Genealogical Rabbit Holes

52 in 52:  Week 12 — Malcolm Hibbert

I have spent the last three days in a genealogical rabbit hole.  This happens when you are working on your family tree, and you get side-tracked by someone or something not directly related to you, the research matter at hand, or life as you know it.  This taps into your approach to your genealogy research.  Many people are interested only in their direct lines, and they pursue these people with single-minded focus, excluding all others.  This means that when you are researching the ancestry of a person, that you only care about mothers and fathers and ignore siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, etc.

I have always researched everybody because I don’t want to keep coming back to the same information and have to repeatedly decide whether or not I already have it, so I keep on file all records and information I come across.  This has worked to my advantage on more than one occasion.  For example, I once found my great-great-grandmother’s last name on the death certificate of a sibling that was not included on my direct ancestor’s records.  (The last names of mothers are Holy Grails in genealogy!)

This week’s rabbit hole is my grandfather’s cousin, Malcolm Hibbert.  My grandfather only had three half-cousins on his father’s side of the family, and one of those didn’t survive childhood.  That left him with two, Malcolm and Malcolm’s older sister, Bertha.  Bertha never married, and so far as is documented, she never had any children — or did she??

As I was working on my grandfather’s line, I came across some fact or another that landed me on Malcolm’s family group sheet, and I realized that I have 27 sources of information documenting Malcolm’s life.  That’s above average for most of the people in my tree.  As I was organizing the references, I realized I have several questions about Malcolm and his family.  That was it.  Down the rabbit hole I went.

Here’s what I know about Malcolm.

Malcolm was the son of Albert Hibbert and Esther Ellen Malcolm.  He was born 18 August 1885 in Micklehurst, Cheshire, England.  This is right on the border to Ashton-Under-Lyne, Mossley, and Stayleybridge, where most of the ancestors on this side of the family are congregated.   He was baptized in Millbrook on 3 June 1888.

The 1891 British census lists the family at 16 Denbigh Street in Mossley.

In 1895 when Malcolm was 10 years old, his younger sister, Ellen, died.

The 1901 British census gives 149 Manchester Rd, Mossley as the family’s address.

On 4 May 1909, Malcolm left from the port at Liverpool on board the Saxonia.  He would arrive in Boston on his way to Rhode Island.  For a year, Malcolm lived with his uncle, John Edward Malcolm (my great-grandfather).

The 1910 US census has Malcolm still living with John, Eliza, and Harry Malcolm at 74 Liberty Street in Central Falls, Rhode Island.  Malcolm is 25 years old, an oiler in a thread mill, and he is single.

In 1912, Malcolm declared his intention to become a US citizen, filing paperwork in New Bedford, Massachusetts.  On the 9th of December 1914, Malcolm filed his Petition for Naturalization.  At this time, he was residing at 16 Dudley Street, New Bedford.  He was married to Alice, and his paperwork states that he has no children.  A year later on 6 Dec 1915, Malcolm was admitted as a US Citizen.

Petition for Naturalization
Malcolm Hibbert’s Petition for Naturalization

According to a 1919 New Bedford city directory, Malcolm and Alice were living at 154 Apponagansett Street, and he was working as an operative, which just means he was operating a machine in one of the cotton factories in the area.

The 1920 census for Massachusetts shows Alice and Malcolm together in New Bedford, again, with no children.  Malcolm is working in the cotton mill.

In 1923, Malcolm was initiated into the Eureka Lodge of the New Bedford Masons.  He would belong to this organization until his suspension in 1935 for reasons unknown.

Hibbert Malcolm Masons member card
Malcolm Hibbert’s Masons’ Membership Information

New Bedford city directories for years spanning 1924 to 1934 show Alice and Malcolm together, residing at 41 Willard Street and operating a restaurant at 874 Brock Avenue.

On the 2nd of June 1925, Malcolm left Boston bound for Liverpool on the Scythia.  He planned to stay at 28 Hopwood Avenue in Eccles, Lancashire.  Unfortunately, he was not required to give the name of a point of contact.  He returned to New Bedford on 13 August of the same year on board the Samaria.

On the 4th of November 1928, Malcolm’s sister, Bertha, dies in New Bedford.

The 1930 Census shows Malcolm and Alice residing at 41 Willard Street in New Bedford.  Listed with them is Hilda Pheasey, identified as Malcolm’s sister-in-law.  Hilda is 68 years old (Alice was 49 at the time).  Also living with them is a daughter, Esther Hibbert, age 18, born in England.

