Friday, August 17, 2018

Rewriting the Biographical Sketch about John Riddell (1877-1975)

I first wrote the biographical sketch about John Riddell in 2014 for the multi-volume book I am writing about the descendants of Robert Muir (c1800-1869), my three times great grandfather. John Riddell was one of his great grandsons. (John Ridell >> John Ridell >> Martha Muir >> Robert Muir)

John was born on 26 April 1877 in the village of Kirkton, East Kilbride to John and Helen (Bain) Riddell.  He was their third child, but only his sister, Margaret, was still living at the time of his birth. She had been born in 1875 and in 1876 his mother had a premature baby girl who died the same day she was born. When John was 14 months old, his mother had David Riddell in 1878, but he died of tuberculosis at the age of four months. In 1879 a son, Robert Riddell, was born.

In 1881 the family remained of village East Kilbride where his father worked as an agricultural laborer. However, by 1885 the John's family had moved to Cambuslang Parish where his parents rented a house at 12 Silverbanks Row. When the 1891 census was enumerated the family lived in Vicarfield Terrace in the village of Cambuslang.

At the age of 13, John was already working in the coal mines. His father died in 1897 and by 1901 John, his mother, and brother, Robert, were living in the village of Bishopbriggs, in Cadder Parish. Also living with them was a 5 year-old granddaughter of John's mother, named Ellen. John and Robert were listed as being single. My assumption is Ellen was the illegitimate child of John's older sister Margaret, but I can find no registration record for the child's birth.

On 6 October 1904, John Riddell and his friend, Thomas Sorbie, boarded the Anchor Line's S/S Furnessia. They traveled in the steerage section and landed in New York on 18 October. Both John and Thomas were miners. John lived in Glenboig before leaving Scotland and Thomas had lived in Dalserf.  Thomas Sorbie's parents were John and Margaret (Hamilton) Sorbie. Interestingly, John Riddell's grand uncle, Thomas Muir's first wife was a Sorbie, Janet Sorbie (1844-1870). Perhaps Thomas Sorbie was a cousin of John's.

Anchor Line's S/S Furnessia; photograph courtesy of ClydeSite

When they arrived in New York, they told U.S. immigration officials their destination was Imperial, Pennsylvania. Imperial was in Allegheny County about 17 miles west of Pittsburgh. Underground was the northern tip of the Pittsburgh coal seam, the thickest and most extensive bed of coal in the Appalachian Basin.

During first decade of the 1900s, when John Riddell and Thomas Sorbie arrived in Imperial, mining companies were sinking new mines at a rapid pace. The growth of mining was so massive and so intertwined with coke production for the iron and steel industry that the era was called the "Golden Age of King Coal, Queen Coke, and Princess Steel." By 1910, however, the golden age was fading, new coke production technology used a lower quality of coal than that of the Pittsburgh seam, which greatly reduced demand.

Pittsburgh coal seam; map courtesy of Wikipedia

Regardless of the reasons why John Riddell left Imperial, he was not there when the 1910 U.S. federal census was enumerated and has not been found in any U.S. documentation after his arrival.

The Rest of the Story

And the rest of John's life remained a mystery until a few weeks ago when a DNA match provided his year and place of death.

It seems the United States didn't suit John for whatever reason and he likely returned to the United Kingdom aboard the Cunard Steamship Company's RMS Campania, arriving in Liverpool on 10 March 1906. He only stayed a few months before immigrating to New Zealand aboard the New Zealand Shipping Company's SS Tongariro, which departed London on 9 August 1906 bound for Wellington. The voyage would have taken 30 to 40 days.

In 1908 John's widowed mother, Helen (Bain) Riddell and brother Robert joined John in New Zealand.

In 1910, John married Amy Alberta Roberts, who was born in 1882 in Bolton, England, to Jessie Alberta Roberts. Amy's mother married John Linihin five years after her birth. In 1901 the Linihin family was enumerated in Farnworth, England, where Amy's step-father worked as a coal miner. They immigrated in 1905.

John's mother died in 1914 and Amy's mother in 1924. John's brother, Robert, died in 1961.

John and Amy lived their lives in Auckland, New Zealand, and had four children, though one was born stillborn in 1915. Amy died on 22 January 1957 and was interred at the Waikumete Cemetery in Glen Eden. John lived to be 98 years old and died on 13 August 1975. He was interred beside his wife.

The children:
  1. Jessie Bain Riddell born 13 May 1911 in Auckland; died 15 May 2011; married David William Storey in 1935.
  2. Margaret Alberta Riddell born 16 February 1918; died 15 January 2002; married George William Allan Laird in 1941.
  3. John "Jack" Victor Riddell born 18 Aug 1920; died 31 July 2015; married Lennox "Lyn" Blanche Jones.

A new DNA match provided enough clues to find my "lost" second cousin twice removed. And sometimes one more clue is just what you need to continue your research:

Family tree attached to my new DNA match; courtesy of

The tree attached to my new DNA match said John Riddell was born in April in East Kilbride, Scotland, and died in 1975 in Auckland, New Zealand. I had a John Riddell born in April 1877 in East Kilbride. Could they be the same person? I suspected they were as his daughter's middle name was Bain and that was his mother's maiden name. After hours of research, I know the end of John Riddell's story.

Now if I could just find John's missing sister, Margaret Riddell! She's the only one in the family who is still "lost." Margaret was born on 18 January 1875 in East Kilbride, Scotland, and was enumerated in the 1881 and 1891 census with her family. If anyone knows her story, please contact me.

John Riddell (1877-Unknown)

Descendants of Robert Muir (c1800-1869), Volume II: Descendants of John and Martha (Muir) Riddell

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on finding the missing John Riddell. Isn't it amazing what DNA is doing to help our research!