‘Too young to cross the road, we were deported to the other side of the world to cold, cruel institutions. We were robbed of our identities, our dignity and our families. Our parents lost their children.’
International Association of Former Child Migrants and Their Families
A boy ploughing at Dr. Barnardo's Industrial Farm, Russell, Manitoba, c. 1900. CC Source: www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/022/f1/a117285.jpg
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, around 80,000 children were sent abroad to Canada to work as labourers or domestic servants. They were children of poor families, some were orphans, but by no means all, most under the age of 14.
They were sent by various charitable organisations including Thomas Barnado’s, keen to ‘solve’ the problem of pauper children in Britain without necessarily implementing social change back home. Continue reading »
The approximate position of ‘C’ Company, 2/18 London Regiment on 1-2 May 1918. Detail from a sketch map within the unit war diary. (Reference: WO 95/4670)
Frederick William Beament, my great grandmother’s younger brother, fought in the British Army during the First World War. He died on 2 May 1918, aged just 21.
Frederick in his army uniform, with his mother, Elizabeth. (Private collection)
In researching this blog post for our My Tommy’s War series, I had two major advantages. Firstly, I already knew some information about Frederick. Much of this knowledge had been passed down through successive generations of the family and other details had been researched by relatives on my father’s side more recently. Secondly, I already knew about some sources at The National Archives that would be likely to help me find out more about Frederick, because advising people about records held here is part of my job.
Who was Frederick?
Frederick was born on 23 June 1896 in Holborn, in central London, the youngest of at least eight children. His father, George, died when he was very young and his widowed mother, Elizabeth, brought up the younger children alone. Like his father and many of his siblings, Frederick started work in the printing industry when he left school. In the 1911 census, when he was 14 years old, his occupation is stated as ‘reading boy’ for a printing firm.
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I was quite pleased when I was given the opportunity to contribute a post to the ‘My Tommy’s War’ series as it gave me a a great excuse to resume some research my family started a decade ago.
Frederick W. King and family c. 1918 (from private family collection)
I’m not sure when I first found out that my Great Granddad King, my mum’s paternal grandfather, was killed in the First World War. It’s one of those things that it feels like I’ve always known. I remember taking his medals in to primary school to show the class when we were studying the world wars. As a child I felt sad that my lovely grandad, who was just six years old when his father died, had never really known his father. Some years later my mum showed me a precious album of photographs of the King side of the family which featured the photograph on the left. It shows my great grandparents with their three sons. My granddad, the youngest, is on the right. We think it was taken shortly before great-granddad went overseas and I think you can see the fear and worry in their faces. My mum had learned some details of her granddad’s story from her grandmother. She knew that before the war he worked as a bus conductor and was involved with the Labour Party. She also knew that he was injured while serving abroad and that her grandmother had visited him in hospital in the UK before he died. We were keen to try and find out more. This is the story of how we, two amateur family historians, researched our Tommy’s war.
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Today it’s the turn of the small British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar to get the ‘through a lens’ treatment. If you’ve missed previous editions, The National Archives has been gradually releasing the contents of the Colonial Office Library’s photographic collection onto Flickr over the past two years. Our hope is that the people living there today will be able to tell us a bit more about the pictures and what they depict.
Almost 200 photos of Gibraltar, from the 19th century to the middle of the 20th, have gone online today, including rare colour photographs from the turn of the century.
Panoramic View of the Rock from the Commercial Mole (top), Gibraltar 1904 (catalogue ref: CO 1069/710)
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I was discussing the First World War with a friend and we were talking about what was important to us personally about the upcoming centenary. We agreed that, with so few people from the period still with us, that some stories may be lost forever. This struck a chord with me as I prepared to write my blog post.
Last year, I inherited the war medals of a Mr Brown, the father of my great-aunt Betty’s best friend, Jenny. Until I started my research all I knew about Mr Brown was his surname so I was curious to know more about the man whose medals I now owned. Mr Brown died in 1967 and his daughter Jenny died in 2002, leaving behind notes on her own research into her family history. Mr. Brown has no living descendants – his story could be lost – and I decided that this blog would be a good place to celebrate his life.
I’ve been researching Mr Brown for only a short while so I know there is still a lot more for me to discover, but I’d like to take this opportunity to share his story so far.
A young Mr Brown (far left) There is no information on the back of the photo but we assume that he is with his father, mother, sisters Jean and Peggy and older brother Adam.
Joseph Vincent Willie Brown was born on 15 March 1898 in San Vicente, Torello, Barcelona. He was the son of Adam Brown and Jeanie Paton who were originally from Paisley, Scotland. His father was employed by J&P Coats, the Paisley thread manufacturers who had factories worldwide. Mr Brown’s birth certificate gives his father’s occupation as a dyer and bleacher but, according to notes made by Jenny, he was a manager in the Torello factory.
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Researchers spend a lot of time looking for documents. In fact, they may spend more time on this than on reading what they have found. It took me more than 20 years to find my great-grandfather’s birth certificate, but only a few minutes to read it once I had tracked it down. Not that I spent every waking minute of those 20 years in hot pursuit, but I did devote many hours to the problem during that time. It took quite a bit of creative thinking and the use of some less than obvious record sources to get there, but I made it in the end, and felt very pleased with myself as a result. The fact that the answer to one question presented me with another bigger, and so far unresolved, problem is neither here nor there.
