Challenges in matching a name on a War Memorial with the correct military record

The image below shows that Face of the Ham Parish War Memorial which lists the parish’s casualties as a result of that war.  It is a stark list of initials and surnames, arranged in no particular order, and includes mistakes and spelling errors.  You might even notice that the son of Lord Sudeley, who had been Chairman of the Parish War Memorial Committee, is listed twice.  It’s not hard to guess the reason why that had to be corrected, but difficult to understand why they left the error on the face.  As you will see, they had form for erasing.

The WW1 Face of the Ham War Memorial

The explanation for the errors on this particular face is that this list dates from after the Second World War. That’s not because it took the good folk of the parish over two decades to get round to erecting it.  This face replaced what had previously appeared on the War Memorial.

Like the War Memorial for the neighbouring parish of Petersham, the original Ham War Memorial included the rank, full name and military unit of each casualty, and planning for this memorial started halfway through the First World War.

Between the two World Wars, the population of the parish of Ham had increased dramatically, with the building of housing estates on open land, to meet the urgent housing needs of the boroughs of Kingston and Richmond.  (The parish of Ham was formerly entirely within the borough of Kingston.)  This population increase meant that as many lives were to be lost in the Second World War, as had been lost in the first. In addition there were several civilian dead.

Rather than erect another memorial, the Parish Council decided that the names of the First World War casualties would be erased,  and their ‘entries’ condensed to initials and surnames. This provided the opportunity for transcription errors along the way, and this, as well as the minimal amount of information, caused considerable difficulties for me as the lead researcher.

E. PARSONS was one example.  A search of the CWGC  Casualties’ Database will generate 55 casualties for E. PARSONS, during the First World War, and with no rank, regiment or first name to go by, that’s quite a crop to eliminate.  Readers of the War Memorial blog, Ham Remembers, may remember similar challenges, particularly with those, before I could identify Ernest Parsons, who had passed through the parish yet left no record there.

One of the names on the 1914–1918 face was W.S. BENSON—it’s the tenth name in the first column.  As is the case with many local historians, familiarity with parish registers meant that I cheerfully recognised this surname as that of a large local family and surmised that he was probably the descendant of Thomas Benson.

Thomas Benson had arrived in Ham as a Market Gardener in the late and built up a business as a Potato Dealer, living in a comfortable house on Ham Common until his death. The domestic arrangements were a little complicated since Thomas’s first wife abandoned him, contracting a bigamous marriage, leaving behind six young children under the age of twelve, the youngest being an infant.  Two children had died in infancy.  Thomas soon embarked on a second relationship with his housekeeper, Sarah Fisher, having by her nine more children, most of them registered as Fisher but with Benson as a middle name.  The Fisher children simply dropped the Fisher after their parents’ marriage, some 25 years after the start of the relationship and a decade after the death of Thomas’s first wife.

While eight of Thomas’s sons survived to adulthood, I also had to factor in the possibility that W.S. Benson might be the illegitimate son of one of Thomas’s daughters, whose surname would also have been Benson.  Since the youngest of Thomas’s children was born in 1878, only he and the two a little older than him, would have been old enough to be conscripted, even when the ceiling was raised in 1916.  While I took stock of these sons, I focused more closely on the grandchildren.

In researching war memorials, one turns first to the CWGC database. This search did generate a W.S. Benson.  Following up the search results up, I found a casualty named Walter Stanley Benson, and then another, plain Stanley Benson, both serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps.  There was also Rifleman Jack W. S. Benson, a casualty from The King’s (Liverpool) Regiment.  Another Walter Stanley Benson, born in Hackney, served in the Royal Navy but survived.  It was helpful that the deaths of these men occurred close together, in April, May and July 1917, but a careful search of the local newspapers for that period did not report the news of the death of a Benson from either Ham or Petersham.

