Burntwood Family History Group
   Home      Journal 2004 10 Volume 13 Number 1
Extracts from Burntwood Family History Group Journal
October 2004     
     Vol. 13 No. 1
  Contents of this issue.
Chairman's Message
News from the Secretary
Your Journal Needs YOU!
Going Down the Wrong Branch
Websites with a Difference!
Request for Genealogical Help
CD-ROMs Available
20 Years to Find a Grandfather
Arising from Coal Dust (Part 6)

Chairman’s Message

Once again I greet you as Chairman of Burntwood Family History Group. Thank you for the vote of confidence given by members who attended the AGM.

I would like to thank the retiring committee for the work they have done on behalf of us all over the last twelve months. Sadly, three people were unable to put their names forward for re-election this time, so replacements had to be found. As you will have realised already, Stan Fussell resigned after completing a two-year stint as chairman and I was nominated to take his place. Val Banks and Joy Blackmore were replaced by Barbara Williams, who was our secretary some years ago, and Geoff Wilson. We welcome them.

Before we know where we are, Christmas will be upon us. We are hoping to book a group meal (venue to be arranged) and hope that more of you will join us this year. Details may be obtained from Alan Betts at the October meeting.

We are again planning a London visit on 29th Dec. with the usual drop-off points at Marble Arch and the Family Records Centre. Don’t forget that other useful repositories are nearby and well worth a visit. The Metropolitan Archives are very close if you have London research, and the Probate Search Rooms at First Avenue House are a short bus or tube journey away. The Society of Genealogists is situated on Goswell Rd., which is a fifteen-minute walk away, but remember that entry is not free. A whole day costs £14.50, but you can pay by the hour I believe.

I hope 2004/2005 is going to be a successful year for our group. Please do not hesitate to speak to myself or a member of the committee if you have any suggestions to help with the running of the group.
News from the Secretary

By the time you are reading this we shall have entered our 18th year of existence as a Group, and had our 2004 Annual General Meeting. Our Chair Elect for 2004/5 is Jane Leake, and she will be letting you all know in due course about the Group’s 20th Anniversary Project. I will keep you in suspense about the details for the time being, but everyone in the group will be able to contribute.

Our retiring Chair, Stan Fossell, has agreed to take over the Group Library for the time being, as our long-serving librarians, Geoff and Mary Colverson, are unable to continue for the time being at least, for health reasons. Our thanks to them for all their work in the past and our best wishes for a speedy return to full health.

Unfortunately I have to report the death of one of our founder members, Tony Wallington, in early September. Tony had not been well for some time, and had a recent history of strokes. He was diagnosed as having a brain tumour in August, and I was able to see him and deliver the July issue of the Journal to him whilst he was in Good Hope Hospital. As always, he had an article in there, but I am not sure that he was ever able to read it before he died. The funeral was held at Lichfield Cathedral on Monday 13th September, and several members of the Group attended. Condolences to his son, Francis, and the rest of the family.

We also lost another of our hardworking members recently. Mary Farmer had not been a member of the Group for all that long, but had made a significant contribution to our activities. She died suddenly in August and will be very much missed. Our thoughts go out to her husband and family.

On the other side of the coin, we are continuing to recruit new members all the time, particularly through our group website, which is run by Alan Betts. The majority of our new members are now being recruited through the website, and in many ways it has superseded the Journal as the major source of information to our members and others. Alan puts in many hours of work in order to keep the site up-to-date and, whilst we know that  occasional errors of fact or printing do occur (as in the Journal), it is virtually impossible in a group as small as ours to have everything proofread before it goes live. Thanks, Alan, for all the hard work.
Membership renewal

All memberships are renewable on 1st August each year. If your membership lapses, this will be the last copy of the Journal you will receive and you may be asked to pay the visitor’s entrance fee if you attend meetings, so please renew now if you wish to retain the benefits of membership. The subscription for 2004-5 remains the same, at £6.00 for single membership or £10.00 for family membership. The reduced rates of £3 and £5 after 1st February are only for new members. If you pay your subscription after that date as a ‘Renewal’ it will be at the full rate, but we will endeavour to supply back numbers of the Journal. However, this cannot be guaranteed, as we only do a limited print run of each issue.

Coach Trips

If you wish the Committee to organise coach trips to London for research etc, it is essential that more support is forthcoming. We cannot afford to run a coach trip at a loss, and need at least 35 paid-for seats to be occupied once the coach has been booked. If fewer than this number have paid for their seats three weeks before the date, the trip has to be cancelled. The most recently organised trip was cancelled through lack of support. This means lots of wasted time and effort on the part of the people who run the trips. Thanks to Pam Woodburn for continuing to do the organising of the coach trips for us.

