The 1939 Register

Has everyone discovered the 1939 Register of England and Wales?  Surprisingly, it doesn’t seem to be affected by the 100-year rule that prevents census returns being released for a century.  At first glance, it doesn’t expose any secrets but … it could come in handy, especially in the early stages of research.

According to

The 1939 England and Wales Register, taken on 29th September, provides details of an estimated 40 million people residing in the country at the time.

It was taken barely three weeks after Britain declared war on Germany and its allies, and was presumably the basis for the issuing of Identity Cards for all British residents.

Here, for instance, is the 1939 entry for my father, at home with his parents, sister and brother.


First gem – the actual dates of birth of everyone in the household – whilst I knew my father’s, I didn’t have those of his siblings, and had to buy birth certificates to get those of his parents – in my grandmother’s case, not as easy as it sounds.  If I’d had access to this file, I could have been more confident in my searching.

And then there is the information gleaned from the occupations.  My grandfather – who was mate on a coaster during WWI and – later – master of  his own coaster – is listed as a dock pilot.  I knew my father was in his final years at university, and that his war work included developing fire-retardant paints for aircraft and troop-trains, and – perhaps – an anti-radar paint.  Given his knowledge of chemistry, it comes as no surprise that he was also a Gas Identification Officer with the Liverpool Air Raid Precautions team.  The information about my aunt, though, would have been useful if I hadn’t already learned it from my cousin.  Her surname had been crossed out and her married name written above (she married in 1942).  Far more surprising, though, is the partial scrap of information in green ink, asterisked in red, at the far right of her line.  It reads:

* D 12.11.8… /  25.11…

The first is almost certainly the date of her death, on that date in 1984.  Perhaps the second date was her funeral?  I can’t remember exactly when that was, though I was there.  The extraordinary part, though, is that this paper record was unearthed and updated, by hand, more than 45 years after it was originally written.  There are no other similar entries on that page, and my uncle’s and father’s deaths in 1990 and 1992 aren’t recorded – and nor are my grandparents’ in 1968 and 1972.  Why was my aunt singled out?  I doubt if I will ever know.

The point I’m making, though, is that this register just might contain unexpected hidden treasure.  At the very least, it’s worth taking a look.


Clandestine Marriages in London

I just came across a microfilmed register of marriages on Ancestry (thanks to Jayne for her help and Malcolm Jones for pointing the file out to me) which I found so interesting I thought I’d transcribe it in full.  The film title suggest it came from the Fleet Prison; the first fourteen pages look like an index, but only of initials – no reference to pages – on pages cutaway at the side, one for each letter of the alphabet, like an address book.  Then, finally, the intelligible stuff starts …  It will take me a while to transcribe, but here’s the affidavit that accompanies it for a start … and the first page of entries

Joseph Holmes of Holmesville: an update

I’m overwhelmed by the response to my first blog post here, about some addresses jotted down in a notebook by my great-great-grandmother.  Within months, I had been contacted by two descendants of the founder of the town of Holmesville, 90 miles north of Sydney in New South Wales; and by a new third cousin, who still lives near Wigan, in England, where my maternal grandmother originated.

Thanks primarily to this new cousin, we may have pieced together most of the puzzle.

My g-g-grandmother Ellen Hulme (1820-1866) was one of at least 10 children of William Holme who married Sally / Sarah Hill in 1806.  Those ten were:

  • Hannah or Ann (1807-1850) * Joseph’s mother – see below
  • Margaret (1809- )
  • Elizabeth (1812-<1833) )
  • James (1815- )
  • Samuel (1819- <1827)
  • Ellen (1820-1866)  *** my g-g-grandmother
  • John (1823-1891>) *** emigrated to Australia with Hannah’s son Joseph in 1856 aboard HMS Herald but returned later to England
  • Samuel (1827- )
  • Sarah (1831- )
  • Elizabeth (1833-1848)

Hannah – although she never married – probably had four children:

  • Joseph (1831- ) *** emigrated to Australia (HMS ‘Herald’) in 1856 and founded Holmesville
  • Levy (1836-1854)
  • Charlotte (1839-1851>)
  • Mary Ann (1848- ) * emigrated to Australia aboard ‘Scirocco’ in 1863/4