It was some time before a list of the original inscriptions, capturing them before their removal was found in a box in the Local Studies Library and Archive by one of our team  from the Friends of Ham Library.   Fortunately, a local historian, Sylvia Greenwood, had had the foresight to draw up a list of the names on the war memorial before the masons erased their details.  The belated discovery of this ‘Annex 4’ showed that the War Memorial had originally listed W.S.Benson, associated with the Scottish Rifles (The Cameronians).  We also found a list, drawn up by the Parish Council, and published in 1915, listing the inhabitants of the parish who were then ‘serving with the colours’, and this included Stanley Benson of Old Malt Cottage, serving with the 2nd Scottish Rifles.

I then searched the CWGC database, with a filter to extract a list of Benson casualties serving with The Cameronians.  There were five, all privates, listed in search results in the following order:
William Benson
Henry Benson
Peter Benson
Frederick Benson
M. Benson.

Tearing my hair out by then over Walter Stanley Benson, I tried a search of the Database Soldiers died in the Great War, for Benson.   Top of the list was someone in Brixton, Surrey (Go figure, as they say) but I scrolled down and further south on the list skimming over Bensons born in Islington and Whitehaven, Cumberland. Just about to leave that page, with the mouse heading to exit, I spotted Frederick Benson, born Ham Surrey, and serving in The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles). Looking for the Medal Index Card of this Frederick Benson, he was at the top of the list of Fredericks and serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Cameronians, his service number being 10129.  Replicating this search more recently, searching for just  Frederick Benson, he headed the list of 14 Search Results.

There was a Frederick in the Benson brood, the youngest child of their grandfather’s first marriage and the uncle or half-uncle of Thomas’s grandchildren.  He was born in 1856 and would have been too old to serve in the First World War.  His life was not easy but that is another story.

Soon after, as I worked through Thomas’s grandsons, I was to discover a Walter Stanley Benson.  It seemed I’d found a match.  He was the eldest child  of Walter Benson Fisher and his wife, Ellen Stevens and had been born at Mayleigh Cottages, and was duly baptised in Petersham.

By this point, I was ready to concede that this Frederick was in all likelihood ‘our’ W.S. Benson, and that it was possible that the Army had made a mistake or that he had adopted an alias.  On his card in the Medal Rolls Index, he is down as BENSON, F., and another hand has filled in ‘rederick’ to complete the Frederick.  Indeed it occurred to me as I looked at it, that the F could well be a transcription error, if he had become known in the Army as Stanley, and if someone, somewhere along the line, had misheard thn S as an F.

People sometimes reinvent themselves and change their names in a new town or even in a new job.  We know from the surviving parish lists that he was known as Stanley, and that indeed, in his family unit there was a second Walter in the family, Walter Henry, nine years younger than Walter Stanley.  At that time it was not unusual for children to be named after a parent, thereby carrying on family tradition, but to be always known by their middle names.   The younger Walter, Walter Henry, was born in the year before their father’s death and if their father was known to be in declining health, that might explain why he was also given his father’s name. The two boys appear in the 1901 Census, shortly before the death of their father, Walter, as Walter S and Walter H.

Walter S appears in the 1911 Census as Walter, perhaps because the Military Enumeration Officer, like Walter Senior had been in 1901, was a stickler for the facts.  And it was the 1911 Census that brought us full circle.  Walter Benson is listed at the Meeanee Barracks in Colchester, as a Private in the Second Battalion of the Scottish Rifles. He’s 20—the right age.  (Walter Stanley was born on 11 January 1891, and would have been 20 on 2 April 1911.)  Unlike his Benson cousins, who were born in Ham or further afield, he was born at Mayleigh Cottages in Petersham, so his birthplace is also correct here.

Finally, a search in the Register of Soldiers’ Effects, has ‘Stanley’ entered as Frederick.  There he is, with his gratuity divided equally between his mother, his brothers and sisters, his half-sisters, who included “Emily Morphew” (sic). I think ‘Emily’ is Violet Emmeline Buckner, the wife of Robert Morffew. I have written elsewhere about the Benson connection with the Morffews of Ham.

This makes me inclined to think that he did indeed voluntarily change his name. Prior to making the entries in the Register, the Army would have corresponded with the family to confirm their relationship with the deceased soldier.  He does indeed at last appear to be a safe match for the man recorded as Frederick on the CWGC Database.

Finally, a check of the panel list, confirms that our man is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial as F. BENSON.

Further Reading.

