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Saturday, 4 January 2014

52 Ancestors: 1 - My Grandmother Alice English

Alice English - could this be a wedding photo,
given she is wearing a corsage?
52ancestorsAmy at No Story Too Small has come up with a new challenge for 2014 - to write a post  each week on a specific ancestor.  

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 early life, 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 - a classic family history mistake.  

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 Parish Church in 1904 (I have her prayer book from that occasion). 

Alice became known locally as an unofficial midwife and the doctor wanted her to train professionally, but this was not possible with her family commitments. 

My starting point for research was the marriage certificate -  she married my grandfather William Danson in April 1907, at St. Chad's Church, Poulton  when Alice was 22.  Her father's name was given as Henry, a painter (deceased), plus I was always told we shared the same birthday - September 23rd.  She died in 1945 so I never knew her.   Her age on the  death certificate confirms her year of birth as 1884   - and that is all I know.   

William and Alice
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 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. However I am still no further forward with  the Registrar Service at Bolton finding no such record. The Improved search facility for BMD and parochial records online  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!    I also have had no luck in tracing  a record for a Henry English who married or died in Bolton.    

Sadly Alice developed cataracts and became blind - a condition which now with modern medicine can be treated so easily.  

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.  Of course this does rely on the  informant of a death knowing the facts.

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

Alice with her three daughters - Peggy, Edith and Kathleen, c.1940.

William and Alice in 1938 at my parent's wedding

 This item is based on an earlier posting of November 2010.

Copyright © 2014 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved


  1. Couldn't log onto your Sepia Saturday post today (Jan 4) but am glad to have read this ancestor's post. I also am doing an ancestor a week for the next year.

  2. Gee, I do hope you can eventually track down more information, or birth record of some kind. She appears to be such a lovely, and giving woman. That first photo is exceptionally nice too. I wish you much luck, and perhaps someone here may have an idea where else you could look.

  3. Just to see what my favorite source could find, here is a link to what showed for Alice (I like to put a few years before and after when doing the birthday) sometimes they are listed a year off or so. It did bring up the marriage to William Danson too! It's the familysearch.org I use. this link is for Alice https://familysearch.org/search/record/results#count=50&query=%2Bgivenname%3Aalice~%20%2Bsurname%3Aenglish~%20%2Bbirth_place%3ABolton~%20%2Bbirth_year%3A1880-1886~%20%2Bfather_givenname%3Ahenry~

    1. Very many thanks, Karen, for taking the time and trouble to find this reference. I must admit it is sometime since I used Family Search and the web site has changed quite a bit since then. I agree there are some possibilities in the Alice English entries but so far nothing has proved to be my grandmother. I shall keep persevering! .

  4. I also have the English surname with very limited information. My English ancestor came from Ireland. I have a Brigid English b 1848 in Waterford. This prompt 52 weeks = 52 ancestors is leading to many interesting posts.

  5. You have such wonderful photos Susan! Yes Ithink iit's possible that is her wedding photo with the corsage. Where to look? I can't escape the feeling that they were being deliberately vague. Was she illegitimate? Was Henry a red herring? Doesn't help you I know but....confounded English certificates!


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