of their arrival in America is given as 1885, though this date may be erroneous. Census returns for New York State (1905) and Rochester (1920) show Thomas H as born in England in 1885, son of Thomas J GOTTS and Nellie GUNTSEN. Free BMD reveals a Thomas Henry born Forehoe District December Quarter 1855, which matches the baptism of Thomas Henry at Taverham on the 23rd February 1886, son of Thomas GOTTS and Ellen RIBBONS, who married at Taverham on the 17th September 1881. The father was born at Philadelphia St Clement, outwith Norwich, 24th June 1858, part of the third generation of a milling family.

Rochester Directories between 1889 and 1920 list the father as Thomas and the son as Thomas Junior, with the exception of 1920, which, for some reason, give the father as John T. Census Returns for 1901 and 1920 also show the presence of a daughter, Harriet, born New York State around 1897, thought to be the product of a second marriage. Yet this second marriage, it would seem, occurred several years later: at Rochester in 1913 a William (sic) GOTTS married Sarah NEWMAN. Interestingly, between 1901 and 1903 Sarah is working as a domestic employed just a few numbers away from where Thomas J was working as a driver – possibly for some wealthy family. As for Thomas Junior, he married Marguerite BROWNELL (born New York State around 1885, daughter of Leonard BROWNELL and Adeline MITTER) at Rochester in 1916. Harriet married Edward MAHONEY at Rochester in 1925. In 1919 Harriet is working at 50, West Main Street and residing at 253 Edinburgh with her father. Thomas Junior is working at 55 Joseph Avenue and residing at 855 St Paul. The father was employed as a driver for Express Company, the son as a foreman in a waterworks.

Interestingly, it is recorded that a Thomas GOTTS (age 53) arrived in New York on the 20th August 1913, disembarking from the Olympic, (at one time the largest liner in the world) which had sailed from Southampton He is listed as married, though no wife accompanied him on the voyage.

Finally, burials for the family have been found as follows:

Margaret E died 2 May 1947 age 62; buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, Rochester.

Thomas Junior died 16 January 1960 age 74; Elizabeth (presumably his second wife) died 27 March 1995 age 88; both buried at Riverside Cemetery, Rochester.

No burial has been found for Thomas Senior, though the 1925 Directory notes that Thomas J died on the 23rd July 1924 and Sarah is listed as his widow.

Returning now to the suggestion made earlier that the recorded date of arrival in America is inaccurate, it is perfectly feasible that Thomas Junior could not remember the precise date or, of course, that it is simply a clerical error on the part of the Census enumerator. No ship’s manifest or US entry document has been found to support the 1885 date. Similarly, Thomas may not have had exact knowledge of his mother’s maiden name or, again, we have another clerical mistake.

It does seem very likely that this family is the one mentioned above in the Taverham registers. The only challenge to this comes in the form of records for St Andrews Hospital, a mental institution in Thorpe. Three references to an Ellen GOTTS can be seen, admitted to the hospital on the 23rd May 1889 and discharged on the 27th June 1889, having been “found not insane”. She was re-admitted on the 31st March 1890 and died of stomach cancer on the 10th June 1894 aged 32. This age does not square entirely with the baptism of Ellen RIBBONS in 1858 but is reasonably close. Furthermore, one of the hospital records states that Ellen was “of Costessey”, a village neighbouring Drayton where Thomas Senior worked as a miller at the time of the Censuses of 1871 and 1881.

Where, then, does all this leave our emigrants? If they left for America to start a fresh life after Ellen’s unfortunate death, this would make the recorded date of 1885 nearly ten years out – an unlikely scenario. Or was Thomas finding life with Ellen, clearly a very troubled woman, so difficult that he decides to make a break, take his young child with him and leave poor Ellen behind? Not beyond possibility, though looking after this child would not have been easy. And what was Thomas doing in England in 1913?

A Rochester riddle indeed.

Rochester, New York State, USA

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