Tracking down Beth
This is Elizabeth Jones, a nurse based at the Anglo Russian Hospital in Petrograd, she arrived in the summer of 1916. In January 1917 she was selected to go to a field hospital in the Carpathian mountains, a place called Stari Pli, near the town of Czernovitz.
The letter below was written 100 years ago tomorrow while she was at 'Starry Ply'.
May 2nd 1917
My dearly beloved brother
How are you Joe? I do want you to know how awfully sorry I am that Dr Sinclair has gone to the Beyond. You will I know be terribly grieved, expect it feels almost impossible for you to realise that he is Dead. From my heart I am sorry. Do write to me that I may know how you are. Perched 5000ft on the top of a mountain we get news of the outside world very seldom. In fact we have heard twice and we have been here 3 month and 1 week. Of course a small Russian paper we receive about 4 times per week but tis full of Political news and brief news of the Allied Fronts. We are oh so ready to leave here but cannot leave of course until we are relieved by another batch of sisters. When that will happen Heaven knows. We have received 2 telegrams from Petrograd informing us that no changes can take place at present and asking us to stay in our places and so loyalty and other considerations which cannot be written rather urge us to continue here until matters can be arranged. Dear old Ingram a Sister who was at Park Lane is also here with me and 1 VAD complete the English Women in this unit. There is of course a Russian Sister, the widow if a medical General who is our housekeeper so you see we represent England in this part of Russia and as you know this whole idea of this work in Russia is besides being to help the country by relieving suffering for a Diplomatic purpose and though we are far away from town or city. The nearest shop being 160 miles away yet we are on the main road to this front and regiments pass to and fro. Officers call in every day to any meal and tis good for them to see and know that the English like them to visit and receive hospitality and these men come from every part of Russia, Siberia and in fact as I have written every part.
Do keep fit old boy. Will let you know as soon as I know myself of any possibility of returning and it surely cannot be very long now in any case. Good luck, the very best of it and heres to the next merry meeting
Tracking her down in official records outside of the letters was difficult and really pushed me to think outside the box. I wanted to find out who Elizabeth was but as you can probably imagine Elizabeth Jones can be about as hard to track down as a John Smith! So I had my work cut out for me. There are 9724 on the 1911 England and Wales census alone!
I knew from the envelopes that came with some of the letters that Beth's family were living in Clent and her father's initial was S. Not a lot to go on! This didn't help with the 1911 census though, none of the Elizabeth Jones were in Clent. Over 3000 of the Elizabeths were of the right age to be Beth. I could discount all the ones who were wives which reduced the number by 50% or so but didn't really help. I scoured local papers for any mentions as well as other census documents and online parish records. All I needed was a year of birth to help me narrow it down. Another of Beth's letters set me on the right path. In the 1930s Beth was working as a nurse for a gentleman from New York, a Mr Potter so I turned to the immigration lists on Ancestry on the assumption that she passed through Ellis Island at some point. Again the sheer number of Elizabeth Joneses was overwhelming so I decided to come at it from a slightly different angle and look for Mr Potter. I hoped that if Mr Potter also travelled overseas Elizabeth might be with him as his nurse and the existence of the two together on a list would enable me to be confident that I have got the right Elizabeth. Success! She was born in 1883 in Smethwick and further passenger lists gave me the names of some of her brother and sisters. From there it was relatively straightforward to find her in census records as well as another nursing service record for later service in France and I will save that story for another time. The moral to all this is that sometimes the sources you don't expect can give you what you need and don't assume that immigration records will only give you details of your ancestor's journeys.