Fiche and Reader Hire Scheme

This is still suspended, as no-one has volunteered to administer it. However, it may be that with so much information available in digital form these days, there is no longer any demand from members for home use of the microfiches and readers. If the scheme is to be continued, two problems have to be considered: a) who will be the custodian of the fiches and readers; and b) do the members still want to be able to take fiches and readers home with them to do their research? Or is it sufficient to have them available at Thursday meetings? To be the custodian, you would have to be prepared to keep records of borrowing for both readers and fiches, to keep a number of machines at home, and bring a number of machines to the Old Mining College for Thursday meetings. On meeting nights the machines have to be set up for use, and the fiches have to be brought out of their storeroom (currently at the meeting room, but they may have to be moved to a shed at the back of the building). People using the machines may have to be shown how to use them and be directed to the fiches they require. At the end of the evening, everything has to be put away and any machines not taken on loan have to be taken home for storage. Between meetings it may sometimes be necessary to arrange transfer of a machine or fiche from one member to another. Although this sounds rather a lot of work, the scheme is used so little since the advent of digital research aids that it is not really onerous.

Publications and Floppy Discs

Len Wenman is still not well and, as he has to spend so much time away from home, it has been decided that for the time being all enquiries for and sales of our booklets and floppy disc transcriptions will be channelled through me (address and tel. no. are on the inside front page). I am sure everyone will wish for Len’s full recovery in due course, and hope that before too long he will be able to resume his duties as our Publications Officer.

Digital Library

Items are being added all the time as they become available, so check with Pauline Stanley if you have been patiently waiting to search the censuses for our local counties from 1841 to 1871 on CD-ROM. There are two desktop computers and a laptop computer available for use at most Thursday meetings, and Pauline will tell you exactly what is available and how to use it. There are also some other research sources available on disc media, and Pauline has a printed list of everything we have to date . Finally, a big ‘Thank you’ to Val Banks, who served the Committee and the Group well until she was forced to resign due to pressure of work; to Joy Blackmore for taking on fundraising, following the resignation from the Committee of Brian Steadman; to Brian, for his work in the past; to Maureen Hemmingsley for being such an efficient Minutes Secretary; to Jennie Lee, who joined the Committee in mid-year and immediately got involved with the Transcription Project; and to the ladies who volunteered to do our Thursday refreshments for six months in October last and are still doing them, namely Ann Wheeler and Joy Blackmore. Last, but not least, let me say how grateful we should all be to Bernard Daniels for his work in producing the 3.5" floppy discs, which have largely superseded the booklets which were the subject of our 10th Anniversary Project. Bernard has been badgered by me for some time now to produce a single CD-ROM with all the project transcriptions on it, and whilst I would not like to commit him to a production date, I do know that this is now a practical possibility and could well be the ‘crowning glory’ of the 10th Anniversary Project if it can be marketed during 2005 to the Family History community in general. If I have missed anyone, thank you to you, too. Geoff Sorrell, Honorary Secretary

Your Journal needs YOU!

The Journal is always in need of contributions from members to fill its pages. So, especially for the benefit of those readers who weren’t present at the AGM, here’s a quick summary of the kind of material we need:

1.  Book, Magazine or Website Reviews: Read any good books on family history lately, or found an interesting website that’s helped you in your researches? Or how about the many magazines on the subject that are around? Why not tell the membership about it?

2.  Problems with Computers: Most of us use computers, but not everyone is an expert. If you’ve got a problem (e.g. Norton Utilities blocking access to websites), tell us about it and we’ll try and find an answer. Or, if you’ve solved a problem yourself and feel it would be helpful to others, again tell us.

3.  Questions generally about any aspect of genealogy research: Again, if you’re stuck somewhere, why not appeal for help from Journal readers. If an answer can't be found before publication, it can be posted up in the journal for readers to supply possible answers for the next issue.

4.  Fillers: And finally, we can always use short items to fill up those awkward spaces when articles don’t run to a whole number of spaces. Poems, anecdotes, snippets of genealogical lore, or ‘Murphy’s Law in Genealogy’ items are always welcome.
Brian Asbury and Jan Green, Journal Editors
Coincidences by Noreen Handy and fellow BFHG members
After reading the May edition of the Burntwood Family History Group Journal, I replied to the first two ‘Requests for Genealogical Help’ with information. After several attempts, I finally received replies. The first was from Glenda Evans, requiring information on Howdles Cottages and the whereabouts of Brook Lane, Burntwood, where her g-grandfather Robert Westwood and his family lived in 1901. Westwood was also part of our family history.