Frood, M.W., ‘Decision as to tribute to the gallant dead’, https://hamremembers.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/decision-as-to-tribute-to-the-gallant-dead/, accessed 20/1/2018.

Frood, M.W., ‘Ham’s War Memorial as it was between the Wars’,  https://hamremembers.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/hams-war-memorial-as-it-was-between-the-wars/, accessed 20/1/2018.

Secrets and Lies

First, another plug for Secret Lives, another major conference from the inimitable Halsted Trust in collaboration with AGRA, the Society of Genealogists and the Guild of One Name Studies. This will be held at Hinckley, in Leicestershire (31 August–2 September 2018).  It’s an opportunity not to be missed and Early Bird bookings are still available.

In my own research it’s Secrets and Lies that seem to be heading my way—or perhaps I’ve just got a bit smarter at anticipating them.  Recently it was a succession of examples of marriages within the prohibited relationships, about which I have already posted.

More recently still, it’s been finding evidence of a bigamous marriage.  One such marriage has a link with the grandfather of Walter Stanley Benson, one of the men on the Parish War Memorial in Ham, Surrey.   Stanley was the grandson of Thomas Benson, a Potato Dealer, who lived for many years at Malt House Cottage, Ham Common.   His records identified his father as Walter Benson.

Because Stanley’s service records are missing, only military documents relating to his death are available.  They give Stanley’s first name as Frederick, and the match seemed open to question since there were Frederick Bensons of military age in Ham.  Consequently the research was taken back to earlier generations in order to eliminate cousins, uncles and others with that name as candidates for this particular soldier.  And that’s how the bigamy was discovered.

In the 1891 and 1881 Censuses, Walter’s parents, Thomas and Sarah Benson, appeared as ‘head’ (of the household) and ‘wife’ respectively, with their Benson children.  In 1871 however,  Sarah Fisher was the ‘housekeeper’, and some of the Benson children appeared as Fishers. Walter Benson was there as Walter Fisher—his birth registration was subsequently found as Walter Benson Fisher.  In 1861, the census return showed that Thomas was ‘married’ and presided over a household which included five young Bensons aged from 15 down to 4, a housekeeper named Sarah Fisher, and two young Fishers, Emily (3) and Joseph (1 month).

Who was the wife missing in 1861 and 1871, and why could I not find a marriage for Thomas and Sarah between 1871 and 1881?  I dug further.

About 15 years before Walter’s birth, Thomas Benson had arrived in Ham with his wife, Mary Ann Martin, and two children of that marriage.  Mary Ann, the daughter of a wheelwright, Thomas Martin and his wife, Sarah, had been born in the parish of Ham on 9 February 1824 and baptised in Kingston the following month.  She married Thomas Benson, then a butcher, in 1845 at St Mary’s, Sunbury, despite her birth in Ham, when he was 23 and she was 21.  Thomas and Mary Ann moved to Ham, towards the end of the 1840s, with two children, another six being born in Ham. The last of these, Frederick James Benson, was born on 7 July 1856.

Mary Ann’s absence from the household in the 1861 census, where Thomas was clearly recorded as ‘Married’, did not, initially, seem particularly unusual.  Perhaps she was visiting relatives?  Perhaps Thomas had a housekeeper because his wife was incapacitated?

It is understandable that, following Mary Ann’s departure, and with an infant in the household, Thomas would have looked for domestic help.  At some point—whether before or after Mary Ann’s departure is not clear—Thomas embarked on a relationship with Sarah, the daughter of an agricultural labourer, William Fisher who lived a few doors away in Ham Street.   By the time Sarah’s son, Walter, was born in 1863, Sarah had already given birth to three children—Emily (3), Henry and Joseph.  These births were all registered in Kingston under the surname Fisher.

As each Fisher child had a turn to create further civil records, the Fisher was quietly shed. In  1882 Emily Fisher married as Emily Benson, a full two years ahead of her parent’s eventual marriage. Any doubts about her parentage were further reduced by the identification of her father in the marriage register, as ‘Thomas Benson, Potato Dealer’.

