My Grandmother Was Not On The Titanic
It’s funny what happens when you start writing about your ancestors. Suddenly, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th cousins appear from across the world (Yeah!) and they begin to share photos, letters, postcards and stories. One of the most interesting tidbits relayed is about my Great Grandmother Alice and that she was to board the Titanic but missed the ship.
At first I thought, oh my! If she had been on the Titanic, I might not be here. Then I remembered the Titanic sank in 1912 and my grandmother had already been born so my existence was secure.
Family stories are fun, but it’s important to do the proper research and separate fact from fiction. In this case, Great Grandmother Alice missing a ride on the Titanic? Fiction. But almost, emphasis on almost, possible.
Here’s how I came to this conclusion:
First, I Followed The Passenger Lists
Even though the Titanic sank in 1912, I started with Alice’s entry into the U.S. in 1906 because I had some correspondence clues and I felt it was important to follow all her transatlantic crossings to be sure I’d covered every track.
My great grandmother, Alice Vince Pinborough, immigrated to the U.S. aboard the S.S. Arabic on 22 June 1906 with her children Winifred, Hilda and John. According to the UK Outward Passenger Lists and Massachusetts Boston Passenger Lists 1891–1943 her husband, Frederick, was also booked on the same journey with them but did not board the ship in June. He did cross a few months later 17 August 1906.
To those of you new to genealogy research, passenger lists are easily available on various websites including Ancestry.com, FindMyPast.com and FamilySearch.org. These passenger lists are full of fascinating details. Don’t limit yourself to the names and dates when exploring your ancestors. There are so many precious items on historical documents that give you insight into your ancestor’s life. Read everything on the pages you review AND the pages before and after to ensure you don’t miss anything.
For example, on Alice’s 1906 entry into the U.S. is her answer to “Whether in possession of $50, and if less, how much?” The record indicates Draft $1499.7 and $1730. This is most interesting (to me) as most of the other second class passengers were in possession of about $30. As a comparison, when her husband Fred arrived later that year, he had only $40. Based on what I’ve heard about Alice, I’m guessing she came to the US with their life savings and poor Fred was left with enough money to get by until he joined the family.
Everyone in Alice’s party was headed to Utah and listed in good health on the 1906 arrival record except for Hilda, my grandmother. She was listed with Strabismus & cataract right eye. Strabismus — aka Crossed eyes, is failure of the two eyes to maintain proper alignment and work together as a team. She had this in one eye. This is not news to me as I have already heard about her condition, I just found it interesting that it was noted upon entry.
But these notations made me curious, so I read through other pages of passengers health reports. They included Short statured, Corneal Opacity & Partial blind right eye, Chronic blepharitis, Senility, Hair Lip, Stutters, Acne, Debility and Eczema. Fascinating!
On the manifest a few months later when Fred came through Boston, questions where: if you were ever in prison or almshouse or institution for care and treatment of the insane, whether a polygamist, whether an anarchist, whether coming by reason of any offer solicitation promise or agreement express or implied to labor in the United States. He answered no to all.
I get easily distracted by all the finite bits revealing details about people, who they were and how they lived. Back to the task at hand…
Fred, her husband arrived 25 Aug 1906 in Boston Massachusetts aboard the same ship. He sent the card below to Alice. Of course, I’m curious if he arrived 25 Aug, but on the card wrote 27 Aug “arrived here this morn” — did he actually arrive on the 25th and forget what day it was? Probably not as the card was also postmarked Aug 27th, so…was he exploring Boston for 2 days before sending the postcard on the 27th? That’s a mystery for another time.
Then, I followed Alice & The Clues She Left Behind
In 1911, Alice received this postcard from her nephew in England indicating her mother was ill.
January 31, 1911 — Dear Aunt I have just had a letter to say that grandma is very bad and the Doctor gives no hope for her. Aunt Annie is up day and night with her hoping all is well. I remain your affectionate Nephew. William
She did not embark on the journey to see her mother until Saturday June 10th 1911 aboard the White Star Dominion Line R.M.S. Celtic.
Perhaps she did not leave until June because the ships were full. Perhaps she had to save enough money for the journey. Perhaps there were other letters or postcards that indicated she did not need to rush. Perhaps she had a troubled relationship with her mother and hesitated to go. This is a detail I will likely never know.
I suspect the passenger list from her journey in 1911 is what initiated the rumors of her possible Titanic voyage because on the back of the Second Class Passenger List book was this:
But, following this postcard from Alice to Fred, and checking the passenger lists, Alice returned aboard the SS Arabic from Liverpool to Boston on September 26, 1911. The White Star Line Titanic departed Southampton on April 10 1912, seven months AFTER Alice left the UK.
Now, Alice’s mother, Hannah Maria Meachen, passed away March 28, 1912 at the age of 80, six months AFTER Alice left the UK.
Had Alice stayed until her mother’s death, perhaps she could have booked passage aboard the Titanic and departed on April 10th from Southampton. But, Alice made all her journeys through Liverpool, and the Titanic did not depart from nor stop there, though it was the port of registry.
So — while there is a possibility that she could have booked passage aboard the Titanic and been on board that fateful day April 15, 1912. It seems highly unlikely that she “just missed” the journey or even considered departing from Southampton.
Conclusion: Family rumor busted! Great Grandma Alice did not miss a ride on the Titanic. Now, another cousin said she had only expressed an interest in sailing aboard the Titanic, which, could absolutely be true.
My grandmother left behind hundreds of letters from friends and ancestors, that I transcribe and research sharing tips and discoveries as I go. Maybe my ancestors knew some of yours? Maybe we are cousins? Get inspired on my blog at Sharing The Past.