The most imposing brick wall surrounds the YEOMANS / YEOMEN(S). Lily was reportedly born in England, orphaned probably before the age of three. She grew up not knowing her birth surname nor her exact date and place of birth. For unknown reasons she decided to celebrate her birth on February 20, and (sometimes!) calculated her age from 1880. When Lily was about 3, she was adopted by an American couple Mr and Mary Yeoman(s) and they moved to Shanghai. We don't yet know Mr Yeoman's first name or occupation, nor exactly what year they moved or if they went directly to Shanghai.
What we do know is that both the Yeomans died when Lily "was about 9" (so about 1889), leaving her orphaned for a second time. We are assuming that Lily was already in Shanghai when she was orphaned again. According to family stories, Lily came under the care of the French Franciscan nuns at St Josephs Catholic convent in Shanghai where she attended school and later married Ivor John THOMAS in 1898. I have found several photos and information on a St Joseph's RC Church on 36 Rue Montauban in the French Concession of Shanghai, with reference to a primary school at the same address and an orphanage next door. So although I can't find reference to the Franciscan nuns at this church, I think it is likely where Lily lived and was educated in the 1890s.
In looking for the Yeomans in travel and immigration records, I've drawn a blank on finding passenger lists prior to 1890 in and out of China and England. But for later dates I have found 4 separate sightings on Canadian arrival passenger lists for Lily and/or Ivor THOMAS after their marriage.
- 1916. Ivor Thomas, age recorded as 55 (but should be 45), was traveling alone on the Empress of Russia from Hong Kong to Vancouver BC, arriving 3 Jun 1916 (during WWI). Ivor was likely visiting his oldest son Bill who was living with Ivor's brother Robert William Thomas and family in Kelowna BC. Bill had been sent to Canada when he was "the troublesome age of 14". We don't know exactly when Bill was born, but it was likely in 1901 as there was a 17 year age difference between Bill and Joyce (according to Joyce who was born in 1918). Therefore Bill may have come to Canada in about 1915 or 1916, quite close to this trip by his father Ivor.
- 1918. Two years later Lily Mary Thomas, age 40, was traveling alone (or perhaps with a companion from Shanghai?) aboard the Empress of Asia from Hong Kong to Vancouver, arriving there on 29 Apr 1918. It doesn't mention her pregnancy on the passenger list, but this coincides with family stories about Lily coming to BC to give birth to her youngest daughter Joyce (Terry's mother) and to visit her oldest son Bill in Kelowna BC while staying with Ivor's brother Robert. The passenger document gives some additional and very interesting information. Lily was entering Canada as a tourist this time, to stay with R W Thomas in Kelowna. She had $400, and would be returning in September. When asked if she had been to Canada before, she said yes, for 10 months in BC in 1898, so perhaps this was a long honeymoon? Or perhaps they were considering moving to Canada and were looking for suitable work, but decided in the end to move back to Shanghai? We do not know.
- 1921. On 16 May 1921, both Ivor (50) and Lily (still 40) and son Arthur Thomas (5) arrived in Vancouver BC aboard the Empress of Russia, traveling from Shanghai and departing from Hong Kong. The facts on this list are somewhat contradictory as they all claim to be staying permanently in Canada, while at the same time are in transit via CPR to Kelowna for a 6 month visit to Salmon Arm BC. Ivor is declared as a protestant and a merchant, born in Wales. Lily, born in England, hadn't aged at all, still being 40 (as she was for her 1916 trip). Their young son Arthur was listed as born in Manchuria, which agrees with family stories. The family lived for a time near the Russian border in the northern port of Dairen Manchuria (now called Dalian) where Ivor was a manager (perhaps Pay Master) for Standard Oil. Stories say that they moved there in 1918, yet Arthur was born in Dec 1915 in Manchuria, so the timeline is a bit off. There was a lot of political upheaval in the area caused by the Russian revolution of 1917, with the Czar and his family being assassinated in Jul 1918, so it was likely not the safest place for white foreigners to be. Perhaps the Thomas family evacuated for a time and returned to Manchuria after the revolution in 1918. Joyce said she remembered a lot of previously wealthy Russians trying to sell their jewels and possessions for food, but as she wasn't born until 1918 she would have been too young for these to have been personal memories. The family did return to Shanghai at some point because Joyce attended the same convent school as her mother Lily did.
