John Annal of Oswego

John Annal – An Orcadian in America

Chuck Annal writes about his ancestor, John Annal, who made the trip from South Ronaldsay to Oswego, NY, in the early 1850s…

John Annal, the progenitor of the Annal name in America, was born April 29, 1827 in South Ronaldsay, Orkney Islands, Scotland, to John Annal and Margaret Duncan. Later, 5 sisters and 3 brothers were born: Catherine and Margaret (twins-1829), Catherine (1830-presumably Catherine the twin died within the year), Jane (1838), Jessie (1843), James (1832), Thomas (1834) and Donald (1836). As we shall see later, it is possible that Donald later came to be known as “Daniel.”

The first written record of John Annal in Oswego is in the City Directory of 1857 where he is described as a sailor living at 38 Liberty St. A small house still sits on that site. However, from the obituary of John’s wife, Margaret Montgomery Annal, we know that he married her in 1856 in Oswego at the age of 29, so he was in the city at least 1 year before being mentioned in the 1857 Directory. When exactly he came to America I am unable to determine at this writing. I do know that many people emigrated from Scotland during the 1840’s and 1850’s to escape widespread poverty and repeated epidemics of cholera. Their port of entry was often Canada where a large number of Scottish immigrants settled. Given Oswego’s proximity to Canada, it is likely that John arrived there originally and eventually made his way to Oswego some time in the early 1850’s and, like so many Scottish immigrants before and after him, took up the career of sailor.

According to her obituary, Margaret Montgomery, John’s wife, was born in County Down, Ireland, in 1827, to John Montgomery and ? When she was one, Margaret’s parents emigrated to Canada and later, when she was 21, the family moved to Oswego. Her father is described in the 1850 Oswego City Census as a “cartman”; there is no mention of a wife, so we can assume that Margaret’s mother was deceased by this time. Margaret, age 25, is included in the home of Charles Smythe, merchant, as a servant. The Smythe residence is listed as 36 West 5th Street which would have put it one block from the lake. In 1856, Margaret marries John and we can only speculate on how they met. Smythe is listed in the Directories of the time as a ship’s chandler, and since John is a sailor perhaps their paths crossed and John met Margaret through him. They were living relatively close to one another at this time, John residing at the Liberty St. address and Margaret living four blocks away on 5th Street near the lake, and it would be romantic wishful thinking to imagine them strolling near the lake some summer evening and encountering one another. Another possibility is that they met at church. Margaret’s obituary mentions that she was a life-long member of the First Presbyterian Church and Presbyterianism was the predominant religion of John’s native Scotland, as well as County Down, Northern Ireland, where Margaret’s family originated. However, John’s obituary makes no mention of his having been affiliated with any church. Finally, we will have to settle for not knowing how they came to meet (though I favor that strolling by the lake thing).

In 1858, an obituary in the Palladium Times records the death of a Daniel Annal, in the first of several eerie coincidences in this story. He dies on November 8, my birthday, at the age of 35 from complications resulting from exposure after the wreck of the Osprey, a grain hauling schooner which sank off the east pier in Oswego on October 7, 1858 during gale force winds. A lengthy story appears in the Palladium Times indicating that the captain of the vessel lost not only his first mate but also his wife and child when waves swept over the ship and washed everyone overboard. The story also refers to another seaman who was washed over but survived by swimming to safety. This seaman may very well have been Daniel who would die one month later from the aforementioned “complications.” A story in the November 5 Palladium Times mentions Daniel and others being awarded by a court the amount of $1066 for “services.” I was unable to determine if this award was in any way related to the wreck of Osprey or was back money owed to Daniel and the others.

