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Thursday, 13 September 2018

My Maternal (and Mysterious) Grandmother: 52 Ancestors

MWith this week's "52 Ancestors" prompt, we are asked to look at an ancestor born closest to our birthday. 

share my birthday of September 23rd with my maternal  (and mysterious) grandmother, Alice Danson, nee English (1884-1945). 


This is one of the few photographs of Alice, with copies held by different members of the family.  As she is wearing a corsage, could this have been taken on her wedding day?  Again a question I should have asked my mother.

 "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  quickly hit the proverbial brick.

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, Facebook pages,  and on my blog have failed to elicit any positive responses, so  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).
      Alice and William, c.1916
  •  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 dated 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 that matched. 
  • 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.  The only Henry and Alice found in the census returns lived in Kent, and I traced this Alice's marriage - so no joy there. 

  • 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 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  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.
  • The birth register for Bolton in late 1884 identified four births with the Christian names  of Alice Ann.  Research discounted three, leaving Alice Anne Walch
  • 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?   
More recently I placed a query on the very helpful Facebook page of Genealogy Addicts UK & Worldwide Research Group - again a good response in terms of the interest shown in the mystery,  but nothing positive emerged.  

I later turned to the background of Alice's employers in Poulton - the Potts family. In 1901 they were living in Wales, but their children were born and baptised at the Wesleyan Methodist Church  in Bolton.   So an interesting connection.


Among the family papers was this receipt  paid by Alice on February 26th 1907 for:
Two yards of bodice lining, hooks, silk sundries and bodice making.

Was this her wedding outfit?  It surely must have had sentimental value for it to be kept, and says something about Alie ?  

Whatever the mystery about her past, the impression I gained from my Danson relatives was  of a loving,  loved wife and mother, and a respected member of the Poulton community.  She became known locally as an official midwife and her doctor wanted her to train professionally, but this was not possible.  

Alice with her family, Edith, Kathleen (my mogther), Harry and baby Billy

, 1916.

So my brick wall seems unsurmountable.  Perhaps my mother and aunt were not forthcoming about their mother's past because they just did not know, or were embarrassed at what they found.  This was an era when secrets were "best kept to ourselves". 

 Perhpas it is time to leave my brick wall to stand. 

Based and updated from a post first published in 2012. 


52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Wedding Flower Fashions : Sepia Saturday


"A Weddmg on the Steps" is the title of this week's prompt photograph from Sepia Saturdyay. Who doesn't like a wedding?  so below are photographs from my family collection (1865-1971), with the focus on Fashion in Flowers.

The oldest photograph in my family collection.  My cousin's  great grandmother was Isabel Edward of Banchory, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.  Her sister Jessie married William Dower and they are pictured here with their respective parents.  William   was appointed by the London Missionary Society as a Wesleyan Missionary in South Africa and he and his new wife Jesse sailed  there  shortly after their wedding.   In March 1870, William and Jesse set out on an ox wagon journey to East Griqualand and the town of  Kokstad, where he was asked to take on the role of pastor.  The original of this photograph is in the Kokstad Museum. 

Unless the bride came from a wealthy family, it was generally not the custom to  have a special dress for the wedding, but to wear  the finest outfit the bride owned.  Was the fact Jessie was marrying a Presbyterian minister a factor in the lack of ostentation - not even a small posy?  

An elegant portrait of Sarah Alice Oldham on her wedding to George Butler in Blackpool, Lancashire  and what a showy outfit, magnificently decorated large hat, and a large posy set off by  long broad ribbons.     Sarah came from a family of carters and coal-men down three generations and George also worked in the business. 

Another Oldham wedding, but this time in New Zealand as James William Oldham married Edith Keymer.  I do like the simple classic lines of Edith's dress, but bouquets were growing even longer  - here almost floor-length. 

James'  parents Alfred and Sarah Oldham emigrated to  New Zealand in 1906, where they i ran a wholesale tobacconists and stationery business on Karangahape Road,  Auckland Following James death the family moved to Sydney Australia where his descendants still live today. 

The wedding of Florence Adelaide Mason to Charles Urstadt in New Jersey, USA.  
The bride  is wearing  such a distinctive  headdress that I wondered if it had any links to Charles' German background.  And again what a large beribboned  bouquet.

Florence (1898-1963)  was the eleventh  child of James Mason and Alice Rawcliffe - my great grandmother's sister.  They emigrated, with six children  from Fleetwood,   Lancashire to New York City  in 1888, where they had a further five children, before settling in Jamesburg, Middlesex, New Jersey. I am still in touch with Florence's descendants. 