Many kinds of research lend themselves to the use of standard sources which provide the essential information in most cases. Genealogists in particular use various birth, marriage and death records, census returns and probate records to work their way back through the generations. This works fairly well much of the time, but when you can’t find the marriage or the census entry you want then you become stuck. But when the direct approach doesn’t work there may be another way. Think about it; when you say that you need to find a death certificate, or a census entry, what you really mean is that you need the information that you would expect to find in that document, rather than the piece of paper itself. So if your search is unsuccessful, think about the specific information you want, and then consider whether you might be able to find it from another source. Sometimes you will find that there is more information in the alternative source than you would have found in your first choice.
PCC Will of Colin McKenzie 1808, en route from Jamaica to England
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My introduction to First World War research didn’t initially come through looking into my own family. One of my hobbies is bellringing: like so many clubs and social groups the Central Council for Church Bell Ringers created its own roll of honour after the First World War. Much work has been done in recent years to link the names on the roll with Commonwealth War Grave Commission records, but some names were proving stubborn, and there didn’t seem to be any obvious candidate. I realised that I was in a position to help since I could easily look at the available records.
It soon became clear that at least some of the men had been overlooked at the time, their health had broken under the strain of army service and had been discharged as a result, and subsequently died from the same condition. While they qualify for recognition under the terms of CWGC’s royal charter, their names had never been put forward for inclusion on the debt of honour register. I wrote up as much detail as I could find on these men on our old Your Archives wiki (see for example Gilbert Victor Drew) and with help from members of the Great War Forum and the In From the Cold Project I was able to get a few men added to the CWGC register.
Fred Holbrook (from the family photo album)
So, having already honed my research skills to some extent, I then received an email via my Dad from his cousin Jane who had been working on the family history. In particular she was looking for help with her great-uncle (my great-great-uncle), Frederick John Holbrook. She had already found his entry in the CWGC database and his medal index card (WO 372/9/241037). This showed that he had served in 2nd Battalion, Welsh Regiment as Private 30649.
They also reveal one slight discrepancy, with CWGC showing his date of death as 26 July 1916 and the medal card as 23 July. Another discrepancy is that CWGC record his age as 19, but Births, Marriages and Deaths records show that he was born on 5 May 1898, meaning he was just 18 when he died: and since the medal card also shows that he was posted to France on 12 May 1915 he must have been underage when he joined up. Certainly he looks very young in the surviving photo of him, and rather swamped by his uniform.
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My First World War Tommy was not in the army, or any of the armed services, but he was called Tommy, and he died for his country. His name was Thomas Cross, and I know a great deal about his death, but very little about his life, except that he was my great-great grandfather. He has no birth certificate, because he was born in Ireland before the start of civil registration there, and although the birth certificates of his children give the date and place of his marriage to my great-great-grandmother, there is no trace of that in Irish civil registration either. He only appears in one census, 1911, because he was a merchant seaman, and was away at sea for all the others.
Medal card BT 351/1
Like many other merchant seamen he was caught up in the war, and when he died in 1917 he was around 52 years old, older than most men in the fighting forces. His ship, the Ermine, had been commandeered by the Royal Navy as a Fleet Messenger, and sank in August 1917. Continue reading »
All family historians use the census, and most of us find most of what we want, most of the time. This is of course due to the fact that every census for England and Wales has been indexed; sometimes you even have a number of versions to choose from, so if you don’t find a person on one website, you might find them on another. Where the handwriting is hard to read, it all comes down to interpretation.
But sometimes, despite your best efforts, a person or a family stubbornly refuses to be found. You might even have tried searching for them ‘the old-fashioned way’. That is, searching by address, assuming you have some indication of where they were living at the time of the census, and that they either lived in a village or there is a street index for their town. That was the usual way of finding someone in the census until just over a decade ago.
If you have exhausted all the possibilities of using name indexes, including possible mis-spellings and mis-transcriptions, you are left with a dwindling number of possibilities, which fall into three catagories:
- They are there, you just can’t see them
- They are missing from the census altogether
- They are, or rather were, in the census but in a part of it that has since gone missing Continue reading »
12th (Prince of Wales's) Lancers Group - Photograph from private collection
At The National Archives we are busy planning our programme of activities to commemorate the centenary of the First World War in 2014.
With our unique and extensive collection of First World War records, from the official unit war diaries to medal cards and records of the men and women who served, we hold an invaluable resource for genealogists, historians, scholars and anyone interested in researching the history of this conflict or the people involved.
In this blog series, we will follow a group of volunteers from our staff as they embark on a voyage of discovery to trace their First World War ancestors using records held by The National Archives. At regular intervals over the next two years, each will write a blog to explain what records they have consulted, what they found about their ancestor and how they intend to continue their research in this and other archives. They will also share hints and tips to help others conduct their own research.
We hope you will come with us on the journey to discover our ancestors. With the approaching centenary, at no time has it been more fitting to discover the people behind those old photographs and medals.
As the person overseeing this series, I thought it only fair to be the first to post. Read on to see what I found out about my Tommy…
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