Daniel himself is something of a mystery. The records at the Riverside Cemetery in Oswego indicate that he was born in the Orkney Islands in 1823 to John V. and Margaret Annal, making him John’s brother and 35 years old; however, the Orkney genealogy website where I found the information on John’s parents, brothers, and sisters does not mention a Daniel. The closest reference is the aforementioned Donald, but his date of birth, according to the Orkney website, is 1836. His obituary in the Oswego Commercial Times identifies him as John’s brother but puts his age at 21, not 35. However, the age of 21 would almost perfectly match the birthday of Donald (b. 1836), so we can assume that “Daniel” is most likely Donald and that the Palladium Times age is incorrect. In fact, if Daniel really was 35, it would have mean that he was born three years before his parents married. I am indebted to my fellow genealogy researcher, David Annal of Great Britain, for first posing this theory. David pointed out the similarity in ages between Donald and “Daniel” and through his research discovered that Donald cannot be found in the Orkney Island records after 1851 and that the 1841 census makes no mention of a Daniel but does cite Donald, age five. It is highly likely, therefore, that Donald accompanied his brother John to America and is the “Daniel” tragically killed in the wreck of the Osprey.

How, then, did Donald become “Daniel?” With their Scottish accents, it is possible that Donald may have sounded like “Daniel” to Oswegonians. And, as David Annal points out, the final “d” was often dropped at the end of words in the Orkney dialect, and, in fact, there is evidence that the Annal name was originally spelled “Annald.” So, in pronouncing his own name Donald might very well have said “Donal” which eventually morphed into “Daniel.” The one puzzling piece is why John, his surviving brother, never made the correction in the cemetery records at Riverside.

In the same year as “Daniel’s” death (1858), Margaret and John see the birth of their first child and my great grandfather, John C. Annal. Between 1861-65 three more children are born, all boys, James (1861), William (1865) and George (1868). During these years, the family is still residing at the 38 Liberty St. address, though John is mentioned only once in these years in the City Directory, still described as a sailor. His omission may be attributed to the fact that he may have been working the lake as a sailor and was often absent from home. It is also interesting to note that the spelling of his name in the 1861 Directory is “Annell”; in subsequent years it is variously spelled “Annal” and “Annals,” this latter variant still prevalent in Oswego today.

The 1865 City Census shows the family still living on Liberty Street in a home owned by Mary Oliver of Scotland. Appearing also in this Census is a Margaret Annal, age 28, described as a servant living in the household of William Blackwood, a grocer who resides at 45 West Third Street. This Margaret is not John’s wife but his sister, who must have come to Oswego some time after 1861. As David Annal points out, in 1861 Margaret is listed in the South Ronaldsay census as working as a house servant at the lighthouse on the remote Pentland Skerries. Blackwood, for whom Margaret eventually went to work, is also a Scot, so it’s possible there was some kind of “Scottish connection” here in Oswego through Blackwood and Oliver. Other than this one reference to Margaret, I was unable to discover anything else about her. Presumably she married and changed her name which makes tracing her through the records of the time difficult.

In 1865, John becomes a naturalized citizen of the United States. His naturalization certificate is witnessed by A. Hemingway and G.D. Hubbard. According to the City Directory of that year, a Charles D. Hubbard and an Anson Hemingway were both living in Oswego. Hemingway is described as an oyster and fruit dealer living at 20 W. Cayuga St. and Hubbard a laborer living on W. Third between Niagra and Ohio streets. Probably the two were friends of John’s whom he asked to act as witnesses.

Until 1869 John is still described in the City Directory as a sailor, but in 1872 he’s identified as a carpenter, in 1874 a laborer, and in 1877 a watchman for the US government, a job he holds until his death. I have not yet had time to research which Federal agency was located in Oswego at this time, but I suspect his job had something to do with the city’s status as a major port on the Great Lakes.

From 1872-80 the family is living at 7 West 10th Street, or as some Directories had it, “West 10th near Bronson.” In researching the various Annal residences, I found several references to 10th Street which I believe is actually Liberty St. It seems that the two were used interchangeably in the Directories of the 1880’s, since from 1880-84 the family is described as living at 16 Liberty; from 1886-88, however, they are at 16 West 10th. From 1888-93 they are back at 16 Liberty. A similar pattern emerges in the 1860’s when the family is described variously as residing at either 38 Liberty or 38 West 10th Street. In 1880, the family moves to 16 Liberty St., apparently renting the house from Mary Oliver. This property was on the site of what is now Niagra Mohawk and prior to that the Diamond Match Factory.