The second was from a N. Perks of Norway, who was requiring information on the first names of her great-grandparents by the name of Watson, who were at the White Swan Pub, Burntwood. Again I was able to help, from the research done on the Our Local Watering Holes book, by informing her that a Sarah Watson was the licensee by 1912, and also that by 1924 Archibald and John Watson were there. Archibald was the licensee.

Meanwhile, Barbara Williams, on reading the same messages, wondered if anything had been done to help. Barbara decided to have a go and emailed back. After several attempts they finally got in touch. Barbara and Pauline went to the Lichfield Record Office and first looked in the index cards for the newspapers for the death of Sarah’s husband. The lady in the office suggested they look for Charles Watson’s death in the parish records first, and there they found a burial at Christchurch in August 1911. They then went back to look at the newspapers, and found the report of his suicide at the Swan Pub, Burntwood. Pauline ordered copies of both burial and newspaper report and took it from there.

Noreen asked for further information and found that Sarah Watson was the daughter of James Fox, a publican from Pelsall. Pam Turner was then able to assist us with going back even further. We all started with the name Watson, and with Noreen’s names and Pam’s information we had acquired a family tree.Geoff Sorrell, who is researching in the Pelsall area, informed us of Charles Watson’s mother, Maria Eames, whose father was Joseph, married 3/5/1812 to Jane Valance of Norton.

Evelyn, daughter of Sarah Watson, married Joseph Neville, who came from the draper’s shop in Cannock Road (where today’s Springhill Garage stands). His brother was Billy Neville the councillor, and his father was Henry Neville, a miner married to Charlotte Westwood, spinster daughter of Henry Westwood, a miner. Henry Neville’s father was a miner and son of Thomas Neville, a labourer. oreen’s mom’s sister married Maurice Falkner from Falkner’s Chip Shop – opposite to where the draper’s shop used to be. Pauline had heard that Noreen was in the area and arranged for us all to meet at her house. Noreen arrived at 1.30pm, and the rest of us at 2.00pm. When Barbara arrived at Pauline’s house and was introduced to Noreen from Norway, they chatted before the others arrived. Suddenly something seemed to click in Barbara’s mind, and she asked Noreen what her husband’s name was – Colin. Barbara knew immediately that Noreen’s husband had worked for her own son before they emigrated to Norway.

Noreen thought she knew Barbara, or reminded her of someone, Barbara’s sister who had worked in her son’s office and who had gone to their wedding. I, Noreen Handy, then joined the party. Noreen from Norway asked what my maiden name was – Noreen J. Elliott, a former pupil of Chase Terrace Comprehensive School. She told me that her first married name was Mrs. Noreen J. Elliott! She, too, was a former pupil of Chase Terrace Comp, and was taught the recorder at Chase Terrace Primary School by Mrs Jane Leake. During Noreen’s teaching career she taught at Cheslyn Hay, along with Mrs. Pam Woodburn. We talked of her family history, and she also had Westwood in her family tree – the same ones as ours, and incidentally those of Glenda Evans – small world!

The next day, a friend called to see me with a book she had promised to let me look at; it was the 1991-1992 Yearbook from Chase Terrace High School, and in it was the photo and name of teacher Mrs. N. Elliott. The same friend had just collected together a booklet entitled Cyril Patrick Harvey, A Man of the People. On opening the book to have a quick look, I saw a family tree which included the Westwoods whom we know are the same as ours... From all this research, we have made new friends and learned a lot – but the result was a series of amazing coincidences!
Coincidences – My Side of the Story by Noreen Perks of Norway

Having lived in Burntwood for most of my life, it was quite a culture shock, to say the least, to find myself and my family in Norway! The pace of life here is so much more relaxed, and the interest in finding out about my family grew out of pure curiosity, although to start with I didn’t have much to go on.

Both my parents were born in Burntwood, but apart from my grandparents, whom I grew up with and have fond memories of, I didn’t know anything about my great-grandparents. My family on my mother’s side were staunch Methodists, and the fact that my grandfather married a young woman whose parents were landlords of the White Swan in Burntwood was not something that went down very well. Needless to say, my mother didn’t even know the Christian names of her grandparents. All I had to go on at the beginning of my search were the surnames Neville and Watson.

After searching the net I came across the website for the Burntwood Family History Society and thought that they may be able to help me with further information on the landlords of the pub at Swan Island. I promptly put an email together and sent it. After a week or so, I had a reply saying that the person who picked up my email couldn’t help me as it wasn’t his area, but he would pass it on to someone who could possibly help

All this happened in November 2003. You can imagine my surprise to find an email waiting for me in May of this year, answering my original message! At first I was a little apprehensive on opening it as we have, in the past, had a lot of spam and virus emails. The name Noreen Handy was the title and, with my name not being the most common name ever, I wondered whether I should just ignore it. I’m so pleased that I didn’t. I also began to receive messages from Pauline Stanley, who along with many others helped me with the search.

