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Abner Pearson the disappearing husband

A trip over the Pond

We tend to think that looking at the parish records and census returns give us a picture of our ancestors, but if we turn over a few more stones, like newspapers and passenger lists, we can find out so much more. Here’s an example of how someone had an adventure that I would never have known about without digging deeper; he left these shores just after a census was taken and returned in time to be recorded on the next one. And by digging deeper into the fact that he and his wife were not recorded together on the 1939 Register, I found a scandal!

My paternal grandmother Lily Pearson nee Rogers had an aunt called Lily Roebuck. Lily married Abner Pearson, who was my paternal grandfather’s cousin. I do like a nice uncomplicated family tree!

Lily was born at Hunshelf in 1877 the daughter of Walter Roebuck and Sarah Ann. She lived at Common Piece with her family until her marriage to Abner Pearson in 1896. Abner was born in 1876 and was the son of Aaron and Ann Pearson of Haywoods.

When he turned 23, Abner took a job with the railways at Deepcar, earning 16 shillings a week as a signal cleaner and lighter. He was there for less than a year, resigning in 1900. After that he was employed at Wortley Station as a railway plate layer.

Lily and Abner had five children: Arthur (1897), Horace (1900 – died), twins Clara and Walter (1906) and Willie (1909-1944).

When the 1901 census was taken on the 31st March, Lily, Abner and young Arthur were living at Wortley Station. There was then a six year gap before the twins Clara and Walter were born in 1906. This gap is explained by the fact that Abner left for America a few months after the 1901 census was taken, sailing alone from Liverpool on the 17th August 1901 and heading for Des Moines, Iowa, to a friend called “Mr. Day,” who could well have been a relation of his wife’s. Lily’s grandmother Jane Scargill had married a Matthew Day in 1857. She and most of her family emigrated to the US in the early 1880s and settled in Des Moines in the American mid-west, a thousand mile trek from New York where Abner would have disembarked from RMS Etruria after a journey of about a week. Jane Day returned to England in 1897 accompanied by one of her sons George Henry Day, who brought her back to Stocksbridge where she lived with her eldest daughter Sarah Ann, who had married Walter Roebuck (Lily’s parents).

There is a link to the story of Jane Scargill at the bottom of this page.

The twins were born in December 1906, so Abner can only have been away for 4 years at the most before heading back to these shores. The Electoral Register for 1908 records him at Common Piece but by 1911 the family, now with the addition of Willy, had moved to Huddersfield. Perhaps he had gone out to the U.S. to see if the life looked a promising one for him and his family.

They settled at Golcar, and Abner worked in the woollen industry. The family were all together when the 1921 census was taken, but Lily and Abner later lived separately. When Abner returned home for funerals, he and his wife were listed as mourners, but when his mother died in 1927, he is mentioned as being one of the mourners, but his wife was not. Similarly, he attended his brother Adin’s funeral alone in 1932.

Certainly, by the time the 1939 Register was taken, they were no longer living together. Both were still in Golcar. Lily was living with her daughter Clara and a John William Kirby. Abner was living with a Mary L. Lawrence (she later married him). Both gave their status as married; Abner was 63 and Mary was 42. It is definitely him, because his date of birth matches other records. There was another Abner Pearson living in Huddersfield, born c1868, who was in trouble in the courts in 1912 for cruelty to his wife, Gertrude. He had ill-used her, struck her and threatened her with a pistol. They were told that they should give each other another chance for the sake of the children, but she refused to live with him ever again.

Lily died in the December quarter of 1948 at the age of 71, and in the same quarter her estranged husband married Mary Lena Lawrence. He’d have been about 71 and Mary would have been about 51. He died in 1961 at the age of 85. Mary Lena had been born in 1897. Her surname was Kaye, and she married John Thomas Lawrence in 1918. After Abner’s death she married again to Willie Hodge, in 1963.

Willie was a steward in the Royal Navy during WW2 and served on H.M.S. Mahratta, an M-Class destroyer. The ship served in the North Atlantic and Arctic, mostly escorting merchant convoys. In February 1944 the Mahratta was escorting Convoy JW57, which had set out from Loch Ewe. This was an Arctic Convoy sent out to aid the Soviet Union. The convoy had been opposed by a U-boat force of 14 boats arranged in two patrol lines. Two U-boats which had been trailing the convoy were sunk; one on the 23rd by depth charges and one on the 25th by one of 210 Squadron. The Mahratta, however, was struck by two torpedoes the same day, fired by U-990 off the coast of Norway. Willie was one of 236 crew on board, and sadly he was killed; only 17 of the crew survived but one of these died shortly afterwards and was buried at sea. Despite this loss, the convoy was deemed a success, being the largest convoy ever sent to Russia. All 45 supply ships arrived safely at the Kola inlet in N.W. Russia on the 28th, with the Mahratta escort being the only casualty. Willie is commemorated on the Naval Memorial at Plymouth.

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