By 1884 John’s sons seem to have chosen the careers they would eventually pursue. John C., my great-grandfather, is described as a sailor, William a carpenter, James a tinsmith, and George a laborer. Except for John C., who eventually becomes a lake captain on the steamer Vision, all of the brothers have the same occupations in the City Directory of 1900.

In 1885, John C. and his father buy the 16 Liberty St. property from Captain Benjamin Chambers and the family continues living there until 1892 when they sell the property to the Diamond Match Company where, in another of those strange coincidences, my grandfather on my mother’s side worked for many years, as well as a number of Annal descendents. In fact, my mother was raised just around the corner from what would have been the original 16 Liberty St. property and my boyhood home at 65 Ontario St. was about one block away. I don’t think my father or mother ever realized that as a child my mother could literally see from the front porch of her house on Schuyler Street the house where the Scotsman John Annal and his family once lived.

In 1898, John C. is the captain of the steamer Vision, so we can assume that he had been slowly working his way up through increasingly more responsible positions, even though the City Directory refers to him as a “sailor” and even, in 1888, as a “fisherman.” Perhaps the Vision was a fishing boat? His obituary mentions that he was a petty officer on a United States revenue cutter but doesn’t say when. In any event, by 1885 he apparently had the financial resources to purchase the Liberty St. property with his father.

We can only guess why John and John C. sold the property to the Diamond Match Co. in 1892. One reason may have been that John C. married Mary Louise May in that year. The rest of the family settled into a house at 38 W. 4th St., only a couple of blocks from the lake. A fairly large house with white columns on the front still stands on that property. It is in this house that both Margaret and John would live out their years. John C., on the other hand, moves into a series of residences on 5th St., Montcalm St. and finally W. 4th St., a short distance from his parents’ home. It is interesting that the family whose ancestral roots reach back to an island in Scotland always chose to live by water and that by coincidence I too was raised only two blocks from Lake Ontario.

In 1893, Charles (my grandfather for whom I am named) is born to John C. and Mary Louise. Later Adrian – nicknamed “Coot” (1907), Rose, John (1898), and Fredrick (1900) are born.

On July 21, 1898, Margaret Montgomery Annal, John’s wife of 42 years, dies at the age of 71. Her obituary mentions no specific cause of death, only that she had been an invalid for the past several years and had been confined to her bed for the previous ten weeks. No death certificate is on record at the Oswego City Hall.

In 1904, John C. dies suddenly and prematurely (even by turn-of-the-century standards) from convulsions caused by kidney problems. Inexplicably, he is working at, of all places, the Diamond Match Company at this time. Perhaps the life of a ship’s captain took too much time away from his family and he decided to work closer to home. He is 45 years old and leaves behind five children. Mary Louise Annal, John C.’s widow, moves into the 38 W. 4th St. residence with her children and John C.’s brother, George.

It is sad to consider that by 1904 John, now 77, has seen the death of his younger brother Daniel, his wife Margaret, and now his oldest son, John C. He will live only one more year himself, and one can only wonder what effect this most recent death must have had on him.

On June 4, 1905, John Annal who came to this country a half century earlier from the remote Orkney Islands dies from what his death certificate describes as senility, i.e., old age. At the time of his death he is still working as a watchman for the US government. He lies in the Riverside Cemetery next to his wife Margaret, his son John C., and his brother Daniel, though there are no longer any stones marking their resting places. In that same year, George, now 37, moves to Ogdensburg, NY and never again appears in Oswego City records.

Sometime around 1906 Mary Louise Annal, John C.’s widow, marries James Dorsey and has three girls Anna (1907), Katherine (1909) and Florence (1911) and one boy, James (1914) by this second marriage. Apparently she signs over the house to Dorsey, since he is listed as the “householder” in the directories of subsequent years where he is variously described as a laborer and janitor. Also living in the house at this time are John C.’s children Rose and Charles, both of whom are intriguingly described in the 1912 Directory as “matchmakers,” no doubt a reference to their work at the Diamond Match factory and not to careers in arranging marriages! What is intriguing about this marriage is that the time of the wedding Mary Louise is 33 while Dorsey is 55.

