Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue: Don’t Trust Your Ancestors’ Records

In my last post I wrote about my major DNA breakthrough which saw both mum and I doing the genetic genealogy happy dance. That breakthrough resulted in us finding the married name of one of my grandpa’s three sisters, enabling me to trace a brief life story. The sisters all left their home in Carrowbeg near Kilkelly in County Mayo and emigrated to the Boston area of the USA between 1909 and 1922. However one ended up in Canada.

The DNA breakthrough related to the last sister to emigrate, my grandpa’s youngest sibling, Catherine. That left Bridget and Mary Callaghan still to trace.

I worked on the theory that Bridget, the eldest, was the one most likely to have ended up in Canada, on the basis that when Catherine went to Boston it was to join her sister Mary. I also used my grandpa’s mysterious postcard addressed to “Mrs Lovell, 20 Magguire St, West Villa, Maserchusatt [sic].” img_0577

Given my grandpa’s curious spelling of Maguire and Massachusetts, and the lessons of genealogy about the variations in the spelling of names, it seemed a distinct possibility that I may not necessarily be looking for Mary Lovell. And so it proved. Ancestry’s data-set of Massachusetts State and Federal Naturalization Records were the key to unlocking this mystery. Specifically the 1940 petition of housewife Mary Lavelle of 20 Maguire Court, Newtonville, Massachusetts. My grandpa’s mangling of the postcard name and address is now oh so obvious. And it is a wonderful example of not taking spellings, ANY spellings, as gospel.

Her petition matched exactly the details provide on her arrival in the USA. These included her date of arrival, 20 November 1920, and the ship, S.S. Carmania.  She spells her maiden Callaghan surname as it is pronounced, Callahan. This matches her spelling of it on arrival in Boston twenty years earlier. Her birthplace, the tiny village of Carrowbeg, or Carabeg as she records it, matches. So a couple more spelling anomalies to throw into the mix.

Her date of birth was given as 30 March 1893. Mary’s baptism record transcripts do not have her date of birth, but she was baptised at Glan Chapel on 10 April 1893.  Her officially registered date of birth in Ireland is 15 April 1893 – another case of a baptism pre-dating the officially recorded date of birth. And to add to the confusion, when Mary died the US Social Security Death Indexes have yet another date of birth for her – 7 April 1893.

The witnesses on the petition were Mary Murphy, who also lived on Maguire Street. That name gives me pause for thought – Mary’s mother’s maiden name was Mary Murphy. Is it a possible relative? However it is a very, very common name so maybe not. But the other witness was definitely a relation – none other than sister Catherine Rudolph. Well and truly tying the Callaghan sisters together.

There is also a short description of 47-year-old Mary. She is white, with a medium complexion, mixed grey hair and standing at 5ft 1½in and weighing in at 150lbs.

Mary’s naturalization petition was granted on 10 December 1940.

One other nugget of information was the details of her marriage on 29 November 1922 in Boston to Patrick Lavelle. He hailed from Letterfrack, County Galway and had arrived in the USA in 1910. He was 49 years old according to the information provided by Mary, although some of his own records show he was born on 15 February 1886, but more of that later. He became a naturalized American in 1935. According to Mary’s petition the couple had no children. So, out of the three sisters who emigrated, only one actually had a birth child. It is amazing we actually got that DNA match which unlocked this puzzle.

Mary did, however, have step-children. Patrick had been married before. When he arrived in Boston in August 1910 he left behind in Hamilton, Scotland a Scottish-born wife Sarah (née Gallagher) and three Glasgow-born children: Mary born in 1907, Nellie in 1908 and Julia Agnes in 1910. Julia and her mother joined Patrick in Boston in 1911, but it appears the two older girls grew up in Galway, Ireland. How difficult a decision must that have been? They were but toddlers. Did they ever see their parents again?

With Patrick now working a a coal teamster, two more children were born in Boston – a son, John, in 1913 and a daughter, Margaret Josephine, in 1915. Then, on 18 February 1920 tragedy struck. The Boston Evening Globe of 18 February 1920 carried the following death notice:

Lavelle – In Neponset, Feb[ruary] 18, Sarah L. Gallagher, beloved wife of Patrick Lavelle. Funeral from residence, 15 Eaton St., Friday, Feb[ruary] 20 at 8:15. Requiem services at St Anne’s Church at 9a.m.

The following month Patrick applied to become a naturalized American – and was rejected because the “petitioner lacks education“. It is this set of records which gives his 1886 date of birth. It has the wrong year for the date of birth of youngest child, Margaret, (1916 rather than 1915). There is also an earlier 1913 description of the 27 year old Patrick, at the time he declared his intention to become an American citizen. He was 150lbs, 5ft 5in with dark hair and brown eyes.

The 1930 census shows Patrick and new wife Mary living in Newtonville Avenue, Newton, MA with John and Margaret. Patrick is now working as a caretaker in a coal yard. Patrick’s age is given as 42 and Mary 36.

In 1932 and still at Newtonville Avenue, watchman Patrick once more declared his intention to become an American citizen. In this declaration he gives his date of birth as 12 January 1887. I’m getting so used to these multiple birth dates now. But more bizarrely (and somewhat impossibly) his eyes have changed colour to blue!  I really cannot make that one out. I’m not sure if that’s quite the meaning of the Crystal Gayle song “Don’t it Make my Brown Eyes Blue.” And yes, it is the same man. He still stands at 5ft 5in and has black hair, but he has put on a some timber – with his weight now up to 185lbs.

Eyes

Image courtesy of Pixabay

His petition was submitted in 1935 and this time Patrick was successful. By now the family are at 20 Maguire Court, and this is their address at the time of the 1940 census. And incidentally now Patrick is 50, so a year of birth circa 1890.

Patrick Lavelle circa 1932

Patrick Lavelle

Patrick died on 3 February 1958. Mary died on the 20 February 1981. They are buried at the Calvary Cemetery and Mausoleum, Waltham, MA. And Patrick’s year of birth etched on the headstone is……1885.

Apart from the absolute joy of tracking down my grandpa’s second sister, and learning more about US genealogy records, this particular exercise has reinforced the need to cross reference and source as many records as possible for your ancestors: because the truth of one record might not match the reality given in another. And spellings – even what we consider modern 20th century ones – do vary.

Sources

  • 1920 to 1940 US Censuses
  • 1959 Newton City Directory
  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Birth Records 1840-1915, Original data: Massachusetts Vital Records, 1840–1911. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.
  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1798-1950
  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1820-1963
  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Death Index, 1901-1980 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013. Original data: Department of Public Health, Registry of Vital Records and Statistics. Massachusetts Vital Records Index to Deaths [1916–1970].
  • Ancestry.com US Social Security Death Indexes 1935-2014
  • Boston Evening Globe
  • GRO Records, Ireland: Births registered at Swinford for the District of Kilkelly
  • Find a Grave via Ancestry
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Irish DNA Breakthrough

Over two years ago I wrote about one of my main DNA aims: to find what became of my grandpa’s three sisters who left County Mayo for the USA in the early 20th century. The mystery of what became of the Callaghan sisters was one which nagged away at me. I knew one of them ended up in Canada via Boston, mum thinks it was Quebec Province, and married a French Canadian. Mum did not know which sister this was, but I suspected the eldest; the two younger sisters I traced to Boston, Massachusetts in the early 1920s via ships’ passenger lists.

gene-tree-1490270_1280

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Mum was also desperate to find out about her aunties – Bridget, Mary and Catherine/Kate, so she joined me in doing an Ancestry DNA test. We were aware the Quebec line would draw a blank DNA-wise, as mum knew this sister had no biological children and adopted a boy who at one time was in correspondence with mum’s brother who was tragically killed aged 19. Contact was lost with the Canadian branch at around this time, or so mum thinks, and she cannot ever remember hearing about the sisters in the USA.

There must have been some contact though between the USA sisters and my grandpa. I have a mysterious, unsent and undated postcard written by him and addressed to “Mrs Lovell, 20 Magguire St, West Villa, Maserchusatt [sic].”  The image is the church in which the family were baptised – Glan Chapel near Kilkelly. It seemed a logical assumption this was intended for one of his sisters, now married. Proving it was unfortunately not straightforward, in part due to my lack of experience with USA records.

Several months after submitting the DNA tests I finally had what appeared a very promising match – an extremely high confidence second/third cousin match with mum and a third/fourth with me. No tree but, correlating with other DNA matches with other testers who had trees, it seemed to be down the Callaghan line mum and I were so keen to find out about.

An initial contact with the tester confirmed the DNA match was with a descendant of grandpa’s youngest sister, Catherine. Then nothing more. After two years I had given up. Then out of the blue the other month I received another message followed by a photo of grandpa’s sister which made my mum’s day. I am not including the photo in this post – it is not mine to share. I was also given Catherine’s married name which was all I needed to find out basic details about her and introduce me to some US records in the process.

