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Saturday, 19 March 2011

A Brick Wall at Alice English - Fearless Females: 20

Alice English - could this be a wedding photo,
given she is wearing a corsage?
How far back have you got?" is a standard question for family historians, and I am sorry to admit that the search for my maternal grandmother Alice English (1884-1945)  quickly hit the proverbial brick wall.

 My mother and aunt were surprisingly reticent about her, though her photograph (right) ) was on display in
both homes.  I failed to ask the right questions at the right time, and ended up with vague and conflicting information.  Was she born in Manchester or Bolton?  There were stories that her mother had been a matron, with some Irish connections;  that Alice was orphaned and her uncle went off to America with her money and never called on her to join him, as arranged. 

Alice went to Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire as nursemaid to the Potts family, prominent local Methodists and was confirmed at St. Chad's Church in 1904 (I have her prayer book from that occasion).  She became known locally as an unofficial midwife and the doctor wanted her to train but this was not possible.

I did know (from the marriage certificate) that she married my grandfather William Danson in April 1907, at St. Chad's Church when Alice was 22 and her father's name was given as Henry, a painter (deceased), plus I was always told we shared the same birthday - September 23rd.  The certificate of her death in 1945 confirms her year of birth and that is it! 

Despite many years of hunting and using a professional researcher,  I have been unable to trace a birth certificate for Alice to find out the name of her mother.  I cannot link an Alice born in Lancashire 23rd September 1884 with a father Henry, a painter, and have gone down several fruitless paths.  

Nor could I trace Alice in the 1891 census when she would have been 6 years old.  The 1901 census did not move things forward  - there was an Alice English, born Bolton aged 17, so born c.1884   living-in domestic servants at  Stockport.  This could well be my grandmother, but does not help with any more information on her family.  

So I was eagerly awaiting the early release of the 1911 census to find the record for the married Alice.  It  confirmed that Alice's birthplace was in fact Bolton. However I am still no further forward.  The Improved search facility  for parochial records on http://www.findmypast.co.uk/ came up with a Harriet Alice English born Bolton in 1884 - my hopes rose, but her father turned out to be James, a weaver. So more frustration!

Does anyone have any ideas how to break through this brick wall?  I am unsure where to turn to next  - perhaps trying to trace a marriage for a Henry English?

Note:  if Alice had married and died in Scotland, there wouldn't be this problem.  Scottish certificates were introduced in 1855, later than England (1837) but they are much more informative, notably the fact that both marriage and death certificates give the names of both parents, including the maiden name of the mother - a huge advantage for Scottish researchers.
William and Alice

Alice with her children
Edith, Kathleen, Harry and baby Billy.  c.1916
Most likely taken before William went off to war.


This item is based on an earlier  posting of  November 2010 and repeated here  in honour of National Women's History Month in the USA.  Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist  blog presents Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts for March:  March 20th - Is there a female ancestor who is your brick wall?


  1. Two thoughts for you about Alice English, but you have probably already checked them out.

    Firstly, I presume she is not the Alice English whose birth was registered in Q3 1884 in Pocklington Registration District?

    Secondly who were the witnesses at the marriage, anyone from the English side of the family.

    Good luck

  2. Thanks, John, for the suggestions. I will follow up the Pocklington lead. Unfortunately the witnesses to the marriage were not relatives, but family friends, according to my mother and they later became godparents to the children.


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