Call me Ishmael

Ishmael Organ was baptised in the parish of Llantilio Pertholey, Monmouthshire, on 21st August 1887, the son of Joseph and Trinity Organ. The couple claimed to have come from Cardiff, and the cleric noted that they were ‘strangers, Gypsies, travelling by van.’ Ishmael’s father, Joseph, was one of the six known sons of Memberancy Lock and Henry Organ, although he seems to have fallen out with his elder brother, Tennant, in a manner that brought him to the notice of the authorities – and the local newspapers.

What is fascinating about such articles is not that people have fights, are arrested for misdemeanours, petty or otherwise, but that it enables us to learn something of their favoured territory, their way of life, or of extended family members. This is invaluable when many marriages were informal ones, leaving no legal trace, or when baptisms or birth records do not list all the children of a couple. Joseph is a case in point, as his wife is mentioned in the article below, published in the Monmouthshire Beacon in June 1890:

Joseph Organ was charged with assaulting Alfred Organ at Caldicot . . . by a cross-summons Alfred Organ was charged with assaulting Joseph Organ. Milborough Organ, mother of Alfred, was summoned for assaulting Joseph Organ, and Alfred Organ was charged with assaulting Trinity Organ, wife of Joseph . . . Milborough admitted breaking two broom handles over Joseph in order to protect her son.

This family fracas, and an earlier reference to ‘Tennant Organ and Seth Organ, father and brother of Alfred Organ, were also charged with assaulting Joseph Organ at St. Pierre on 31st May,’ offers some interesting information about members of the family, quite apart from the family dynamics.

Although researchers did know the identity of Tennant’s wife, Milborough Smith, the daughter of Margery Lock, and therefore a cousin of the Organs, the addition of a son, Seth, to the roster of the family is helpful, and he can be found as late as 1939 working on a farm with his son, Ivor, aged 14. As for Trinity, she appears with Joseph and three of their children in the 1881 census and knowing her name helped trace the baptism of their first child, where the entry is sufficiently inaccurate to escape attention. The baptism, at Droitwich St. Nicholas, Worcestershire, records Selina Organ, baptised on Christmas Day 1876, as the daughter of James (sic) and Traynet, travelling hawker.

Equally, an article regarding Joseph’s father, Henry, and brothers Charles and John Organ, records the existence of a son missing from the roster of children of Plentiness and Henry – Charles, who claimed birth in about 1855. At the Monmouth Assizes of December 1892 ‘John Organ, 35, Charles Organ, 40, and Henry Organ, 75, well-known hawkers, were indicted for stealing five trusses of hay.’ Although the ages are approximate, it places the father and sons together and this relationship is further confirmed by Charles’ death in 1912 at the Union Workhouse infirmary in Newport in March, when probate was granted to two of his brothers the following month, listing them as ‘Noah Organ, farm labourer, and Alfred Organ, hawker. Astonishingly, he left the sum of £1,155.12.9d.

Charles seems to have been rather good at avoiding, or misleading, census takers, but an entry in a lodging house in Newport, Monmouth, may well be his; he is a brush hawker, with partner, Sarah, and two daughters, Maggie and Annie, the children are likely to be Sarah’s, rather than Charles’s. By 1911 it is surely Charles, brush hawker, claiming birth at Blackwood, Monmouthshire, a location the Organ family did indeed use; he seems to have lost five or six years off his age at this point, quite possibly because the Jane Organ with him, who claimed to have wed just three months before, was born in 1870.

Of the other brothers of Joseph, Alfred Organ appears to have remained single, but Noah Organ formed a union with Elizabeth Drew, daughter of Lucy and George, and the couple had three sons, George, born on 3/3/1886; Thomas John, born in the second quarter of 1890, mother’s maiden name Drew; Benjamin, born 20/10/1893 and two daughters, Lois Rachel, born 19/10/1896 and Mary Ann (Annie), born 4/6/1900. The youngest brother, John Organ, had formed a union with Rose by the time of the 1901 census.

To return to Ishmael, the son of Joseph, who had married Alethea Hern in 1926, he is mentioned again in the newspapers when he was bound over to keep the peace in the winter of 1932, accused of threatening his sister, Freedom. Freedom Organ was born about 1884, but remained unmarried and, by the time of the 1939 survey, was looking after her widowed father, who was recorded as ‘incapacitated,’ and working as a licensed Gypsy hawker.