Family Rumours - The Tale of William Mason Jerome

William Mason JeromeFamily rumours are notoriously difficult to prove or disprove. Was this man a deserter?

Like Chinese whispers family rumours are generally embellished to the point of bearing no resemblance to the original fact. But somewhere, within that rumour, there is just a little glimmer, a little piece of information, which can lead you to discover the real truth. So do remember that intriguing tale your Granddad telling you as a youngster, well we have had some success at either proving or disproving rumours and would love to get our teeth into your family rumour.

One such rumour we did prove started off as a couple of lines in the written memories of a great great aunt, Dora, who was born in 1888 and died in 1980. It went as follows:

Dora's Uncle Joe Jerome was the brother of Sam Jerome Jnr. Their father was Samuel John Jerome who married Elizabeth Mason - the grandparents of Dora. Uncle William Jerome, Sam's eldest brother, was in the Merchant Marines. He jumped ship and stayed in America, in Virginia, Dora thinks and everyone was so ashamed of him! (For jumping ship).

Not much to go on, but in checking the 1861 census we find that Dora's father had an older brother called William Mason Jerome, aged 10. (left) He seemed to disappear after that; of all the entries for William Jerome in the 1871 census only one appeared to be a likely candidate. There were no probable entries at all in the 1881 census. On closer examination of the 1871 census, the name was correct, but had no middle initial, the age was wrong but the birthplace was right.
1871 census
He was shown to be in the Royal Navy based on the Royal Alfred in Bermuda which lent credence to the naval connection. A visit to the National Archives proved fruitful, we managed to find William's Continuous Service number and from that his entry in the Muster of the Royal Alfred in 1872. This showed his date of birth as 24 Oct 1848, our William was born 24 Oct 1850 as proved by his birth certificate, and also that he had the middle initial of M, thus confirming that this was more than likely our William.Muster of the Royal Alfred

But perhaps the most telling entry in the Muster was in the discharge column, namely Run, Halifax!

Muster - William M Jerome

So, our William had deserted in Halifax, Canada, now we would try to find where he went. As Canada was still part of the Empire and under British jurisdiction, the assumption was made that he would have travelled to the United States. Assumptions are a dangerous thing in genealogy but they can make good starting points. A search of the 1880 US Census turned up a number of candidates but the most likely one was a William Jerome, b. 1852, but in Ireland. Right name, wrong birth year and birth country, but a starting point. It showed him as living in Clinton, Massachusetts, married to Catherine Jerome, also from Ireland.
US Census - 1880
Others living at the address included amongst others, Williams mother-in-law, Mary O'Malley and William and Catherine's son, Henry. It was still a massive assumption to assume that this was our William. The next step was to consult the Massachusetts archives which does have an online index, enabling us to get the required details to send away for the marriage record of William and Catherine. This was done and obviously given the distance between us and Massachusetts took some time to arrive. In the meantime we continued to search the records over here in case he had made his way back to England. A little snippet of information did turn up in the form of a newspaper clipping from William's hometown of Portsmouth.
Clipping from Portsmouth Evening News
It was the announcement that on 1 Oct 1877 William Mason Jerome, son of S J Jerome, had married Kate O'Malley in Clinton, Massachusetts. A short time later the record arrived from Massachusetts archives confirming this.
Massachusetts Archives
We had found our William!

William and Kate had two more children, William and Mary. Unfortunately Henry died before his first birthday and we have been unable to trace Mary. But we followed William through the US Census records, he married twice, having a daughter with his second wife, called Betty, she married and had three children. Through the power of the internet and a good deal of researching the client is now in contact with some distant cousins and we have actually proved a family rumour to be true.