Emily’s birth was registered in the first quarter of 1858 which means she was born between about mid-November of 1857 and 31 March 1858.  If Thomas was Emily’s father, then his relationship with Sarah Fisher must have begun during the first half of 1857.  This cannot have been much more than 9 months after the birth of Thomas’s last child by Mary Ann Martin, Frederick James Benson, who was born on 7 July 1856.

In time, the children christened as Benson Fisher swapped the two surnames round—marrying, for example, as Fisher Benson.  Emily and Arthur, given simply the surname Fisher when registered, subsequently added Benson.  Eventually, in 1885, only seven years before Sarah’s death, Thomas did marry his long-term long-suffering housekeeper.

In preparing my piece on Walter Stanley Benson, I decided to ‘kill off’ all seventeen of his father’s full and half siblings whom I had not married off, and/or killed off already.  It’s basic family reconstitution, about which I can—and do, elsewhere—go on and on.  My U3A groups have learnt to anticipate that I’m going to prod them to reconstitute their family groups—they’ve learnt it’s trouble taken that will pay back.

While following up Thomas’s other children, I duly found Mary Ann’s daughter, Mary Ann Benson, in the 1871 Census, in Hammersmith.  She was there as ‘step-daughter’ in the household of George Hedger, a brewer, and his wife, Mary Ann Hedger.  Mary Ann Hedger’s birthplace matched that of Mary Ann Martin, though not her age. Subsequently it became clear that she was at least eleven years older than her second husband, which might explain the fudging.

Indeed, at the time of the 1861 census over which I had puzzled, Mary Ann and George been ‘married’ for about six weeks. All Mary Ann’s surviving children by Thomas were living with their father in 1861, with their mothering needs, and those of her own children, presumably catered for by his “housekeeper”.

Please click on the image below to enlarge it.

The entry in the Hammersmith Marriage Register for Mary Ann’s bigamous marriage.

Notice that Mary Ann declared herself to be a spinster, and stated that her father was Thomas Benson,  with “Dead” under the heading of occupation.  Thomas Benson was her husband, not her father, and he was anything but dead.  Perhaps she was thinking of her father, Thomas Martin, who was dead?  If the latter, the problem here was, that having lied about her marital status, and perhaps having already become known in Hammersmith as Mary Ann Benson, she could not easily switch surnames for this public event.  One small fib almost always leads to additional fibs in support of the story.

While Mary Ann Martin had given her age correctly in 1845, when she married Thomas, in 1861, the couple were simply declared to be of full age. Having found Thomas with his “housekeeper” in 1861, I’d been pretty quick to pass judgement on Thomas.  Finding Mary Ann with George, casts a different light on this.  Who bolted first?

Here are the ages provided for Mary Ann in various official records, with what I estimate was her ‘true’ age in square brackets.   At Mary Ann’s baptism on 28 March 1824, her birthdate is given as 9 February 1824.

6 June 1841: 15 [17, but fair enough, ages were rounded down].
12 May 1845: 21 [21].
30 March 1851: 25  [27].
24 February 1861: Full [37].
7 April 1861: 24 [37].
2 April 1871: 40 [47].
1876:  age at death, 45. [52].

This fudging of her age certainly made Mary Ann more difficult to find when I started this research some years ago.  Did George Hedger know that he had been party to a bigamous marriage?

Mary Ann died in 1876, so why did it take so long for Thomas to marry Sarah?  No, they weren’t married at the time of the 1881 Census.  That didn’t happen for nearly ten years.

Isn’t it often true that you solve one mystery, and a whole new set of questions bubble up?

More on the Bensons

Frood, M.W., ‘Walter Stanley Benson’, https://hamremembers.wordpress.com/2018/01/25/walter-stanley-benson-1891-1915/, accessed 30/1/2018.
Frood, M.W., ‘Challenges in matching a name on a War Memorial with the correct military record’, https://www.discoveryourfamilyhistory.com/family-history/unravelling-an-error-on-a-parish-war-memorial/, accessed 30/1/2018.