Beatrice Oldham (sister of Sarah in the second photograph)  married Jack Clarke in 1919 in Blackpool, Lancashire.   I feel the significance of the date after the First World War is not lost in this photograph where there is a air of informality (shorter skirt, trilby hat etc.), compared with the opulence of Sarah's dress above - and much more natural looking flowers.


"Gowned in delphinium blue" was the description of this dress worn by my  mother's cousin Annie Danson,  who married Harry Ditchfield in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire with the local newspaper giving a fulsome account of the dress. "The sleeveless bodice being plain, while the circular skirt was side slashed and bordered all round with deep silver lace. Her hat was ruched georgette to tone and she wore silver shoes and hose to tone. Her bouquet was of pale pink chrysanthemums." A pity we don't have a colour photograph!

The wedding of my uncle Fred to Frances Green in Leicester in the English Midlands.  My father is the rather stern looking man on the far left, carrying the trilby (or panama?) hat, with,  I think,  his brother Charles behind him.  My grandmother is in the cloche hat next to the bridegroom and unfortunately I have been unable  to identify my grandfather - he could be the man hidden at the back. Fred's sister could well be one of the bridesmaids and I have no idea who the young boy is.  I presume the older couple on the right of the photograph are the bride's parents.   This is one of very few  photographs  I have of  the Weston family, prior to my parent's own marriage. 

The wedding of Albert Leslie Williams and Hilda Florence Coombs in London, the parents of my cousin's wife.  Blooms are all around with buttonholes for the men, and large showy bouquets for the adult  bridesmaids, to rival that  held by the bride.  

The wedding of Henry Robinson and Florence Riddell in Blackpool Lancashir,  with Elsie Oldham (niece of Sarah and Beatrice above)  the second figure on the left - I presume as chief bridesmaid.   I feel rather sorrow for the girl on the right on  her own,looking rather spare - with a much smaller  bouquet, 
A low key April wedding for my parents John Weston and Kathleen Danson  at St. Chad's Church, Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire. Flower wise, corsages were the order of the day, 

Wartime simplicity was the look for the wedding of my uncle Bill Danson and his wife Louisa Cerone who I always knew as Auntie Lou, and  who had an Italian  background.


A magnificent array of dresses and flowers  for the  wartime  wedding in New Jersey of Ruth A. Urtstadt  and Edward J. LInke -  the parents of my American third cousin Bonny - descendants from my Lancashire Rawcliffe family.  I doubt if you would see anything like this in Britain then,  when clothing was rationed. 

 A wintry austerity Britain in December 1946 when my uncle Charles Weston married his bride Vera.  I am the tiny shivering bridesmaid, dressed in dusky pink, and holding a big posy, surrounded by what I always thought was a doily more often seen on a cake plate.   Despite the weather this was  happy day, as Charles had returned home after being a Japanese P.O.W.


Postwar simplicity for my aunt Peggy Danson and her husband Harold Constable, always known as Con. They met during the war when Peggy was working on the barrage balloons in Hull and emigrated after their wedding to Australia. 

And Finally:  

  • My own wedding , with  yellow, cream and white  flowers for my small bouquet - those large style bunches of flowers were long out of fashion.
    Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity
     to share their family history through photographs.

    Click HERE for other contributions on this week's  theme. 


Wednesday, 5 September 2018

On the Job - A Look at Occupational Records: 52 Ancestors - Wk. 36

Work was a major part of our ancestors' lives, with long hours the norm.  So the more we can find out about their working life, the greater the rounded picture we bring to a family  history.   

If you are lucky, you may find records relating to an ancestor's working life in your local archive centre, though a lot does depend on the particular type of employment.  Here are some examples of sources  I have come across in the course of my research in the north of England and Scotland.  

    Mill Workers at Rhymer's Mill. Earlston, Berwickshire - early 1900's 
Photograph: Courtesy of the Auld Earlston Group
ARCHITECTS - A Dictionary of Scottish Architects is  a database providing detailed biographical information and job lists for all architects known to have worked in Scotland during the period 1840-1980, whether as principals, assistants or apprentices.  A "must consul" item if this is your ancestor's background.

Being a  COUNCILLOR   might seem rather  a dull local government role,  but the Burgh and County Council  Minute Books, which go back to the mid 17th century,  give a full description of local affairs and council discussions and can reveal interesting sidelines,  such as the councillor in the 1880's who was petitioning in support of woman's suffrage, long before it was close to becoming a reality. 


