The Extraordinary True Story of Family Lost and Found


Research for The Mango Orchard
The Mango Orchard, which is an account of Robin Bayley’s journey in his great grandfather’s footsteps, reflects a universal longing: to know who we are and where we come from. Because genealogy is now such a popular pursuit, there are endless websites, books, archives and museums that can assist the amateur genealogist on their quest. Listed below are the main sources that Robin used in his own family investigation.

Although I had always wanted to write a book about the story of my adventurous ancestor, I wasn’t best prepared to do so. Not only am I dyslexic and had never written a book before, I also had no skills or experience as an historical investigator, and had to learn fast. Early on, I received a crucial piece of advice: ask questions now. Before people who know the answers die. As well as interviewing my Grandma, I also met her few remaining relatives, whose input was invaluable. Another lucky break was to be given an inspired present when I left my job to write the book: a digital voice recorder. I discovered the true value of this tool in Mexico, where I was joined on a few interviews by my cousin, Javi. Several times, we remembered what had been said in an interview completely differently, and when we listened back to the recording, we discovered we were both wrong.
Once I had finished my interviews, I began the desk research. Among the places and websites I visited are the following:

Research in the UK

The National Archives, housed in the wonderfully futuristic, James Bond baddie type building in Kew in South West London, was my first port of call. As well as browsing census records, I spent an inordinate amount of time looking through shipping manifests. These are increasingly available in digital format, and through their website. If this had been available on-line when I was doing my research it would have saved me months. Unfortunately it wasn’t.

My great grandfather didn’t leave a great deal of written material behind. From what I had, and from other accounts of transatlantic journeys at the end of the 19th century, I managed to piece together his first voyage from Liverpool to New York, and to gain an understanding about what such a journey would have been like. I found some marvellously vivid accounts of similar journeys in the US and Mexico in the British Library, and other transatlantic journeys, in the libraries at the National Maritime Museum, and the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool.

Research in the US
Ellis Island which is where the vast majority of migrants entered the States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is a genealogist’s delight. The old immigration building is now an impressive museum. There’s also a library tucked away on the top floor. Nearly all the manifests for the ships that arrived in New York are now (although, again, not when I was doing my research) available on their website.

There are also some shipping records in the US National Archive Records Administration (NARA), although the Ellis Island museum and website are more user-friendly.
I found US marriage records, in the New York City Records Office on Chamber St, near City Hall. Everything else I found at the New York City Library.

Ellis Island

Ellis Island

Research in Mexico
I found very little of use in the city archives in Veracruz, but the museums, especially the Museo Histórico Naval and Museo Constitucionalista Victoriano Carranza, dedicated to the Revolutionary Mexican president, provided a good background to the port during the Mexican Revolution.
The most complete archives in Mexico, are Biblioteca Nacional, which is part of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), and the Archivo General de la Nación, both Mexico City. It was in these two archives that I found most of the old Mexican newspapers. NB: to gain entry to the archives, it helps to have a letter of introduction from a publisher or an educational institution.
I spent some time in Guadalajara but didn’t find much information in either the State archive or city libraries. I had a lot more luck in Tepic, in Biblioteca Magna and the library at Universidad Autónoma de Nayarit. There, with help from historian Pedro López González and Oscar, the university librarian, I managed to piece together what happened in Tepic during the first years of the Mexican Revolution.


Useful Genealogical websites – links to databases all over the world, including UK census 1841-1901 – Links to thousands of genealogical websites around the world – Indexes to births marriages and deaths between 1837 and 1910.
Thanks also to my friend, and genealogical sleuth, Dot Cooper, who gave me a crash course in where to go and what to look for.


Help received along the way

Along with valuable help and advice from literary-minded friends and writing groups, I learned a lot from courses and workshops run by Arvon Foundation, Anne Aylor and Dea Birkett and Rory MacLean.

Further reading about Mexico and the Mexican Revolution
The following books are recommended:
Revolutionary Mexico – The Coming and Process of the Mexican Revolution – John Mason Hart
Barbarous Mexico – John Kenneth Turner
The Secret War in Mexico – Europe, The United States and the Mexican Revolution – Friedrich Katz
Místico de la libertad – Francisco I Madero – Enrique Krauze
De Cantón de Tepic a Estado de Nayarit 1810-1940 – Jean Meyer
Nayarit: del Séptimo Cantón al Estado Libre y Soberano - José María Muriá and Pedro López González
Viajeros anglosajones por Jalisco XIX – complied by José María Muriá and Angélica Peregrina
Recommended books about Latin America and travel
The Fruit Palace – Charles Nicholl
Jupiter's Travels - Ted Simon
A Sense of the World - Jason Roberts
Caramelo - Sandra Cisneros
The House of the Spirits - Isabel Allende
The Oatmeal Ark – From the Western Isles to a Promised Sea – Rory MacLean
Star of the Sea - Joseph O'Conner
The Power and the Glory - Graham Greene
Film & TV
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