Monday, August 6, 2012

Part 2: The Revelation

My great grandmother, Clara and great great grandmother, Elizabeth, keepers of the cup

Perhaps it was this treasure that made me think more carefully about the long journey, both in ubiety and in cultural assimilation, of my family. It was a tale not just of crossing an ocean but also a symbol of what I came to believe was longing and loss.
My mother recalls the cup as a fixture in her grandmother’s china cabinet for as long as she can remember, placing it there from at least the mid 1930s. Juxtaposing records clearly indicating the Millman branch arrived in the United States on 21 June 1889 with the history of the Truro Cathedral, I could offer no conclusions as to how the cup, bearing the image of a cathedral that was not yet complete at that time, had come to grace my great grandmother’s cabinet.  The foundation stones for the cathedral were laid in 1880, the first section consecrated in 1887, and the Central Tower completed in 1905. Even if a delicate china cup was sold with the image of an unfinished cathedral, this branch of my family lived in Lamerton, Devon. How did this family of humble laborers come to possess a treasure from what in those days was a long distance away?
Nagging at me as I added names and dates to my tree, the relic reminded me that no matter how carefully I checked and rechecked source material, I had to somehow explain, if only to myself, how the cup had come to live in the cabinet.  It taunted me.
On a rainy afternoon, I sat staring at my computer screen. Where had my 3rd great grandmother spent her final years? Once her daughter and grandchildren looked toward ‘the new world,’ Jane Martin Mitchell Richards Stacey seemed to leave Lamerton, Devon, too. On a hunch that I cannot explain, I went to the Cornwall Family History Society’s member area and typed in her name. To my amazement, she and her second husband appeared, buried in Perranarworthal, Cornwall. The names matched, including the middle initial of her second husband. To be sure, I immediately ordered her death certificate, holding my breath until the copy arrived verifying both her identity and move to Cornwall.
Jane's last home in Cornwall, outside of Truro
Now the long distance between Truro and Jane Stacey didn’t seem as formidable.  She had spent the final years of her life in Perranarworthal, about 14 miles from the cathedral, making it more likely that such a cup had come into her possession. But how had this treasure traveled to the United States?
A rare memento for this branch of my family
In a rare find, I came across a 1901 wedding invitation for Jane’s granddaughter, Clara. Holding it in my hand and fingering the letters, piqued my curiosity. Could the cup have been sent as a gift? The question sent me back to the darkened microfiche room of the Peter White Public Library in Marquette, Michigan where I scrolled through old copies of the Mining Journal hoping that the wedding might be described in detail and the gift mentioned. Alas, only a small paragraph mentioned the nuptials. But the cup as a wedding gift seemed the most probable theory, so I told myself to be content with that explanation.
Despite the reasonableness of this notion, I could not and would not embrace that contentment. Something did not feel right. Again, a rainy afternoon brought enlightenment. In rechecking immigration records, a new document suddenly appeared. My heart fluttered as I recognized the familiar sentiment that an answer to a stubborn mystery was about to be revealed. And it was.
On 7 October 1906, Jane’s daughter, Elizabeth, along with husband Frank Millman, and youngest daughter, Ellen, returned to the United States from a visit to their homeland. Swallowing my shock, as I had never heard an account of anyone in my family returning to the “old country,” I picked up the phone to recount the find to my mother. I could see her nodding and sending her memory into the past. “Yes, I do remember hearing about them having traveled back to England, but it happened many years before I was born.”
What had triggered such a trip? This was still a modest family. Frank was the sole laborer in a family with several children at home. Did Frank, Elizabeth, or both feel the pain of homesickness? Was the permanent separation from family too much to bear?  Was there news of a close relative’s illness? One of Frank and Elizabeth’s young sons died in the early 1900s of scarlet fever. Did the despair of this prompt longing for the stability of family back home? And why was Ellen chosen to accompany them? I can only guess at the reasons, but for the Truro cup, its story was complete.
I felt at peace as I walked in the living room, turned the cabinet key in the lock, and cradled the teacup in my palm. “You came here on that trip.” I murmured.  It was not a question. I had my answer. I was content.


  1. It's great when you manage to clear up those niggling questions. Well done on your research :-) Jo

  2. Thanks Jo! I appreciate your comment.