At the beginning of July I was lucky enough to meet these ladies, when I was over for a holiday. There were also many uncanny coincidences which members have written about in the journal, so I won’t repeat them. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the ladies who have helped, and it was so lovely to meet such an enthusiastic group of people. The Internet is a great resource, and who could imagine that you could meet so many nice people who are willing to spend their time trying to help others with a common interest? Many thanks again! Noreen Perks
Going down the wrong branch by Brian K. Asbury

It’s very easy to make the wrong assumption when you’re researching your family tree. When I began to research my ancestry, an important starting-point was my paternal grandmother, Gertrude Darrall, who was the only one of my grandparents who was born before the 1901 census. Finding her as a one-year-old on the census gave me the names of her parents, William and Louisa.

Looking up William Darrall, born in Bilston, on the 1881 census, I found him easily enough and was delighted to discover he was living with his parents in Wimblebury. His parents were named Solomon and Mary, were 49 and 45 respectively, and were still alive on the 1901 census, too. But there was a snag. Both were born in Shropshire – Mary in Bridgnorth and Solomon in ‘Wenlock’.

Now it’s easy, hereabouts, to get information on Staffordshire, with excellent facilities at Stafford and Lichfield, and even the Local History Centre at Walsall. Getting info on Shropshire is less straightforward unless you’ve got the time and opportunity to go over to Shrewsbury and delve through the records there.

However, there are plenty of online sources to try, so I turned to the IGI on the Family Search website. Unfortunately, while there were lots of Darralls listed for Little Wenlock, Shropshire, there was nothing on a Solomon Darrall born around 1832 – no birth, no christening or even marriage.

As I catalogued the Little Wenlock Darralls, however, I realised that they fell into distinct family groups. There were two clear lines: one beginning with Robert Darrall and Ann in 1713 and the other starting with Richard Darrall and Mary in 1710. There was no hint as to how, or even if, Robert and Richard were connected, but if I could link Solomon to either line it would take my search back by as many as five further generations!

But who was Solomon Darrall’s father? Looking at the names from the IGI, one stood out from the rest – Solomon Darroll. The different spelling was incidental, I knew, as I’d found a multitude of Daralls, Darrells, Darolls and others who were definitely members of the same family. But the same Christian name – that had to be significant. Solomon was hardly a common name even then.

What could I find about him online? Well, he was christened in 1805, the youngest son of William and Mary Darrall. There was a  marriage listed in 1834 to Sophia Davies. This was after Solly Junior’s probable birth date, but by now I’d learned that this was not necessarily significant: ages given on censuses are notoriously inaccurate. Or, alternatively, it could have been a second marriage. Or, failing all else, Solly Jr. could simply have been born out of wedlock.
If this has a faint air of desperation to it, it’s probably because I could find out little else. Solly Sr. turned out to be still alive on the 1881 census, but by then he was living in Yorkshire with his daughter and son-in-law, so there were no clues there.

So what to do? I felt sure I was on the right track; the names couldn’t be just coincidence! I wasn’t able to go to Shropshire, but there were online message boards for Shropshire, and if I posted a request for help there I might get a response.

Well, that was the theory. In fact, it was months later and several re-worded appeals before someone took pity on me. In that time, I’d made great strides with the rest of my family tree, but the Darralls were still stuck. I was very tempted to pencil in the Solomons as father and son but, without any real evidence to back up my hunch, I resisted the urge and continued to hope I could find something that would link them together.

Then, finally, I received an email from someone in New Zealand, of all places, with some census extracts for Shropshire in 1851. They listed Solomon Darrall Sr, his wife Sophia and several children, including three who seemed to be Sophia’s from a previous marriage. But no young Solomon.

Of course, Solly Jr. would have been around 19 in 1851, so perhaps he’d already left home. But where was he? The answer finally came when I visited the FRC in London and got a chance to look at the 1851 Little Wenlock census. I found 19-year-old Solomon Darrall living with his mother – who was named Elizabeth and widowed. My assumptions were dashed: Solly Sr. could not possibly be Solly Jr’s father! So who was he?

Fortunately, other evidence now came to light. I finally found Solly Jr’s marriage record, in which his father was named as John Darrall. This was confirmed when I got a chance to look at the 1841 census for Little Wenlock and found John still alive then. He died in 1844, and his burial record gave his age as 44, suggesting a birth date of 1800 and enabling me to sort out which John Darrall he was from no less than four born in Little Wenlock between 1796 and 1805.

