My paternal grandma loved to share detailed stories of her childhood in Nelsonville, Ohio, and her paternal grandmother, Jane Hemsley Bateman. She described how she could escape the struggles of life during the Depression and a house full of siblings when she crossed the street to her Grandma Bateman’s house. They were close. My grandma knew that Grandma Bateman had been raised by her aunt and uncle, although Grandma never really knew why that was. With my curiosity piqued, I needed to explore Jane Hemsley Bateman’s past and why she may not have divulged many details about her own childhood. I wanted to do that for my grandma.
Jane Hemsley was born in County Durham, England, to a coal mining family. Jane, her parents, paternal grandmother, and father’s sister’s family crossed the pond when she was very young and landed in Meigs County, Ohio, by 1870 . She lost her mother and grandmother shortly thereafter. Ten years later Jane was living with her aunt, but her father, Robert Hemsley, was to be found elsewhere- the Ohio Penitentiary . Grandma was thoroughly amused by this revelation and I knew I had to get acquainted with some skeletons in the closet. I spent several hours in the Microfilm Room at the Ohio History Connection scanning for Robert’s admission entry to the Pen, hoping it would contain a description of his physical characteristics, and possibly something more. No such luck. With a whole decade of prisoner entries to sift through I eventually had to throw in the towel and leave it for another day.
After a few more years of fervent online research, I learned that Robert Hemsley was decreed a 2nd degree murder conviction in February 1874 for fatally stabbing his neighbor (during a drunken brawl) who had had “illegal relations” with his new wife . Armed with a more precise timeline, I ventured back to the OHC Microfilm Room and discovered that Robert’s April 1874 Ohio Penitentiary admission entry included a physical description! There was my skeleton: my 3rd great-grandfather was a 5 feet 4½ inch “hard drinker” with grey eyes and a heavy brow, a thick nose and short mouth, thin brown hair, teeth that were in poor condition, and a defective right middle finger, but yet was somehow stout and well built. Several scars on his face and arms were noted, presumably from a tough life of coal mining and drunken brawls. Sadly, it was too late to relay those details to Grandma but I’m sure she would be thoroughly amused.
Kory de Oliveira
“Canadian Passenger Lists,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 15 March 2014), manifest, S. S. Belgian, October 1865, penned p. 1, line 31, Anne Hemsley, age 2. Jane was listed by her middle name on the passenger list.
1870 U. S. census, Meigs County, Ohio, population schedule, Syracuse Post Office, p. 26 (penned), dwelling 167, family 198, Robert Hemsley; NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1242.
1880 U. S. census, Columbus, Ohio, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 40, p. 72 (penned), block 72, inmate 17, Ohio Penitentiary; NARA microfilm publication number T9, roll 1017. For dwelling and family, block and inmate have been substituted, respectively.
Robert Hemsley, “Neighboring Counties, Meigs,” The Athens (Ohio) Messenger, 25 January 1883, p. 1, col. 5; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 15 March 2014), The Athens Messenger (Athens, Ohio).
Robert Hemsley, Register of Convicts no. 9872, admission 3 Apr 1874, pp. 36-39 (penned), Ohio Penitentiary, Columbus, Ohio; Ohio History Connection Archives, Columbus, Ohio, microfilm role uncited, accessed 4 Apr 2014.