“Marjorie” — Oops, that’s awkward.

I’m not sure if I feel more pity for the confused ship’s clerk making out the passenger manifest or the kid he misgendered into the annals of history.

No wonder I couldn’t find records. Marjorie G Pearce was a surprise… because she doesn’t exist.

It was the 1901 Census of England that got me sorted out. I was looking for Edith and William Pearce in a household that should have had 1-year-old Marjorie and a boy named Leslie Grey under the age of 10. What I found was the household of Edith and William Pearce and 1-year-old Major Leslie Cecil Grey.


[Image: 1901 Census of England, Household of William Pearce of Greenwich, London.]

This is our William — notice he is an “engine driver” and would in 1911 and thereafter be identified as an “engineer” — his wife Edith is 3-4 years his junior, and Leslie Grey is identified as his stepson (Edith’s son).

That was when suddenly I understood. Empress of Ireland carried approximately 1,500 souls on any given voyage, and they all had to be cataloged in alphabetical order for customs/immigration. Imagine you’re the clerk recording names. You’ve just finished with Mr. Gill when a woman with five small children presents herself next. Probably over the sound of at least two of them crying, she explains that she is Mrs. Edith Pearce with her five children. As you’re trying to figure out why the hell “Pearce” is in with the G’s but can barely hear yourself think over the kids screaming and all the other people milling through, she’s gesturing at her eldest child and trying to give you a name. So, screw it, you start writing. “Mrs. Edith Pearce, wife.” Great, fabulous. What the hell did she say that kid’s name was? Marjawhat? She repeats herself and you still don’t quite hear it, but you write down “Marjorie G.” because it sounded like “Marjorie Grace” to you, and even though the kid could easily be Little Lord Fauntleroy, “Marjorie” is a girl’s name, so you scratch out where you had started to write that this male child was 10 years old and opt for the female column instead. On to the next daughter, Phyllis…

I’d wondered before why the Pearce family appeared in the wrong place, but in fact Edith was in exactly the right place for someone named “Grey,” as her eldest son was. And I’m sure the clerk thought Mrs. Pearce was telling him her child’s name was “Marjorie” and recorded it thus.

This 1901 Census entry, though, also supplies the identity of the “daughter left behind” — this must in fact have been Ellen M. Pearce.

The Pearce children who appear in the 1901 Census of England must have been William Pearce’s children from a first marriage. I don’t know what happened to his first wife or to Edith’s first husband, but both parties clearly had young children when they married — James, 3, and Les, 18 months. What would be at least as interesting to know, though, is about how the Pearce family split between home and abroad.

First, what took William to Canada? He preceded his family in going out there, but by how long? We know that Doris was recorded as 1 year old in 1910, so that should fix his departure no earlier than about 1908, but when exactly did he leave his children with their mother/stepmother and head off to Canada? Or had he been making trips back and forth for some time?

Because, secondly, how was the decision made in 1910 who stayed and who went? In 1910, Alice Jane Pearce, William’s eldest daughter, would have been 18 and out of the house, either working somewhere or, perhaps more likely, married. William, Jr., at age 17, would also likely have been out of the house in service of some sort. Ellen and her brother James, though, would have been 14 and 12, respectively. So why didn’t they join their half-siblings on the voyage to reunite with their father?

(Note: Also possible William Jr. and/or James aren’t on the boat because they went with their father ahead. It turns out there is a 1911 Census of Canada, but I didn’t spot its existence because Edith isn’t immediately obvious in it. Further work to be done here.)

I want to find out more about William’s career, as I suspect he went/was sent to British Columbia for developing railroad interests there and that his wife and children were booked on Empress of Ireland because the steamship was owned by the same concern that owned the railroad, but I can’t be certain. There’s at least one other explanation that may have had something to do with why Edith and her children were on that boat.

In my next post, I’ll explain the history of Empress of Ireland and her connection with the Salvation Army. I’ll also keep looking for Edith and for *Leslie* in 1921.


One thought on ““Marjorie” — Oops, that’s awkward.

  1. Ancestry.com. 1901 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005. Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1901. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives, 1901. Data imaged from the National Archives, London, England. The National Archives gives no warranty as to the accuracy, completeness or fitness for the purpose of the information provided. Images may be used only for purposes of research, private study or education. Applications for any other use should be made to the National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU.

    Ancestry.com. 1911 Census of Canada [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006. Original data: Library and Archives Canada. Census of Canada, 1911. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada, 2007. http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1911/Pages/about-census.aspx. Series RG31-C-1. Statistics Canada Fonds. Microfilm reels T-20326 to T-20460.

    Ancestry.com. Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists, 1865–1935. Microfilm Publications T-479 to T-520, T-4689 to T-4874, T-14700 to T-14939, C-4511 to C-4542. Library and Archives Canada, n.d. RG 76-C. Department of Employment and Immigration fonds. Library and Archives Canada Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

    Wikipedia, “RMS Empress of Ireland,” accessed 2 February 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Empress_of_Ireland.


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