And Solomon Senior? He was actually John’s younger brother, which explains the names. Solomon Jr. was named not after his father but after his uncle.

There is a moral to this story, of course, and that is that, in genealogy, one should never assume. It would have been very easy for me to record the two Solomons as father and son and left it at that; however, I instead continued to search and the truth eventually emerged. Persistence really does pay. Brian Asbury
Websites with a Difference! by Pam Turner

Every time I find a new site on the Internet with a family history theme, I always store it in my ‘Favorites’ [sic!] section, just in case I may find it useful in the future. Here are ten of the sites I have saved, some of which are not run-of-the-mill genealogical sites but nevertheless have been beneficial at some point in my research.

Ancient Manor of Sedgley - www.sedgleymanor.com/index.html
An excellent site if you have ancestors from the Sedgley area – includes census info, surname researchers, pictures, maps, Black Country dialect and much, much more.
A very useful resource for genealogists and historians that makes sense of medical terms which may come to light on death certificates – also includes information on poisons and epidemics.
Excellent site of links to many interesting and different web pages with a genealogical theme.
How Much Is That Worth Today? - www.eh.net/hmit/ppowerbp/
Useful if you want a quick calculation of how much an ancestor’s will is worth in today’s money.
Historical Value of Money in UK - www.johnowensmith.co.uk/histdate/moneyval.htm
A site similar to the above but using a table to calculate the value.
The Black Sheep Index - www.lightage.demon.co.uk
Index to various villains from all over UK; if you find a name of interest, further details can be obtained for a small charge. This site also contains a Great War Index, a World War II Index and a Police Index. Altogether a very good site if you think you may have an ancestor involved in a crime, the police or the world wars.
This is a good quick search site if you want to find out about events in History that happened the year your ancestor was born/married/died, etc.
Useful Dates in British History - www.johnowensmith.co.uk/histdate/
A site similar to the above – a good resource for genealogists and the local historian.
History of Wheaton Aston and Surrounding Areas (Inc. Lapley) - www.ray.cowley.btinternet.co.uk/index.htm
A very informative site with pictures both past and present, and useful if you have ancestors from the area.
A site searchable by surname and area which gives details of people who were witnesses at weddings. Includes info from many areas of the UK.

Requests for Genealogical Help

Douglas S. Aldrich (kaandsa1@wmconnect.com) writes from Woonsocket, Rhode Island, USA:

I came across your website and found to my dismay none of your members are doing any research on the Goodwin families in your area. My particular interest is in my 3rd g-grandfather Richard Goodwin. He married Mary Ann Marmont and they had many children who were baptised there according to the Bloxwich Parish Church Records:

Robert Goodwin born abt. 1831

Mary Ann Goodwin bap. 23/3/1844

William Goodwin bap. 9/3/1834

Sarah Ann Goodwin bap. 17/8/1845

Jane Goodwin born 10/11/1835

David Goodwin bap. 27/12/1846

Charles Goodwin born 23/3/1837

Richard Goodwin bap. 30/5/1848

Harriet Elizabeth Goodwin bap. 7/6/1840

Henry Ennis Goodwin bap. 30/5/1848

What I am trying to track down is the fact that child no. 1 – Robert, my g-g-grandfather – was actually the illegitimate son of Robert Smith and Mary Ann Marmont. When Robert was 3, his mother Mary Ann married Richard Goodwin on 10 Jan 1833 in St Peter’s Collegiate Church, Wolverhampton, and Richard gave him the Goodwin name. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
20 Years to Find a Grandfather by Roger Smethers

Just looking at our own Society membership seems to confirm the belief that trying to find about one’s forebears is mostly a preoccupation of older people. Individually we know this and regret the opportunities lost by not being able to tap the memories and family knowledge of elderly relatives now gone. In my case, three of my grandparents had died long before I was born and the fourth when I was six. By the time I embarked on researching my family, only two relatives of two generations back remained.

Nevertheless, I made very rapid progress with my maternal grandmother’s line and moderately so with those of my maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother. What remained was the one I had the greatest urge to find out about, the line bearing my own name. Smethers, I knew, was a rare one (only 36 entries in the whole 1881 census) and, being so, I rashly thought it would make my task easier. That was nearly 20 years ago!

My father knew he had been born in Stockport, but could scarcely remember his parents as his mother died when he was six and his father when he was 11. Of his mother, he remembered nothing. Of his father, he knew his name was John and that at one time John had worked on the dockside at Birkenhead unloading cattle boats coming from Ireland. Not much to go on. There was, however, one small perplexing ‘gem’ that father had kept from his own father.

