Thursday, November 11, 2010

A real emigration lottery for Wisconsin

When our family first began taking an interest in genealogy, my wife unearthed a "mug book" biography of her great-grandfather in Wisconsin. It included a garbled and unclear mention of an emigrant society to which his father, William Scholes, had supposedly belonged. We never did figure out much about that until I had the good fortune to hear from Quebec-based researcher Roger Bentley. It turns out that her ancestor came to this country literally because he won a lottery . . . and trying to claim the prize almost claimed his life.

Now the Wisconsin Magazine of History has published Bentley's article, "The Road to 'Desolation Ferry': The Story of the Potters' Emigration Society," in its autumn 2010 issue, volume 94(1):2-13. If you have any 1840s-1850s English emigrants to Wisconsin in your tree, this article may explain a lot. I think it helps explain why my great-great-grandfather-in-law was not found in the 1850 census even though he was assuredly in this country.

One of the wonderful things about genealogy is that it helps resurrect the failures of history as well as the successes. The Potters' Emigration Society turned out to be a failure -- a disaster for some who put faith in it -- but it brought a number of people here who otherwise might never have made it. A few years back I told what I knew of William Scholes's story here. (Warning: do not model your articles on this one; its research and citation pattern are nonstandard but were what I knew at the time.)

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