FARMING  - Most  of us must count farmers, shepherds, hinds, carters and  ag. labs amongst our ancestors, but how to find out more about their lives?  Realistically records on individuals  are likely to focus on  landed gentry and tenant farmers, rather than their workers.  I live in a rural region and my archive centre has a wealth of information that can provide background on estates,  and life in agricultural communities.  For example:
  • Advertisements of sale of stock 
  • Auction Mart records
  • Drawings of farm machinery
  • Field name survey 
  • Farmers' Club & Pastoral Societies - members lists and minute books
  • Individual farm records - day books, account books etc. 
  • Postcards of farms and farm workers - with an image below of a carter from my local community heritage group Auld Earlston.  
  • Valuation rolls which show the owners,  occupiers  and tenants of farm cottages.

 A carter - in the collection of the Auld Earlston Group

One of the most significant collections held at my local Archive Centre  belongs to the Border Union Agricultural Society, with material dating from 1813,  when the Society was formed.   Included are minute books,  subscription books,  letter books, financial paper and lists of prize winners at the annual show which remains a major event in the local calendar today.  

Here is a record showing that A. S. Pringle won prizes in 1876 in the class of "Implements of Husbandry"  for "a self acting horse rake" and "a turnip topping and tailing machine".   

Image courtesy of the Heritage Hub, Hawick

MARINERS -   I used the enquiry service of Tyne and Wear Archives who provided me  information on the life of my husband's ancestor, Robert Donaldson   (1801-1876),  a master mariner of South Shields.  “A Dictionary of Tyne Sailing Ships:  a record of merchant sailing ships owned, registered and built at the Port of Tyne 1830-1930”, compiled by Richard Key  is a complete A-Z of Ships, master mariners and owners, detailing ships, voyages, disasters and share-ownerships, and much more - an indispensable for anyone with maritime ancestors in this region.

The entries make fascinating reading, with all six ships on which Robert Donaldson sailed, having an eventful history and coming to a sad end (though not under his charge).

Lloyds Captain's'  Register provided information on the ships under the command of another mariner ancestor, Matthew Iley White.  His journeys took him to the North sea ports of Belgium and Holland, to Spain & Portugal, the Mitterrand, Black Sea, Adriatic Sea,and north to the Baltic and the Gulf of Finland.   

[Above right - another ancestral master mariner - John Moffet of South Shields]

The Scottish Borders is noted for its knitwear and tweed textile industry. It can be difficult  to trace records on individual workers on the floor.  But you may be able to find background information on the owners/managers, products made, old adverts and photographs.
Rhymer's Mill in Earlston, Berwickshire, Scottish Borders.  The mainstay of the village's economic life for 200 years until its closure in the 1960s.  Photograph from the Auld Earlston Collection.
MINERS   - my husband's Armitage and Hibbert ancestors were miners in Yorkshire, Derbyshire and County Durham, where the  history of mines, mining and miners  is well documented on the Internet, though I have not traced anything on family members.

The website www.scottishmining.co.uk provided detailed  information when I was researching the Spowart family of Fife.

An early insight into life in mining areas was given by Robert Franks in his report to the Children's Employment Commission in 1842 who commented  "The domestic condition of the collier population presents a deplorable picture of filth and poverty."  

He conducted interviews with children including 15 year old Helen Spowart who  was described as  a “putter”, with the task of propelling   a loaded coal-hutch from the coal-face to the pit-bottom by means of a series of shoves or pushes.

The report noted:   "Began to work in mines when nine years old and has done ever since. Helen added  "It is very coarse, heavy, cloughty work, and I get enough of it, as am never able to do muckle after hours from the fatigue".

POLICEMEN & PRISONERS  -  if your ancestor was a constable or even  on the other side  of the law, police records are a great resource and include mug shot photos of criminals, lists of prisoners, plus constable registers with personal details including descriptions, service record,  next of kin and family etc.

A long-held family story recollected a lost photograph of a relative in a top hat serving in the River Tyne Police. A silver uniform button (left)  was still held by the family. Tyne & Wear Archives provided some answers, finding that not only Henry,  but also his older brother Matthew Iley White,  were members of the river police force – both with rather a chequered history.

The Nominal Roll of the Tyne River Police showed that Henry, a single man, joined 9th January 1882.  By the time of his promotion seven months later in July, he was married.  The Police Defaulters Book recorded his misconduct for assaulting a seaman A. W. Hanson and other irregularities on 11th June 1889.  Henry was fined 2/6 and transferred to Walker Division at his own expense.  The Nominal Roll of 1904 noted his age as 42 and that he had 22 years of service, with a wage of 29/6. 

