Little did I know that when I started the Denton / panoramic camera blog series with Michel Labrecque, Assistant Curator, Canadian Science and Technology Museum, in February of this year, I would still be researching and writing about Ernest Denton in November! For someone who was a prolific and beloved photographer of Kitchener and Waterloo County, Ernest Denton was a man of mystery, particularly for his early life and exploits.
At the Canadian Science and Technology Historical Association annual conference, held at York University on Sunday 8 November 2015, Michel and I did a joint presentation on our collaborative blog series. It was great fun to finally meet Michel in person. We spent the little free time we had before the presentation discussing new discoveries and connections – so much so that we forgot to take photos or tweet! Our presentation, part of a material culture panel, was well received. I am indebted to Michel for his enthusiasm and interest in the camera and Ernest Denton. It was truly an honour to have worked with him.
When the Historically Speaking / Collect Connect blog series ended in March, I was eager to learn more about Denton’s early days in Manchester. Despite my best efforts, I could not find any trace of him. This was my “Denton” summer. I made it my mission to find him.
Since Ernest was proving to be a bit of a dead end, I started researching Samuel. I learned that his 21 November 1917 Ontario marriage registration to Ada Rowe gave his parents name as Eli Denton and Dora Phillips – a starting point finally – or so I thought. They, like Ernest, vanished into thin air – I could not find them anywhere.
As many genealogists will tell you, when you hit a brick wall, you need to re-evaluate your assumptions, research and methods. I went back over my notes looking for something that I may have missed or overlooked. I had noted that Ernest’s religion was recorded as ‘Jewish’ on the 18 April 1913 passenger list for his arrival in New York, but more importantly, I realized that another clue may lay in the UK home addresses he and Samuel provided on the 8 April 1913 sailing on the Cymric from Liverpool – a possible link to family and community.
The fact that Ernest claimed a wife on this passenger list was intruging, but proved to be another dead end. A “Mrs. Denton” on either side of the Atlantic was not been found.
My research on the UK addresses, plus a careful and comparative reading of the 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 UK censuses has lead me to the conclusion that the Denton brothers were the sons of Eli Dembovitch and Dora Crienski. Eli was a macintosh maker and travelling draper who had emigrated from Vilkaviskas, Lithuania, to Manchester in the 1860s. Ernest was likely born as Harris Dembovitch on 16 October 1882 in Prestwich, a suburb of Manchester, based on his relative age and occupation.
By the time of the 1901 census, the family surname changed to Denby. They resided on Rectory Road in Burnley. Family members included Eli and Dora Denby, daughters Leah (b.1880), Annie (b.1886), Ethel (b.1895), Minnie (b. 1898) and Phyllis (b. 1900), and sons Lewis (b. 1888) and Simon (b. 1890). Harris and older brother, Myer Denby (b. 1878) were living in an Everton, Liverpool boarding house and earning their living as photographers.
According to the 1911 UK census, the Denby family was living at 44 Alma Street, Blackburn, Lancashire. Interestingly, the census takers erroneously recorded, and later stroked out, Myer and Harry Denby as “living abroad” as photographers. Their absence from the UK, coincides with Ernest’s sojourn in New Zealand. The Denby family home address was the same given by Samuel Denton on his 8 April 1913 passenger list. The Blackburn Library was also able to confirm that Eli Denby lived at this address in 1913. Ernest provided the address of his maternal aunt, Rachael (nee Crienski) Cossack in Oldham on the 1913 passenger list.
There’s more to tell and some interesting connections made – so stay tuned!
I’d like to thank the following people and organizations who generously helped with my queries and research: Tony Blackburn; Mary Painter, Blackburn Central Library – Local Studies; Christine Drummond & Susan Smith, Oldham Local Studies and Archives; Edmund Dunne, Manchester Central Library & Archives; Roger Hull, Liverpool Record Office, Sally Evans, Wakefield Archives, West Yorkshire Archives Service; Wendy Gradwell, Bury Museum & Archives; and Christine Wilde, Greater Manchester Police Museum & Archives.