Born: 29 April 1867 Richmond Hill (London), United Kingdom
Died: 8 December 1949 Plymouth, New Hampshire, United States of America
William Witton Jr. was born at Richmond Hill and was the son of William Witton, “a well-known property owner”. He was one of five children and, while still a child, his mother died. An aunt, Harriet Downes, “well known in London musical circles” kept her brother’s home and helped bring up the children. “On numerous occasions Gilbert and Sullivan, noted composers of operettas, were guests at the house.”
In 1890 William Witton Jr. emigrated to the United States aboard the RMS Teutonic. He worked on ranches in the American West and subsequently relocated to the center of the country where he worked on railroads and as a watchman in the towns of Clinton, Bloomington and Freeport, Illinois. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1900, having married Mamie Clark(e) on 26 December 1895 in La Salle, Illinois. The couple had a son, William David Witton (Willie) Jr., who was born in July 1897.
Something happened to this family. Mamie and Willie disappear from local and national census records after 1920 and William Witton Jr. relocates to New England, some 1500 miles away. He lives in the towns of Rumney, Laconia and Plymouth, New Hampshire after 1924 and remarries on 18 May 1939. His marriage certificate lists both himself and wife Luna May Sleeper Witton as widowed. He dies of coronary thrombosis in Plymouth, New Hampshire on 8 December 1949, aged 82. His obituary notes that “he was greatly interested in painting pictures, some of which he exhibited at various events”.
I possess a diary written by his son Willie, covering the time they lived together in central Illinois from 5 May 1912 to 1 June 1914. I pulled it from the rubble of a long-abandoned barn that collapsed in a heavy snowfall on my grandparents’ farm. This occurred in my hometown of Plymouth, New Hampshire sometime in the 1960s. For more than 50 years I have been intrigued by how this little volume came to be found so far from the scenes and homelife it describes. The text is illustrated with sketches and watercolors reflecting the experiences of a youth in Middle America at the dawn of the last century. The diary has no commercial value but I have long held the hope of returning it to its author’s descendants, believing they would appreciate its sentimental value.
As technology has improved for accessing heretofore scattered databases and genealogical records, my quest has taken a poignant turn. After extensive research, I am now certain that it it was not young Willie himself who carried his diary to my grandparents’ farm, but rather his father who kept it for over 35 years as a treasured remembrance of the son he had lost and of their times together.
The document trail ends, frustratingly incomplete. Such personal information that I have on William Witton Jr stops well short of any living relatives. Ironically, potential new directions in the search were vouchsafed by my own great-grandmother, acting as informant for William Witton Jr death certificate and likely contributing to his obituary in the local newspaper shortly before her own death around 1949. As William’s friend and confidante, it may have been she that stored his personal effects in her barn, awaiting collection by relatives who never came.
This information would assist with the search for relatives to whom to return the diary:
- Is there anyone living in the Richmond Hill area today who is a descendant of William Witton Sr. and his five children, anyone who might recall William Witton Jr. through genealogy or family correspondence as a relative seeking his fortune in America?
- William Witton Jr. apparently died childless, but according to his obituary he had a sister living in Cambridge, Massachusetts and a niece living in Brunswick, Maine at the time of his death in 1949. The full name of either woman or both would assist in further search of records for living descendants.
Please direct replies to:
Charles W. Allen
1437 North Sonoita Avenue
Tucson, Arizona 85712, USA