Less than a year after Hannah’s death in 1850, her daughters Charlotte and Mary Ann were listed on the 1851 census as the daughters of Samuel Hill, a 43 year old weaver.  In 1841, her son Levy had been recorded with the same Samuel and his parents (alas, relationships aren’t given in the 1841 census).  When Joseph arrived in Australia aboard the ‘Herald’ in 1856, he claimed his parents were Samuel and Hannah .  Was Samuel his true father?  If so, why did he not marry Hannah?  Was he, perhaps, a cousin … or even an uncle?  Hannah’s mother was Sally/ Sarah Hill: Samuel’s father was James Hill: could they have been brother and sister?  But, if so, surely the girls would have been listed on the 1851 census as Samuels nieces, not daughters?

I also found the arrivals of John and Joseph in Australia on the ‘Herald’ in 1856, and Joseph paying the passage of his sister Mary Ann (also recorded in my gg-grandmother’s casting book) when she arrived aboard the ‘Scirocco‘ in 1863 or 1864.

As I said at the end of that first post … isn’t t’internet wonderful?

Albert and Luisette: a loose end finally ravelled

I had one of those wonderful strokes of luck the other day.  Thanks to the kindness of another researcher, I have a copy of the 1911 census for my great-grandmother and two of her daughters (one of them Eliza, always known as “Dollie“, whose death I finally tracked down in Glasgow just a few months ago.  It seems the family were big on hypocorism.)


But … who is this previously-unknown grandchild, born in Shepherds Bush (London)?  I’ve never heard of any Campbells in the family – and nor has my mother.  The form is in my great-grandmother’s own handwriting, so there is no possibility of error.


Of course, I took the obvious next step: I hunted for Harold Campbell on the 1901 census … and found him, with family, in Hammersmith (London).

  • Father: Thomas Campbell, aged 26, a Cabbinet maker and joinery man, born Manchester
  • Mother: Helen, age 24, born Wigan
  • son Albert: age 3, born Wigan
  • son Harold, age 1, born Shepherds Bush

And then … that wonderful moment that comes to all family historians a few times in their lives when a whole pile of pieces of the jigsaw suddenly fall into place.

My mother has a lovely old wooden “keepsake box” on top of her bureau.  In it are old autograph books and newspaper cuttings, Christmas cards and letters.  One of those letters has given us many hours of happily perplexed discussion.


Dated 1899, and written on business headed paper to my grandmother (then aged 7), and signed “your loving sister Lisette“, it talks about “Albert” (presumably her son) who can “talk very plain now” and who “Is going to have a little Scotch suit and a little dirk or dagger“.

Except my grandmother didn’t have a sister called Lisette!

My mother, of course, has a smattering of half remembered “facts”.  One of them – perhaps, I thought, conflated with this old letter, ran:

“My mother went to India in 1915 to visit her oldest sister, whose husband was a billiard-table maker – and met your grandfather on the boat to Calcutta”

As far as I have been able to ascertain, she had three older sisters (my grandmother was the baby of the family, by quite a bit).  Two (Elizabeth known as Beth, and Eliza, a.k.a. ‘Dollie‘) are accounted for – in photos and memories, registers and census returns.  The third and oldest was Ellen.

Born in Wigan in December 1876 and christened there a month later, Ellen appears with the rest of the family as a scholar, aged 4, on the 1881 census.  Then … nothing.  Missing, presumed dead.

… or …  it appears not.  A quick search of the wonderful indexes at FreeBMD immediately turned up the marriage, at Chorlton (south Manchester) in the second quarter of 1899, of Helen Turner and Thomas Campbell.  A year before the registration of Harold’s birth in Q2 of 1900 … and presumably a year or so after the birth of Albert.  Oh dear.  There is a possible birth of an Albert Harry Turner  registered in Wigan in Q3 of 1897 – I guess I’ll have to buy the certificate.  Watch this space!

How to set the scene

Northall Baptist Church (erected 1869) by G. Lokey

Adding enough background to give the context, without alienating or boring readers who might already have a good knowledge of the period is a perennial problem when writing a piece about past events.