Why ‘perplexing’? I’ll explain. In a wardrobe, my father had kept a box containing savings certificates, his house plan, mortgage matters and miscellaneous bills and receipts, all of no real interest. I also knew that there was a very small envelope containing four funeral cards. One, of his mother, recorded her burial at Chasetown in 1903. The other three were all members of a Smithies family: Richard Smithies (d. 1887) and his wife Esther (d. 1885) both of New House Farm, Chaigley; and Edmund Smithies (d. 1901) of Whalley – all in Lancashire. Edmund, I assumed, was their son. The first two had been buried at Gt. Mitton, near Clitheroe. Who these Smithies were I had no idea, but the fact that their funeral cards had been preserved in spite of family upheavals suggested that they were close family, not just family friends.

The next time we went north on holiday, I felt I had to see if I could find New House Farm and the Smithies’ graves. Chaigley did not show up on any road atlas I consulted, but Gt. Mitton did, just about. On an Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 map, Chaigley did not get shown as a distinct settlement, though there was a Chaigley Manor and a Chaigley Farm. Voilá! A 1:25,000 map actually showed New House Farm. We were going to the Yorkshire Dales and instead of going up the M1 way I persuaded my wife that taking the M6 would be an equally good way to get there. I love tramping through churchyards; my wife doesn’t.

Chaigley, I found, was just a small number of dwellings along a minor road. The present occupants of the farm had no knowledge of the Smithies who had lived there, or of any with that name at all. Disappointing, but not really unexpected. Great Mitton has a beautiful church in a beautiful setting. Voilá, again, as there was a sizable tomb that not only listed the two people I knew of but five more, though not one named John. This gave me some satisfaction as I knew that my grandfather had been buried in Stockport, but it added nothing to my quest to find out how my grandfather tied in with these people, if he was.

So, back to more logical research techniques. First, find my grandparents’ marriage certificate, get his age and his father’s name and real progress could begin. Well, it did not quite work out like that. He had been married at Stockport in 1888, was 22 and a butcher. His father was given as Richard Smethers, farmer, deceased – intriguing, because Richard Smithies had been a farmer and had died just the year before. This knowledge threw up two thoughts. Was my grandfather illegitimate but still used his father’s name to hide his illegitimacy, or was John Smethers really John Smithies (though, at the time, I had not found anyone of that name), with the name being changed for some reason? Resolving this dilemma took many years and a great stroke of luck.

From John’s stated age, it was easy to find that a John Smethers’ birth was registered in the 1st quarter of 1867, perfectly in line with expectation. The certificate gave the address as 51 Rachel Street, Liverpool, the mother as Mary Smethers and the informant as Margaret Smethers. No father was mentioned, typical of an illegitimacy. Then followed several years of trying to link those three to me and to the Smithies family in Chaigley.

The IGI threw up several names and places and one, in particular, seemed promising. This was the marriage of a William Smethers in 1794 at Gt. Mitton. Countless hours of research produced no convincing link between any of them and me. I advertised, sent letters of inquiry to family history groups and even paid a researcher to check the 1861 and 1871 censuses and church registers from the area of Liverpool where John had been born. It did produce one result, both amusing but indicative of social urban problems of the time. He had tracked down a Margaret Smethers to Danson Street; she was a lodging house keeper but the enumerator had written alongside: ‘House of ill repute’. Needless to say, all five ‘lodgers’ were young women. The next three houses were all beer houses. An interesting street, indeed.
Eventually, I obtained a computer and, in time, the set of 1881 census discs. It has some imperfections, but the names index is worth a small fortune. Of course, I looked first for John Smethers; there were two, but both 30 years older than my grandfather would have been. The Smithies of New House Farm, Chaigley were there, including another Richard, who was probably too young to have fathered my grandfather, and a John born 1859/60. For that John to be my grandfather, his age declared when he married would have been 28/29 and not 22. Perhaps he just wanted to conceal his real age from his new wife, who was just 18. Certainly, his age recorded in the 1901 census, on two marriage certificates and his death certificate all show considerable inconsistencies. But was I clutching at straws and disregarding good practice?

Trying to unravel my dilemma continued with growing despondency. If it been another family line I could have shrugged off the disappointment – but it was my name line, and it mattered to me. Then I eventually went on the Internet and before long I struck lucky: very lucky. On the ‘Surnames Interests for Lancashire’ site there was someone else researching the very same family in Chaigley and Mitton. The odds against this happening when you have been stuck with a problem for years is impossible to calculate.

I immediately sent a message and so began a frequent correspondence with Linda (née Smithies) and husband Stewart in Preston and, to date, a couple of meetings. The data they had collected, and its thoroughness, were impressive, taking the family back to the mid-17th Century. In my bones I felt there was more evidence to come and, also, I had been building up a dossier of coincidences linking my known family to theirs. Bear with me if I reiterate some of what has gone before, because absolute documentary evidence has not (yet) been found; but, as in many court cases, strong circumstantial evidence can suffice.

5.     I had three Smithies family funeral cards of people who were definitely ancestors of Linda.

6.     In 1888 my grandfather declared his father to be Richard Smethers, farmer, deceased – attributes the same as for Richard Smithies.

7.     John Smethers named his eldest son John Howard. Howard was his mother’s maiden name.

My father’s sister Mary, when very old, still retained a good long term memory but not a short term one. She could describe their house in Stockport, which she had last seen nearly 90 years before. She knew the name of the street and remembered having an Aunt Jane and an Uncle Sagar. At the time, I wrote it down, but who has ever heard of an Uncle Sagar? I thought she was mistaken. However, Richard and Esther’s children did include a Jane and a Sagar.

8.     John Smithies had appeared in the 1861, 1871 and 1881 censuses but not 1901. John Smethers has to date only been found in 1901, where he gave his place of birth as Chaigley.

9.     Attentive readers will be asking, ‘What about the John Smethers who was born in Liverpool and whom you believed to have been your grandfather?’ Well, thanks to 1837.com I recently found that he had died, aged just one week. For years I had accepted the wrong ‘ancestor’ on the basis of him having the right, and rare, name and being born at the ‘right’ time. I wonder just how many of us have fallen into this trap?

10.            Finally, I felt that after many years of hard and frustrating endeavour I would go one final step further and take a DNA test, if Linda’s father, Eric, would also do so. The hypothesis was that he and I had the same great-grandfather. He was willing, and the tests were taken. The results confirmed a strong link between us, but not sufficient on its own to constitute absolute proof.

I now accept that I am descended from the Smithies of Chaigley, as do Linda and Stewart. Why the name change came about I do not know and I doubtless never will. It has been a long chase with many periods when I felt that the genealogical brick wall would never be breached, but one must soldier on. Perhaps one appreciates best that which does not come easily. The quest to find more about my grandfather has most certainly been in this category. Roger Smethers
Buy One, Get One Free
The following extract is from the West Cumberland Times of 27th November 1920...

It will interest our many friends to know that our ‘Something for Nothing’ offer of a Navy Serge Suit for £8.8s with an extra pair of Trousers for Nothing and our offer of a Navy Serge Costume for £10.10s with an extra Skirt for Nothing has resulted in 189 yards of the cloth referred to being cut up into 42 Suits and Costumes WITHIN A WEEK.

Comment is needless – it is for our many clients to avail themselves of what is, in fact, the best value obtainable in or out of London.

We have examined the Order Book of Messrs Lucas and Cussons, Tailors, Whitehaven, and certify that they have booked orders for 42 Suits and Costumes as the result of their Advertisement of Thursday, the 18th inst.

So the apparently modern idea of ‘buy one, get one free’ really isn’t so modern, is it?

Arising from Coal Dust by Alan Brookes Part 6: Interesting Folk

Life as a boy in Chase Terrace was never boring, but full of interest from morning till night. There always seemed lots of fascination to me in just observing the comings and goings of ordinary Terrace people.

Before I was born, Mr. William Gee, who owned the grocery store in High Street, used to sell his wares whilst going around the streets with his pony, Dolly, pulling a cart. That man was now greying and old, and confined to the rear of his shop counter. His black pony was retired to its grassy field alongside the railway tracks. Every evening Dolly would receive the unsold fruit and vegetables from her master’s shop, as a reward for her earlier toils when pulling his heavy cart.

Everalls, in Princess Street, was the local hardware store. Every day someone could be seen entering the shop with an accumulator and leaving with a different one. These were the forerunners of batteries; made of glass, they received a booster charge at Everalls, in order to emit a 9-volt direct current to power ‘wirelesses’.

The village policeman was Bobby Jones. He was always to be seen riding around the district on his bicycle, resplendent in his dark blue uniform, black gloves and tall peaked hat. He carried his raincoat over his shoulder, neatly folded and secured by epaulettes, and his top pocket bulged with whistle and notebook. His red, rotund, shiny face was usually jolly, except on the day I remember he caught me giving Peter a ride on the crossbar of my bicycle.

“Come here you two!” he barked at us in his strong Welsh accent. We didn’t need to move towards him, because he quickly came over and slapped us both around our heads with his outstretched hand, which was accompanied by a stern telling-off. He always seemed to know when we were up to something, and also everything else that was happening in the village. It’s a pity the vandals and young criminals of today can’t receive a dose of Bobby Jones’s swift punishment, instead of social workers and other soft do-gooders attempting to psychologically understand them.

