My father’s mother’s brother, Thomas Henry Upton, seems to have decided from a young age that he did not want to be a coal miner or pottery worker like the vast majority of his contemporaries. He went to great lengths to diverge from the path set out for him by his fore bearers and his class. In Edwardian Britain there were few options available for a boy of his ilk, so he sought his future an ocean away.
But in the beginning…
The family name UPTON is derived from the Old English (pre-7th Century) word “up” meaning “upper or above”, and “tun”, a farm or settlement. This may have been a reference to higher ground, and therefore perhaps a place used for summer grazing, or it may have been a status name for a more important farm or settlement. The name originates from any of the more than three dozen places called Upton, located in various English counties. There do not seem to be any places called Upton in Staffordshire or Derbyshire around Newborough where my Upton ancestors have been traced to the mid-1600s suggesting they arrived here from farther afield in Medieval times.
My Upton family can be traced from Thomas Henry for at least 7 generations to the mid 1600s. The family lived in the same region around Newborough, Staffordshire, about 30 kilometers southeast of Longton (Stoke-Upon-Trent). This was and remains an agricultural part of Staffordshire on the border with Derbyshire. The connection of Uptons to this location is indicated on a “Tithe Map and Apportionment for Newborough 1838” which shows Plot 37 ocupied by a Mary Upton. That property included a house, garden and nursery in the village. Other documents supporting the connection of Uptons to Newborough include Staffordshire County Court Records for 1847 which reveal a “conviction of Thomas Upton the younger of Newborough, for a breach of the peace: throwing a large stone at the house of George Swindall.” Mary or Thomas mentioned above were likely related to Thomas Henry’s ancestors.
Thomas Henry’s father, Henry Upton was born in Newborough in the summer of 1860. He was the fifth of eight children born to Eliza Bates (b1829) and Thomas Upton (b1831). Henry was baptized on 16 July 1860 in Newborough, and was still living there at the time of the census on 7 April 1861. In 1871 the Uptons were still in Newborough and lived on Duffield Road. By 1881 they had moved to Lansdowne Road in Church Gresley, Derbyshire. Henry worked here as an “agricultural carter.” Later in 1881 Henry married Ellen Forrest (b1863).
Ellen Forrest was born on Edensor Road, Longton on 26 February 1863. Her parents were John Forrest, a “presser” in a pottery, and Jane Layland.
Henry Upton and Ellen Forrest (Upton) moved from Church Gresley to Longton and early in 1884 they had their first child, Ethel. Sarah was born two years later and was baptized on 26 December 1886 at the Anglican church, St. James-the-Less on the Uttoxeter Road in Longton. Sarah was followed by Edith (b1888), Arthur (b1891) and Thomas Henry (b1893). Thomas Henry was born away from “the Potteries” in Poolsbrook, Derbyshire on 17 March 1893. He was named after his paternal Grandfather. According to the 1891 census, the family lived at 161 Normacot Road, Longton and Henry worked as a coal miner.
Henry Upton died in the summer of 1896, at the age of 35. A few months later, Arthur, his 5 year-old son also died. Thomas Henry was a toddler when his father died.
In 1901 Ellen Upton (née Forrest), now widowed, worked as a “charwoman” to support her family. She lived with her 3 youngest children at 18 Lower Warren Street in Longton, just around the corner from Normacot Road where they had lived when her husband Henry was still alive. In 1901, Edith and Thomas Henry were “scholars” and Sarah (age 15) had left school to help support the family by working as a “potters throwers assistant.” Ethel, the oldest sister, at 17, had already left home. She worked as a “nurse domestic” in the home of a “master cooper” in Winshill, in the adjacent county of Derbyshire.
In the autumn of 1906 Ethel Upton married Samuel Bowler, “colliery banksman” in Belper, Derbyshire.
In June 1909, Sarah Upton married Stephen Peers in Stoke-Upon-Trent.
Image of Wharf Street, Longton about 1909 from the William Blake Collection property of the Stoke-on-Trent Musems. Boys collect coal dropped off wagons.
In 1911, Ellen, Thomas Henry’s mother died. The same year, Stephen, Sarah and baby Edith were living at 39 Wallis Street, Fenton (part of Stoke-Upon-Trent). Stephen worked as a “hewer” in a coal pit. Boarding in the household was Sarah’s 18 year-old brother, Thomas Henry who worked as a “wagoner” in a coal pit.
In the Spring of 1912, a month after the sinking of the Titanic, Thomas Henry set sail from Liverpool aboard the Corsican of the Allan Line and arrived at Quebec on May 13th. His final destination according to his immigration documents was Montreal where he intended to work in a foundry.
A few months later, Sarah, Stephen and their two very young children, departed Liverpool aboard the Victorian. They arrived at the port of Quebec on 9 August 1912 and continued on to Montreal aboard the C.P.R. Sarah’s younger sister, Edith Upton accompanied them on the voyage.