Recommended Reading

Rebecca Probert’s Marriage Law for Genealogists: The Definitive Guide (Kenilworth, 2012) is what its title says.  It’s also lucid and fascinating.
London Metropolitan Archives, Dl/DRO/BT Item, 062/039, Saint Mary, Sunbury On Thames: Surrey, Transcript of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1845 Jan-1845 Dec, 12 May 1845.
London Metropolitan Archives, P80/PET, Item 007, Saint Peter, Hammersmith, Register of marriages, 24 February 1861.

More Wells siblings: George & Alice

Daniel and Sarah Wells brought at least seventeen children to St Andrew’s Church, Ham, for baptism.  I now move on in this post to the next two in line in the search for this couple’s descendants.

They are George Arthur Wells (#4) and Alice Mary Wells (#5) who were the fourth son in the family and the fifth child/first daughter respectively.  We learn, from their records of their baptisms, that George was born on 24 October 1877 and Alice on 25 August 1879 and for both of them, there are corresponding birth registrations in the Registration District of Kingston relating to their births in Ham.  Everything above board there, then.

For George, Ancestry hints at a George A Wells, aged 24, and a Metropolitan Police Constable in the 1901 census, when a George A Wells was enumerated at 28 and 29 Carlton Terrace, Paddington.  Until now, I have ignored this hint for the reasons which follow based on this age and birthplace.  This man’s age is given as 24, and we know that our George would not have reached this age for another seven months.  It’s an understandable mistake, however, if the person providing this information to the enumerator was basing it on the individual’s year of birth.  This is something Ancestry does all the time, and gets wrong three quarters of the time since the census is taken three months into the year.  At that point three quarters of the population have not yet reached the day in that year on which they will reach the anniversary of their births.    However George A Wells’s birthplace is given as Richmond, Surrey and we know that our George was born in Ham, and that all of Ham was included in Kingston.

Here’s what I did.  I looked on Free BMD for birth registrations for a George A Wells for the period 1Q 1876 to 4Q 1879, in the districts of Richmond, Surrey, Kingston Surrey and finally in the county of Surrey.  I found no results in Richmond, and a George Arthur Wells in Kingston in 4Q 1877, while in Surrey there were two results—the Kingston one already viewed, and a George Albert Wells in Farnham in 3Q 1877.  Indeed, the Metropolitan Police Constable looks much more likely to be our man, and, as with other children in this large family, the middle name of one became the first name of a younger sibling.  There is a point, indeed, at which Daniel and Sarah ran out of middle names.

For Alice Mary Wells we have been able  to locate her in the 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses but were not able to identify her with certainty in the 1911 census.  Searching on Free BMD from the quarter in which 1901 census fell and the quarter in which the 1911 census fell, there were ten marriages of an Alice Mary Wells. A careful paging through of the Ham Parish Register of Marriages revealed that, unlike most of her sisters, she did not return to the parish for her marriage.

Following their 17 children, it was something of a surprise to find that Daniel and Sarah had relatively few grandchildren.  A factor may have been that the children perceived the difficulties of being part of such a large family.  The two people most interested in both the War Memorial research and the Wells family of Poynter’s Cottages, had, at that point in my research, been unable, in the absence of any research budget, to contact descendants of Daniel and Sarah. Contacts made to people who had these children on their Ancestry Public Trees, via their Ancestry usernames, did not respond.  One explanation could be that their Ancestry subscriptions had elapsed/

At some point, there had also been an Ancestry tree hint for Alice Mary Wells on the St Peter’s and St Andrew’s War Memorial Tree. I’m a bit wary of viewing those, especially if I’m at a dead end, because experience tells me that in that situation, taking note of an unsourced or inadequately sourced tree is risky.

I took a quick—and vehemently cynical—peek. At first sight, it seems that the Alice Mary Wells of the tree hint is on seven Ancestry Member Trees. Two of those can be immediately ruled out as not of interest.  On the remaining five trees, Alice appears as Alice Mary Eldridge, and she is not attached to any parents on any of those five trees.  Her year of birth is given variously as 1879 and 1881 and her place of birth as Kingston in one case and Richmond in the others.  Given that this Alice Mary eventually had four Eldridge and an earlier daughter, Dorothy Wells, and the location of her birth is flagged up in two cases as Kingston and as Richmond in the others,

Snip of 1911 Census entry

Snip of 1911 Census entry

I looked for this family in the 1911 census return for Hastings, the birthplace of Alice Mary Eldridge was described as born in Richmond—not visible in this snip—was then aged 30, while her husband was said to be 27.  We know that Alice was born on 25 August 1879, so she would have been 31 on 2 April 1911.  Perhaps at some point she, or with the census return, he, knocked a few years off her age?  This census entry is likely to be the source of the 1881 given for her year of birth and the ‘Richmond’ given as her birthplace.