I recently came across “The Baptists of Northall 1802-1969″ by R.F. Broadfoot.  His introductory paragraph is such a perfect example that I’ve simply reproduced verbatim:

What was happening in the England of 1802?  George III was on the throne, William Pitt the Younger had recently resigned as Tory Prime Minister; the French Revolution was a recent nightmare in the minds of many Englishmen.  There was an uneasy truce in the war between England and France, soon to break out again with renewed bitterness.  The threat of armed invasion was to hang over the country for some years; the battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo were still to be fought.  Railways and steamships were inventions of the future.  John Wesley had been dead only some ten years, and the churches he had founded were still very much a power in the land.

What more can I say?

The value of contemporary evidence

Strictly speaking, this article doesn’t belong here, because it’s not about a member of my family: but as it relates to a former owner of my house, I’m going to let it in 🙂

Andrew Bonar Law

Andrew Bonar Law

The grandson of “The Unknown Prime Minister” Andrew Bonar Law visited me recently – his grandfather lived in my house just at the start of his parliamentary career.  In preparation for his visit, I revised my notes – gleaned from various reference books – and, finding a few discrepancies, delved deeper.

What I uncovered has led me to mistrust ‘facts’ in printed biographies, even (especially?) family-written ones.  I have even – somewhat nervously – put my evidence forward to Wikipedia in order to have that article, at least, corrected, but so far have had no response.

ABL was born in New Brunswick in 1858, the fourth son of a Protestant-Irish minister.  His mother died a couple of years later, after the birth of his sister Mary.  Aged 12, he came to Helensburgh to be raised by his mother’s prosperous relations – many of whom were childless.  He entered the House of Commons in 1900 and his political career is well-documented, including his brief term (211 days) as Prime Minister in 1922-3 and his death later that year.

The much-published account of his early life runs thus:

after his mother’s death, her sister Janet came from Scotland to look after the family.  In 1870, his father married the local school-teacher and Janet (there is a hint in some accounts of a swirl of offended skirts) took herself back to Scotland, taking Andrew with her to be raised by his Kidston relatives. Andrew left school at 16 and joined the family Bank: when it merged with the Clydesdale Bank in 1885, he would have been jobless, so the family bought him a partnership in an Iron Merchant’s business.  Ten years later, he had amassed enough money to retire and enter politics.

One of the first things I did when I bought this house a dozen years ago was to check the entries in the 1881 census – not available on the internet then, but I had invested in the CD version from the Mormon church.  Somewhat to my surprise, I found ABL – aged 22 – living in six-roomed accommodation near Glasgow University with two sisters and a servant.  His occupation was give as Iron Merchant’s Clerk.  One sister was Mary, aged 20.  The other was Janet, aged 14, and a scholar.  Who could Janet’s mother be?  She was born in 1867 – three years before his father was said to have remarried.  And he was supposed to be a BANK clerk, only turning to the Iron Merchant business after 1885!

With the visit from his grandson imminent, I had another dig around the internet … and discovered a remarkable New Brunswick newspaper archive transcribed by Daniel F. Johnson.  In it I found a number of newspaper reports, but two showed the story of Aunt Janet and the move to Scotland to be little more than romantic wishful thinking on the part of the biographers.  First, his father remarried much sooner than the printed (and online) biographies claim: the Morning News of July 3 1865  (Saint John) reports:

m. Richibucto (Kent Co.) 28th June, by Rev. T.B. Smith, Rev. James LAW, A.M. / Sophia McLean d/o Thos. W. WOOD, Esq.

Even more dramatic, Andrew came to Scotland with his father, a year later than generally recorded: from The Daily Telegraph of April 20 1871 (Saint John):

Address to Rev. James LAW, Pastor of St. Andrews Church, Richibucto (Kent Co.) who is now on his way to spend a few months to visiting Ireland, his native land. Mr. LAW takes with him his youngest son whom he intends to leave in Scotland. (signed) William RAYMOND (and sixteen others)

[Disappointingly, at the same time as writing it, I added a ‘Talk’ section on the Wikipedia page about Andrew Bonar Law, pointing out – with sources – the various errors in the article.  Two weeks later there has not been any response whatever]

The benefits of charity

One of the pleasant ways to support a charity is by attending a lunch.  Usually, places are bought by the table or half-table by organisations and benefactors, so you are already in the company of friends or connections. One, though is different: the Women of Scotland lunch, now in its 56th year.  Tickets are bought individually, and the seating plan (round tables of ten) is arranged by the organisers.

At this event a few years ago I noticed that the lady of nearly my own age who was sitting opposite to me had the same surname as my mother.  As we drifted to the exit doors, replete with good food, good speakers and good company, I found myself beside her and casually commented on the coincidence.