Catherine became an American citizen in 1937. Her naturalization papers confirm her birthplace as Carrabeg [Carrowbeg], County Mayo and the details correspond with those on the passenger list detailing her arrival in Boston back in 1922. In her naturalization petition she gives a date of birth of 4 September 1903. Later, her social security records amend this to 7 September 1900, which matches with the date of birth given when she was baptised on 9 September 1900 at Glan Chapel, Kilmovee Parish. Interestingly going back to Ireland for her official birth registration in Swinford, County Mayo on 27 October 1900, her officially recorded date of birth there is 7 October 1900.

Like my grandpa, the official date given is a judicious tweak to avoid a late birth registration. This is not unusual for the family, along with many others in rural Ireland. They would have found it a trek to get from their isolated Carrowbeg farm to Swinford to register the births of their children. They did it as and when they could, and amended the birth dates accordingly to avoid any penalties for failing to comply with the legal requirements of registration within 42 days of birth. I therefore take the birth date given at time of baptism for my rural Irish ancestors as the most reliable one – God before state. Their baptisms invariably take place within days of birth. Therefore I find the Callaghan family often have their baptisms pre-dating their births when comparing to officially registered birth dates!

By 1937 Catherine was living at Wellington Street, East Braintree, MA. Her naturalization papers give a brief physical description – a diminutive 5ft 3in, 122lbs with blue eyes, brown hair and a medium complexion – so no change from her 1922 passenger list description. They also state she married James E Rudolph in Boston on 29 August 1925 with a child was born around three years later. By 1937 though, she is a widow. Her husband’s birthplace is recorded as Middleborough, MA., and a date of birth is given as 23 June 1904.

A quick look at the 1930 census sees James E Rudolph, Catherine and their child living at 6 Belmont, Braintree, MA with James working as a pipe fitter. Lothrop’s Braintree Directory of 1931 lists James as Ernest, still living at 6 Belmont with wife Catherine, with the occupation of electrician. There certainly appears to be a little confusion over his name because Clarence is another variation middle name which appears in records, including census and Middleborough town records.

What is clear is Catherine’s husband died by the time of the publication of the 1935 edition of Lothrop’s Braintree Directory, with her now Wellington Street address listing her as the widow of Ja[me]s E Rudolph. The Massachusetts Death Indexes confirm a death registration year of 1935 at Weymouth, under the name of James E Rudolph. Other sources appear to indicate he died in March that year.

The 1940 census shows Catherine and her child at Wellington Street, Braintree. Life must have been a real struggle. It shows her seeking work, having been employed for only 8 weeks the previous year and earning only $20. She did have an income of $50 or more from sources other than money, wages or salary. But the fact she was seeking work is indication that this was insufficient.

By the time of her death on 1 October 1970, Catherine was residing at Hanover, MA. She is buried with her husband at Saint Francis Xavier Cemetery, Weymouth, MA. I wonder if my grandpa ever knew? He was still alive in 1970. Mum certainly cannot recall him mentioning anything.

I feel content that at least I now have some details about what became of Catherine. And mum is thrilled to have seen a photograph of her auntie. So DNA has provided the hoped for breakthrough. But that result has also led to the cracking of the postcard mystery. More to come on that in my next blog post.

Sources:

  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Birth Records 1840-1915, Original data: Massachusetts Vital Records, 1840–1911. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts.
  • GRO Records, Ireland: Births registered at Swinford for the District of Kilkelly
  • 1910 to 1940 US Censuses
  • Lothrop’s Braintree Directory 1931 and 1935
  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1798-1950
  • Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Death Index, 1901-1980 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013. Original data: Department of Public Health, Registry of Vital Records and Statistics. Massachusetts Vital Records Index to Deaths [1916–1970].
  • Ancestry.com US Social Security Death Indexes 1935-2014
  • US Billion Graves via FindMyPast
  • United States Obituary Notices via FindMyPast (source Tributes.com)

The Family History Show – York 2018

As part of my 2018 New Year’s Resolutions I set myself a pleasant task to attend a variety of Family History events. The Family History Show at York Racecourse was high on my ‘must-do‘ list, as it’s around three years since my last visit. It did not disappoint.

Organised by Discover Your Ancestors Magazine and sponsored by S&N Genealogy Supplies and The Genealogist.co.uk, it has dropped “Yorkshire” from its title of years gone by. This is a reflection that, although having a distinct Yorkshire flavour, those present represent a far wider geographical spread than “God’s Own County“.

Family history societies from as far afield as Shropshire, Clwyd, Cumbria and Aberdeen were there alongside a broad cross-section of those from Yorkshire. I took the opportunity to renew my lapsed Morley Family History Group membership, as well as chatting with those on the Huddersfield & District Family History Society, Bradford Family History Society and Northumberland and Durham Family History Society stands to name but a few.

But the show goes way beyond the traditional family history societies, and includes archives, genealogy education providers, family history product suppliers, as well as book and map sellers. There are also professional organisations such as The Register of Qualified Genealogists and the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA) the latter of which I am an Associate and, as a result, I did a stint on their stand.

In this Armistice Centenary Anniversary year military exhibitors were understandably highly visible, including researchers, the Imperial War Museum (Lives of the First World War) and York Army Museum. To my delight representatives from the Green Howards Museum were there promoting their Ribbon of Remembrance Project. It was fabulous to see their exhibits, including original 1911 Militia and Volunteer registers which left me wondering what became of those named. On the other hand my husband, in trying on a 1908 German Pickelhaube, demonstrated the increased head sizes a century on. This is something I experienced in a previous job a couple of decades ago with bearskins – the frames of previous eras needed stretching to fit the heads of late 20th century guardsmen.

But the highlight of my Green Howards visit was talking about one of my Rugby League men and discovering a new photograph of him which the Museum have given me permission to use in my forthcoming book.

The MoD were there too. At the final Who Do You Think You Are? Live last year there was the hint of an imminent announcement about post-1921 Army records, with my hope this might mean digitisation in some form. I asked today and apparently this is facing obstacles which have slowed down progress, with legal issues (presumably Data Protection) playing a part. So we could be waiting a few more years yet before news on this front.

The show also featured some free talks, which I didn’t get the chance to go to because I was far too busy catching up with people. For me the opportunity to chat to folk who share my passion for family history is a now central part of attending these events.

One notable family history absentee given the current sales pitch was DNA. If it was being promoted I failed to spot it. A full list of exhibitors is here.

As per my 2015 visit findings, the show wasn’t on the huge scale of my first visit many years ago when the stands spread over several floors, including big hitters such as Ancestry and FindMyPast, and you were cheek to jowl with eager attendees. Perhaps that’s a sign of the changing times of family history research whereby the false assumption is that everything is online and there’s no value in anything beyond your keyboard, which means attendance at fairs has correspondingly declined.

However it did mean today’s offering was far more relaxed. It meant you really had the opportunity to have unpressurised conversations and find out as much as possible from exhibitors, learn what is out there and get involved in the genealogy community generally. And in my stint on a stand I certainly appreciated being able to devote full attention to those seeking information. But don’t get me wrong, there was still a steady stream of people.

I did make purchases too, including an inevitable book. No longer content with genealogical facts, I opted for a bit of family history fiction – of which any of us bitten by this bug will have frustrating experience of. But this time mine was in the form of a Nathan Dylan GoodwinForensic Genealogist” series book – so an escape from research. Now to find time to read it!

Happy Father’s Day 2018 Dad – The 1st Without You

This is my first Father’s Day without dad. Truth be told the last “normal” Father’s Day we shared was in 2014 when I presented him with his Family History book. Little did we know month’s later, on 4 September 2014, our lives were to change irrevocably.

Dad died in August 2017. There’s so much I’ve found in the last few months I wish I could’ve shared with him. He’d be so annoyed with me, as so much is stuff he’d rather not know. And the Hill Family History book has evolved so much since Father’s Day 2014. I’ve just not had the heart to update it. It’s all in my head, which is far from ideal.

And there’s never a day goes by that I would like to quiz him on family history, or wish I’d paid more attention to what he told me: my current bugbear is the Mayo Brett family. He mentioned a connection, but I can’t remember what it was.

To be honest, because I can’t share things with dad any more, my paternal family history line doesn’t hold the same interest for me. I apologise to those DNA contacts for my lack of engagement over the past year. I do hope my passion for my paternal line will be rekindled with the passage of time. For now it’s all too raw.

For those of you lucky enough to have your dad, never take them for granted.

My Rugby League WW1 book will be dedicated to you, dad. Because it was you who introduced me to the game when I was a toddler and who was responsible for my passion for Rugby League and sport generally – much to mum’s annoyance as it meant I wasn’t interested in Saturday shopping visits to Dewsbury market, or Saturday afternoon Irish dancing lessons.