It still puzzles me why no one has yet discovered that Alice’s parents were Daniel and Sarah.  Just to eliminate the possibility of two Alice Mary Wellses born in the Kingston and Richmond districts, I did another broad search for Alice Mary Wells on Free BMD from 1Q 1878 to 4Q 1883 finding no results in Richmond, and one result in Kingston, but that Kingston result was the only one generated for the county of Surrey and matches the information we have on the baptismal record for the daughter of Daniel and Sarah.  In addition, there is no other registration of the birth of an Alice Mary Wells in Kingston and no Alice Mary Wellls registration in Richmond for the entire period 1837–1915.  Searching for the period 1902 to 1907, ten women called Alice Mary Wells were married and one of them is the Alice Mary Wells who married Albert Ernest Eldridge in 1904, in Hastings.

Going back to the household in the 1911 census, I took a closer look at the two Wells children in the household.  One of them, Dorothy  Lucy Wells is described as ‘Daughter’ so presumably the daughter of Alice, rather than Albert, though it is possible she was their child, but born before their marriage.  Arthur Henry Wells is described as a nephew, so the child, perhaps, of one of Alice’s siblings.  Every member of this household, except for Alice, was born in Hastings.

Dorothy Lucy Wells is said to be aged eleven. If this is accurate, she must have been born in the period 3 April 1889 to 2 April 1890.  There is no matching birth in Hastings for a Dorothy Lucy Wells, or even for a Dorothy Wells for the period running from the second quarter of 1899 up to and including the second quarter of 1900.    To be doubly sure, I searched again for the period 1Q 1898 up to and including 4Q 1899 and this time for the whole of England and Wales.  There were nearly fifty results, amongst whom was Dorothy Lucy Wells, whose birth was registered in Poplar in the third quarter of 1898.

I found a Dorothy Wells of the ‘right’ age, the daughter of Ernest and Daisy Wells in Poplar in the 1901 census, and born in Cubitt Town.  Thanks to Simon Fisher’s extremely helpful website (see sources, below), I was able to establish that Cubitt Town fell in the Poplar Registration District in 1901.  This child, therefore, matches the birth registration I found, and can be put on the research ‘back burner’ for the time being.

I scanned the registration districts for the fifty births of any girl named Dorothy Wells, to see whether any were born in places to which Alice might have gone to give birth to her child e.g. where she had a brother and sister-in-law living, or another close family member living, or in Richmond or Kingston.  I also scrutinised registration districts in the area from which Alice’s father, Daniel, had emigrated to Ham.  None of these stands out in this list.

Nor could at that time discover, without ordering his birth certificate, whether his father, or more likely, his mother was a sibling of Alice Wells.  This, too, I put on hold.

Some months later, I made contact with one of Alice Well’s great nieces, and we had a conversation about her Wells grandmother.  After a long chat, as we ended our conversation, after some hesitation, she told me that her father had discovered, very late in his life, possibly only about the time of the death of his mother, that he had an older half-brother.  Following up on her grandmother, Alice’s sister, I discovered that she had married in the first quarter of 1911.  I had indeed found her in the 1911 census, but initially ‘rejected’ the document, because her birthplace was so wide of the mark.  Returning to view that entry, I realised, and subsequently confirmed, after further investigation to identify and match the husband in earlier censuses, that the householder had transposed the birthplaces of the couple, who were his lodgers.

Arthur’s aunt Alice, was not only close in age to her sister, and the two were both in service in Streatham in 1901. Perhaps even more importantly, she too, had had an illegitimate child. Alice is the most likely family member to whom her sister would have turned for support and Arthur Henry is very likely to have been this ‘missing’ half-brother.  It may even be that the P in the birth registration listing for Arthur Henry P Wells, is even a hint at the surname of his biological father.