This raises many questions.  Where did Esther come from?  If she was 18 in 1930, she should’ve been approximately 8-years-old in 1920, and yet, she is not listed on the census with Malcolm and Alice (or anywhere else).  If she was 18 in 1930, her year of birth would be 1912, and yet, when Malcolm filed his naturalization papers in December of that year, he stated that he had no children.  Of course, Esther could have been born in the last 25 days of December, but that still doesn’t answer where she was in 1920.  Also, the census gives her place of birth as England.  Assuming Alice is Esther’s mother, that means Alice immigrated in 1904, married in 1911, and then returned to England the following year to have a child.  Possible, but there are no ships’ records showing a trip back to England when documentation exists for several other trips to and from England by both Alice and Malcolm.

There are no birth records in England or the United States for Esther Hibbert born anywhere between 1910 and 1915.  There are no death or marriage records for her, either, and she is not listed on the 1940 census with the last name of Hibbert.  One hypothesis is that Esther was the illegitimate child of Malcolm’s sister, Bertha, which explains why Malcolm stated he had no children in 1912, and why Esther is not listed with Malcolm and Alice in 1920; however, Esther is not listed in the 1920 census with Bertha, either.  Perhaps Esther was adopted, although if that’s the case, parents often put “adopted daughter” when responding to relationship questions on the census.  Esther Hibbert is definitely a mystery.

In 1937, Malcolm is living with his mother at 27 Clara Street, New Bedford.  Another mystery is what happened to Alice.  I found an index listing the marriage of an “Alice Hibbert” in 1935, so it’s possible she remarried rather than having died, as I had guessed.

In the 1940 census, Malcolm is living with his mother (also named Esther) at 175 Eugenia Street in New Bedford.  Esther is listed as the informant, and she says that Malcolm is “single” (not divorced or widowed as one would expect).  Malcolm has given up the restaurant and is working as a warper in a cotton mill.

Malcolm’s 1942 draft registration card has him living at 61 Bullard Street.  The card asks for the name and address of a person who will “always know” the registrant’s address.  Malcolm gives the name of “Mr. Taylor”, not his mother as would be expected, since they were living together just two years previously.  I assume (we all know what happens when one does this!) that Esther Ellen  Malcolm Hibbert dies after the 1940 census but before Malcolm’s April 1942 draft registration.  Of course, there are no death, burial, or cemetery records on Bertha or Esther Hibbert.


Malcolm dies in 1948.  For a man with so many aspects of his life well documented, he leaves behind several mysteries.  Among them:

  1. What was his wife’s maiden name and when and where were they married?
  2. Was Malcolm’s daughter, Esther, actually his daughter?  If so, when and where was she born?
  3. What happened to the restaurant?  Did Malcolm lose it in the late ’30s during the Depression, or did he lose interest after Alice left (or died)?
  4. Did Alice get remarried or die?  (For $20, I can order the marriage record and see if it has enough detail to identify if it is the same Alice.  I haven’t committed to doing this as I usually only like to order certificates when they are a “sure thing”.)
  5. What happened to cause Malcolm to be suspended from the Masons?  Was it as simple as his not being able to pay the dues with the Depression going on?
  6. Who was Malcolm visiting during his 1925 trip to England?
  7. Where are all of these people buried?
  8. Who is Hilda Pheasey?  She is nearly 20 years older than her sister, Alice, which is possible, but enough of an age difference that there are no other census records where they will be enumerated together.  Is “Pheasey” her married or maiden name?  There are no birth, death, marriage, or ships’ records for anyone named Hilda with a last name anything close to this one.  (I’ve tried all manner of wild cards and name variations including Vesey, Feasey, Peasy, Peachy, Pawsey, Pheasan, Pheasant, etc.  Adding to this mystery is that upon returning to the United States after a trip to England, Alice is asked for the name of her nearest relative in England.  She gives the name of her sister, “Nellie Furston”.  While I can find census records in England that have Furston families that have daughters Nellie and Alice who are the right age, no amount of searching turns up anyone named Hilda with a name resembling Furston (with or without a Nellie or Alice in residence).  Frustrating!


Malcolm Hibbert is another example of how hard it is to answer the “Why” questions in genealogy, and my need and desire to have those questions answered is why I will continue to be susceptible to spending hours lost in genealogical rabbit holes.


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