The point of this post is to say:

Happy Father’s Day 2018 Dad. Love you and miss you. You were the best Dad EVER.

The Rohilla Privileged Will Dispute

What may seem a straightforward document can be far more contentious than first appearances suggest. This proved the case with the will of a man who perished in the wreck of the Hospital Ship Rohilla in October 1914. It led to the High Court.

William Edward Anderson was one of the 15 Barnoldswick St John Ambulance Brigade men on board, serving as part of the Royal Naval Sick Berth Reserve. Only three of these men came home.

Born in the then West Yorkshire town on 11 February 1891, he was the eldest child of Carleton-born cotton weaver Ralph Anderson and his wife Jane Elizabeth Wakefield, originally from Coventry. The couple married on 18 October 1890 in the parish church of St Mary le Gill, Barnoldswick. Their other children included Sarah, Walter, Florrie, George, Mary Ann and Ernest. An eighth child, Jane, died in 1905 aged three.

Like his father, William became a cotton weaver, cotton being the town’s predominant industry. His naval records describe him as being 5’6″ with light brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion.

William Edward Anderson

William was engaged to Edith Eliza Priscilla Downes. The daughter of joiner and builder James Downes and his wife Elizabeth, she was born on 22 July 1891 at Morton Banks near Keighley, and baptised St Mary’s Church, Riddlesden in September that year. The family address in the baptismal register was given as Barley-Cote, Riddlesden. Sometime between the 1901 and 1911 censuses the Downes family moved to Barnoldswick. In the latter census they were living at Gisburn Street and Edith had employment as a cotton spinner.

On 2 August 1914 John William Thompson, superintendent of the Barnoldswick Division of the St John Ambulance Brigade, received a telegram ordering the mobilisation of men, including William, in advance of any war declaration. The Brigade was a voluntary movement which the Army and Navy used as a recruitment source. It’s members knew they were liable to be called up for military service. Thompson contacted William and told him to hold himself in readiness. He was ordered to catch the 3 August 12.08pm train from Barnoldswick to Chatham.

3 August was Bank Holiday Monday. That morning, after finishing packing his kit at his family home alongside Edith, he made a soldier’s will leaving everything to his fiancée. He placed the will in an envelope with instructions for it to be opened one month after his death. He wanted Edith to take it for safe-keeping but she refused so he put it in a drawer saying to Edith “No one knows where this is, only you.” The will was made at 11am, just over an hour before his departure. Once he left Edith never saw him again.

William’s naval record shows him as a Senior Reserve Attendant, under Service Number M/10066, assigned to Pembroke I from 2 – 17 August 1914. This was the shore-based Royal Naval barracks at Chatham. From 18 August 1914 he was with the Rohilla. When she struck the rocks off Saltwick Nab it appears he was one of those who made it to the bridge, but subsequently lost his life attempting to swim to shore. His body was never recovered. He is commemorated in a number of locations including on the Chatham Naval Memorial, the Rohilla Memorial in Whitby’s Larpool Cemetery and on the Barnoldswick War Memorial.

His naval record includes the notation:

Papers dealing with an action in the High Court relating to this man’s will.

The case of Anderson v Downes was heard in the Probate Court in January 1916 before Mr Justice Bargrave Deane. The plaintiff Ralph Anderson, represented by Mr W.O. Willis, claimed his son had died intestate and he sought administration, being next-of-kin and heir-at-law. The defendant Miss Edith Downes, represented by Mr Pridham-Wippell and Mr Acton Pile denied this and counter-claimed William had made his last true will on 3 August 1914, it being made in accordance with the Section 11 of the 1837 Statute, namely William had been actively engaged in the service of the Crown on military and/or naval duties. In response Ralph claimed the will had not been executed according to the Statute.

Edith Downes

Those serving in the military had, for centuries, held a unique position in Probate law being entitled to make what was known as a Privileged Will. In 1914, Section 11 of the Wills Act 1837 specifically stated “that any soldier being in actual military service, or any mariner or seaman at sea, may dispose of his personal estate” without restrictions applicable to other wills. It meant they could dispose moveable goods, money, credits and leases without the restrictions which normally applied – the testator could be under 21, there was no need for witnesses to attest, for the testator’s signature, or even for it to be in writing. These privileges were conferred because of the unique nature of their employment. They could face the imminent danger if death; also because they were on service they may not have the same access to legal services as a civilian so would have less opportunity to make a properly executed will; and minors served in the armed forces.

The case of Anderson v Downes honed in on the key phrase “any mariner or seaman at sea.” Mr Mynett, supervising assistant clerk at the Admiralty was called to provide clarity. He produced William’s original engagement setting out he was to serve in the Navy for one year from 2 August 1914. He also had the original contract William made with the St John Ambulance. It was signed on 17 October 1914, but backdated to 2 August. Therefore it was dated from his mobilisation and covered his time at HMS Pembroke, the name by which the Admiralty recognised Chatham Barracks.

Staff-Surgeon Stewart RN also gave evidence stating when William arrived at Chatham he would be a naval rating, liable to serve from mobilisation for a period not exceeding one year, and he would be subject to the Naval Discipline Act for the year from 2 August 1914. Effectively he was on active service from the date of the mobilisation order. Under cross-examination he said William was qualified to serve when he left home.

A third Admiralty official, acting superintendent clerk Mr Drake, confirmed William was payed be the Admiralty from 2 August 1914.

Mr Willis held firm with his view that for the will to be valid in accordance with the Act, William needed to be at sea when he made it. Nothing else mattered. Mr Prichard-Wimpell differed in his view – he asserted that soldiers and sailors were treated in the same way in time of war for which mobilisation had taken place.

In summing up Mr Justice Bargrave Deane disagreed – the Act was not the same for soldiers and sailors. The will would have been perfectly good if made at sea. However he could not say in this case that William ever went to sea until he joined the Rohilla. He certainly had not joined any ship when he made the will. Whilst Mr Justice Bargrave Deane felt there was no doubt William’s wishes were that his sweetheart should have his money, regretfully the will did not hold good in law. In effect he died intestate and Administration was granted to William’s father. However the Judge decreed the costs of both parties should come out of the estate.

The entry in the National Probate Calendar for 1916 reads:

Anderson William Edward of 20 School-terrace Damhead-
road Barnoldswick Yorkshire died 30 October 1914 at sea
on H.M. Hospital Ship Rohilla Administration London 18
March to Ralph Anderson factory operative.
Effects £245 5s. 10d.

Interestingly, due to the sharp focus of war and the subtle changes in types of military service this brought, in February 1918 the law changed with the Wills (Soldiers and Sailors) Act 1918. It affirmed that:

“In order to remove doubts as to the construction of the Wills Act 1837, it is hereby declared and enacted that section eleven of that Act authorises and always has authorised any soldier being in actual military service, or any mariner or seaman being at sea, to dispose of his personal estate as he might have done before the passing of that Act, though under the age of 21”

Furthermore, the ability to make privileged will was judged to extend to any member of His Majesty’s naval or marine forces not only when he is at sea but also when he is so circumstanced that if he were a soldier he would be in actual military service within the meaning of that section. The Act was also extended to cover real estate, that is lands and buildings. And soldier included any member of the Air Force.

So what became of Ralph and Edith, the protagonists in this case? Ralph’s death, aged 62, is recorded in the Skipton Registration District (which covered Barnoldswick in this period) in the March Quarter of 1929. Edith’s marriage to Harry Whiteley is recorded in the Huddersfield Registration District. The 1939 Register shows the family living in the Colne Valley village of Linthwaite. She lived well into her 80s.

If you want to know more about the Rohilla sinking, please see my earlier blog post, here.

