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Some Family History Research!



I was born during the second world war. My father was a grocer's assistant and he had known my mother, who was a children's "nanny", since she was in her teens. My grandparents died when I was young and I have only the most distant recollections of them, but no secret was ever made of the fact that my mother had been fostered, from the "Mission of Hope" children's home, when only a few weeks old by a couple who lived at West Peckham in Kent. I understand that they often fostered children temporarily, but my mother was the only child that they kept, themselves apparently being unable to have any children. Indeed, my mother always felt very close to this couple and I was given my second Christian name after her foster father. She had always wanted a girl, planning to call her Moira (or Moiya?), but suddenly finding that she had to choose a boy's name when presented with the new arrival, she named me after the fiancée of the nurse that delivered me!

My mother often talked of her "adoption" when I was young and frequently showed me her real birth certificate (giving her birth as occurring at 2 Champion Park, Camberwell, with no father designated, to my grandmother, a children's nurse and, curiously, an address, 7 Burleigh Street, Manchester) and a letter which her mother, my grandmother, had written to the foster parents in 1923, some 6 years after the birth. In it she said that she was in poor health and asking them to "adopt" my mother - legal adoption had not by that time been introduced. However, we continuously postponed carrying out any serious research at this time - something that I now bitterly regret.

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Getting Started

In 1975, having been married myself for about 5 years, I found myself visiting London for an interview as part of a change of career direction within the Civil Service and I decided to visit the address in North London (23 Beaconsfield Road, New Southgate) where my grandmother had been living when she wrote that letter to try to learn more about my "real" grandparents. After such a long period of time it seemed to me to be most unlikely that the original occupants would still be living, let alone at the same address. The then current occupant, however, expressed great interest in my search, but confessed to having lived there for the previous seven years. She did, however, remember that a close neighbour had once lived in the same house and within a few minutes I had been directed a few doors down the road to some workshops owned and run by Mr Hagman.

He viewed the official Civil Servant's briefcase that coincidentally I was carrying with a degree of suspicion, if not concern, but I soon re-assured him that my quest was entirely unofficial and personal. He had been living in the house as a child, with his mother but was unable to recall my grandmother. He told me that he and others had been welcomed into that house by the owners, Mr & Mrs Clewes, who I gained the distinct impression were affording a degree of charitable protection to their otherwise lodgers. He did remember a Salvation Army Officer called "Tom Shafto" who also lived there at the same time and who had since move to Caistor. After bidding him farewell, I returned home feeling in quite a positive mood in that although I had still found nothing about my grandmother, I had some further leads to follow up.

Knowing of the prowess with which the Salvation Army are regarded when searching for lost relatives of others, I was entirely confident that they could find "one of their own"! After a few telephone calls I obtained the address of the Salvation Army unit in Caistor and I wrote off to them asking them to pass my letter on. Within a short while I received a reply from Tom Shafto that still contained no information about my grandmother, but recollected that coincidentally he and his wife had only ten years earlier bumped into a young girl who also once lived at that address and who had since married someone from Potters Bar. I remember feeling rather more despondent at hearing this news - I did not seem to be making any progress at all. However, armed with this further information I felt it might be worth speaking again to the very helpful Mr Hagman.

"Ah, Yes!", he replied. She married a young chap called "Trinder". "He couldn't read, but nevertheless built up a good business as a builder. They still live in Potters Bar. I think I can find their address and telephone number for you." I thanked him, feeling by this time a little bit more optimistic. I pondered for a few days on how to proceed further. Being impatient, not to mention a bit lazy, I decided to telephone Mr & Mrs Trinder rather than write to them and so one Sunday Morning over the Christmas and New Year period of 1975/6 I rang the number I had been given and introduced myself to the lady who had answered, explaining that I was searching for details of my grandmother, who had once lived lived at the same address that I understood she had.

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The First Surprise

Although one's memory can play tricks, I seem to recollect that there was a rather long and uncomfortable silence. "Your grandmother was my mother", was the stunning reply. Hardly daring to believe my luck, I quickly sketched in my own background and suggested that I should write to her. Her reply to me of 6th January 1976 begins "Dear David, I hope I may call you that - Thank you for your letter and enclosures. I am sorry if I sounded perhaps a little offhand on Sunday morning, but I was surprised to say the least!". She went on to tell me that she had been born in 1918 - a year or two after my mother.

