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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Virtual Genealogist March 18th

Here are some answers to yesterday's queries.  Want to play along?  Submit your queries and answers to

My grandparents, with all of their family of 10, immigrated from England (Croyden, south of London) to San Mateo County between 1907 and 1910, finding work on wealthy estates. 
They came “directly” to San Mateo as their intended destination, but I don’t know of the the stops along the way, or where they first entered the US.
Initial cursory attempts to search for immigration records have come up empty.

So, I have three questions:

1. Where/how do I focus my search to find their travel path and dates (e.g. ship records, immigration records)?

2. What would be common transport paths from England to San Mateo? Somewhere I heard to Canada, then to US at Detroit, the presumably by train to San Francisco. Others have said, Canada, cross Canada by train, then to SF via ship from BC, Canada. Were there a small number of most common paths for English immigrants during those years?

3. Any surmises in why in that era (1907-1910) a family of 10 would leave England and end up in San Mateo, apparently the intended destination from the get-go? They were lower working class, so I assume they saw a grim future in England. And perhaps they heard about the 1906 earthquake and the huge need for labor to rebuild, so they chose SF as their destination. Make sense? Any other thoughts?

The VG responds:  If I wanted to leave Croyden in the 1906 (the date on the census page) I would probably hop a ship from Southampton to New York or Boston.  The Croyden aerodrome didn't open until 1920, and the Panama Canal wasn't completed until 1914.  Here are some places to look for ship lists.  Remember that there is a difference between manifests, ship lists, and arrival lists.

Not just from Norway:  Passenger lists and emigrant ships from Norway Heritage

Immigrant Ship Transcribers Guild
The Ships List
Specifically for Southampton

It's possible that they came through Canada.  As British citizens, this may have been easier.  The US did keep track of border crossings, so you could look here:
Border Crossings from Canada to U.S., 1895-1960
And don't forget Ellis Island 1892 to 1924

The transcontinental railway was opened in 1869.  This was a likely means of transport.  I haven't seen any passenger lists for the railway.  

Why would they want to leave Croyden?  Have you BEEN to Croyden?  OK, it's nicer now, but wasn't a hotbed of industry in 1906.
It looks like you might have some chain migration here.  A brother is in San Mateo.  Other things to consider:
Who did they come with?  Check the census and directories for possible friends and relatives.
Was religion a factor?
What was their occupation in England?  In the US?
What was going on in San Mateo in the 1910s?  Lumber?  Mining?  Construction?
Any financial incentives to come here?  Newspaper ads?  Employment?

Check the California Digital Newspaper Collection.  There are some articles about the estates you mentioned around that time period.

I always think there's a reason families moved to a particular place at a particular time.
- VG

My family name gets spelled many different ways once you get back to the 17th and 18th C. What is the best way to decide on how you enter a name in Ancestry or your software of choice? Birth record? Death?  Also, how best to enter the names people went by when those bore no relation to their formal name.
The VG responds: The purpose of posting online for any site is for people to find you.  In this case, you're better off using the most common recent spelling for the name of the tree.  I've seen some names using variations with a slash "Smith/Smythe tree".  And I've seen come cases where it gets unmanageable, with every possible variation in the name in every single entry.

For your own records, you may find that the name changes over generations.  On my tree, I use the older spelling for those generations, switching to the recent one later.  Try to be consistent within the records for an individual, so that you don't end up with three different names for the same person.
Which to use when the records can't agree?  Birth records are usually reliable, death records less so, census not at all.  But I try to find the way my ancestor signed him/her self and use that.

When the name they used is not their legal/formal name?  The standard is usually to record the name as on documents, with the common name in brackets.  "John Percival (Bud) Smith".  Remember you want people to find them when they may not be aware of the common usage name.

And of course if you use too many spelling variations, it plays havoc with your index!

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