Sources:

  • 1939 Register – via FindMyPast
  • 1891-1911 Censuses – via Ancestry.co.uk and FindMyPast
  • Burnley Express and Advertiser – 4 November 1914 via FindMyPast
  • Burnley Express and Advertiser – 22 January 1916 via FindMyPast
  • Burnley News – 4 November 1914 via FindMyPast
  • Burnley News – 22 January 1916 via FindMyPast
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commissionhttps://www.cwgc.org/
  • Craven Herald – 6 November 1914, transcript via Craven’s Part in the Great War http://www.cpgw.org.uk/
  • Craven Herald – 21 January 1916, transcript via Craven’s Part in the Great War http://www.cpgw.org.uk/
  • GRO Indexes – via FindMyPast
  • Lancashire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1936 via Ancestry.co.uk (originals at Lancashire Archives)
  • Leeds Mercury – 21 January 1916 via FindMyPast
  • National Probate Calendar – via FindMyPast
  • Privileged Wills: A Timely Reminder – Christopher Parker takes an in-depth look at the history of privileged wills and also reviews application of the law by C20th courts (taken from Issue No 21  – October 2002) http://www.tact.uk.net/review-index/privileged-wills-a-timely-reminder/
  • The Globe – 20 January 1916 via FindMyPast
  • The Times – 21 January 1916 via The Times Digital Archive
  • The National Archives (TNA) Royal Navy Registers of Seamen’s Services; Class: ADM 188; Piece: 1038 – via Ancestry.co.uk
  • TNA UK Royal Navy and Royal Marine War Graves Roll, 1914-1919 Class : ADM 242/7; Scan Number: 0082 – via Ancestry.co.uk
  • The Wills of our Ancestors – A Guide for Family & Local Historians – Stuart Raymond
  • Wills Acts of 1837 and 1918
  • Wills and Probate Records – A Guide for Family Historians 2nd Edition – Karen Grannum & Nigel Taylor
  • Yorkshire Evening Post – 20 January 1916 via FindMyPast
  • West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910 via Ancestry.co.uk (originals at West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England)

A Family Historian on Holiday: A Whitby Cemetery and WW1 Shipwreck

What does a family historian with an obsession with the Great War and local history do on holiday? Take a break isn’t the answer, as my recent Whitby visit illustrates.

I’ve no Whitby ancestry to hunt, so I didn’t intend doing anything history-related other than a few evenings working on my neglected One-Name Study. But a walk to Saltwick Bay put a halt to that. A scramble down the steep and unforgiving cliff path to the isolated beach and I was hooked. Apparently there is the wreck of a trawler, the Admiral Von Tromp. However the tide was too high for it to be visible, so I decided to revisit at low tide.

Before returning I decided to pinpoint the wreck location. In doing so I discovered it wasn’t the only shipwreck on that stretch of coastline: at around 4.10am on 30 October 1914 the Hospital Ship Rohilla ran aground on an area of rocks by Saltwick Nab with 229 people on board. That was it. I had to find out more.

The Scar and Saltwick Nab – photo by Jane Roberts

The SS Rohilla, launched in 1906, was owned by the British India Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. Initially a passenger liner operating to India, by 1908 she was working as a troopship. Throughout, she was captained by David Landles Neilson, and he continued in post when, in August 1914, she was requisitioned by the government and converted to a hospital ship. Later that month she was on her way to the Scapa Flow to complete training in her new role. One of HMHS Rohilla’s first patients was Prince Albert, who developed appendicitis whilst on board the HMS Collingwood. At the end of the month the future King George VI was safely transported, along with 43 other ill servicemen, to Aberdeen where he successfully underwent an appendectomy the following month.

Training complete, on Thursday 29 October 1914 the Rohilla left Leith on the Firth of Forth in late afternoon good weather tasked with her first France and Flanders hospital run, to pick up wounded soldiers from Dunkirk. Captain Neilson had to contend with an unfamiliar route and the threat of mines, using dead reckoning techniques because of the wartime restrictions around usual navigational aids: so no lighthouses, buoy lights and sounds, shore lights etc. As they reached St Abb’s Head, north of Berwick upon Tweed, the weather began to deteriorate. They passed the hazardous Farne Islands Longstones at a distance of seven miles according to the dead reckoning calculations. The ship’s course was altered at just after 10pm to clear minefields, and again at 1.50am. Depth soundings were taken at midnight showing the Rohilla was still on course. The next set were not taken until 4am, by which time the impending catastrophe was unfolding before the eyes of Albert James Jeffries in the Whitby Coastguard Station.

Coastline from Whitby to Saltwick Nab OS six inch to the mile, 1910-1911, Published 1919 – Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/index.html

It was filthy weather with squally rain, the wind ranging between near gale to strong gale and a heavy sea when, at around 3-40am on Friday 30 October Jeffries saw the Rohilla. He realised she was heading for the rocks near Saltwick Nab, with no alert from the buoy bell muffled due to war, and no lights to warn her. He tried to contact her via the Morse Lamp and sounded the foghorn, but received no reply.

Back on board the Rohilla, the Morse had been seen but not decoded, the assumption being made that it was from another ship as those on board still thought they were way out at sea. The 4am sounding revealed the ship was far nearer shore than thought, but before anything could be fully reported to Captain Neilson and acted upon, there was an almighty shock as the ship struck something. Officers afterwards reported a lifting sensation, and Captain Neilson’s automatic response was “Mine, by God”. He immediately ordered the vessel to be driven full speed towards shore in a bid to get closer to land and rescuers. She ran aground on the Scar rocks by Saltwick Nab at around 4.10am. She was stuck only 500 or so yards away from the shore.Despite the Rohilla’s proximity to land, the severe weather conspired against the would-be rescuers, whose heroic attempts to save those stranded on board spanned three days and over 50 hours. Some of these efforts were captured on film. The dramatic British Pathé footage can be viewed here. The aftermath is shown in British Film Institute footage here.

Only one of the Rohilla’s lifeboats was launchable but, due to conditions, it proved impossible for her to bring a line ashore. Neither could the shore-based rocket brigades establish a viable line to the ship, thus ending any hope of setting up a breeches buoy by which to bring those aboard to safety one-by-one.

Rescue by Breeches Buoy, Popular Science Monthly Volume 15, 1879 – Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

So what about shore-based lifeboats? This was still an era predominated by the rowing-boat lifeboat. Petrol-powered motor vessels only just started to make an appearance from 1905. Six lifeboats tried valiantly to battle the elements in what Coxswain Langlands of the Whitby Lifeboat described as the hardest job he’d experienced in almost 40 years’ service. It was impossible to launch the heavier Number 1 Whitby Lifeboat, the Robert and Mary Ellis, due to the severity of the weather. That left the lighter Number 2 boat, the John Fielden. Again the weather meant it could not be rowed out of the harbour, so an alternative plan was successfully undertaken to lift and lower the craft over the breakwater, carry her under the East Pier Spa ladder and then drag her across the Scar, the rocks which run from Whitby to Saltwick Nab.

John Fielden rescue attempt on 30 October 1914

She was badly damaged in the process, but still managed two trips to the Rohilla rescuing 35 people before it was decided conditions were no longer safe and she was abandoned on shore to be smashed to pieces by the ferocious storm, no longer seaworthy.

Whitby Lifeboat Museum Rohilla Exhibition – by Jane Roberts

Amongst the first batch of those rescued were the five women aboard the ship: four nurses and the stewardess. The Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Services (QARRNS) nurses were 38-year-old Margaret Muriel Benington who had been a QARNNS nursing sister since June 1910; Mary Barbara Bennet, from Glass in Aberdeenshire, age 36, who joined as nursing sister in November 1910; Margaret Brand Paterson, age 34 whose seniority date as a nursing sister was 1 August 1911. She was known as Daisy and from Terrona, Langholm in Dumfriesshire; and Devon-born vicar’s daughter Mary Louisa Hocking, age 26, who joined as a probationary nursing sister in December 1913, who was only promoted to nursing sister in June 1914. The older three joined the Rohilla on 18 August 1914, whereas Mary Louisa only joined the ship on 23 October. Letters from two of the nurses appeared in the Whitby Gazette on 13 November 1914, and give a flavour of the help they received. These are as follows:

Muriel Benington: Dear Sir, Please allow me to thank through you, all the people of Whitby who did so much for me and the other survivors of the wreck of the Rohilla. I simply cannot express my gratitude for the kindness which was shown to us from beginning to end by everyone with whom we came in contact. I shall write to thank specially some of the ladies who supplied us with clothes and other things, but I do not know the names of the men who helped me along the shore, or of many who did things for me. Again thanking you for the help and sympathy of your townspeople.

And:

Mary B Bennet: Dear Sir, I shall be so glad if you will express my thanks and gratitude to the crew of the Whitby lifeboat. We sisters realise that they endangered their own lives to save ours, and we cannot be thankful enough to them for the excellent work they did. May I also thank you for the trouble you took over us? It was marvellous the prompt way in which we were fitted out with clothes. I shall never forget he kindness of the Whitby people during our short time there.

After their ordeal the nurses were granted 14 days leave, with Mary Hocking given an extension of seven days. The admirable conduct of all four was acknowledged. Sister Bennet received the Royal Red Cross, the decoration awarded to ladies for exceptional services in nursing the sick and wounded in the army and navy. She received her award from the King at Buckingham Palace in May 1915. That was not the only award she received in her nursing career. In 1920 she was presented with the O.B.E. by the Governor of Hong Kong.

Sister Mary Barbara Bennet

Of the others, Sister Paterson was granted the Royal Red Cross 2nd Class in 1918 (by this stage the decoration could be either 1st or 2nd class) in part for her Rohilla efforts; and Sister Hocking was awarded the Royal Red Cross 2nd Class in 1919.