With three of my Danson ancestors working as POSTMEN,  I  upgraded my Ancestry subscription  so I could access their Post Office Records that had could online.    All I got was a name, date of appointment and place, so I can't really say it added anything to my family story. Also if you are looking for a popular local name, it will be difficult to confirm which is "your" entry.  Still we all consult records in hope of finding something worthwhile!

TEACHERS  -   School Records are the place to look - with Log Books recording daily  school life, and School Board Minute Books and Education Committee Minute Books recording appointments - and dismissals!   Here is an example from a school log book: 
1873 - At Glenholm, Peeblesshire, a school inspector reported "This small school was taught by Mr Grieve in an intelligent, painstaking and efficient manner". We would all love to find such a  testimonial on an ancestor.  

 Archive image courtesy of the Heritage Hub, Hawick.  

 So many of these records are not available online, and the message is -  search the online  catalogue of the Archive Centre relevant to your research,  and use their enquiry service if you cannot visit it.

Occupation Records are  a fascinating example of how family history can take you in so many diverse directions. 


This week's prompt from "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks"  is Work

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 

Friday, 31 August 2018

A Man of Many Parts - My Uncle Harry: Sepia Saturday

Lots of words can be used to describe my uncle  - a joiner, soldier, Dunkirk survivor, a skilled do-it-yourselfer, productive gardener, keen photographer, sailor  - and ballroom dancer. 

This week's prompt photograph from Sepia Saturday features a little lad, c. early 20th century, making a salute.  It    I immediately brought to mind the first photograph | have  of Harry.
Harry Rawcliffe  Danson (1912-2001) was the middle child of five, born to my grandparents William Danson and Alice English in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire. His middle name came from his grandmother Maria Danson, nee Rawcliffe. The photograph above is the only one  I have of him as a child, and is part of a group photograph of the family, taken in 1916, as my grandfather set out to war.

Harry  followed his grandfather into becoming a joiner. and I remember him making a miniature table and chairs for my doll’s house.  Not surprisingly he was skilled in  do-it yourself.  

My next knowledge of Harry was from his army photographs.

Young man around town - look at that  hairstyle! 
The reverse of the photograph indicates it was taken in Salisbury -
when Harry was undergoing Army training? 

A formal Army photograph.

I think there is an Errol Flynn look about him here! 


This signed menu of December 25th 1939,   written in French and typed on very flimsy paper,  was found after his death amongst Uncle Harry's papers.    He was in France with the British Expeditionary Force, 9/17th Field Battery.  In the Sergeant's Mess,  breakfast was cold ham with piccalilli, eggs, coffee and roll and butter;  for dinner  - turkey with chestnuts, pork with apple sauce, potatoes, and cauliflower followed by Christmas pudding, apples, oranges, and nuts, with cognac, rum and beer - a wonderful feast in difficult conditions and testimony to the skill of the catering corps!

Five months later Harry was one of the many men evacuated from Dunkirk, saved by the flotilla of small ships.  Sadly many of the men who were at this meal may not have survived.   My mother used  to tell how Harry arrived back home from Dunkirk  still in the uniform in which he entered the sea to be rescued.   He never talked about his wartime experiences, but seeing commemoration services or documentaries on TV could bring tears to his eyes, so the memories remained very strong.

Harry  later served in North Africa.

Harry had a short lived marriage in the 1940's and never remarried.   He returned to his joinery trade after the war and  continued to live in the home of his childhood, renovating the house, and taking pride in his  garden,

I recall him taking his sister out for a Sunday run in his motor cycle and side car.    He then progressed to a car, extending  the driveway, and  turning the former hen house into a garage. He also had a small yacht which he sailed off the Fleetwood coast.

Living in Blackpool the natural home of ballroom dancing in the UK, Harry enjoyed a lot of time on the dance floor at  the Winter Gardens or on the Tower Ballroom  - and he was never short of partners!

 With a good friend, neighbour & dance partner, c.1970's. 

Harry was a keen photographer, at one time having his own dark room to develop pictures. He took this photograph of St. Chad's Church, Poulton-le-Fylde, noted for its carpet of crocuses in Spring.  Dansons back to 1736 were baptised, married and buried here. 

Harry lived  to the age of 89,  remaining active to the end of his life - and he retained his good looks!

 Harry Rawcliffe Danson (1912-2001)

Based on a blog profile first published in 2012


Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity 
to share their family history through photographs.