“Oh” she said, having asked where my mother came from. “Any relation to Ellen and Janey?

The names rang a bell, but it wasn’t until I was speeding west on my homewards train that the penny dropped – Janey and Ellen were my mother’s cousins.  If this lady was related to them, she was related to us, too.

Tracing my mother’s family had hit a brick wall years ago.  I found the baptism of her grandfather and the marriage of his parents fairly readily, along with their census record in Edinburgh in 1851.  Beyond that … nothing, and I moved on to easier branches.

Fortunately I had exchanged business cards with my lunchtime companion and fired off a near-hysterically excited email.  A couple of weeks later she had extracted enough dates from her father to enable me to start buying certificates at the superb Scotland’s People website.  Half an hour later (register and census records are viewed online, a snip at £1 each, unlike the laborious – and expensive – English system of waiting for full certificates to be posted individually at around £9.50 each) and I had the whole tree mapped out.  Sometime around 1855 the family had upped sticks and moved across to Glasgow, where four more sons were born, in addition to another born in Edinburgh which I’d missed.

Of course, the discovery produced as many questions as answers.  My gg-grandfather registered the birth of his youngest son in 1864:  in 1871, my gg-grandmother was recorded on the census as a widow: but repeated searches in both Scotland and England have failed to turn up a death registration for gg-grandfather.

Where did he go?  Was he, perhaps, in prison and my gg-grandmother preferred to pass herself off as a widow than admit to the shame of a criminal husband?  If I ever find out, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Dollie Turner – one mystery solved and a new one uncovered

My grandmother’s family are not an easy lot to unravel.  Her sisters (like many Victorian girls) seem to have delighted in pet-names, and matters are not improved by the naming of two successive daughters Elizabeth (in 1879) and Eliza (in 1881).

My mother, now 90, has done her best to help.  She is confident that Charles (the one born in 1874, not the one born in 1873 and buried in a public grave later that year) emigrated to the USA and lived in Atlantic City.  Elizabeth – her ‘Auntie Beth’ – she remembers well, full of fun and frolics before her death at the age of 50.  George, too, she remembers – born in 1885 and a merchant seaman, his first wife died and his two children were brought up in a seaman’s mission, although he married again and had another daughter who became a doctor.



Auntie Dollie in 1922




Who, though, was Auntie Dollie?   Could she be Eliza, born 1881?

There are photographs: a lovely portrait from 1922, when Eliza would have been 41: huge beautiful eyes gaze out from under under a smart straw hat,

… and there are school groups from the turn of the century (the OLD century, not the millennium!) when she was a pupil teacher (and Eliza would have been in her teens).


There is a somewhat breathless letter in 1925, cancelling – at short notice – an intended Easter trip to visit my grandmother in Greenock.



And there are some  exquisite sketches in my grandmother and mother’s autograph books: this morning I gathered them all together into one set in Flickr.

My mother has no actual memory of Auntie Dollie, so I have been assuming she died before my grandmother moved back to Liverpool  in 1929 (my mother was then 7).  A search of the English death registers, though – even for all Eliza Turners in all of England and Wales for the relevant years, and all Turners in Wigan likewise, have failed to turn up a death of a possible candidate of the right sort of age.

And then occurred one of those magical strokes of luck. Whilst hunting for a phone number in my desk drawer this morning, I came across the business card of someone I must have met, oh, eight years ago on some foray to the Wigan History Shop with my daughters.


This evening, I casually logged onto the wiganworld website.  REALLY impressive – forums, photos … and indices.  I tried first for Joseph Turner – my gg-grandfather – who was parish clerk in the 1850s, and instead found (in 1891) a young man of the same age as his son Joseph, tried for attempted murder and sentenced to ten years penal servitude.  Gulp.  There were, however, at least four Joseph Turners born around that time so hopefully this one isn’t ‘ours’!

HOWEVER – and this is where things got a bit exciting – a search of the cemetery index revealed an Eliza Turner of the right age, buried in 1927.  And the reason I couldn’t find her death in England?  She died in GLASGOW – presumably on a visit to my grandmother.

