Wednesday, April 13, 2016

May Be Mary

Sometimes, the best way to handle a genealogical puzzle is to avoid the temptation to explore every avenue. Just settle on one and wrestle with it until the answer can be pinned down.

So it was when tackling the question of what became of all the children of missionaries Peachy Taliaferro and Mary Whitcomb Wilson. Though there may have been four of them in America once the missionaries returned home on furlough, the only solid lead came from their eldest daughter. Only problem: depending on which resource mentioned this daughter, she was called by two different names: May, and Mary.

The answer: search by both names.

It is almost like searching for two entirely different people. Even so, zeroing in on this one quest meant setting aside all possible distractions for the other children—whatever their official names turned out to be, and regardless of where they grew up. After all, it is much better to focus on one person than be scattered between four wild chases.

Back to the Google search engine it was, looking for any mention of either May or Mary, combined with that relatively common surname, Wilson. I tried the whole exercise in tandem with other search phrases, like "missionary to India," or alongside her parents' names (especially her father's singular identity).

As unlikely as it seemed, there were a few telling passages in field reports from India, featured in journals for the church which originally supported the Reverend Wilson's missionary service. This, in addition to the basic material I had found in the White family genealogy which included Mrs. Wilson's entry. According to the genealogy, the Wilsons' daughter
came to America with her parents when a child and was educated and has returned to India as a missionary.

Time to do some math. If May—or Mary, the daughter—had come to America in 1873 at the age of seven, which the passenger list on her trip from Liverpool to New York had indicated, that would give us a year of birth somewhere between 1865 and 1867. A generous margin, of course, but a prudent one. If finishing one's education and then obtaining funding and appointment to the mission field would put Miss Wilson—at the most conservative estimate—back on the field by the time she was twenty years of age, that would mean she wouldn't show up on records until at least 1885, likely later.

Sure enough, at about that time, records began to include reports of the Reverend Wilson's daughter, returned to the field. There wasn't, however, just one location mentioned in the reports. The best I could tell, it appeared May—or Mary—had been born at one of her father's first assigned posts, a place known as Bareilly. This was the name of both a city and a district in the northern Indian state known as Uttar Pradesh.

Looking at a map of the main cities in that state today, one can notice a few interesting details. For one thing, we have already stumbled upon the name of one city there: Allahabad, location of the home in India of the traveling professor, Alec Hill and his wife, the former Edmonia Taylor of Pennsylvania, who had provided the unusual name of Peachy Taliaferro Wilson to local journalist and writer, Rudyard Kipling. Though you may not think you recognize the name of another city in Uttar Pradesh—Agra—you will, once you realize one of its prime pieces of real estate has become a quite well known landmark to Western eyes.

It was in this same northern region of India, pushing up against the border with Nepal in the Himalayas, that the Wilsons' daughter spend her preschool years. It is likely the same region to which she returned, in her twenties, to take up the work which her parents had left behind.

In some church publications, however, there was indication that the younger missionary Wilson had moved beyond that region to another one, more of an outpost, and one referred to as "lonely" and isolated. That mission, in the church reports, was called Pauri in the district referred to then as Gurhwal—now spelled Garhwal. Farther north and further into the Himalayas, the mission included a school, at which the younger Mary Wilson served.

With only brief mentions of her name in conference reports during a few years, it was difficult to piece together any history of her service in India. There was another complicating factor, however: in addition to having to search for her by two different given names—May or Mary—another surname had been appended after the Wilson. Yet, I could find no mention of any marriage.

Still, I couldn't pass up the hint. So now, I was searching for both May Wilson and Mary Wilson, but adding the additional variable of another surname, as well. Thankfully, it was this tiny clue that led to a few research breakthroughs which I earnestly believe I never otherwise would have found.

Above: Sketch of the mission premises at Pauri, Garhwal, India, from Manual of the Methodist Episcopal Church, volume 2, Phillips & Hunt, 1882; in the public domain.



    Note the mention -- married to Rev. J H Gill on July 15, 1909. If this is her.

    1. Yes, it is, Iggy! Thanks for finding that specific date. And I see that irritating convention of employing only those first two initials was a worldwide custom of the time. However, we shall persevere! I have discovered what those initials stand for.

  2. My grandaunt Mae was really Mary - Mae was her nickname. It's interesting to see May/Mary following in her father's footsteps.

    1. We had a Mae/Mary combo in my husband's family, as well. May have been a common nickname of the time.


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