• Nicola

My Keystone Cop Ancestor

Working at the Fun Factory

My maternal grandfather’s parents were Frank Elsdon and Elsie Dickinson. I had done a lot of work on the Dickinson family but I hadn’t paid very much attention to Elsie. Had I known then that I would discover someone who had been present at the birth of the film making industry in Hollywood I would have looked sooner!

Frank and Elsie Gertrude appear on the 1911 census, living at 37 Meredith Road, Sheffield, Frank was working as a silversmith. From the census I could see that Elsie was born around 1880 in Sheffield and she and Frank had been married 11 years. A search of www.freebmd.org.uk found their marriage in the Wortley registration district in the third quarter of 1899.

Elsie’s maiden name was Burrell. Luckily for me, there was only one Elsie G Burrell on the 1891 and 1881 census, living with her parents John William and Sarah on Snig Hill in Sheffield where John William ran a clothing shop. By today’s standards it was a large family, Elsie had eight siblings: William, Eric, Edgar, Maurice, Edith, Ethel, Effie and John. I turned my attention to the brothers, finally hitting genealogical gold with Maurice.

Maurice Edward Burrell born 9 May 1883 appears on the 1891 and 1901 census in Sheffield. In 1901, at the age of 18, he was working as a joiner’s apprentice. There was no sign of him in 1911. My usual strategy when this happens is to investigate possible emigration so I expanded my search to include records outside of the UK and got several results, most of them in California so it looked like he had made a move to warmer climes. At this point, I could not find the passenger list for his initial entry into the US, but later records would clarify this.

On 18 September 1918, Maurice began the process of becoming a naturalised US citizen and from the resultant paperwork I found that he was 5 feet 8 inches, with auburn hair and gray eyes. That at the time he was living at 1112 Elden Street, Los Angeles and that he came to America from Canada, arriving in Seattle on 4 September 1912 on board the Princess Alice. Most interestingly of all, he signed himself as ‘Maurice Edward Burrell known as Ted Edward’. I couldn’t help but smile, his alias was essentially Edward Edward.

On 21st March 1921 he became a US citizen; his petition gives details of his wife, Theresa M, who was born on 22 October 1887 in Romanoff, Russia. It also confirms that they had one son, Maurice R born 11 August 1919. JR Dickerman, a taxi cab driver, and Frank R Hayes, who gave his occupation as an actor, signed his application as referees. It occurred to me, that perhaps Maurice’s alias of Ted Edward was a stage name.

Maurice applied for a US passport in 1923 in order to travel back to England to see his family. Considering that his father died in the first quarter of 1924 and that Maurice did not return to the US until April that year it is likely that his father’s illness was the reason for the trip. On his application, he gave a few more details including confirmation of his father’s name, which is always useful to confirm you are on the right track. He also states that he emigrated from the UK in 1905 and had been in the US ever since. A small white lie on his part as he initially travelled to Canada.

One of the greatest things for a family historian is finding an image of your ancestor so imagine my excitement when I found on the reverse of his passport application a small photograph of a man who bore a definite resemblance to my grandfather.

Now that I knew where he had settled, I turned my attention to the census. It was straightforward to find Maurice in 1930, he and his wife were living at 121 West Emerson Avenue, Monterey Park City, Los Angeles with their son Maurice R. The US censuses contain a lot of varied information so I learned: that they owned their own home that was worth $5,000, that they did not own a radio. He was 26 and she was 25 when they married, meaning they got married around 1909. That Theresa was from Russia, but her parents were Irish (that’s a project for another time). He was a house builder who had worked the day before the census and had not fought in a war.

The entry on the 1920 census had fallen victim to a transcription error. Burrell was transcribed, initially as Burch and then corrected to Burnell. Only by searching by the first name and age did I manage to locate him: working as a carpenter and renting a property in 115 West 4th Street, Monterey Park.

In 1910/11 he should have been in Canada as according to his naturalisation certificate he did not enter the US until 1912. I haven’t been able to locate him on the 1911 Canadian census or the 1910 US census. However, later sources show that he may have been travelling during this time so he could be anywhere in North America or he may have missed the census completely.

Knowing that he travelled to Canada first I was able to track down his initial emigration from the UK, on the SS Lake Manitoba, travelling from Liverpool to Montreal, arriving on 26 May 1905. Again, his name is transcribed incorrectly, this time as Bavill.

Having pinned him down to California, I wondered whether there was anything in the ‘stage name’ theory. One quick google later, I was at