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Thursday, 1 December 2011

Trade an Ancestor Event - can anyone surmount my "brick wall"?

Why not trade an ancestor? Do you have an ancestor who is a challenge to research? Would you like to hand him or her off to another genealogist for a couple weeks and let someone else worry about it?
Amy at http://wetree.blogspot.com/ posted this question,   so here is my contribution. 

Alice English - could this be a wedding photo,
given she is wearing a corsage?
How far back have you got?" This 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 early life.  I failed to ask the right questions at the right time, and ended up with vague, but colourful,  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 planned 

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 English 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.

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.

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.

Copyright © 2011 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved


  1. Thanks for the mention. I wish I could be of more help to you but this is out of my area of expertise. I hope you get some answers and maybe even an offer to trade ancestors for a bit. :)

  2. Many thanks, Amy - yes I should have offered, in my original comment, to help anyone out there wanting to trade/trace a Scottish ancestor, and I will do my best to help. See my Page on Looks Ups.

  3. I have to wonder if she was being deliberately obscure Sue. Was she maybe illegitimate and her father's name Henry but not surname English? It's odd that she's not in early census records either.
    Is Alice a sufficiently different name to search for any girl named Alice born in 1884 even if you have to search quarter by quarter?
    Aussie certs are even better than Scottish ones ( which I love) so I find those English ones make me want o scream in frustration.


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