Sunday, May 15, 2016

Finding the Jackson Family

It isn't every day that one uncovers a murder mystery among the stories tucked inside one's family history. Even though the victim in this caseMarshall Jackson of Winnipeg, Canadawasn't part of my family (sadly, it was his murderer who was a distant relative in my matrilineal line), I wanted to trace his story to find out more about the man.

At the time of his 1917 death in the line of duty, working as part of the immigration service, Marshall Jackson lived with his family in a section of Winnipeg known as Fort Rouge. Newspaper reports of his funeral helped pinpoint his family in the census taken only one year prior to his passing. Although the household listed Marshall, his wife "Ester" and two daughters, we had seen from newspaper coverage that he also had two sonsone living in Brandon in the same province of Manitoba as his parents, the other in the neighboring province, Saskatchewan, in a place called Moose Jaw.

Rather than attempt the rather unwieldy genealogical chore of trying to find these Jackson sons at their place of residence in that same census enumerationa trying feat, considering such a common surnameI thought it might be more expeditious to wander back through the census records systematically, until I could locate a year in which they all resided in one household.

Pulling up the prior census, though, proved unhelpful. There, still in Winnipeg, were the Jacksonssans sons, unfortunately. The 1911 census showed wife Hester and daughters Gladys and Eleanor, but no sons.

Again, skipping backwards another five years to the previous census record of 1906, we find the same household. No sons.

Five years prior to that, in the 1901 census: nothing. No Marshall Jackson family whatsoever—with or without sons.

It might have seemed like we were doomed to have to go the more tedious route of eliminating numerous Jackson families in those two other Canadian locations in the hope of finding the right sons of Marshall and Hester Jackson. Except for one thing: looking at the actual digitized replica of the census page reveals much more than the mere transcription provides (at least in current formats). And on that digitized record, we could glean a few more facts to help reconstruct this family tree.

For one thing, the 1916 census showed that the Marshalls' youngest daughter was born in the United States. Because she was twenty one years of age at the time of that census, it would mean that the familywell, this daughter and her mother, at the very leastwould not have been in Canada as late as 1895.

This particular census, however, helps us pinpoint the year of immigration a little more clearlyif, however, the reporting party remembered the incident clearly.

The 1916 census record shows Marshall's wifenot a citizen at the time of her arrival in Canadato have come to that country in 1904. The same thing was reported for her two American-born daughters, indicating they must have been in the United States during the time of that country's census in 1900—thus addressing why they wouldn't have shown up in the 1901 census in Canada.

And sure enough: there the family was, in the town of Neche in Pembina County, one of the most northern counties in the new state of North Dakota.

Although the precise handwriting of the enumerator made reading the names of each family member a snap, it was somewhat complicated by his less than stellar spelling abilities, thus not quite providing us the precise names of each of Marshall Jackson's sons. However, we do have an approximation of what their names were. "Bernatt," the eldest, was fifteen years of age, having been born in North Dakota in December of 1884.

The second son, also born in North Dakota, arrived in June of 1886, bringing him to the brink of fourteen years of age at the point of the 1900 census. The only problem is: I can't read his name. It looks suspiciously like "Irl," making me wonder whether it should actually be Earluntil I succumb to pondering the possibility that it might have been Gil. I find it more forgivable to have to endure bad handwriting than poor spelling.

Of course, the girls were both listedGladys, having been born in October of 1891, and her younger sister "Ellen" in August of 1896as was their then-thirty six year old mother, Hester. Apparently, Marshall and Hester had by then been married for seventeen years, placing the year of their marriage around 1883, and the locationconsidering Hester was, by other reports, actually American and not Canadian, as this census mistakenly identified hersomewhere in the United States. Indeed, the date of Marshall's arrival in the country was marked as 1881, most likely precluding the possibility of a Canadian marriage.

Another interesting detail of that 1900 census in North Dakota was the listing of Marshall's occupation. The census reported him to be serving as constable. While not to the rank of sheriff that the Winnipeg newspapers had later reported him to beand certainly nowhere near the size of city his reported location of Fargo would have been at the timethe position of constable was a form of law enforcement officer, in some cases an elected official.

Although by this census record, Marshall Jackson had not, exactly, served as sheriff as the Winnipeg newspapers later reported, there were other indications that the paper may not have missed the mark by as much as it seems here. It was another newspaper report—this time from stateside—that provided a few hints.

Above: The Marshall Jackson household in the 1900 U.S. Census for the town of Neche in Pembina County, North Dakota. Image courtesy


  1. Maybe you could break down the ranking - Constable? Deputy? Marshal(l)? Are all these "law officers"?

  2. Thank you SO much for writing these blog posts. You helped me to trace back through Eleanor Jackson to Marshall Jackson who is my mom's great grandpa. I'm very happy to learn so many interesting details about him.


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