John Holden is a brick wall and a stubborn one at that. There are no birth or death dates for him, no place of birth or death, no known grave, no census records. I’m not even sure his name was John. His wife and daughter were the only proof of his existence until recently.
Last month, I discovered a collection of letters between my ancestors and their relatives and friends held by a university library. I requested copies immediately. As I waited for the digital scans, I worked hard to tamp down my expectations about what the letters might contain. But my biggest hope was that I could learn more about John and Jane (Bones) Holden.
When the scans of the 50 or so letters arrived, I combed through them eagerly, looking for anything new about my 5th great-grandparents. I was rewarded with one paragraph in a letter dated 5 May 1829, written by William Bones and sent to John Bones, both brothers of Jane.
“Jane Holden arrived here yesterday evening. They are going to stay the summer here. Robert went up last week with the wagon and brought down a load of their furniture and Jane appears glad to get him away from Chester and taking him from his old associates that it may be the means of making him more temperate and steady and bring him to a proper sense of…the manner he has been going on. Robert is determined not to let him bring any spirits to the house and to keep none himself. Jane, I think, besides being company to Robert will be of use in the way of taking care of things about the house and yard. She looks very well at present.”
Even in this letter, John Holden seems elusive, being referred to, but not named. The reason for their visit to Robert (another brother) isn’t even specifically stated and can only be gleaned from Robert not allowing any alcohol in the house.
Despite his continued elusiveness, there are small bits of new information that can be found in these few lines: The Holdens lived in Chester, which was previously unknown. John’s friends were a negative influence and he seems to have been an alcoholic, which may have contributed to his early death. That they can visit for a whole summer may imply something about John’s social status. And curiously, they took a load of furniture with them for the visit.
There are lots of questions to formulate and research to do within these observations. Hopefully one day, one will lead to a new place that will allow me to break down John Holden’s brick wall.