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Friday, 17 June 2016

Mystery Monday - Who was Alice English - My Mysterious Grandmother?

William and Alice c.1916 
My grandparents  
How far back have you got?" is a standard question for family historians, and I am sorry to admit that the search for the early life of  my maternal grandmother Alice English (1884-1945) quickly hit the proverbial brick wall - as told in previous blog posts. 

Alice died when I was a baby, and my mother and aunt were surprisingly reticent about her early life.  I failed to ask the right questions at the right time, sensed a reluctance to talk about her and I ended up with vague and conflicting information - a classic family history mistake.  It did occur to me that she might well have been illegitimate, but then  her father's name of Henry was given on her marriage certificate.  Was this a fabrication?

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 motherQueries on message boards and on my blog failed to elicit any response, so  I recently decided  that it was time to review my research. 

  • My starting point for research was the marriage certificate - Alice married my grandfather William Danson in April 1907, at St. Chad's Church, Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire,   when Alice was 22.  Her father's name was given as Henry, a painter (deceased).
  •  I was always told Alice and I  shared the same birthday - September 23rd. 
  • The family story was that Alice  had moved to Poulton (from Bolton, or was it Manchester?)   as a nursemaid to the Potts family - prominent Methodists whose photographs featured in books on old Poulton, sitting on committees, opening  fetes etc.
  • Alice was confirmed at St. Chad's Church in 1904 - I have the prayer book presented to her on that occasion.
  • Alice  died in 1945 so I never knew her.   Her age of 60  on the  death certificate confirms her year of birth as 1884. 
  • A long ago visit  to the then St. Catherine's House, London  failed to find a birth certificate with these details.

  • Early census returns proved no help - I could  not trace her in 1891. In 1901  there was an Alice A. 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.

  • I had to wait patiently for the release of the 1911 census to  find her entry  under her married name of Danson, with  her birthplace given as Bolton. Yet even that did not take me further forward as Bolton Registrar had no record of an Alice English with the details I had.
  • The Improved search facility for BMD and parochial records online  came up with a number of possibilities but none that tied in with my limited information. So more frustration!    I also have had no luck in tracing  a record for her father Henry English with very little to go on.  

  • A further wait for the release of the 1939 National Register where I was pleased to find that Alice's birthday of 23rd September 1884 was confirmed,  but I had hoped for more details on her birthplace and possibly parents - but these did not feature.
I recently put a query on CuriousFox, the village by village contact site for anyone researching family history, genealogy and local history in the UK and Ireland.  The immediate response was gratifying in number, but not particularly helpful,  apart from one respondent who took on board my query with great enthusiasm and pointed me in certain directions I had not considered.   
  • Look at  Alice's address on her marriage certificate?:   In 1907 she was at  7 Higher Green, Poulton which  appeared to be in a row of cottage,  with no. 7 in 1901 the home of of William Wigan a 36 year old gas stoker with a wife and 6 children - so a crowded household.  Ten years on in the 1911 census,  there was no entry for no. 7. So this approach gave no clues. 
  • Who were Alice's neighbours in 1911?   One interesting factor was her next door neighbour - a Mrs Elizabeth Alice Ronson, also born in Bolton (37 miles away)  and her husband was a house painter (as supposedy Alice's father).    Intriguing!  But no family connection could be found and there was only an 11 year age difference between Elizabeth and Alice.
  • Who was Alice Ann Walch?   She doesn't turn up under that name on any censuses, marriage or death register.

  • Who was her mother? A likely suspect was identified as a Mary Jane Walch who was 19 years old in the 1881 census, a cotton spinner living in Bolton as a boarder with her 6 months old baby Thomas. They were staying with the Lowe family and interestingly there was a daughter Alice A. Lowe aged 5 years old, so born 1876. But Mary cannot be traced thereafter.

    In 1891 Alice Lowe was 15 years old with a large number of lodgers in the household including a William Walch, born Ireland. The plot thickens! Neither this Alice nor William could be identified in the 1901 census.
Confused?  So am I. 

I was very grateful for the way my Curious Fox respondent  had taken up my query   She suggested that perhaps this Mary Walsh had another baby Alice who at some point changed her name from Walch, corrupted to Welsh -
changed to English?

 It is an interesting theory, but I am sceptical.  What do you think?     

So the early life of my grandmother Alice English remains a mystery 
 and I am no nearer climbing over that brick wall!  

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

Mysterious Monday is one of many  daily prompts from www.geneabloggers.com 
 to encourage bloggers to record their family history,



  1. So if I understand the earliest confirmed date was 1904, at the church . Did the church had a magazine or any other records eg my gt gt aunts contributed to a fund. Or a communicants roll which may mention where she came from , would family be on the roll.Where were the Potts family in 1901 .if they were prominent methodists did they moved around was young Alice aged 17 with them.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment . I had not thought of the church magazine angle, so must follow that up. I have had no success in tracing information on the Potts family, who were not in Poulton in either the 1901 or 1911 census, but there again local church records may help to learn where they came from and went to .

  2. I would be skeptical too. But you are really looking and I hope something turns up. Sorry I have no suggestions.

  3. Your post made me nash my teeth at all the questions I left unasked -- and now no one to ask. However, you have spurred me on to renewing my quest of the Burn(s)- Joseph and Mary. I do have a few more names to add to the hopper. Thanks for the post and the nudge.

    1. Many thanks, Joan, for your comment, and I am pleased that my post inspired you to reviewing your own research into elusive ancestors.

  4. I don't blame you for being confused...I am too :)

    It seems there may have been name changes along the way.

    A couple of thoughts:
    Have you tried actual registers or microfilms for the locations mentioned in other census years?

    Can you find Thomas Walch aged 10-11?

    Is there a death for Alice born 1876 which could mean another baby called Alice?

    How about Walch or Lowe in Bolton?

    You've probably thought of all these options but just in case. Perhaps she was deliberately hiding the trail.

    1. Thank you for your pointers, Pauleen - I had not looked for the death of an Alice Ann Lowe, born 1876. So far I have been unable to make much progress in tracing Thomas Walch. Unfortunately there seems to be lot of people with the Walch surname in that part of Lancashire. It is hard not to think, as you said, that there was a deliberate cover up for some reason. Yet all the later recollections of the family suggest that Alice was a woman of integrity well respected in the community. Her early life remains a mystery!

  5. Further - 20 seems quite old to me to be confirmed but you will know if that's right or not. Perhaps she fudged her age if not her DOB.

  6. Thank you, Pauleen, for your thoughtful comments. Alice was confirmed in the Church of England (not the Roman Catholic Church), so her age for the ceremony was not unusual. I have a similar confirmation photograph of a similar date of my great uncle's fiancé who looks about the same age.

  7. I enjoyed the puzzle but have not much to suggest other than DNA. I am starting to write up my DNA discoveries and have made connections which have helped with the family history. Regards Anne


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