The fifth woman was stewardess Mary Kezia Roberts. This was not her first shipwreck. In April 1912 she was one of those saved from the Titanic. She described her Rohilla experience as even more trying than when the great liner went down. Her trunk, which would have contained her belongings on the Rohilla, was discovered recently on eBay and is now on display at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) museum at Whitby. The museum is housed in Whitby’s former Number 2 lifeboat station.

Mary Kezia Roberts’ Trunk at Whitby Lifeboat Museum – by Jane Roberts

In addition to the Whitby lifeboats, ones from other North East coast stations were asked to assist. In an echo of the John Fielden efforts, the Upgang lifeboat, the William Riley, over a mile away from Whitby, was brought overland and lowered more than 200 feet down the sheer cliffs on Friday afternoon. However, the ferocity of the weather prevented any launch until Saturday. Even then the weather was such that the rescue was aborted. The Scarborough lifeboat, towed by trawler to the vicinity, was similarly unable to get anywhere near. A trawler also assisted the Robert and Mary Ellis out of Whitby Harbour and to the wreck, but she too was unable to get close enough to affect a rescue. These were all rowing lifeboats.

Help from a couple of motor lifeboats further north was also sought. The Tees-mouth lifeboat, the Bradford, was prepared to set off on Friday, but the weather prevented her launch. She finally set off at around 7am on Saturday morning but broke down in the severe weather off the coast at Redcar shortly after departing her South Gare base. She had to be towed back to port by a fortuitously accompanying tug. That left the Tynemouth motor lifeboat, the Henry Vernon. She put to sea during the late afternoon of Saturday 31 October, arriving in Whitby around nine hours later. With a mind to safety, her rescue attempt was scheduled for daylight.

Throughout these various rescue attempts townsfolk were helping from shore, going into the freezing, swirling sea to assist the lifeboat crews and any survivors fortunate to be saved by them, or those souls attempting to swim from the stricken vessel. That Friday morning they had witnessed the horrific site of the stern breaking away from the Rohilla and disappearing under the waves, men still visible on it – some even strapped to the structure. This was followed by the bows being similarly swallowed by the merciless sea, leaving just the bridge section above water. By now bodies were washing ashore.

Hospital Ship Rohilla grounded at Whitby, Popular Mechanics Magazine January 1915 – Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

As time wore on conditions were becoming desperate for those left on what remained of the Rohilla, exposed to the elements with no food or water, and no immediate prospect of rescue. On Saturday morning, as the tide ebbed, Captain Neilson semaphored to prepare for swimmers. Men jumped – some made it, others were swept away and dashed on rocks. Makeshift rafts were also fashioned and men lashed themselves to them. By the evening of 1 November, 50 men remained on-board awaiting their fate. With the impending arrival of the Henry Vernon the signal went to them to hold fast, help was at hand.

At around 6.30am on Sunday 1 November the Henry Vernon, captained by 50-year-old Royal Engineer Herbert Edgar ‘Bert’ Burton, left Whitby harbour. As she approached the wreck she discharged oil on the swirling waves. It had the desired effect, temporarily calming the waters enabling the rescue of all 50 men in one journey. The last man off the Rohilla was its Captain, carrying the ship’s black cat, an action for which he was later awarded the Bronze Medal by the RSPCA. They returned to the haven of Whitby, wet, battered, bleeding, exhausted, bare-footed, ill-clad, some still in pyjamas given the timing of the wreck, but safe at last. In all they had endured over 50 hours of hell. The crew of the Henry Vernon returned home to a heroes’ welcome.

The inquest on the initial bodies of the victims concluded on 5 November 1914. As published in the Whitby Gazette the following day, the unanimous verdict of the jury was that:

“…..the steamship Rohilla undoubtedly struck something a little time before she grounded on the rock at Saltwick, and they think that in the stormy weather which prevailed, and in the absence of lights and all usual safeguards, and in view of the special risks of navigation in the North Sea since the war, the master navigated the ship with all reasonable care, and is entirely free from blame for her loss.”

Given the comparative ease with which the Henry Vernon completed the rescue, the inquest jury also recommended strongly that a motor-lifeboat be provided for Whitby. The Margaret Harker Smith was launched in June 1919.

The logical next step for me was to visit Whitby (Larpool) cemetery. What holiday for a family historian doesn’t include a sneaky cemetery visit? The ‘Rohilla Plot’ is a trench grave in which 33 victims, 19 of whom are unidentified, are buried.

One side of the ‘Rohilla Plot’ at Whitby (Larpool) Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

At the centre of the trench is the Memorial. Erected by the ship owners, it is dedicated to the 91 officers and men who lost their lives in the tragedy.

Rohilla Monument at Whitby (Larpool) Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

RohillaMonument at Whitby (Larpool) Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

RohillaMonument at Whitby (Larpool) Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

Rohila Monument at Whitby (Larpool) Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

There is actually some confusion around the total number lost on the wreck. It seems to range between 83 to 92. The Rohilla Monument lists 91 but the actual number of names on it total 92. The final name etched in the Monument image above is that of F. Randell. Frederick Randell (or Randall) was a coastguard boatman based at H.M. Coastguard Station, Whitby who was killed whilst on duty during the German Naval bombardment of the town on 16 December 1914. He too is buried in the ‘Rohilla Plot’. I have covered the naval bombardment in a couple of other blog posts. Shrapnel and Shelletta looks at war-associated baby names, including George Shrapnel Griffin born during the bombardment of Whitby. The events of 16 December 1914 are covered in more detail in another post as they prompted my great grandfather to lie about his age and enlist on my grandma’s 8th birthday.

’92 LIVES LOST’ is also etched into the ship’s bell from the Rohilla which is on display at the Whitby Lifeboat Museum.

Rohilla Ship’s Bell at the Whitby Lifeboat Museum – by Jane Roberts

The loss impacted on communities from all corners of Britain. The then West Riding of Yorkshire (now Lancashire) town of Barnoldswick was particularly hard hit. 15 members of the Barnoldswick St John’s Ambulance Brigade were members of the Royal Naval Sick Berth Reserve on board the vessel. Only three survived. Amongst the dead were brothers Thomas and Walter Horsfield.

One name which struck me on the Rohilla monument was that of a Catholic priest. The Very Rev. Canon Robert Basil Gwydir O.S.B. was born on 20 January 1867 in County Longford, but of a family with Welsh origins. Educated at Douai and ordained in 1891 he began his ministry at St Augustine’s, Liverpool before transferring to St David’s, Swansea. There he was prominent in religious, social and educational circles in the city. His work included being a member of the old Swansea School Board and the Board of Managers at Swansea General Hospital. He had also been admitted to the circle of Welsh Bards.

Canon Gwydir volunteered for service with the Fleet at the outbreak of war and was appointed to the Rohilla only a short time before the disaster. When she struck the rocks he ran below deck, towards danger but also to the assistance of the only patient aboard the vessel, a naval gunner with a fractured thigh. This was in the stern portion of the ship which was soon overwhelmed by the sea and subsequently broke off. Canon Gwydir’s body was washed ashore and recovered, being one of those identified in the initial inquest. He is buried at Belmont Abbey Churchyard, Herefordshire. There is a stained glass memorial window dedicated to him at St David’s Priory Catholic Church, Swansea. He was the first Chaplain of any faith or denomination in all the Allied services to be killed in the Great War.

My final visit on the Rohilla trail was the RNLI museum at Whitby. I was thrilled to discover an exhibition devoted to shipwreck and rescue. As mentioned earlier, exhibits included Mary Kezia Roberts’ trunk and the ship’s bell. But there were so many other artefacts and lots of information about those involved, including the incredibly brave lifeboat men whose efforts I have not done justice to in this post. The pair of oars (below) are from one of the Rohilla’s lifeboats. The museum is well wort a visit, and rounded off my Whitby holiday perfectly.

Part of the Rohilla Exhibition at Whitby Lifeboat Museum – by Jane Roberts

For far more information about the Rohilla than I can convey here, this is a link to an excellent website devoted to its history.

