Ellis Island, in Upper New York Bay, was the gateway for over 12 million immigrants to the United States as the nation’s busiest immigrant inspection station for over sixty years from 1892 until 1954.
On Saturday, 5 March 1904, Ingram Willis, aged 48, disembarked at Ellis Island from the USS Lucania, intent on settling in the United States.
Ingram was born in 1856 in the village of Barham in Kent, England, one of six children of James and Tamar Willis. Some time after 1871 Ingram moved to Newcastle in the north-east of England and there married Dolena Ross on 9 September 1876. (Interestingly, 3 of his siblings were also married in Newcastle in the years 1875-1876).
By the time of the census of April 1901 Ingram and Dolena had been married 25 years and their children were aged between 7 and 23 years old. William, the eldest son, was in the plastering trade like his father, Edith and Clara were shop assistants, Laura was a dressmaker’s apprentice whilst the three youngest children were still at school.
Something happened around this time to sow the seed in Ingram’s mind to uproot his entire family and move to the United States. It’s not known what this was, but by the spring of 1904 Ingram had booked to sail from Liverpool to New York. We can assume he was going on ahead of the rest of his family to set up home. Dolena and the children would follow him after a few months once Ingram had settled.
The Lucania set said from Liverpool on 27 February 1904 and docked in New York one week later on 5 March. Ingram is listed on the Passenger Manifest as being a 49 year-old plasterer; his ‘end destination’ was listed as San Francisco, he had at least $50 in his possession and he paid for his own passage. There is a column in the Manifest headed ‘Whether going to join a relative or friends and if so, what relative or friend and his name and complete address.’ – the details here state the Ingram will be staying with a Mrs Rodfish(?), his sister-in-law, in Berkeley, San Fransisco.
Some six months later, on 20 September 1904, Ingram’s wife Dolena and the 7 children boarded the Carpathia at Liverpool. (The same Carpathia that was first on the scene to rescue survivors from the Titanic disaster some 8 years later.) The Ship’s manifest for this voyage lists all seven children and their mother – they had paid their own passage and were headed for Berkeley, California. The name in the ‘Whether going to join a relative or friend…’ section specified Ingram Willis as their contact, who by now was living at 1056 Dwight Way, Berkeley, California.
One of the children, 24-year old Edith, had married her beau, Robert Blake, a few weeks before leaving for America. Robert is also listed on the passenger list.
In the 1910 US Census the family were living at 941 32nd Street, Oakland, Alameda, California. Ingram and his son William were listed as ‘Stucco Workers’ – thereby keeping up the plastering work they had been doing back in Newcastle. Clara was a saleslady at a bookstore, Gertrude was a stenographer for an insurance company. Fred was 17 with no listed occupation.
Of the other children, Edith (now 30 years old) and her husband Robert Blake were living at 1448 Fairview Street, Alameda, Berkeley, California and had two children, Edith (4) and new-born son Robert.
Laura had married Roy Kennedy, a native of Nebraska, and they lived at 101 60th Street, Oakland, Alameda, California.
Ethel and her husband Victor Demamiel, married in 1909, have not been found in the 1910 Census.
A decade later, most of the children had left home and had their own young families.
Ingram and Dolena’s relationship started to fall apart, and it appears from newspapers that their subsequent divorce was somewhat messy.
The San Francisco Call
Sat, Nov 2, 1912 (page 17)
PATCH ON FAMILY TRUCE IS FUTILE
Husband Revives Divorce Suit After Judge Waste’s Attempt at Reconciliation
OAKLAND, Nov 1 – Efforts to patch a truce between Ingram Willis and Dolena Willis, who were married at Newcastle on Tyne, England, September 9, 1876, made by Superior Judge Waste recently, have come to naught, and after the first suit had been dropped Willis today renewed the action.
Willis said that his wife for years had called him “a beast” and “shabby” and “a coward”. He also said she neglected the housework for extended periods, that she absented herself from home three months at a time, and that she took a large amount of their savings and sent it to England to pay passage here for a married daughter. Willis also complained that she put him out of his favourite room to make a place for the daughter and that she kept a daughter’s husband in the house, against Willis’ protest.
The couple are advanced in age and recently, when they came together in Judge Waste’s court, Willis made a pathetic plea for his wife to go home, calling her “mother” and saying that the children needed them. At that time Mrs Willis was obdurate. Later she dismissed her suit, and Willis renewed it today.
Ingram and Dolena had divorced in 1912 and by 1920 Ingram was lodging in a hotel 227 South Main Street, Los Angeles. He is described as a ‘widow’, although we know that his wife Dolena lived until 1938.
William, 41 in 1920, was employed as a ‘bolter-up’ at Moore Ship Yard on 1st & Adeline St, Oakland.
DOLENA died in 1938
Thu Aug 4, 1938
WILLIS – Dolena, widow of Ingram, loving mother of William, Clara and Fred Willis, Edith Blake, Laura Kennedy, Ethel de Mamiel and Gertrude Welch; a native of England, aged 82 years.
Services Friday at 2507 Pine Street, San Francisco, at 3.30pm.