Who were the immigrants? #1 Joseph Coates

So much of the news these days centers on immigration policy, which has me thinking a lot about my immigrant ancestors. I challenged myself to identify the immigrants in my family and my husband’s family and consider how some of the policy ideas being proposed might have affected them.

These are the questions I’m asking:
* Who were our ancestors who first immigrated to the United States?
* How many of them have I already identified?
* Did the family follow a pattern of family reunification (what is being described as chain migration) with one person or family arriving, getting settled, and sponsoring the next family member or family unit?
* Can I determine (or make a good guess) about why they left their native country?
* How might our ancestors have fared if a merit-based policy had been in place at the time?

The newly popular phrase “chain migration” gives a negative spin to the fact that families want to be together. And for most of our families, this is exactly what happened. Someone came to the United States and others in their family joined them.

But not always. Joseph Coates, Eveline Coates’ father and my great-grandfather, left Durham, England alone when he was about 21. He was born at Brancepeth colliery, a coal-mining settlement, and the men in his family were all coal miners. I assumed Joseph left England looking for a better life that did not involve working the mines – but I guess I was wrong, because he ended up in the coal mines in southeastern Iowa. Perhaps he was lured there by advertising promoting the booming mining activity in Iowa – but I don’t know. He was a “joiner” in the mines – a carpenter by trade, really – responsible for building the frame supports.

Joseph’s story is not a story of family migration. He came by himself and, as far as I know, he never saw his parents or his siblings again, although they corresponded.

This passenger list for the ship City of Berlin, which sailed from Liverpool to New York City, seems like a match for my Joseph Coates. (#33 on the list of passengers.)

Name – Joseph Coates                                                   Jos Coates
Date of arrival – per census records 1889                         Ship arrived May 1888.
Age – calculating from census – 21                                   20
Lived in – Willington, England.                                           Willington, England
Destination – unknown, ended up in SE Iowa                    Illinois (which borders Iowa)
Occupation (calling) – Joiner                                             Difficult to read – Joiner?

Since we don’t have details of exactly how a merit-based immigration system would work, I can only speculate that Joseph would not accrue many points.
Education: high school at most, possibly less
Age: preferred
Employment in a high demand occupation: doubtful
English language – yes
Country of origin – England could be a plus
Siblings or sons/daughters already in U.S. – no

Source Citation
Year: 1888; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 519; Line: 33; List Number: 577

Source Information
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

New Bible Records Page

DSCN1906I may not be writing, but I’m doing a little organizing. A couple of days ago I added a landing page for my great-uncle, Fred Myron Webber. Today I added a landing page for Bible records.

The page for the Joseph Coates Bible has only one linked post, but I did a series of posts about the Bible belonging to my second great-grandparents George Washington Bryan and Sarah Bryan nee Stokes.

I had a couple more posts planned, but chemotherapy messed with my brain and I never finished. I’ll get back to it one of these days. In the meantime, all of the posts now live happily together on their own page.

By the way, my favorites are:
Bryan Family Bible – To Honor a Life
Bryan Family Bible – A Strand of Hair that Matches Mine

Sepia Saturday – Letters from the H.M.S. Birmingham

Sepia Saturday provides an opportunity for genealogy bloggers to share their family history through photographs.

My first thought upon seeing today’s prompt was of a Christmas card sent from the H.M.S. Birmingham to my grandmother, Eveline Coates.

I thought I had a scan of the card or maybe the card itself, but unfortunately, all I have is a Xerox copy. Drat.

I’m going with it anyway.


The Christmas card, featuring a Navy vessel, was sent by this handsome young man.

George Elgey

George Elgey was my grandmother’s cousin.

George signed his name on the back of this photo. Eveline added his surname.

Eveline in brother John's WW1 uniform

George was born in Easington Lane, Durham, England on June 10, 1899. Eveline was born in Mystic, Appanoose, Iowa, USA, on February 15, 1901. Although first cousins and close in age, they never met.

George’s mother, Jane Ann (Jennie) Coates, and Eveline’s father, Joseph Coates, were siblings. Joseph boarded a ship as a young man sometime around 1889 and made the journey across the Atlantic. As far as I know, Joseph never saw his parents or siblings again.

George joined the Royal Navy sometime before August, 1918. Eveline graduated from Mystic High School in 1918 and entered normal school in the fall in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Both away from home for the first time, but under very different circumstances.

Eveline corresponded with her Aunt Jennie and several of Jennie’s children for many years. I am fortunate to have copies of a few letters sent to Eveline. It is one of my fondest wishes to find an “English cousin” in possession of the letters Eveline wrote.

I have a copy of one other bit of correspondence from George to Eveline, sent from the HMS Birmingham in August of 1918.

Friday Aug. 30th 1918.                                                         H.M.S. Birmingham,
C/o G.P.O. London
Dear Cousin,

Just a few lines – hoping this finds you in the best of health as it leaves me in the pink at present. I think sister Lizzie will have sent you word by now to let you know I joined the Navy a good while since well I can assure you it is a healthy life besides that we can learn a good deal which will be very usefull to us after this war is over. I meet many of American Sailors while I were down the south of England 400 miles away from my home called (erasure) a very beautifull place to. By the time you receive this I will be some where on the mighty ocean hunting for fishes which have done damage during this great war but now we have got our friends the Americans to help us it should not be long before it is finished let’s hope so. Can you remind of the time you sent me a letter calling me for not writing to you well I will excuse you for that as I know you did not mean it. I would have wrote to you sooner only I did not know your address untill I went home on leave. I suppose you will often hear from sister Lizzie as I think she does a great deal of writing but not so many as her brother George not by a good deal. Before I joined up I never wrote above two letters in all my life and now I do nothing else in my spare time. Please give my best love to all at your home also to Cousin Mr. and Mrs. Carl Coates. I have sent home to tell them to send you one of my photoes taken while in civil life and will do my best to send you one I have had taken in my sailors clothes. This is my address,

G. F. Elgey, Stoker II
SB. No 9213
H.M.S. Birmingham
C/o G.P.O. London

Eveline had a strict policy regarding correspondence. She promptly answered letters she received. In turn, she expected a reply within a reasonable amount of time. If one of Eveline’s letters went unanswered, she would write to you again, but with an admonishment and possibly a note that this would be the last letter you received until she heard from you. I know this from personal experience. The letter above confirms that grandmother instituted this policy early in life – evidenced by the scolding previously delivered to George. Now aboard ship, George had plenty of time for writing letters.

The cousin, Carl Coates, referred to in the letter is one of Eveline’s older brothers.

H.M.S. Birmingham 1916

George’s signature indicates his rank as Stoker II. The little research I have done informs me that stokers were in charge of generating steam for the turbines that powered the ship. The HMS Birmingham carried both coal and oil as fuel. Young George may have spent many hot and dirty hours shoveling coal into the boilers. Or he may have done maintenance on the engines. In any case, he made no complaints about his duties, assuring Eveline of his healthy life aboard ship.

Although the H.M.S. Birmingham was involved in several battles during World War I, most famously for being the first cruiser to sink a submarine, the time George spent on the Birmingham seems to have been relatively uneventful.

I wonder if George prepared his Christmas cards before the war ended on November 11?

I still have a lot of research to do regarding George and his service in the Royal Navy. In fact, I still have a lot to learn about all of the “English cousins”.

Lastly,the prompt above suggests not only ships, but crowds and travel. As I am posting this on Friday Oct. 5th, I’ll finish with something completely unrelated to George, the Navy, or ships and pay tribute to the British invasion that began 50 years ago with the release of this song: