Wednesday, November 13, 2019

From Canada to California:
Finding the Path

When our ancestors reported their place of birth as a foreign country—as, for instance, simply "Canada"—there is not much to learn in such a statement. Canada is a wide country, stretching from ocean to ocean in the same manner as the country to which our specific immigrant subjects immigrated.

One research technique is to follow the families backwards in time through each decade's census. That means, taking the John Hutchins family of Lodi, California, as an example, we would locate them in the most recent census record we can find, and then, using the details gleaned from that document, work our way backwards through the decades.

We already know from his biographical sketch in George Tinkham's History of San Joaquin County that John Hutchins crossed the continent from Ontario in 1853. Just which direction his journey took him, the article doesn't mention. To read Tinkham's entry, one would think John Hutchins—a teenager of about seventeen at the time of this migration—had made the journey by himself, but that is apparently not the case.

Looking at the 1880 census, we can find John along with his wife, the former Anna Nevin, and their children, Nellie, John, Edward, and Mary. The census reports that John was born in Canada, and that his parents were from Ireland. Likewise, the 1870 census shows that John was born in Canada, but that his two year old daughter was born in California—thus, gradually narrowing the time frame of his travels.

Moving beyond the date of his marriage to Ann Nevin to find John Hutchins before that 1870 census means looking for a single man—or, possibly, a young man in the household of his parents. This, fortunately, became the case for our search, finding a possible John Hutchins in the home of his namesake, his father John Hutchins, in the same Elkhorn Township of San Joaquin County, the very place from which the city of Lodi was later established.

The 1860 census shows this young John Hutchins reporting his age as twenty four, putting his year of birth as 1836, agreeing roughly with what we had gleaned from later census enumerations. Again, it showed his birth to be in Canada, and his parents, John and Catherine, to be from Ireland. Along with the junior John, the other family members were his (presumed) siblings James, Thomas, Hannah, Catherine, and Henry. All but the youngest—who at that point was listed as twelve years of age—had been born in Canada. Henry provided the location of the next stop in this Hutchins family's migration by the place of his birth: Iowa.

Indeed, in Dubuque County, Iowa, for the 1850 census, there was a family of an Irish couple, John and Catherine Hutchins. With one addition—that of a daughter named Mary—the family constellation remained the same, with John, James, Thomas, Hannah, Catherine, and Henry all making their appearance. The only catch was that each of the children was listed as having been born in Michigan, not Canada. Could that have been the family's entry point from Canada? Or were their parents fearful of divulging their foreign origin?

A quick double check of California's Great Register in the 1870s confirms, however, that Elkhorn Township resident Henry Hutchins—the baby of the family—claimed to have been born in Iowa (see entry 2538), while older brothers John (see entry 2485) and James (see entry 2565) had to declare the date and courthouse of their naturalization, as having been born in Canada, not the United States. Unfortunately, any Canadian census records before that point of the Hutchins family's departure from Ontario only sparsely covered the territory, leaving us without any further direction as to where, exactly, the Hutchins family had settled in that part of the British Empire.

There was one bright spot in the monotony of this exercise, however: the discovery of oldest sister Mary in the 1850 census, and her subsequent disappearance from the 1860 Hutchins household. By the time of that later census—if we can believe the age reported for her in the 1850 census—she would have been twenty eight. Very possibly, she was by then married and living in a household of her own. But where? Left in Iowa? Or continuing with the family to California?

Perhaps it was merely coincidence, but appearing in the biographical sketch of another pioneer of Lodi was the mention of his mother's maiden name as Mary Hutchins. As it turns out, that same person's father's name is one we've seen before. The father, Ezekiel Lawrence, was one of the men named as having had a hand in the establishment of the downtown area of what was to become the city of Lodi, California. If this is so, the younger John Hutchins and Ezekiel Lawrence were not only business associates and neighboring property owners, they were also brothers-in-law!

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