Minutes later, I had her record from the Scotlands People website – infinitely superior and far cheaper than the English system of applying for full-blown certificates.  She died at 121 Hill Street, as did the architect Neil Burke Moir 30 years later, also of cancer.  It is now the J D Kelly Building, housing part of the School of Art but  I have a feeling it may have been a small private nursing home – I had some tests done in a building in Garnethill when I was a child.  Was it the same one?

So, finally, I have (probably) solved the mystery of Auntie Dollie.  But – what’s this?  Checking the details of the actual grave plot – it contains not only Eliza and her parents (my great-grandparents) but another infant, who was born barely four months before my grandmother and so can’t possibly be another sister.  Who, then, can she be?  I have ordered the certificate and must now wait, with bated breath, for its arrival in a week or two’s time.

[Update: the birth certificate arrived, the mystery solved: the baby is my grandmother’s cousin, first daughter of her father’s much-younger and recently-married brother.  No scandal, just another sad reminder of the high infant mortality rates a hundred or so years ago]

Joseph Holmes of Holmesville, NSW

My great-great-grandmother, Ellen Holmes of Pemberton near Wigan, made various notes in a ‘casting book’ – a 100-page quarto hardbacked notebook – which had belonged to her younger sister Elizabeth who had died in 1848, aged 15.  Ten years previously, Ellen marked her name with a cross – as did her husband – when they married. It may be that Elizabeth had been teaching her to write, or to improve her writing and spelling. On the very last page someone wrote an address: castingbook-108_b

Joseph Holmes
Hollow Flat
neer Minma Coal
and copperas works
neer Newcastle New
South wales

Naturally, I just HAD to search t’net for him: and much to my surprise, found a remarkably close match. It seems a suburb of Newcastle – north of Sydney – may have been named after him!

Name Origin: The suburb took its name from Joseph Holmes an early land-holder and settler of the area. Early Land Grants: Portion 49 (Teralba Parish) granted to Joseph Holmes 19 February 1895. This 100 acre grant lay west of Apple Tree Road (formerly known as Minmi Road). Early Subdivisions: D.P.3442; 7/3/1898. Subdivision bounded by Elizabeth, William and Margaret Streets and Apple Tree Road. Part of Portion 49. Joseph Holmes divided IO acres of his grant into 250 allotments, which were sold at 20 pounds each (10 pound deposit, and 8% interest on quarterly balance). Early Settlers: Joseph Holmes and his wife Mary, although not among the very early settlers of the area, were important to the town’s development The Holmes’ settled with their large family on 10 acres at “Holy Flat“, Estelville. The family kept a dairy and supplied Minmi with milk. Joseph worked in the mines. It is believed that he and his son Samuel introduced a method for top-holing and firing coal to Seaham No. I Colliery. The Holmes also derived an income from their land and building dealings.

So, then, what relation was Joseph to my gg-g’ma Ellen? In 1851, Ellen (now married to a coal-miner, James Miller) is living in Marsh Green, a hamlet on the edge of Pemberton near Wigan. Nearby (according to the 1851 census) a Joseph Holmes, 19-year-old coal-miner, is lodging at the ‘Duke of York’, The head of the household is Simon Miller – ‘Victualler and Coal Miner’, living with his wife, son (yet another coal-miner) and daughter. I believe Simon was the brother of Ellen’s husband, and named his daughter Cicely after their mother. HER maiden name was Melling: and another lodger was Thomas Melling, aged 26: – perhaps her nephew? Also lodging with them were Levy (15) and Samuel Holmes (24). Could all three be brothers or cousins of Ellen? There are two other links with New South Wales. castingbook-106_b

A few pages earlier is another, similar address, this time for a John Holme – and Ellen had a brother John, born in 1823. castingbook-041_b – and, earlier in the book, an entry reads:

Mary Ann Holme left Wigan October 26th year of our lord 1863 [or is it 66?] to Joine the Ship Siroco” Another internet hunt for that ship turns up a reference to another family who sailed on her:

[they] “set sail on the ship “Sirocco” from London on Thursday November 5th 1863, bound for Sydney Town, N.S.W. The “Sirocco” arrived in quarantine on January 28th 1864,and was inspected by the board of immigration on February 5th.”

– it appears the Sirocco was on a regular run between Britain and Australia – settlers one way, sheep the other, perhaps? But returning to Holmesville … this, I think, was the home of Joseph’s son Samuel, in the 1900’s:

[see an update here:]