She continued to explain that Mr & Mrs Clewes had fostered her, but that her mother used to write to her at Christmas as her "Aunt". It was not until her teens, perhaps even later, when she married Arthur Trinder, that she became aware that she was her mother and not her Aunt. Like my mother, she had often considered trying to "find" her mother, but after later hearing of her death from TB in 1935 at a house called "Heelde" in Stapehill, had not found time to pursue the research. Joan had never known of my mother's existence.

After corresponding for a short while, we visited Joan and her family, who were then living at Brookmans Park and I was introduced for the first time, to my half-cousins, Philip and Elizabeth. We still keep in touch with Elizabeth and her husband Peter, now the local GP in Lybster Scotland, and have visited them and their five children on several occasions. Sadly, Joan died in 1977 but not before we were able to give her yet another not unpleasant surprise.

Joan had given me the death certificate for my grandmother that she had recently obtained which recorded that she was the daughter of a Coach Builder and had died at the age of 46 in 1935 of TB, which had been certified by Dr Limbery. Present at the death had been Miss Leon, the older lady to whom my grandmother had been a companion during the last few years of her life. Armed with this further information I was convinced that it would be very simple to trace back the parents and grandparents of my grandmother. There could even be more present-day relatives to be found! It did not prove so easy. An extensive search of the birth registration indexes at St Catherine's House, over a ten year period, failed to reveal the birth of my grandmother.

Letters to the local vicar, funeral directors and the like, failed to yield any further information about my grandmother, although it did reveal that she had been buried in the grounds of the Roman Catholic Abbey at Stapehill, next door to "Heelde", where, entirely coincidentally, the brother of one of my wife's ancestors had also been christened back in 1849. Sister Bede of the Abbey kindly sent me a transcript of the burial register entry. So extensive, however, was the chain of enquiries that I had set in motion, and so interesting to all those strangers of whom I had enquired, that I later received a rather heartfelt plea for mercy from the local vicar saying that "As this is the fourth time I have been contacted on this matter, I really feel that we must 'call it a day!".

During the summer of 1976 we found ourselves on holiday in the area of Stapehill - not altogether entirely without coincidence. The local undertaker had remarked that Dr Limbery was still alive. Entertaining the possibility that some records about my grandmother may still have survived, we arranged to visit him. My wife and I still remember the description of her that Dr Limbery recalled. Even some 40 years after her death, he gave so vivid an impression that she could well have been in the room at the time. This was because her strong and dominant personality, despite being very ill with TB at the time, was almost incredibly similar to that of my mother. Although no records had survived after he had retired, he did remember that she had once been in a sanatorium at Market Drayton, even before coming to live with Miss Leon.

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Further Progress

On return from our holiday, I eagerly wrote off to the Town Council at Market Drayton. Shortly after, I received a letter from the clerk confirming that there had indeed been a sanatorium locally, but since it was now closed my letter had been forwarded to a North Staffordshire records office. After checking the holdings for this sanatorium, the records office staff amazingly found a record card showing the address that my grandmother had given on her admission and her exact age at the time.

It was no wonder that I had hitherto been unable to find her birth certificate - she was seven years older than I had calculated from the age given on her death certificate. I was therefore able to locate the birth certificate very quickly and to find three other (older) sisters born in the same place, Whitchurch, Salop - her parents were John and Evaline. With these conventional items of genealogical information now collected, I felt that real progress, at least on this side, would now be possible. During later holidays, we visited Whitchurch and photographed "Smallbrook Villas", where my grandmother had been born and "Blue Gates", where John had worked as a coach builder in the business of his father, John Senior.

The address given on the record card from the sanatorium in which my grandmother had been treated was "Rowan Cottage, Nursery Lane, Wilmslow". A letter to the rector of the parish church at Wilmslow was immediately drafted. Within a day or so I received a very helpful letter from an Erick Horne, who had lived in Nursery lane until he got married. He had been passed my letter by the rector, and was immediately able to fill in some important details. Although neither he nor any other elderly residents of the area remembered my grandmother, they recalled that Rowan Cottage (now No: 15) had been occupied (but not owned) by a Mr & Mrs Jones and their two children, Alick and Kitty. Erick's aunt had been the local schoolteacher and these children had attended her school. Further enquiries by Erick revealed that the house had been rented to the Jones and that Mrs Jones had died suddenly in the 1920s, but nothing more.