In 1915, Charles Annal, John C.’s eldest son (and my grandfather), marries Helen Hoey (“Nanny” or “Nellie,” as she is later known) and goes to work at Ames Iron Works as a machinist. They have five children: my father, Edward (1916), Mary Louise (1918), Helen (1922), and the twins John (Jack) and Jane (1924). They are living at 133 E. Oneida St. at this time.

In 1918, Frederick, John C.’s brother, who has been absent from the directories all this time, suddenly appears listed at the 38 W. 4th St. residence listed as a “laborer,” a designation that reappears in subsequent directories. He appears again in 1928 married to “Hazel” and living at 44 W. Schuyler. “Hazel” is Hazel Jessmore whom Frederick married in 1921. According to their marriage license, Hazel was from Canada and their marriage was witnessed by John Annal and Mabel Jessmore. Since Mabel appears nowhere in the Oswego directories, she may have been Hazel’s sister, possibly still living in Canada. According to the 1925 census the couple has a one year old daughter named Gertrude. I am indebted to my cousin Martha Annal of Rochester, NY for providing additional information on Hazel and Frederick. Hazel was eventually institutionalized at the mental hospital in Marcy, NY. Hazel last appears in the directories in 1934, so she may have been institutionalized around that time. She dies in 1991. My aunt, Mary Louise Barry of Rochester, NY recalls her mother and her aunt Anna visiting Hazel at Marcy. In addition to Gertrude there were three other children, Frederick, Raymond and Phyllis. Eventually Frederick left with the children and moved to Ohio, and since he no longer appears in the directories after 1943, it’s safe to assume that he left somewhere around that time. I am unable to trace him after that. However, in the obituary of Frederick ’s brother John who died in 1957, Rose and Adrian are cited as the only surviving siblings.

The other brother, William, however, appears continuously in the directories until his death in 1921. Working his entire life as a carpenter, he took up residence at 116 W. Van Buren St., a home that eventually passed on to his wife Anna Coad Annal and their children, Edward and Grace, who lived there until their deaths, and Willard who eventually moved to New Jersey. Edward (this is the first I learned there was another Edward before my father) died in 1952, and his obituary indicates that he was a veteran of World War I and “an expert and experienced sailor” who was a member of the Oswego Yacht Club. He had worked most of his life in a laboratory at (where else?) the Diamond Match Co.

His sister Grace never marries and continues living at the 116 W. Van Buren residence presumably until her death. She is described in the directories as a secretary at the Red Cross and then simply as a stenographer. Her name last appears in the 1960 Directory; I was unable to determine the year of her death.

It is interesting to note that 116 W. Van Buren is about 2 blocks from my home at 65 Ontario St., but I never recall any mention of Grace, Edward or any other relatives living so close to us.

James, the tinsmith and next oldest of John Annal’s sons after John C., proves to be a mystery in the long run. Appearing consistently in the city directories and census records beginning around 1900, he ultimately disappears without a trace. After his first wife Margaret (Maggie) Wing Annal dies in 1908, he marries the widow Anna Haynes (maiden name Tart) somewhere around 1915, which means that James, born in 1861, would have been 54 at the time and Anna 44. Anna had two sons and two daughters from her previous marriage to Haynes, all of whom seem to be grown by the time of the 1915 census, since they are not listed at James and Anna’s residence on Cayuga Street. James had no children from his first marriage to Maggie.

Anna dies in 1926 from what her obituary describes as “an illness of long duration.” According to the Dain Funeral Home records, Anna is buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery, though the cemetery records themselves do not indicate she is buried there. James no longer appears in the city directories after 1928, and there is no death certificate on file in Oswego for a James Annal for the three years after 1928, so James, an apparently successful tradesman and a fixture in the census and directories until this time, literally disappears a the age of 67. My cousin Martha who provided information on Frederick, James’ younger brother, had no recollection of a James. St. Paul’s Cemetery records suggest that he is buried there with his first wife Maggie, the annotation reading “Margaret Annal w. James Annal.” However, no stone marks his resting place with her. Instead is a large fairly new stone identifying only Maggie and inscribed “Wife of James.”