Alas, it now seems clear that Arthur Henry did not ever become part of the family of his mother and her husband.

There’ll be more quite a bit more about why we think Sarah saw being ‘in service’ as the best opportunity for her daughters. Perhaps we can even see her hand in the workplaces of her daughters, ensuring that every one was in service near to at least one of her sisters, and sometimes they had the fortune to be in service in the same household!

Afterthought—research tip
To be quite clear, for the sake of family historians unfamiliar with this area, Ham was part of Kingston until the 1930s, when the northern part of Ham became part of the borough of Richmond.  The southern part of the parish is still in Kingston.  Confusion can also arise in that Ham is also a place name found in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Residents of small places have always been inclined to add the name of the nearest large town, when mentioning their parish to people who live outside the local area.  Even in London people often assume that Ham is close to West Ham—which it isn’t, so one usually avoids misunderstanding by tagging on the borough’s name, as in “Ham, in Richmond” or even, less frequently, “Ham, in Kingston”.

If referring to Ham, to an enumerator, Alice is likely to have been asked “Ham, where?” and have given the name of the nearest town she thought the enumerator would have heard of. If her husband the information, he might have based it on their travelling to Ham, via Richmond, if and when they visited his wife’s family.

This is an aspect family historians need to consider where an ancestor, born in a hamlet or village, emigrates  to a distant urban area.  He or she is likely to add on, or give when challenged, the name of the nearest large town, even if it falls in a different registration district to the birthplace.

Source

Fisher, S.J., ‘London/Surrey Registration Districts/Churches’, http://www.sjfisher.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/Def-London(Surrey)-Registration-Districts.htm, accessed 21/5/2016.

The National Archives, RG14/4762, Schedule No. 259, 1911 Census for England and Wales.

 

 

Undoing duplicated spouses & children

I spend so much time helping Ancestry novices undo the duplicated spouses and children on their family trees, that I’m dedicating a post to it.

Understanding how it happens
This is not Ancestry‘s fault—apart from the fact, alas, that its transcriptions can be so unreliable, but I’ll not vent here on that disappointing element.

Adding duplicates is an own goal.  It doesn’t happen the first time you find something that links to a person who is already on your tree. It happens if you unwittingly add, as a ‘new person,’ someone who is already on your tree. It arises because the details in the ‘fresh’ information appear in a slightly different format to what is already on your tree, which leads Ancestry to ‘suspect’ that you are adding a new person.  Perhaps the enumerator interpreted the spelling of the name in a way that was inconsistent with a previous version so, to a Mere Computer, you might be adding a ‘newcomer’ to your tree.

Often it is a new person e.g. when  additional children have been born since a previous census, or when suddenly a mother-in-law is visiting on Census Night.

How to avoid this happening (because it’s going to take a heap of time to undo)
After you click to ‘review’ the hint, remember you’re reviewing a suggestion in order to accept, amend or reject it!

When you click to review , you are taken to a page where the ‘new’ information is on the left.  When Ancestry ‘thinks’ this is a different person to the one you have on your tree, there will be nothing on the right-hand side of the screen.  Usually you will tick (check) the Add box to add that person to your tree.  Instead, override your eagerness.

There are two options to the right of the name of the person you are adding:  ‘NEW PERSON’ and ‘Not a new person?’.  Pause before you act.  Helpfully, at the very top of the page,  there is a summary of what you have about the person on your tree and what is ‘unknown’.  Take time to digest this.

If you recognise that someone is not a ‘new person’, you will avoid duplicating a person you already have, and you will be given the option to connect that information to the person you already have on your tree.

 

War Memorial Research (3): No easy match on the CWGC database?

In my experience, at least half the time, I can match a name to an individual without too much difficulty, particularly if there is information about next of kin on the CWGC database.  Here are some suggestions on where you might look for information about those whose names appear to be missing from the database or for whom the database offers too many possible matches.

