The number of defamation cases involving libellous remarks made in blogs has doubled year on year, according to a London law firm. This gave me pause for thought as I was about to post a blog facetiously implying that one of my ancestors was an international drugs runner.
However, he’s been dead for nearly a century and it’s very difficult – though apparently not impossible – for the dead to sue for defamation, so I’ll press on with the story.
I’ve been looking for my paternal grandfather and great-grandfather for years (in a genealogical sense). The family surname appears to have been changed at some point, which has made it impossible to locate the right records.
However, I’ve now stumbled by chance across a character who I suspect of being GGF.
Here’s what I know (based mainly on family legend)
First name Myer or similar
Surname not Fenton, but possibly something similar
Probably foreign, was an immigrant
Had some connection with Manchester
Had a son born in 1885, called Richard
Here’s how my new chap fits the bill (based on documentary evidence from ancestry.com)
First name Meyer
Born in either Russia or Palestine, emigrated to the US but visited the UK several times.
Lived in Manchester for a while
Had a son born in 1885, called Louis
Could be coincidence but you can see how it starts to get exciting. Meyer was a druggist or chemist by trade, and though he became a US citizen, he seems to have spent most of his time popping hither and thither across the Atlantic. The archives are bulging with applications from Mr F, asking for visas and emergency passports so he could nip to and fro between New York, Boston or Philadelphia and Turkey, Austria or England. The captains of the Mauretania and the other transatlantic steamships must have felt quite lonely and distressed if Meyer wasn’t on the passenger list.
Quite often he travelled alone, leaving the wife and kids home alone in Brooklyn. What, I want to know, was a middle-aged, married chemist doing gallivanting all over the world when he should have been at home dispensing headache remedies? And how could he afford all that transatlantic travel?
Meyer the narcotics runner wouldn’t be the first skeleton I’ve uncovered in the family closet. I’ve discovered an illegitimate baby and three generations of alcoholics (not that either were especially unusual in so-called repressed Victorian Britain, but they make the family stop and think a bit).
It’s all circumstantial of course – I can’t yet prove either M’s alleged criminal tendencies or his blood relationship to me. I’ve seen some shocking examples of amateur family historians making wild assumptions and taking them as truths. “My family came over with William the Conqueror” – that kind of nonsense but on a smaller scale. I’ve even heard one person making that very claim. It’s ludicrous – even if it were true, there would be no way of proving it, and no reason to even assume it, given the erratic availability of documentary sources prior to the early 1800s, when registration of births, marriages and deaths became compulsory in the UK.
It’s going to be hard enough to prove a link with a 19th century Russian-Jewish-American drugs baron, let alone proving descent from 11th century French invaders.
Pic credit: Grant Cochrane, http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=2365