Having discovered my grandmother's parents and the fact that she had had three sisters, I then decided to try to work back down the line to see if I could locate them or their descendants. One of the sisters had a rather unusual name, "Marguerite", so I concentrated on this first. I soon located her marriage in 1913, to Harry Ousey - a most unusual surname, of which there were only a couple of dozen entries in the current local (Manchester). Because of the number, and the complexity of the information I had so far accrued, I decide to write to these people rather than to telephone "cold". A few days later my wife received a telephone call from a Frank Ousey, who told her that he thought that his cousin Kitty may be able to help in our search. He would be visiting her in a few days and would ask her to contact us.

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Another Surprise

From this information I had expected that this cousin would have been the child of one of my grandmother's sisters, but the letter, from Kathleen Cooke, that we received in May 1977, was another welcome surprise for us and for Joan. Kathleen, ( the same Kitty that Erick Horne remembered), who had had no children of her own, and whom we understood later to have been separated or divorced, was also the daughter of my grandmother. She had been adopted when she was three years old by Marion, my grandmother's sister, and her partner Harold Jones. Her real father (Norman Hayward) had had a legal agreement drawn up with the adopting parents and had paid them £60 for their trouble. Two years later, their own child, Alick Gordon, was born (during which event Marion apparently nearly died). Even at this stage, according to this birth certificate, Marion does not seem to have formally married Harold Jones, since I have not been able to find a marriage certificate. She died in 1929.

Kathleen's own birth registration was either falsified or the situation was so complex that the registrar recorded the wrong details, since the birth certificate records the father as Norman and the mother as my grandmother, formerly Hayward. At this time (and also at the time of the marriage of her sister Marguerite to Harry Ousey) Marion was living at 110 Palatine Road, West Didsbury. In 1915, they were living at 80 Oxford Road, Manchester, which was a few minutes walk from the Burleigh Street address that my grandmother had given on my mother's birth certificate. Kitty remembered Erick Horne and also confirmed that my grandmother used to stay with Marion for holidays quite often as well as at the time when Alick was born. However, although Kitty did know of the existence of Joan, my grandmother's youngest daughter, she had never known of my mother's existence.

Kitty also kindly supplied the first photographs that I had seen of my grandmother. In one, there is a distinct facial resemblance to my own mother. She could not recollect any connection with the surname matching my mother's second Christian name at all, but remarked that she had been "a wrecker of homes, who broke her mother's heart". During the several months that we corresponded with both Joan and Kitty I concentrated my enquiries and questions on my grandmother and potential grandfathers, to the complete exclusion of any other family information. With the death of Joan and, later on of Kitty, I now realise the narrowness of my approach which has now meant that I am missing much of the other family history of this side of the family and I will have to painstakingly find and collect this in the future. Kitty also remarked that had we begun our research much earlier, Marguerite (Aunty Peggie) would still have been alive and could have filled in some vital information - she had died in 1973, only 4 years before I "found" Kitty!

Kelly's Directories for London at the time of my grandmother's birth lists the occupant of 2 Champion Park as Mary Raw. By 1921, it becomes listed as a "Mission of Hope" home. Enquiries to this organisation, now "Christian Family Concern" in Croydon have not revealed any further information about my grandmother or her daughter Sheila, but have clarified that there were a number of homes in the London area that had sprung up as a result of a concern by Mr & Mrs Ransome Wallis which had begun in 1893 when they took a young unmarried mother and her child into their own home.

Progress in my research on the the potential grandfather has been very slow. My grandmother kept the fact of my mother's birth very secret - even the closest members of her family apparently never knew about her. She was apparently fond of Sheila, despite having to give her up, at least judging from the terms in which she wrote to the foster parents. Her other two daughters, Kitty and Joan, had either been adopted by other members of the family or kept by her for a while. For some reason I feel that she seems to have been forced to part with my mother.