- 1926. The fourth trip in 1926 was Lily's permanent move to Canada with 3 children: Gertrude Gladys (15) Arthur Emlyn? (10) and Lillian Joyce (8). They arrived in Victoria BC on 20 Sep 1926 aboard the Empress of Canada, once again destined for Kelowna BC. Ivor was not with them, although the passage was "paid for by Husband's employer". Son Bill was already in Canada, and their other daughter stayed behind in China with her father.
We know there were other trips as well. Where is the record of their trip to Canada in 1898? How and when did their son Bill move to Canada prior to 1918 "as a troubled teen"? Exactly when did Ivor join his family in Canada upon retirement? Ivor's death registration says he retired in 1929, according to his son Arthur. Where is the record of Ivor's trip to England in 1933 to place a tombstone on his mother's grave? And how did both Ivor and Lily get to Shanghai in the first place?
According to the marriage record for Ivor's parents, Arthur Rhys Thomas married Charlotte Chambers in Aug 1868 in Leicester England. Their first child Rachel died before reaching the age of 2. On the 1871 census Arthur and Charlotte were living in St Mary Parish, Cardiff, Glamorgan, Wales with their son John who was only 8 weeks old, born in Cardiff. This would be our Ivor John (1871) who, along with his younger brother Robert William (born 1873 in Leicester), were still very young when both their parents died of the "galloping consumption" in about 1876. We believe that the boys were initially taken in by their maternal grandparents William and Phoebe Chambers. William and Pheobe are listed in the 1881 England census, living at 159 Great Holme Street, Leicester with 2 grandson: "Joe J Thomas, grandson, age 10, born Cardiff Wales" and "William Thomas, grandson, age 8, born Leicester England". I think these 2 grandsons were Ivor John (the handwriting looks like more like "Iva I" rather than Joe) an his brother Robert William. Also in the 1881 household were William Chambers (26) and Mary A Chambers (29), an uncle and aunt to young Ivor and Robert. Family stories say the boys were cared for by their Aunt Sarah, who would have been their mother's sister Sarah Chambers who had married a James Joyce before 1868, and who probably cared for them when the grandparents could no longer do so. Sources vary on what happened to the Chambers grandparents; some say they died in 1887 and 1886 in Leicester, yet I have found a death and probate record for a William Chambers in 1885 in Northamptonshire (where he was born). His executors included Phebe Chambers widow. This seems like a better match for William. I agree that Phoebe died in 1886 in Leicester, perhaps returning to her home county after her husband's death in Northamptonshire.
Robert's timeline is a bit uncertain in places. Robert married Ethel Chambers in England in Nov 1906 (he was 33) and they had 6 children whose places of birth help us track some of this family's travel and location changes. Their 2 oldest children were reportedly born in Shanghai (1907 and 1910), their 3rd in England (1912), and the youngest 3 probably born in Kelowna BC (1913, 1915, 1916). Earlier in 1904 prior to his marriage , a R W Thomas is listed in a "Who's Who list for Shanghai, working for the Municipal Police (this occupation fits with family stories). And in the Spring of 1906, he was likely the "RT" who sent a Chinese art postcard from Shanghai to a cousin "Miss Alice Joyce" in Leicester (there was no personal message, just a Chinese poem). So perhaps there was some travel back and forth between England and Shanghai before they ended up in Canada in about 1913. Then in October 1929, Robert, Ethel and all 6 children are listed on a passenger list as they leave Canada, traveling from Tacoma (Washington State, south of BC Canada) to Stockholme, "landing" in Leicestershire England. Their full names and ages are listed, all declared as British Nationalists last living in Canada, intending to live in England. I think this was their final move back to England, where most remained for the rest of their lives.
Speaking of old postcards, there were 2 later Chinese postcards, this time sent by Ivor in Shanghai to relatives in Leichester. So we know that the brothers had at least intermittent contact with each other and with relatives in England.
So many questions remain about the lives and families of our two orphans, Ivor John THOMAS and Lily Mary YEOMANS.