Genetic Genealogy

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DNA testing has opened doors genealogists in the 1970's and 80's never dreamed possible. It's enabled us to leap brick walls we could only look at in frustration before. I've tested with 23 and Me, and transferred my results to FTDNA and to If you'd like to compare matches at my kit number is M121246. Please feel free to contact me if we have a match. I'm still searching for the identities of several 3rd and 4th great-grandmothers whose surnames I've not been able to uncover, and I need *help*. :)

Friday, September 25, 2015

My Paternal Grandfather - Frederick Francis William Cavel Part 1

Frederick Francis William Cavel entered the world squalling and kicking on the 6th of November 1872 in Guss, Christchurch, Hampshire (now Dorset) England.  On the 3rd of December his father went to the Registry Office to register his birth.

Despite his robust health his parents,  William John Parsons Cavel and Susan Ann Shave Cavel, had reason to be anxious. A scarlet fever epidemic was raging across England and in the two weeks between the previous 15th of May and the 2nd of June it had snuffed out the lives of their two-year-old son John Oakley and 10-month old daughter Minnie Alice. Susan’s four-year-old daughter Rose caught it last. She had survived, but she was still very fragile when Fred was born.  

The prospect of losing one or more of their children to scarlet fever was the terror of every parent before the availability of antibiotics. Fatality rates were very high, particularly in younger children. Holt’s 1897 textbook, “The Diseases of Infancy and Childhood” cites a fatality rate as high as 55% in babies under one year and up to 22% in those under three years. Annual death rates during the 1850's ran as high as 272 per 100,000 population.  [1].

The Cavel family was poor. John had little education and he'd worked as a carter, driving a freight wagon. It was heavy work, loading barrels and sacks. They not had much before their babies got sick, but the authorities forced the occupants of homes where scarlet fever had come to carry their bedding, mattresses, clothing and textiles into the middle of the street and burn them. They were left with practically nothing. Maybe John caught the infection too. Scarlet fever is a streptococcal infection, and while left untreated it can kill even today, it rarely kills healthy adults. But it may have weakened John enough too have made him unable to do heavy labour. It is one way of explaining why by November, when baby Fred was born, John was herding sheep on Guss Farm. They must have felt pretty desperate.

But they were not without hope. Not long after they were married, they’d heard a man in Christchurch telling the ragged crowd who’d gathered around him that a man could walk down the streets in Texas and fill his hat with gold nuggets the size of chestnuts! Texas was the land of milk and honey, where wild grapes twined around trees filled with fruit and the deer and wild turkey ran so thick you could hit them on the head with a stick or a stone. Land was five cents an acre, and any man could live like a king. No man was poor in Texas. 

That was for them, they thought. Not that they wanted to go to such a far away place and stay. They loved their families too much to leave them behind forever. But think of it! They could go to Texas for a year, get rich and come back home and be comfortable for the rest of their lives, and help their parents and their brothers and sisters too! 

And so they began to save, a few pennies at a time, all the while dreaming of Texas. By January of 1873 they had enough saved to buy tickets for themselves and Rose. Trusting that Rose would be well enough to travel by the end of March, they booked tickets on the SS San Jacinto due to depart Liverpool on the 25th of March bound for the port of Galveston, Texas.  Since baby Fred was under six months old they needn’t buy a ticket for him. [2]

Unfortunately, when the time came Rose was still too ill to travel, and so with many tears, John and Susan left her in the care of Susan’s parents until they returned. They would not be long, they assured her and their weeping mothers. We will not be long. 

SS SAN JACINTO; Master: Captain C. Burrows; Rigging: iron single screw steamer; 2 decks; 4 cemented bulkheads; Tonnage: 1,134 tons gross and 729 tons net; Dimensions: 233.3 feet long, 32 foot beam and holds 19.6 feet deep; Built in 1872 by McMillan in Dumbarton, Propulsion: steam engine developing 160 horsepower; Owners: Liverpool & Texas Steam Ship Co.; Port of registry: London

They and 177 other passengers sailed from Liverpool, on the 25th of March and arrived at the port of Galveston Texas on the 21st of April. The ship also carried a cargo of matches, and as they entered the Gulf of Mexico there was a fire onboard which caused considerable damage. The ship barely limped into port, taking on water, in danger of sinking, and with all the passengers terrified. 

