|Mom and Tracy in a 'Brummie' cab.|
Armed with a torn map, notebooks, old addresses and cameras,
my sixty-something mother, preteen daughter and I climbed into a cab outside
the Albany Hotel in Birmingham, England and asked to be taken to Crocketts Road
in the Handsworth neighborhood. We had flown across the pond with the Friendship
Force; the first week staying with a host family outside of London, the second
week on our own exploring our roots.
|Sarah Rogers Bickley|
My dad’s side of the family was not what you’d call close-knit
according to family bibles and tales told by uncles and aunts. Samuel Bickley,
my great, great grandfather, was a machinist in a hosiery factory in Leicester
when he met Sarah Rogers, his workmate’s daughter. After a short courtship,
they married in 1870 and found work as pearl button finishers in Birmingham.
They lived for many years at the back of 71 Garbett Street. The family grew to
include six children; Harry, an opera singer, Lucy, whose husband owned the midland’s Aston Football Team, Edith, Sarah, Alice and Samuel Thomas, my
|My ancestor's corner store where they lived above.|
In their later years, Sarah and Samuel became shopkeepers
and lived above the store at 114 Crocketts Road…thus the reason for our visit
in June, 1984. There was still a general store on that corner; the original
building enlarged and renovated. We met the proprietors,
Mr. and Mrs. Hunt who were quite gracious in helping with our quest for information.
Mrs. Hunt went a few doors down the street to get a neighbor, 82-year-old Mrs.
Biddlestone, who remembered the Bickleys. She recalled her trips to the store
to “buy sweets when she was a child.”
|Mom wandering the cemetery at St. Mary's|
Church in Handsworth, Birmingham, England.
Our taxi driver waited patiently as we
snapped photos and talked to local residents. Next we asked him to take us to
St. Mary’s Church where we could search the cemetery headstones. We took photos
of beautifully engraved markers; finding names related to us. Of course we
tipped the driver well as he’d spent an afternoon with us, but mom also
insisted on exchanging mailing addresses and giving him a big hug!
The next day we were
at it again; in another taxi driven by John Bartley. This time we rode to
Victoria Street where my great, great aunts Lucy and Edith had lived across the
street from each other. These street addresses had all been recorded in
handwritten lists and passed down through the generations. While mom and I took
photos of the old homes, the cabbie chatted with the folks walking by. He too was
caught up in our mission and eager to help; sure enough an elderly man and his
wife remembered our ancestors and invited us into their home! Ada and Jack
Popplewell recalled that Edith and her husband owned a dairy and delivered milk
along Victoria and the surrounding streets. Mom and the Popplewells kept in
touch over the years and at the time I updated this family history in 1998,
their granddaughter Ida was still alive and living in North Wales.
|Nellie Lavinia and her three boys.|
Samuel Thomas left home as a young boy, wandered the
streets, worked as a brass finisher, and was a regular at the local pubs. Known
as a ladies’ man, his marriage to Nellie Lavinia Warner produced three sons,
but the couple soon drifted apart. He apprenticed as a fitter for the motor car
industry and made two trips to Canada to pave the way for future employment.
Nellie was an alcoholic and unable to care for her young boys, so they were
raised by their grandparents, Samuel and Sarah.
Samuel Thomas and his
sons immigrated to America on the HMS Mauritania in July, 1914, leaving Nellie
behind. She’d been institutionalized and died of pulmonary congestion the
following year. Samuel found work in Detroit….most likely with the automakers
and because it was similar to Birmingham’s working class society. He left the
boys with three different foster families…a real father of the year!
|My grandfather on the left, served in|
the Canadian Army during WWI.
Samuel Horace, was the oldest and by age sixteen, he also took to the streets.
He eventually joined the Canadian Army where he served during WWI and later met
my grandmother Fanny Mae, one of twelve children and as he called her, the “prettiest of
four daughters” living in Orillia, Ontario.
After they married and settled on Glastonbury Street in
Detroit, Grandma and Grandpa looked for and found his younger brothers, Oliver
and Harry. My dad
recalled long talks with both his uncles about their different
backgrounds growing up. Annual summer visits to Uncle Harry and Aunt Sadie’s farm in St. Clair
Shores continued all through my childhood.
The word farm triggers the smell of cut grass and manure, the thrill of
feeling cow’s milk squirted on us, the excitement of climbing high into the barn
loft and jumping into piles of hay…over and over again. The highlight of each
visit was a tractor ride for us kids….and the huge farm table filled with both family
and farmhands eating the huge dinner meal together.
We were close with
Uncle Harry’s three boys. Uncle Oliver had several wives and a daughter we met
a few times…..but he never seemed to bond with his brothers or their families. How
grateful we are that my grandfather searched for his siblings; otherwise I
wouldn’t have a favorite Bickley cousin and west coast buddy today!
Family history passed down through the ages is priceless. I
remember discussing the Friendship Force opportunity with my parents. Since my
dad was not able to get off work, he urged my mom to go for him. So much was
planned for us; touring Windsor Castle, seeing the Changing of the Guard at
Buckingham Palace and living with a lovely family for a week. But walking the
same streets as my ancestors and hearing stories from the past were the highlights
of our trip to England. That and the letters of gratitude from the taxi drivers
for the friendship pins and hugs mom bestowed on them.
|Headline of Letter to the Editor I wrote|
to the Birmingham Mail; printed
October 12, 1984