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Wednesday, 27 March 2013

A Lancashire Lass in New York - Fearless Females

Fearless Females is a blog In honour of National Women's History Month in the USA. Suggested by Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist, it provides 31 Blogging Prompts for March.   
March 27 — Do you know the immigration story of one or more female ancestors?

The research into my Rawcliffe ancestors had led me to assume that like all my mother's family, they were very firmly based in the Fylde area of Lancashire, England.

So it was a huge surprise to find, in a very casual browsing for Rawcliffes on http://www.familysearch.org/, an entry for Alice Mason, nee Rawcliffe, born Hambleton 1853 and that she had died in Jamesburg, New Jersey on 24th February 1930 - the first time I was aware of any American connection.  I was delighted to find this unknown American connection and began a new challenge to find out more using www.Ancesstry.com.

Alice was the sister of my great grandmother Maria. Born 1853 at Hambleton, near Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, she was the fourth daughter of Robert Rawliffe and Jane Carr. She married John Mason and they settled in Fleetwood where they had six children - Robert William, Jane Elizabeth, John Thomas, James Richard, Margaret Alice and George Rawcliffe - all family Christian names. In the 1881 census, John was described as a general labourer.

The New York Passenger Lists online revealed that John Mason had sailed from Liverpool to Brooklyn, New York, in 1886 followed by 34 year old Alice, a year later travelling with 6 children aged 1-13 and two pieces of baggage.   What on earth was life like for them all on the voyage? If only I could discover why they took this step of adventure from a small Lancashire community to the teeming streets of New York!
The Family Search information had been supplied by a contributor. Frustratingly when I wrote to find out more, the letter was returned “not known at this address”. Further efforts to make contact with any American descendants were slow to bring results.

American census returns on www.ancestry.com   showed that within twelve years of her arrival in Brooklyn, New York, Alice had a further five children - Arthur Valentine (born appropriately 14th February), Harold Arthur Victor, Lillian Eveline, Bessie Irene and Florence Adelaide. Arthur, Bessie and Lillian all died in infancy.    The family took out American citizenship in 1895. 

The 1900 census for the City of New York, Brooklyn showed a large Mason household of 10 iiving at 72 Hall street in what was probably an apartment building with four other families at the same address.  John was described as an insurange agent.   By 1910 he was a   labourer in the Customs House, with eldest son Robert  a driver - fruit producer and eldest daughter Jenny (Jane Elizabeth) aged 34  a label paster - canned goods and son John a shipping clerk.  At some point the family moved across the river to New Jersey where they were for the 1920 census.  Eldest and youngest sdaughters Jane and Florence were still living at home - both operators in a snuff factory. 
The photograph above was a bit of a mystery. It was in the collection of my great aunt (Maria's daughter) but not identified and nothing to indicate where it was taken. It must surely be of one of of my great grandmother's sisters - Anne, Jane, Alice, or Jennet? The composition of the family and ages of the children ruled out Anne, Jane or Jennet. So is this Alice and James Mason? Eldest daughter Jane Elizabeth was still unmarried in the 1920 census, so she could be the woman on the back left, and is that her youngest sister and brother - possibly Florence and Harold?

Florence Adelaide, with her father
John Thomas Mason. c.1905 .
The mystery was solved last year,  when Bonny, the granddaughter of Florence Mason discovered my blog and got in touch - she had the very same photograph, but mounted with the name of a photographer in Brooklyn, New York - and she sent me more family photographs.

Florence  looks to be about 7 years old, so taken c. 1905 - and what a magnificent hat for a wee girl - and her skirts look surprisingly short for the period.

I was also delighted to get this larger family group photograph (below) from Bonny, showing all eight children of Alice and James Mason, with Florence in the dark dress sitting at the front. Alice died in 1930 and James 7 years later, both buried in Fernwood Cemetery, Jamesburg.

Top - Robert, Jenny (Jane Elizabeth), Mother Alice, Father John, Harry
Bottom - Thomas (John Thomas), Alice (Margaret Alice), Florence, George and James
It is all thanks to the power of the Internet
that I discovered the story of my American connections.


  1. Wow, I'm so glad to have found your blog, this kind of thing is so interesting to me! I love history and old photographs are always fascinating to me.

    I'm one of the A-Z Minions and just wanted to stop by to say hello. I'm so glad to meet you. Good luck with the Challenge! :)

    1. Many thanks, Julie, for your kind comment. I have an awful fear I have bitten off more than I can cope with in the A-Z challenge and am trying to get ahead with my drafts. . Time will tell - but do keep reading!

  2. I always love your photos and stories. Keep writing so I can keep reading :)
    Kassie aka "Mom"
    Maybe someone should write that down...


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