One possible hypothesis that I have been working on is that the father was a soldier killed in the first World War. The dates fit this, since the Somme and other main offensives took place after my mother would have been conceived and before Joan was conceived - and Joan was not given a second Christian name. Joan recalled (although she couldn't find it) being given a silk card with a red heart embroidered inside amongst my grandmother's belongings after she had died. Silk greetings cards of this type were commonly sent from France during the War.

There were about 100 soldiers killed in the War with the surname matching my mother's second Christian name, but only a dozen or so were killed on a date that fits in. Because she gave the Manchester address on my mother's birth certificate it seems likely that her stay in London was likely to be only temporary (although she later moved and stayed in North London). Several soldiers of this name from the Manchester area died in the appropriate period. The main problem is finding a direct linkage or association with my grandmother and this research is continuing, but records are very sparse.

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A Mystery

Recently I looked up my mother's baptismal register, something I had omitted to do earlier. I was surprised to find that in the register there is another name given in brackets between my mother's first name and the second Christian name - it looks strongly like "Harw". I do not believe that my mother even knew of this. I have no idea what this means!

Following up the possible nursing connection, the two main Manchester Hospitals that may have employed my grandmother have searched their records for me but were not able to find any connection. Another possible line of research has been the Company of the appropriate name which was based in Manchester very close to the place where my grandmother had lived. This Company, which only ceased trading a year or two ago also had a London office. No direct connection has yet been found.

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Yet Another Surprise

Just before Christmas a year or so ago, Joan's daughter, Elizabeth, sent me some papers that she had found amongst her mothers effects. She had known about them for some while, but had not realised that I may have been interested in them. She didn't even realise the significance of what she was sending! The papers were photocopies of three documents. One was a document (undated) of agreement written by Mrs Clews between herself, my grandmother and another person, W J Dean for the payment of £60 in 12 quarterly payments of £5 for the adoption of Joan. At first sight this third person might have looked like a witness. However, the other two documents were letters from W. J. Dean sending two of the payments. The first was written from Wimbledon and the second from High Street, Redhill.

Clearly W J Dean was the father of Joan, since the agreement was very similar to that entered into for the adoption of Kitty. There was, however, one clue that may help in the search for this person. One of the letters was written on a scrap of business paper and although not headed had a footer which read: "All quotations given subject to market fluctuation and without engagement." This suggested an occupation such as builder, craftsman or similar.

On the assumption that the W J Dean referred to was now dead, I decided to check for a possible will - many wills deposited at Somerset House show the actual signature - in the hope of a match with the signature on these letters and the agreement. One of the 14 or so I looked at (some of which were only Administrations and showed no signature or detail) seemed to match almost exactly. This was for William John Dean of Sidcup, who apparently died in War Service in 1943. A check on the death indexes showed that he had died on board HMS Corfu. The War Grave entry showed that he was 37 when he died, which meant that he would have been only about 12 at the time when Joan was conceived. Attempts to find the death of this sailor's wife, or a possible remarriage, have not yet been successful and it appears that they also had no children.

This man could not therefore have realistically been the father, despite the fact that the signatures were almost identical. One possibility was therefore that this was the son of the W J Dean for whom I was searching and who had copied his signature from his father. Another possibility was that the son had been killed in action without having left a valid will and that his father had signed it on his behalf. The will also gave details of the wife and I was soon able to obtain the marriage and birth certificates. The former, from a parish register copy) showed a signature that was not like the others. The latter confirmed that the father of this sailor was indeed also a William John Dean, a house decorator. This occupation seemed to be exactly the type likely to use the type of disclaimer that was on the foot of the note.

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I Live In Hope!

Location of the marriage of William John Dean, senior, was relatively straightforward, but it took place at Brighton Record Office and I had to plead with the Registrar to give me a photocopy of the original signature. This also did not bear a close resemblance to those on the letters, but was in "long" form and also apparently written with more deliberation. At the time of the marriage, his occupation was House Painter Journeyman. Attempts to trace other children of this marriage have not yet been successful. However, again via the Internet, I have discovered another relative of the Dean family still living in Brighton who has given me an extensive family tree of the Dean family going back to the 1700s. I live in hope!.

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Last revised: 31st October 2007