Sunday, 5 May 2013

Family Tree Research - A Holy Man In The Family

John Wesley
My family research began a long time ago and I only recently purchased a worldwide version of and it has filled in a few gaps and has also led me down some unexpected paths.

In my last post, I discussed the fact that the vast majority of my male ancestors were miners, save for my Tyne Waterman great grandfather and his dad, who was a hairdresser!  I like to think of him as a sort of geordie Vidal Sassoon or Nicky Clark but I think the reality is less glamorous - he was cutting, trimming and rollering in the 1820s - posh people were still wearing wigs but poor people stuck to short back and sides and the women rarely had their hair cut.

I did not expect to find too many surprises along the way in terms of 'occupation' on the census records from 1841 through 1911 so imagine my excitement when I discovered the following occupation for my great-great grandfather, R.N.S - Occupation: Miner/Wesleyan Minister.

I should also reveal that his son, my great-grandfather was not a religious man and was very much a man who did not 'spare the rod' when it came to disciplining his own children.
Montour Mining Company

I understand from reading other family history stories that this was nothing new in the early 20th century and recent episodes of the new BBC drama, The Village certainly bear this out.

 Times were tough and you had to be tough to survive.

His religious upbringing may well have included an element of fire and brimstone. who knows?

 I do know that he was extremely articulate and a strong supporter of the budding Labour Party but even my grandmother never, ever mentioned his own upbringing, describing him often as 'a closed book'.  So was that closed book a bible, I wonder?  Was he the way he was because of his Wesleyan upbringing?
Montour area of Pennsylvania

 He never talked about his siblings, parents or upbringing and surely, having a dad who was once a preacher would have been a story worth sharing with your own kids?

So how on earth did my great great grandfather become a Wesleyan Minister?  What is a Wesleyan Minister?  What did he believe?  Did he take his young family to Montour, Pennsylvania for a mining job or the opportunity to also spread his mission?

My interest was piqued - here's what I discovered

Pittsburgh Coal Company - probable employer of RNS
Religion in general in Britain was being brought into the cities and the poor were being brought into the fold of religious worship (whether they wanted it or not).  The truth is that the vast majority of the poor did not think about God, care about God and mainly, did not know about God so religion meant nothing to most of them.  Some of them could hardly put food on their tables and worked very long shifts in either the pits, mills or the factories so going to church was not really top of their 'to do' list.  they lived in pretty terrible urban areas and life was a struggle from day to day with high infant mortality, disease and abject poverty.

It probably didn't help that the newly evangelical leg of the Church of England led most of their sermons by telling these poor people to not be so idle!  Not to drink!  Not to fornicate!  Well, dear me, what else did they have in their lives?  Work!

The Wesleyans were also evangelical - they went out into the people and talked to miners at the pit heads - talked about loving God, loving Christ and loving your neighbours too - because in that sort of community brotherhood came goodness of heart and spirit.  I'm no expert but it all sounds like it was about telling people to understand God and love God on their own terms - no church!  So Wesleyans had chapels and chapels were about the community and brought God into the community.

I found a document online which has the name of my relative on it - he went to mines in the North East of England and preached his message there.  I have no evidence that he was a Primitive Methodist, though maybe he had a bit more of that about him after his time in Montour, which had a strong Wesleyan presence.

He stops calling himself a  Wesleyan Minister eventually - maybe age got the better of him; the 1891 census his occupation is listed as 'Sewing Machine Salesman', no mention of being a minister.  By then he was 53 years old.  I don't think its a coincidence that all of his jobs after living in the USA are 'salesman' type jobs.  He never worked in the mines again.  He certainly did not make any money in America, their address in 1891, Palmer St, Jarrow was a slum area.  They moved there after first moving back to Derbyshire; home of his wife.  Eventually he came back to the North East.

Interesting to note that Montour's neighbouring county is called Northumberland; so possibly named after my own neighbouring English county?  Seems likely.

As a footnote - my great-grandfather (the closed book) married a girl who was famed in her local area, Percy Main, Northumberland for being a medium - she did seances and went to people's houses to do spiritual evenings.  My great grandfather might have been turning in his grave?

No comments:

Post a Comment