Have they moved away? Bear in mind that soldiers on your War Memorial, who have no local address attached to them, are likely to have had some close local family connections, or to have hailed originally from your parish or town.  A not insignificant number may turn out to have been serving with Commonwealth forces following their emigration, or that of their parents.

George Brisco, who was serving in the Australian Forces, appears on the Sea Scouts’ Memorial Plaque inside St Peter’s Church in Petersham, though not on the Petersham War Memorial.  In George’s case, finding the Australian Service Records was quite an eye-opener running to 40 pages of high quality digital images.  In addition to his service records, the Australian Red Cross went to commendable lengths to track down other soldiers in hospitals and camps in England, who might be able to provide information about the incident in which George lost his life—just in that file, there were 45 pages’ worth of letters, records of interviews and communications with his mother.   The Missing Persons’ File included a fine photo of George in uniform.  You can locate and view records of those serving in the Australian Imperial Forces at the Australian War Memorial and at the National Archives of Australia.  Both organisations have sites that are easy to search and provide excellent information sheets.  The digitised records for WW1 service personnel are also free to view.  And while it can be months before one hears back from the CWGC, a query about the location of a diary, brought an answer within 24 hours.  Same day really, if you consider the time difference.  [Thank you, and well done, Australia!]

Finding people who have no obvious connection with the place: Of the six names on a Leicestershire War Memorial that I am researching, three had, initially, no obvious connection with the village.  Family Reconstitution techniques played a significant part in identifying the nature of their links to the village.  This is, however, time-consuming and if you know of someone who is doing a One Place Study on the place, they may be able to assist with that part of your research.

Finding natives of the place, whose names are missing from the War Memorial: If you would like to trace some of those who grew up locally, but whose names are not listed on the memorial, then the tactic of looking for the village or district as a birthplace, leaving the surname search box empty, often generates a number of results for soldiers who had been born there, but enlisted after moving away.

Were the service records up to date? Sometimes a war memorial will include rank, or the name of a regiment: note these down, but do not take these details at face value, particularly if you are unable to find a record for someone with a low frequency surname.  Soldiers were sometimes transferred to other battalions or to other regiments in the course of their service and news of promotions towards the end of a military life may not have reached the family or the committee responsible for the list.

Can you locate the soldier in the 1911 Census?  If you are able to access the 1911 Census, you may well find your soldier recorded with those parents or that spouse or living at that address.  Most of those named on war memorials will have been enumerated in the 1901 and 1911 Censuses so looking them up may help you to ‘flesh’ out the background of those whose Service Records have not survived.

Where in the UK was the regiment based?  If you know the regiment to which the soldier was attached, that can sometimes provide a clue to the region where your soldier lived or worked.  A search engine could be used to find out where the regimental headquarters were.

Research the whereabouts of the unit and the action around the time your person died.  British Service Records for ‘other ranks’, where they’ve survived, often provide no more information than K.I.A. or D.O.W.  If you are researching an officer, or an airman, you may find, or be able to deduce, more about their military service and deaths in their files.  Search The National Archives’ online Discovery Catalogue to locate the record reference in the relevant series or start at the Records page, by clicking on Looking for a Person, which, if you are not familiar with the site gets you to the search box with opportunities to find out more en route.

The inimitable site The Long, Long Trail is the finest information resource on WW1 and if you have queries, its companion site, The Great War Forum is outstanding.  Use the first site to find some background on the regiment, or key action on a particular day during the war, so that when you ask your question on the forums, you post it to the ‘right’ group.

Once you know the regiment, you are ready to look for the battle diaries of the battalion, the regiment and the division of which it was part.  Soldiers of other ranks are rarely mentioned by name, unless for something particularly noteworthy.  You can view digital copies of the diaries The National Archives at Kew, free of charge.

Workplace Memorials: If you are researching a workplace memorial, like the War Memorial at Waterloo, which lists railway employees, or even the small memorial inside the Royal Mail Sorting Office in Kingston upon Thames, bear in mind that they will record employees who may not have lived locally.  However, listing on a workplace memorial means that if you can locate the employment records for your soldier, at least some of his or her story will be revealed.  You may even find, if you contact the organisation’s archvist, that there was mention of his death or military service in its internal publications at the time.