Sources:

  • Benedictine Military Chaplains in the First World War – James H. Hagerty: http://www.monlib.org.uk/papers/ebch/1998hagerty.pdf
  • British Film Institute: http://www.bfi.org.uk/
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission: https://www.cwgc.org/
  • Craven’s Part in the Great War, John T Clayton, 1918 – e-book via Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/52157
  • HMHS Rohilla Website: http://www.eskside.co.uk/ss_rohilla/index.htm
  • Ireland Civil Birth Indexes via FindMyPast
  • Ireland’s Own, Canon Gwydir – A Heroic Cleric of WW1, Margaret Smith https://www.irelandsown.ie/canon-gwydir-a-heroic-cleric-of-wwi/
  • National Library of Scotland Maps: https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
  • Newspapers via FindMyPast including: Burnley News 4 November 1914; Daily Record 31 August 1915; Dundee Evening Telegraph7 May 1915; Leeds Mercury 31 October 1914, 2 November 1913; Sheffield Daily Telegraph26 June 1919; Western Mail 7 May 1915; Whitby Gazette 6 and 13 November 1914; Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 31 October 1914, 2 November 1914, 4 November 1914, 5 November 1914
  • RNLI, 1914-1918 The Great Warhttp://www.eskside.co.uk/ss_rohilla/rohilla_history.htm 
  • RNLI, Whitby Lifeboat Station, Station History: https://rnli.org/find-my-nearest/lifeboat-stations/whitby-lifeboat-station/station-history-whitby
  • Teesmouth Lifeboat Supporters Association – History: http://www.teesmouthlifeboat.org.uk/html/history.html
  • The National Archives Reference ADM 104/161 Nursing Service Register 1894-1929
  • The Tablet 7 November 1914 via the Tablet Archive: http://archive.thetablet.co.uk/
  • The War on Hospital Ships 1914-1918, Pen and Sword Maritime 2008: Stephen McGreal
  • Whitby Lifeboat Museum https://rnli.org/find-my-nearest/museums/whitby-lifeboat-museum
  • Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
  • Redcar.org past and present – People, Thompson James, Tees-Mouth Lifeboat http://www.redcar.org/thompson-james-tees-mouth-lifeboat/

Windrush Landing Cards: How Could This Record Destruction Happen?

The destruction by the Home Office of the landing cards which recorded Windrush Generation immigrants’ arrival dates in the UK is rightly causing a public outcry. For those unaware of the scandal, the term ‘Windrush’ applies to those arriving from the Caribbean between 1948 -1971 to fill Britain’s post-War labour shortages. It originates from the ship ‘MV Empire Windrush’, which set sail from a Jamaica in 1948. Carrying workers and their families it arrived at Tilbury Docks in July that year, the first such vessel to dock.

The Immigration Act of 1971 gave those who had already moved here indefinite leave to remain. In the Windrush cases, these landing cards provided people with proof of their date of arrival. For some this is the main/only evidence source. The destruction of these cards in 2010, combined with subsequent immigration changes, has had devastating consequences for some people who have lived and worked in the UK for decades. They are suffering needless anxiety and stress trying to prove they are not in the UK illegally. As a result, some have been denied access to jobs, public services including health, and have faced deportation.

Beyond this central human aspect, how does this impact on family history? Well, many family historians are horrified that documents so important for future researchers have been destroyed. There are calls to preserve all records which deal with people. Some say they should all be stored at The National Archives, possibly in a digitised form. Other suggestions include outsourcing, possibly to a commercial provider.

Human angle aside, to many the destruction of a potentially rich genealogical source beggars belief. Or does it? If only it was that straightforward.

The bottom line is government departments cannot keep everything. They never have. They never will. One has only to work in the environment to know just how much paperwork was generated in the past; and now we have moved onto the born-digital filing age it is arguable even more digital documents and emails are being stored electronically than paper was under the old regimes – but minus the previous rigorous systems.

books-553789_1920

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Government is just the same as any other organisation, right down to a family level. Think within your own family over the generations. Documents and photographs have always been destroyed. Records we know must have existed have gone. How many missing parish chest or poor law records am I rueing the loss of? What happened to all those original family birth, marriage and death certificates that I have had to re-buy copies of? What about family photos? If not deteriorated and destroyed accidentally, they’ve probably been binned by those with no knowledge, appreciation or understanding the records may have for future generations. Decisions made at speed with space-saving at the forefront. You can’t keep everything.  A home as much as a government office or off-site storage facility only has a finite amount of space. At some point a decision needs to be made about retention.

One positive about government records, there is a framework in place by which decisions around file destruction or retention and second review are made (although even here in recent years it is being made quicker and easier to destroy, with the implication that retaining a file for second review is a last resort). In the case of the landing cards, the system appears to have catastrophically failed. But for me the main losers aren’t us genealogists, as much as I regret that: it’s the human consequences for the living.

But sadly I can see how it has happened. Here’s my take.

Over the past 20+ years there has been the drive towards a paperless office. Office and storage space costs. And when there’s an office move, it inevitably results in less storage space, not more. Long gone are the rows of filing cabinets of the 1980s (and earlier) civil service office. It’s bin, bin, bin because we are paperless generation, cutting costs. Offsite storage facilities are under similar capacity pressure. Which is one reason why there is pressure to get rid of documents like the landing cards. And any document which isn’t neatly fileable, such as card indexes, handbooks or file slips, and the danger of destruction is higher when it comes to downsizing. There are not the same procedures in place as involved with an old pink file.

cabinet-157891_1280

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Another consequence of the moves towards digital filing systems is the appreciation of old paper files, card indexes etc., and the way these were managed for decades in the civil service, has been lost. This includes underestimating the value of old file slips detailing the status and whereabouts of files, including those now no longer retained in the office. One peculiar pleasure I get from visits to The National Archives is the filing methodology. Take the War Office WW1 files: it is the same system I learned as a new civil servant at the Ministry of Defence in the late 1980s. Happy days! But for a generation not familiar with, and lacking understanding of, the old civil service ways comes the increased risk of accidental destruction.

During the same 20+ period, the civil service has undergone a series of redundancy programmes. This, alongside natural wastage, has meant staff experienced with the files and their history have gone, and that sense of continuity has gone with them. Combined with destruction of office filing slips, it means in some cases knowledge of what old files still exist, where they are and what they contain is lost. Another risk: it means decisions are being made by those who lack the same in-depth understanding of what the records actually are, why they were created, how they interlink and what value they have. The ramifications of destruction are lost – and may not be realised until it is too late. Similarly what remains, possibly in archive storage, and any work-round strategies are similarly not known about or understood.

And herein lies another problem: staff reductions. Gone are the legions of clerical staff whose job included maintaining files. When decisions are made about staff numbers, the amount of time needed to undertake routine, but essential, tasks such as file maintenance is underestimated or ignored totally. This is because the final decisions are taken by senior management who possibly have never undertaken these ‘menial’ duties, so do not know what’s involved to do it properly. Neither have they had to scrat around identifying and recalling files and pulling out key documents from them – that’s the responsibility of more junior staff. Senior management making the staffing decisions therefore give these file-related maintenance duties a low priority. So fewer clerical staff pushes the job upwards to hard-pressed junior and middle managers. As a result it becomes a task to do when you have time – which is hardly ever.

And the born-digital files are suffering as much as old paper files. They still have to be maintained and reviewed. With the added complication that filing on them is even more an individual responsibility. It means (and senior management are particularly guilty here) that digital documents don’t get filed; or they are filed multiple times; or there is a general file dump when a mailbox is in danger of collapse – on a generic file, so not where the documents ought to be. Think of that for the future. But I digress.

So if space is such a premium, why doesn’t government digitise all the old paper files and indexes? Easy answer. Money. It’s a mammoth task. Unpicking, preparing, arranging and scanning row upon row of paper files, not to mention the card indexes and other specialised filing systems. There is insufficient staff to do it. No day-to-day work would get done. All time would be spent on the digitisation process. Temps cost money too, as does outsourcing the job. And in a time when the government imperative is to cut departmental running costs, this is a non-starter.

file-cabinet-146152_1280

Image courtesy of Pixabay

The other solution put forward is getting a commercial provider to do it. Or perhaps they could even have the documents, as happened with the Western Front Association who became custodians of the Great War soldier’s pension record cards and archives thus saving them from destruction by the Ministry of Defence. But this depends upon a reputable organisation wanting the documents and coming forward. And it relies on government departments informing these organisations about records of interest. It also depends on the sensitivity, and time period, of the documents. Think overzealous Data Protection issues/fears, 100 year rules and the like.

Bottom line. The cost of being caught out for destroying the landing cards is not as great as the long-term cost of retaining them. The Home Office have been caught out here. But then think of all the other destroyed files we know nothing about. Most of which we will hear nothing about. Someone has to make a judgement. And we have to accept sometimes it will be a wrong call – as is clearly the case with the Windrush debacle. But despite the imperfections, is it the best we can hope for?

And as I said at the outset, the government can’t and don’t keep everything. This is nothing new. There are oh so many examples (and I’m not going to mention the Irish censuses), some deliberate and others accidental. The Great War Soldier’s Pension Cards had a happy outcome.

However, back in 2014 when they faced calls for an inquiry into historical cases of paedophilia, it emerged in excess 100 Home Office files relevant to allegations of a child abuse network were either missing or had been destroyed.

The 1931 England and Wales census was destroyed in an accidental fire in 1942. The General Register Office civil servant who visited the debris determined that:

….it would be useless to attempt any sort of salvage operation; we are leaving the Office of Works to clear and dispose of the debris in any way they think desirable.