Stephen found work in the Steel Rolling Mills on the Island of Montreal and the young family took up residence at 640 Mullins Ave. in Verdun. It is not known where Thomas Henry worked or if he lived with his sister and brother-in-law.
On 3 January 1915, Thomas Henry took the train from Montreal to the U.S.A. His destination was Chicago, Illinois. He entered the United States at St. Albans, Vermont where he applied for and was granted permission to reside in the US. His occupation on the application form was listed as “office clerk.”
On 30 June 1915, Thomas Henry, now a resident of Chicago, married Bessie Evans. Bessie was born on 2 January 1897 in Liverpool, England. Her parents were George and Sarah Evans. Bessie, and presumably her family had also immigrated to the United States in 1915 but no actual record of her immigration has been found. Bessie reported this information on both the 1920 and 1930 U.S. Censuses.
On 6 April 1916, Thomas Henry and Bessie had their first son, Harry Wyant. They were living at 7116 Lafayette Ave., Chicago at the time.
In 1917 the United States declared war on Germany and on 5 June that year, Thomas Henry was required to Register for the Draft. He was not an American citizen at this point so was not subject to induction into the military. His Draft Registration Card stated that he was living at 4346 Calumet Ave., Chicago and that he worked as a Clerk for the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad in Blue Island, Illinois. Twenty-four year old Thomas Henry was described on the Draft Card as being of medium height, slender build, with light blue eyes and brown hair. His neat signature on the form was befitting his “station” in society, that of a railway clerk. Later in 1917, Thomas Henry and Bessie had moved to at 259 W. Marquette Rd., Chicago It was here that they had their second child, Annie Ellen, who later went by the name, Helen.
In 1920 Thomas Henry was still employed as a Clerk for the railroad. He, Bessie, Harry Wyant and Annie Ellen all lived in a rented house in Chicago’ 32nd Ward.
On 21 April 1921, Thomas Henry applied to become a naturalized American Citizen.
In 1923, he returned briefly to Verdun, Canada to witness the August 6th baptism of his nephews, Albert Edmund Peers (Sarah and Stephen’s son and my father) and John Lajoie (son of his aunt Edith (Upton).
On 12 October 1924, Thomas Henry and Bessie had their third child, Thomas Henry Upton Jr.
The 1930 U.S. Census records that Thomas Henry, Bessie and their 3 children resided at 8558 Green St., Chicago and that Thomas worked as a clerk for the railroad. Both Thomas Henry and Bessie are listed as not being American citizens even though Thomas Henry had started the process of naturalization in 1921.
By 1935 the Uptons had moved to 8842 Wallace Street in Chicago, and daughter Helen had married William H. Homan and they lived across the street from her parents. Thomas Henry Upton, the senior died on 21 October 1937, at the age of 44. He was buried in Cedar Park Cemetery, Calumet Park, Cook County, Illinois. In 1940 widow Bessie still lived with her two sons, Harry and Thomas Jr. at the same address on Wallace St. as did her daughter and son-in-law, who lived nearby.
At some point during the 1940s, Helen Upton and her husband, William H. Holman moved to Putnam, Ohio. They had a family of 4 girls and one boy. Helen Upton and daughter Nancy were killed in an automobile accident in November, 1974. William Holman died in 2005, the same year as daughter, Cathy Sue. Cathy Sue was born in 1953, was married in 1979 and is survived by her husband, a son and daughter. (This great granddaughter of Thomas Henry and Bessie Upton recently came across this blog post and has kindly contributed corrections and additional details about this branch of the family. 2013.12.15)
On 18 December 1942, Harry Wyant Upton, now in his mid-twenties, began military service and served until 20 January 1946. After the war he moved to Hammond, Indiana where he worked as a Payroll Clerk until about 1954. Harry’s younger brother, Thomas Henry Jr. served as a seamen in the U.S. Navy from 12 December 1942 until he was dishonourably discharged on 21 August 1945. At some point, likely after the war, Thomas Henry Jr. married Evelyn. He worked as a truck driver and the young couple lived in Hammond, Indiana, the same town as his older brother. Thomas Henry Jr. died on 17 October 1954 and was buried in Cedar Park Cemetery in Chicago; the cemetery where his father was buried. His grave was marked by a military headstone.
At some time after 1954 Harry Wyant Upton moved to 885 Ronda Sevilla, Laguna Woods, California where he lived until his death on 17 January 1988. Although his wife’s name is not known, Harry Wyant seems to have had a son, born in 1946.
Bessie Evans Upton, outliving her three children, died 18 June 1988 in Chicago, at the age of 101.
By boarding that boat in the wake of the Titanic, Thomas Henry Upton found a new life in a new world. Whether it was his intention or not, he had managed to evade the pits, the potteries and the trenches and although he only survived for 44 years it was probably twice as long as he would have if he had never left home.