James’s story raises several questions: where did he disappear to? Why did he marry so late in life? Where is he buried? Who put the newer stone at Maggie’s gravesite? One piece of speculation: by 1929 James’ brothers William and John C. and both of his parents have died as have his two wives. George has long ago moved to Ogdensburg. By way of family, only his sisters-in-law, Mary Louise Dorsey and Anna Coad Annal (William’s widow) are alive, but each is involved her own family. Is it possible that he moved out of town? Perhaps to Ogdensburg to be with George? Unless some distant relative steps forward, I’m afraid that speculation is all we have to offer finally with James.

In 1921 James Dorsey dies and by 1925 Mary Louise, a widow now for the second time, has moved the family to 36 West Third Street, a house occupied by her four children by Dorsey, as well as three children from her marriage to John C., John, Adrian and Frederick and Frederick’s wife Hazel and their one year old infant daughter, Gertrude. The house no longer stand on this property which is now a vacant lot, but it must have been fairly large to accommodate nine adults and an infant. Mary Louise dies in 1944 at the age of 70, predeceased by her daughter Anna who dies at the age of 31. Katherine marries Lee Springall and moves to Syracuse and Florence marries Martin May and moves to Albany. I am unable to locate further information on the remaining child, James Jr.

On March 26, 1935, just short of his 41st birthday, Charles, my grandfather, dies prematurely from what the death certificate describes as rectal cancer and venous thrombosis of the left leg. He had been sick for a little over a year. Since I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 1995, and the condition is hereditary, I wonder if Crohn’s actually killed my grandfather. In 1935, nothing was known of the disease and it could easily have been misdiagnosed as rectal or colon cancer. His obituary is brief, giving a list of survivors and indicating that he died after a “lingering illness.” My father, Edward, is 19 years old. I never remember him speaking of his father which is one reason why I started researching this side of my family. Surviving members of the family today tell me that “Charlie” was well-liked in his neighborhood and enjoyed making home-made root beer. As a child I remember visiting my grandmother (“Nanny”) and she always had a supply of root beer on hand, so apparently she carried on the tradition after his death.

Shortly after Charles’ death, Edward, my father, as his relatives before him, goes to work on the lakes, eventually becoming a second mate on a Corp of Engineers ship, the Fontana, which sailed up and down the Great Lakes dredging out harbors to keep them sufficient depth. For many years, a model of this ship hung in a glass case in the dining room of our Ontario St. home. And in my mother’s bedroom now is a picture of my father, young and confident, standing on the deck of what was probably the Fontana. His first appearance in the City Directory is in 1941 where he is described as a “wheelman,” a reference to his role on a ship. I suspect that his career on the lakes was originally due to the connections of his uncle Adrian (“Coot”) who spent his life on the water, eventually becoming a tugboat captain. I have vague recollections of visiting Coot with my father and of my father imitating Coot’s funny way of speaking (he sounded something like Elmer Fudd).

In 1945, my father marries Ruth Coatta and in 1946 I come along followed by my sister Irene in 1952.

By 1947, my father has left the Corps of Engineers for a more settled life and begins working at, I believe, Fitzgibbons Boiler Co. and then later at the Cyclotherm Boiler Co. as a an account clerk. Like his father Charles and his grandfather John C. before him, he dies prematurely in 1964 at the age of 48 from a heart attack while playing golf with me and a family friend.

This brings us to the present. I married Cheryl Kenyon in 1969; we have one son Edward, born in 1978 and named after his grandfather. My sister Irene married Frank Krul in 1976 and they have two children, Christopher (1980) and Cassandra (1983).

There are number of things I haven’t had time to research. For example, when did John Annal and his brother Daniel/Donald arrive in America ? Did they come through Canada? Why did they come here? Did they know the Scots Mary Oliver and William Blackwood before they arrived? What ever happened to James Annal? What about George Annal who moved to Ogdensburg?

One thing is clear through all this: these were blue collar, working class people; there are no merchants or bankers or doctors among them. They were hard-working people who worked until they died. And my great regret is that I never got to meet so many of them, particularly John Annal whose life spanned two countries and nearly the entire 19th century. I suspect he had stories to tell.

Revised January, 2002

Charles W. Annal, Concord , NH

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