In those days, you never dared play truant from school. An unanswered roll call at school was followed by a visit to your home by the school inspector, Mr. Davies. On most mornings he could be seen strutting along the streets armed with his notebook, checking on someone who was absent from school. He would sometimes return to school the same day, with the blushing errant boy clasped firmly by his lapels.

He was also a minister at the local Methodist Chapel. On the occasions when he gave a sermon from the pulpit at either Boney Hay Chapel or the Zion Chapel in Princess Street, he would conclude by looking sternly and directly at children in the congregation.

“Don’t be late for school tomorrow, children...” he emphasised slowly and firmly. This reference to his day job used to make me feel guilty and embarrassed. I would look around at the adult Methodists, who returned my gaze in a manner which seemed to echo and reinforce Mr. Davies’s stern rebuke.

Mr. Howard Bradshaw’s butchers shop at the top of High Street was always busy. Situated between Ironstone Road and Princess Street, he also had an abattoir where he slaughtered cows, pigs and sheep. An open-topped lorry would draw up in Eastgate Street, and Mr Bradshaw’s men would unload cattle directly into the slaughter house. The abattoir’s large wooden doors were then closed so no-one could watch the carnage going on inside. What he couldn’t prevent me seeing, though, was the animals’ blood that ran under the doors and down the concrete ramp, to discharge into the street gutters. There always seemed to be sufficient blood to run half the length of Eastgate Street, before it trickled into a drain by the corner of Davies’s paper shop and the fruit and vegetable shop on the opposite corner, which was owned and run by my great-uncle, W. E. Bull. I suppose people living in Eastgate Street were used to it; after all, it was a regular occurrence two or three times every week. In hot summer evenings it was a place to avoid, because the putrid smell was accompanied by hordes of flies.

Westwood’s coal lorry was a constant visitor to the Terrace, tipping one-ton loads of loose, concessionary coal outside the miners’ houses. A consequence of this action was that clouds of thick coal dust would blow along the streets. Miners’ wives would quickly collect their clean washing from outdoor clothes lines when they knew it was coal delivery day. Being free coal, this was coal that hadn’t gone through the colliery’s screening plant, but which was tipped straight from the mine conveyor into Mr. Westwood’s lorry. Because of this, sometimes lumps of coal as big as 2cwts each would find their way onto the pavement. Such a lump would need to broken into smaller pieces before it could be loaded into a miner’s coal-house.

A characteristic of un-screened coal was that you never knew what else would be found in it; sometimes a miner’s boot, sometimes a miner’s snap-tin. Occasionally, an explosive detonator would be found amongst the coal, together with rolls of shot wire. The detonator was a long brass bullet which was used to set off an explosion on the coalface. If one was found to be intact, it needed to be discarded and not placed on the living-room fire. Stories abounded of people sitting by their fires suddenly being showered by flaming coal, blown out of the fireplace by an exploding detonator.

Two unwelcome visitors to the Terrace were the notorious school bullies ‘Chicken’ Hale and ‘Hooky’ Hudson. Being a boy small in stature, I generally received a thump in the ribs or a push to the ground if I was unlucky enough to be near them as they passed by. It seemed a natural way of life on the Terrace, and certainly nothing to go complaining to your parents or teachers about. It also happened to lots of other boys. I just got on with life and made the best of the situation by avoiding them whenever I could.

One day, turning a street corner, I walked right into them. “Oh no,” I thought, “I’m in for it now!” Before I had a chance to turn and run, they grabbed me and pushed me to the ground. Hale held me down, while Hudson thumped me in the ribs. For once in my life my hurting ribs made anger swell inside me.

“Why should I put up with this bullying all the time? Life can’t get any worse than this – what have I got to lose?” I convinced myself, as I fought back to free my arms from Hales’ grasp. Without thinking of the consequences I suddenly lunged at Hudson with my right fist and caught him fully in the jaw and mouth. After a slight pause, he continued to beat me with renewed vigour. We all then became aware of blood running from his mouth all over my clothes. He immediately stopped and stood up, coughing and spitting out blood, before retrieving a tooth covered in blood from the inside of his cut mouth.

My lucky punch had caused some real damage to his face. I looked in horror, because I thought I would really receive a good beating now. “Perhaps life could get worse after all,” I thought, with mounting dejection.

Instead, mopping the blood from his cheek with his now soaking red handkerchief, he walked away down the road, followed by Hale in hot pursuit. I quickly got up and returned home. Hudson and Hale never bothered me again, even when I met them in situations where previously they would have bullied me. Although I retained a respect for them out of wariness, I was never frightened of them again.