Hence the importance of the 1939 Register (especially with no 1941 Wartime census). Incidentally in 1950 there was a subsequent check to see if any 1931 census records had been saved from the conflagration and stored elsewhere.

First World War Representative Medical Records of Servicemen held at The National Archives under MH 106 are only a representative selection of Great War medical records. The rest of the collection is missing, believed destroyed before the Second World War. This is but one example of where only a sample selection of records have been kept.

And as for the problems of digital filing systems, don’t get me started. If you think there are problems now, this is like walk in the park compared to what we’re facing in 20 years time.

Why Waste Time and Money Researching Your Family History?

It’s been an all-consuming interest for the past goodness knows how many years. I’ve spent countless hours on research. And don’t mention the small fortune shelled out on subscription sites, books, certificates, data storage, courses, archives visits, family-related antiques, postcards and ancestral tourism. I’ve amassed files full of records and reports. I’ve endured the frustration of dealing with the fog-plaiting myriad of online records. My living room floor frequently takes on the role of a temporary filing cabinet. I’ve risked eye-strain and headache trying to read scratchy, barely legible writing and faded documents, both original and on microfilm and microfiche. I spend hour upon hour caught up in suffering, harsh lives, misery and death. Some days I’ve nothing to show for it other than the eliminatation of yet another source.

Is it really worth it? Should I have been living in the present and making memories rather than digging up the past? What really is the point of knowing my 6x great grandfather’s name let alone how many children he had and what happened to them all? And when I’m gone will all my research follow me into the ground or go up in smoke?

But then there’s that Eureka moment when I’ve found out something. The intellectual challenge of cracking what appears to be an insoluble family history puzzle, as well as the broader learning about aspects of history never taught at school: ones that are really interesting because I can relate them to my flesh and blood. There’s the thrill of actually reading that document or handling some centuries old piece of paper and feeling that connectedness with history. There’s the sense of belonging through finding my family, ones that are long-forgotten. It’s like bringing them back to life in a way. There’s the sense of community too, with those pursuing the same obsession. There’s the brick wall that nags at me night and day. I’m never finished. Loose ends abound. There’s always more to discover. So day after day, week after week I’m drawn back.

Let this serve as a warning to anyone starting out on family history. Are you really prepared for the expensive, frustrating, 24×7 obsession you’re about to unleash into your life?

And if the answer is yes, you won’t regret it!

Forever England, Forever Yorkshire. One Small CWGC Cemetery in Belgium

To paraphrase Rupert Brooke’s immortal words, “there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever” …….. the Colne Valley. Or more precisely Colne Valley Cemetery. I stumbled upon this small cemetery in Belgium on my March 2018 visit to the Ypres Salient.

When visiting the Great War Battlefields I prioritise walking over driving, and my latest visit was no exception. I clocked up in excess of 120 miles on foot. It’s by far the best way to see the battlefields and get a real feel for the lie of the land, the high ground, the open expanses over which the troops attacked, their vulnerability and visibility to defending forces, and the distances involved. I tend to mix and match walks from various books. I also use a Linesman, with its GPS and trench map overlays, to plot exactly where I am in relation to the trenches and front lines of a century ago. For more details about the Linesman, please read my earlier post.

One of the books I used on my latest visit, Paul Reed’s ‘Walking the Salient’, included an Yser Canal walk in Chapter 3 which referenced the intriguingly named Colne Valley Cemetery. The walk actually stopped short of it, but I pushed on.

Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

The cemetery is located near the village of Boezinghe (or Boesinghe as it was known during the War). For most of the War, the east side of the village directly faced the German front line. Holding the British line here was dangerous, with regular casualties from German artillery and sniper fire. The cemetery, just south of the protruding German trench known as Caesar’s Nose, was started by men of the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) in July 1915. Territorial battalions of this regiment formed part of the 49th (West Riding) Division. In a nod to their Yorkshire home, Colne Valley, Skipton Road and Huddersfield Road were names given to nearby 49th Division trenches. The cemetery was in use until February 1916. Of the 47 First World War burials here, 30 of the graves are of officers and men of the West Riding Regiment.

Colne Valley both

Trench Maps of area from July 1915 (L) and July 1917 overlaid against modern map (R) showing location of Yorkshire named trenches in 1915 and Colne Valley Cemetery (green highlight)

Looking at the burials, three of the men were from the Huddersfield area, all serving with the 1/7th (Colne Valley) Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment). Two of these, Pte Fred Clough (service number 7/1913), and Pte Ernest Butterworth (service number 7/2165), were the first men to be buried in the cemetery, which fittingly bears the Colne Valley name by which their Territorial Battalion was commonly known. Perhaps the fact these first two burials were of Colne Valley Battalion men played a part in the naming of the cemetery, as much as the nearby trench name?

Official records note their deaths as taking place on Monday 12 July 1915. However, the confusion of record keeping in war can be gauged from other sources. The Battalion’s Unit War Diary, a daily record of their overseas activities, names other ranks as well as officers who were killed in action in these early days. The majority of Unit War Diaries (but by no means all) only name officers who died. It indicates both Fred and Ernest’s deaths took place on 11 July 1915, the Sunday. Newspaper reports add another twist, referring to Pte Clough’s death as taking place on the Sunday (‘Huddersfield Daily Examiner’ 16 July 1915, ‘Yorkshire Post & Leeds Intelligencer’ and ‘Sheffield Daily Telegraph’, 17 July 1915 editions), and Pte Butterworth’s on the Monday (‘Huddersfield Daily Examiner’ 15 July 1915 edition).

Fred Clough was born in the Quarmby area of Huddersfield on 12 September 1890, and baptised the following month at St Stephen’s, Lindley. His parents were woollen weaver Harry Clough and his wife Sarah Jane (née Marsden). The couple’s other children included Lily (born 1888), Minnie (1892), Florence (born 1895, but died the following year), Herbert (born 1898, died 1912) and Marian (1905).

By 1911 the family were living at East Street, Lindley, with Fred now working as a small wire drawer. This occupation involved drawing metal through a series of dies or templates to produce wire. At the time of signing his 7th West Riding Regiment Territorial Force attestation papers at Milnsbridge on 3 September 1914, Fred was employed by Messrs. Joseph Sykes Bros., a wire card clothing manufacturer, in their Acre Mills at Lindley.

Territorial Forces were usually exempt from serving overseas but days later, as part of his enlistment, he agreed to serve outside the U.K. if a national emergency so required. After home training, he and the rest of the Battalion left Doncaster on 14 April 1915 bound for Folkestone. They set sail for Boulogne on board the ‘Manchester Importer’, arriving at 4.30 a.m. the following day.

Their early weeks were spent in France, before they moved to Belgium arriving at St-Jan-ter-Biezen on 30 June 1915. They, along with the rest of the 49th Division, were to take over trenches in the area north of Ypres around Boesinghe, along the Yser Canal.

The diary for July 1915 records active enemy trench mortar and regular shelling including, on 10 July, a gas shell hitting a dugout which affected 29 men from ‘C’ Company. Fortunately none of the gas-affected men were classed as ‘very bad’. These days of noted enemy activity were interspersed by others recorded as ‘quiet’, or having ‘no incident’.

Fred was killed in action on a day described in the Unit War Diary as ‘fairly quiet’. In addition to Fred, it was the day Pte Butterworth lost his life, and an officer plus two or three other ranks were wounded. The officer, 2nd Lieutenant Beckwith from Huddersfield and of the local firm Messrs. Beckwith and Co., suffered a broken leg as a result of a shrapnel injury. Fred died instantly after being shot through the head and, according to the newspapers, he was buried on Monday (12 July 1915). As mentioned earlier, Monday is the day of his death according to official records. He was 24-years-old.

At the end of July, a Memorial Service was held at the Lindley Zion United Methodist Church, which was attended by many of his former work colleagues.

Fred Clough’s Headstone at Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

Ernest Butterworth was the son of Holmfirth woollen manufacturer Alfred Henry Butterworth and his wife Alice Annie (née Hobson). He was born on 10 May 1889 and baptised the following month at the Holmfirth Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, which he remained associated with for the rest of his life. Alfred and Annie’s eldest child, Robert, was born in 1887, but he died in 1892. Their other children were Annie (born 1890), Norman (1892), Frank (1894), Marion (1897) and Herbert (1900).

In the 1911 census the family address was Park Riding, Holmfirth. Ernest followed his father into the family business of Messrs. H.S. Butterworth, at Lower Mills. He was also an active member of Holmfirth Liberal Club. Described as ‘of a homely and genial disposition’ he enlisted with the local Territorials a few days after Fred Clough, on 7 September 1914. He then followed the same path as Fred, arriving in France on 15 April 1915 and being killed in action in identical circumstances on the same day – dying instantaneously after being shot through the head. Corporal J.R. Bower and his Commanding Officer wrote to his family with details. The family also received his personal effects, which included his disc, belt, letters, pipe, photo, diary and pouch.