When John and Susan disembarked at Galveston it was the largest city in Texas with almost 14,000 residents. [3] Were they dismayed to find no gold nuggets littering the ground beside the docks, or did they reason that those naturally would have been picked up, and the free-for-the-picking nuggets would be found further inland? We’ll never know, but John was offered a job clearing timber north of Galveston in Grimes County almost as soon as they had gotten off the ship, so they climbed onto the buckboard with their bags and headed inland with baby Fred in arms. 

It was over 100 miles by wagon to Grimes County (find "Houston" in Harris County. Grimes County is located above the point) and it probably didn’t take long for the horrifying truth to sink in. Grimes County was beautiful, an untouched boreal forest of whose wealth was in its trees; American elm, sycamore,  black elder, buckeye, green ash, red mulberry, box elder, ash-leaf maple, Carolina cherry, holly, cottonwood, and the breath-takingly beautiful redbud, which blooms luminous pink blossoms on bare branches in early spring.  But there was no gold - anywhere. Just a rude cabin with a straw mattress laid on the floor. And day after day of backbreaking work, felling trees, hitching trees to a sweating horse with a chain and pulling them out to the mill to be planed into lumber. 

And one day John's big double-bladed axe hit a knot and bounced. It hit his leg, and when it came away, it brought a big chunk of flesh, blood and bone. He looked at it, uncomprehending. Dropped his axe and fell face down before the nearby men could reach him. 

One of his co-workers tore off his shirt and tied it tight around John's knee. They carried him home. Susan saw them coming down the path and ran to the open door carrying the little daughter born two months earlier, Nellie - they called her. Fred held onto his mother’s skirts while the men carried his daddy up the steps onto the porch. It was July and blistering hot. They’d been sleeping on the porch. The straw tick was there, and they laid him on it.  “Boss has sent a man riding for the doctor”, one said. “Can’t do no more.” 

And without antibiotics there was little the doctor could do, except give John morphine for pain. He had taken off his kneecap in one stroke. He fought infection for months, fever and delirium. When he emerged from his year-long ordeal his right leg was contracted, his knee bent at a 90 degree angle. He walked with a crutch for the rest of his life. The dream of returning home to England was over. Was it a gradual acceptance or did the realization that they’d never be able to return home wash over them like a cold tide one day? 

I know that feeling, being torn between family left behind in the Old Country and the new life in the New Land. Hiraeth, (Heer-eyeth) the Welsh call it. Homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, grief for the lost people and places of your youth.

At some point between 1877 and 1880 they moved to Falls County Texas. Susan gave birth to twin girls in April of 1880, Bessie Louise and Lillie, but Lillie died in August.  There was no church or cemetery nearby, so the tiny body was buried in the corner of a cotton field that belonged to the farmer John was working for. He promised never to plant over the grave, but the next spring he sowed cotton over little Lillie's resting place, which made Susan grieve her baby's death all over again. However as the spring wore on the cotton died back 50 feet in every direction from the grave, and she felt God had felt her grief and laid a protecting hand over her little one's body. 

In 1881 the family decided to join friends farther north in the little town of Bowie in Montague Co. Texas, right up under the border with Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).

It was a journey of 175 miles and their wagon was pulled by a team of oxen, which made progress agonizingly slow. Part way through Fred fell ill and his father traded the oxen for a team of four horses, which made progress faster.

When they arrived in Bowie, John purchased 80 acres of land, and with the help of their friends, timber was secured to build a cabin, and land was cleared to plant crops. 

Now we have our first glimpse of Fred as a boy of 11 with his parents, younger sisters Nelllie b 1875, Bessie b 1880 and younger brother Charles Albert b 1882. 

Nellie, Charles Albert, Mama Susan, Fred, Daddy John, Bessie in 1883

But the biggest change of his young life was just around the corner. It was time for Fred to leave home and make his own way in the world. 

[1] Holt LE 1897 The Diseases of Infancy and Childhood. Appleton, New York
[2] According to The Bremen Project Re. Galveston arrivals the S. S. San Jacinto departed Liverpool   March 25, 1873 and arrived Galveston Texas April 21, 1873. There were 180 passengers listed. There was also a voyage the same route January 4, 1873 - February 3, 1873. The Captain on both voyages was Barrows.
[3] Howard Barnstone, The Galveston That Was (New York: Macmillan, 1966).

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