From Fens to Mills to Illinois

The hunt for my 4x Great Grandfather, Simpson Bishop, takes a tiny step forward but also thousands of miles forward, back through time via ‘Spain’ to the USA.

I’ve had a partial breakthrough this week on my Bishop family history, specifically around the mystery of the whereabouts of my Great x4 Grandfather Simpson Bishop (b.c. 1819).

For many years, I’d assumed that like the many generations before and since, my 4x Great Grandfather Simpson Bishop had been born and died in the fenlands of Cambridgeshire – that’s certainly the case for the majority of both my maternal and paternal family during the 18-20th Century.

A few years back, I discovered that he’d married twice, and then thrice, and headed up to Lancashire in the latter half of the 1800s to a place named Higher Booths, where the cotton mills were a powerhouse of manufacturing and employment.

Along with wife number three, I found all his extra children – growing my Bishop family tree significantly, but this is where it got complicated.

He married his third wife, widow Sarah Washington (née Brown) in 1868, and in 1871 the couple are living in separate households in the same parish – each as the ‘head’ on the census, and each with their respective children.

Then Simpson goes missing.

I’m used to him going missing by now, and looked for him under his usual other names – Sampson Bishop, James Bishop, James Simpson Bishop, Simson Bishop.. but no.

Whilst wandering through digitized records on Ancestry almost a year ago, I spotted a photograph of his second eldest daughter, Ann Elizabeth Bishop, who’d married a George Eve. I messaged the source of the photo, who was able to tell me that it was their ancestor, and that they’d moved to the USA, but had little other information as they were new to researching their family.

This week I resumed my research on this part of the tree, and found myself on FindMyPast looking at the record hints for Ann Elizabeth – this led me to the US Censuses – a set I rarely have to consult.

Down the cousin research rabbit-hole

Following Ann’s family with George Eve is beginning to stray somewhat away from my own tree, but when it comes to first cousins to an ancestor, I like to find them despite their different surname, as they usually turn up in marriage witness records, death certificates, census visitors/neighbours, obituary mourners, and sometimes photos.

I looked at their family on 1900, then 1910, and then I looked at 1880. In all three instances they were living in Minonk, Woodford County, Illinois, USA, and the censuses explained they’d been there since 1879.

Right there, on the US 1880 census scan was Simpson Bishop!

Simpson Bishop on the US 1880 Census with his married daughter Ann Elizabeth Eve, at Minonk, Woodford County, Illinois.
Simpson Bishop on the US 1880 Census with his married daughter Ann Elizabeth Eve, at Minonk, Woodford County, Illinois.

The transcription unhelpfully reads as ‘Simpson Biskof’ – and looks obviously like ‘Bishop’.

For a tiny moment I had read it as Ann having called a child after her father, but then realised he should be Simpson Eve, not Bishop, and that he also shouldn’t be ’56’. It was my 4x Great Grandfather after all!

Tracking back a year, I was able to find Simpson Bishop entering the USA via Castle Garden Immigration Centre on 8th July 1879, having departed the UK from Liverpool.

Castle Garden Immigration Centre in New York, circa 1880.
Castle Garden Immigration Centre in New York, circa 1880.

He had arrived onboard a steamship named SS Spain…. and with him was Ann, George, and their oldest children.

They’d emigrated together.

The steamship SS Spain - regularly sailed from Liverpool to New York until it was scrapped in 1896.
The steamship SS Spain – regularly sailed from Liverpool to New York until it was scrapped in 1896.

Those left behind

I’d previously found it frustratingly odd that back home in Lancashire, Simpson’s third wife Sarah was alive and well, and continued to note herself on censuses as ‘married’, not switching to ‘widow’ until 1901. This gave me a gap of up to 30 years to look for him in census records and for a death – and of course – I haven’t found him.

My last evidence of him in the UK had been the birth of John James Bishop in 1873, and with the death of three of his children – some in infancy, and some older ones due to illness (perhaps brought on by their mill work), I wondered whether he’d died too, or he’d ended up in an asylum, or prison, or was just obscured by yet more pseudonyms/misspellings.

It might appear that he deserted his third wife, but I’m unlikely to ever know this for sure, unless I find some modern day Bishop descendants from his younger children who might have kept any evidence of letters etc.

What happened next?

The remainder of Simpson’s life is still a mystery. This appearance on the 1880 US census gives me his whereabouts in June 1880, and that’s the last confirmed record I have for him.

There is one possible other record for him, turning up in the County Court of Woodford County, Illinois (the area which contains Minonk) in 1886 – a naturalization record index card for ‘James S. Bishop’ (remember, he’s used that name before!).

James S. Bishop naturalization card for Woodford County, Illinois, USA.
James S. Bishop naturalization card for Woodford County, Illinois, USA. I really want to read the associated paperwork to see if it’s him!

I’ll see what more I can find out about this person. At this period, you had to be resident in the US for 5 years, and 1 year in the state to apply for naturalization – all of which Simpson could have easily ticked if that was him, due to his 1879 arrival.

So, any Woodford County or Naturalization experts reading this – I’d love to hear from you, but otherwise, I feel i’ve done some more satisfying detective work this week.

In the meantime, thanks for reading, happy ancestor hunting. It’s time for a cuppa!

Andrew