Sunday, June 28, 2020

The half-life of Henry Gibson

I've been thinking lately about my family history research, and how I haven't written in this blog for two months. I hate taking long breaks like that, makes it feel like I'm not keeping up on my research, identifying my family's heritage, and sharing it in a lasting way. I have also been trying to think of ways to pass on what I know about my ancestors to my kids. Learning and knowing about my ancestors is great for me, but a bigger part of the reason I do this is to bring their rediscovered stories to future generations so they don't get lost again. So I decided to try something - I want to commit to posting more regularly, and do a synopsis or brief life story of some of my direct ancestors. Hopefully this will be a good way to see what gaps I have in my own knowledge, and at the same time work as a quick way to give my kids an idea of who their ancestors were in a more digestible, less "listen to dad drone on and on for hours" sort of way.

I chose to start this with my earliest known Gibson ancestor, Henry Gibson. As I went through the documents I've accumulated over the years, I realized a couple things. First, he died relatively young at the age of 56. That might have seemed old to me once, but now that I'm in my early 40s, it doesn't sound that old at all. Second, the smattering of documents I have only covers the second half of his life - I don't have any documents on him at all before the age of 28. Hence the title of this post refers to the half of Henry's life that I do have some knowledge of.

The earliest mention I have of Henry is in the birth record of his oldest known child, a son named William born in Gortnagullion, County Fermanagh, Ireland, in 1844. Interestingly, he was the same age my dad and I both were, 28, when our first children were born. He worked as a farmer, but as far as I've been able to tell he didn't know any land, though maybe he rented or had some other arrangement. Just over a year later, a second child was born. I haven't seen a copy of the baptism record, but the person transcribing it couldn't read the name, so I don't know if it was a son or daughter. The child seems not to have lived long, as Henry and his family immigrated to New Brunswick, Canada in 1846, and the 1851 Canada census only names Henry, his wife Ann, and their son William as being born in Ireland. All their other children were born in Canada. I've often wondered if that second child died in Ireland, and if Henry and Ann had to bid the grave of their child farewell when they left to escape the potato famine.

Henry and Ann had seven more children in Canada - Thomas, John (my ancestor), James, Ann Jane, Sarah, Martha, and George. He worked as a laborer in Canada, making bricks and doing other jobs to support his family. In 1851, his family shared a home with three other families, making 21 people crammed into a single house. I can't imagine accommodations were super spacious, but they survived. They moved around a few times, and eventually lived in a home near Marsh Bridge in Saint John, New Brunswick. Henry likely died there on 4 April 1872. A funeral was held from his home two days later on 6 April. A local paper said he was a native of Pettigo in County Donegal, Ireland, the county northwest of Fermanagh. I haven't been able to confirm that yet, and hope to one day find out exactly where Henry came from.

That's really about all I know of Henry. He had a hard life - losing a child, probably losing other relatives in Ireland in the famine, leaving his homeland, and raising a large family in a new land. I'm grateful he did though, as it gave me and my family a chance to live in a great and free land, whereas they may not have even survived had they stayed in Ireland.

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