I recently did some work for a client in which the assignment was to find out all I could about a man named Dr. Henry Alfred Jay (1893-1970). I ended up with more questions than answers.
First of all, his birth. The date seems consistent, but the place is a mystery. According to the family, Henry was born and raised in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on February 13, 1893. I wrote to Kenosha County, Wisconsin to obtain his birth record, but they had no one on record by that name. When I obtained his death record, it said he was born in Chicago, Illinois. But Cook County, Illinois didn’t have any birth record either. The date of birth seems to be consistent, being found again on his death certificate and SS5 (Application for Social Security).
Secondly, his parents. On his death certificate, his second wife gave his parents’ names as Arnold Jay and Catherine O’Conner. But on his SS5, Henry gave his parents’ names as Noel Patrick Jay and Catherine O’Conner. I was unable to find any census records for Henry with either set of parents—not in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and not in Cook County, Illinois. Not for 1900, 1910, or 1920.
Thirdly, his so-called military service. Family tradition holds that he went to South Africa “during the war” and liked it there, so he settled there afterwards. But what war would that be? The United States didn’t send soldiers to South Africa in World War I, and I found no WWI draft registration for Henry.
Fourthly, his time in Africa. We know he ended up in South Africa, because my client’s relative (Henry’s daughter) grew up there. A newspaper article says he arrived in 1920, but that article was written in 1938 and may or may not be accurate. How and when he did go to South Africa? All I know for sure is that he married twice, the second time in South Africa. His first wife was Agnes Schweder, who might have been German. I found no marriage record for them. Henry and Agnes had two children, one of whom is related to my client, before she died around 1934. I did find, on familysearch.org, a record for his second marriage, to Winifred Reeve in Durban, South Africa in 1936. Henry and Winifred had two children also.
An alert message board reader found some newspaper articles online that shed a little more light. The articles ran in newspapers all over the United States in 1938. Henry was the inventor of a method of preserving fruit with chemicals. Family tradition says that his “partners” stole his invention and he never made a dime from it. Another intriguing thing: The article says he became a British subject in 1934! What was that all about?
I found some U.K. Passenger Lists on ancestry.com concerning the family. They tell me that Henry arrived in England (from South Africa) in March 1939, with Winnie and the two children from his first marriage arriving in April. They all left together to return to South Africa in February 1940. Winifred had the first of her two children later that year.
Next, his later years in the United States. I’m not sure when or how he returned to the United States, but he (and presumably Winnie) were there by 1962, when he applied for Social Security in Virginia. He died in Virginia in 1970 and was buried there, at National Memorial Cemetery in Falls Church, with second wife Winnie. (This I know thanks to findagrave.com.) National Memorial is a Jewish Cemetery; was he Jewish? The funeral home (Ives) is now out of business, and I was unable to obtain their records.
So, who were Henry’s parents? Where was he born? Where did he grow up? Why are there no census records for him? When and where did he get his medical training? (He always avoided the subject, the family says.) How and why did he end up in South Africa? How and why did he become a British subject? When and how and why did he return to the United States? Why was he buried in a Jewish cemetery? Like I said, more questions than answers.