The Butterworth family suffered a further blow in 1917, when another son, Norman, lost his life whilst serving King and country. 2nd Lieutenant Butterworth, of the Royal Flying Corps, was killed in action on 9 May 1917 during a dogfight with German aircraft.

Headstone of Ernest Butterworth at Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

The third Huddersfield and District burial in Colne Valley Cemetery is that of Pte Herbert Lionel (Bertie) Broadbent, (7/2240), killed in action on 30 July 1915.

The ‘Huddersfield Daily Examiner’ of 3 August 1915 reported his death. It included a letter to his parents at their Woodfield Terrace, Bankfield Road home, from Captain C.H. Lockwood. He was the officer commanding Bertie’s ‘C’ Company of the 7th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment), the Company affected by the 10 July gas shelling incident. The letter read:

“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Broadbent, It is with the greatest regret that I have to inform you of the death of your son, who was killed early this morning whilst on duty. He was shot through the head by a sniper and death was instantaneous. I wish to convey to you on behalf of the officers, N.C.O.s, and men of this company our deepest sympathy in your great loss. Your son was an excellent and an efficient bomber; he was one who will not be easily replaced. It will be some consolation to you when you remember that your son died doing his duty for King and country. He is to be buried tonight by the side of some of his comrades. Lieutenant Netherwood, our bombing officer, wishes me to convey his sympathy to you.”

Bertie was just 16 years old.

He was born in Huddersfield on 5 January 1899 and baptised the following month at Christ Church, Moldgreen. His father, Arthur, was a police Detective Officer, who by the time of Bertie’s death had risen to the rank of Superintendent, and Deputy Chief Constable of Huddersfield. His mother was Sarah Ann Broadbent (née Lodge). Their seven other children were Marion Drusilla (born 1891), Harry Arlom (circa 1893), Nellie Evelyn (1894), Charles Hartley (1896), Norah Kathleen (1901) and Richard Norman (1904) and John Arthur (1906).

Bertie enlisted on 14 September 1914, with an apparent age of 19 years and three months. His 6’1″ height abetted the blind eye of the recruiting officer to sign up as many men (and boys) as possible. He was 15. What struck me was the 1911 census for the Broadbent family. It showed 12-year-old Bertie still at school. Yet a little over three years later he was a soldier.

By the time of his attestation he’d been working for around 18 months in the Lindley-based Acres Mills wire drawing department of Messrs. Joseph Sykes Bros., Ltd. This was the same firm which employed Fred Clough. He was one of a number of youths apprenticed with the firm who enlisted at the same time. Like Fred and Ernest, Bertie signed the Territorial Force forms committing him to four years U.K. service, then signed the waiver form allowing overseas posting.

After training, initially in the Colne Valley, then Riby in Lincolnshire, and finally Doncaster, on 14 April 1915 he left for France with the rest of his Company.

Again the Unit War Diary described the day on which Bertie died as ‘quiet’. In addition to his death, 30 July 1915 saw only one other rank wounded.

Herbert Lionel (Bertie) Broadbent’s Headstone at Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

Colne Valley cemetery is full of headstones with poignant inscriptions. I wish I had time to research all the men buried there. For instance one man is 38-year-old Sedbergh-born John Middleton Morphet of the 1/6th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment). The Lance Corporal was killed in action on 22 August 1915. In civilian life he had a multi-faceted sporting career. The school attendance officer, who latterly lived in Settle, included playing cricket for Hawes and Settle, and football for Burnley, Lincoln City and Aston Villa amongst his sporting achievements.

Headstone of Lance Corporal John Middleton Morphet, Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

I am so glad I found this cemetery. It is off the beaten track and the surroundings are slightly off-putting. It is near an industrial estate. The sound of bird scaring shots cracked thorough the air at regular intervals. It also appears to be located next to a composting area, with mounds of steaming, stinking compost clearly visible on the first day we visited. These are seen in the photograph below. I returned the following day, and the aroma was not quite so pungent. And perhaps in summer the tree foliage will blot out the view of these mini mountains.

Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

But it is a cemetery which the CWGC, supported by Province of West Flanders, spent a great deal of money, time and effort restoring in 2014. The industrialisation of the surrounding area resulted in the cemetery being the lowest point in the area and consequently affected by serious, regular flooding. The restoration work included raising the ground level by some 1.2 metres and installing pumping. Thankfully, it seems to have worked. And, as the headstone of Corporal G.W. Lloyd of The Rifle Brigade indicates, in another take on Rupert Brooke’s poem “This Spot is Forever England’s

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Headstone of Corporal G.W. Lloyd, The Rifle Brigade, at Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

UPATE
Thanks to David for sending me some photographs of Colne Valley Cemetery taken in June 2018. The tree cover has indeed worked wonders and it looks absolutely beautiful.

Sources:

  • Walking Ypres’ – Paul Reed
  • Trench Map 1:10000 28NW2 – NoEd – 210715 – St Julien – S
  • Trench Map 1:10000 28NW2 – Edn 6A – Pub July 1917 – Trenches corrected to 30 June 1917
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission Website – https://www.cwgc.org/
  • 1891-1911 Censuses – various for each family, via Ancestry and FindMyPast websites
  • GRO Indexes for birth registration of various children, via GRO website
  • Soldiers’ Documents, Fist World War Burnt Documents for Fred Clough, Ernest Butterworth and Herbert Lionel Broadbent – The National Archives, TNA Ref WO 363, via FindMyPast
  • Baptism Register for Lindley St Stephen’s – Fred Clough’s baptism,via Ancestry’s West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910. Origianals at West Yorkshire Archives Ref WDP 129/1/1/1
  • Baptism Register for the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Holmfirth Circuit for Ernest Butterworth’s baptism, via Ancestry’s West Yorkshire Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985. Originals at West Yorkshire Archives Ref C73/11/1
  • Baptism Register for Christ Church Moldgreen – Herbert Lionel Broadbent’s baptism, via Ancestry’s West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910. Originals at West Yorkshire Archives Ref WDP 206/1/1/1
  • ‘Huddersfield’s Roll of Honour 1914-1922’ – J Margaret Stansfield, Edited by Reverend Paul Wilcock BEM
  • Unit War Diary for the 1/7th Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) – The National Archives, TNA Ref WO 95/2802/1 – via Ancestry
  • Huddersfield Daily Examiner’ – 15 July 1915, 16 July 1915, 28 July 1915 and 3 August 1915, via FindMyPast
  • Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer’ – 17 July 1915 and 4 August 1915, via FindMyPast
  • Leeds Mercury’ – 4 August 1915, via FindMyPast
  • Sheffield Daily Telegraph’ – 17 July 1915, via FindMyPast
  • Craven’s Part in the Great War Website – John Middleton Morphet, http://www.cpgw.org.uk/soldier-records/john-middleton-morphet/
  • Family Marks the Centenary of the Death of one of Craven’ Greatest Sportsmen’ by Lindsey Moore, 27 August 2015 – Craven Herald Website Article http://www.cravenherald.co.uk/NEWS/13630003.Family_marks_the_centenary_of_the_death_of_one_of_Craven_s_greatest_sportsmen/

Z Day Minus 6 Months: Book Update

This is the latest update about progress on my Great War Rugby League book. And it is positive. The admin logjam of January has been broken. There are still issues, but not on last month’s scale.

As January drew to a close, I called a temporary halt on player research. Instead, as planned, during February I once more concentrated on a mixture of family history research for others and Pharos Advanced Certificate coursework. I still have about 15 men left to research for the book. This work is now scheduled for late March/early April.

That’s not to say my book work was shelved entirely. February included three notable book-related pieces of work.

The major event was a mid-month visit to London, which included time at The National Archives. As you can see from the picture, on my days there I didn’t leave until late. But even here, my visit was a combination of book research, coursework and research for others. Chris accompanied me, and he focused on the officers’ records. I chipped in as and when required. And yes, the list was drawn up in advance and the appropriate files pre-ordered.

I was also keen to look at the records associated with the HMS Osmanieh, torpedoed off Alexandria on 31 December 1917, with in the loss of almost 200 troops, sailors and nurses. One of those to loose his life was a player we are researching.

I’ve also been busy helping source photographs. I’ve had a lovely response from families linked with the men. I’ve also had fantastic help from those with no personal connection, but who are simply keen to ensure those men whose lives were cut so tragically short a century ago are still remembered today.

The final notable event was a talk at the Huddersfield RL Heritage Group to gauge what people felt about the direction we were taking. The response was extremely positive and confirmed we were doing the right thing in embarking on this project.