When researching a family member, we rely on primary and secondary sources of information. Primary sources, such as marriage certificates, are usually the most reliable – but not always. When looking at my parents’ marriage certificate, I discovered that sometimes personal knowledge can be the most reliable source of all.
My father’s name was listed on his marriage certificate as the name he was known by, which wasn’t his birth name (he didn’t legally change his name until 13 years later when a new job required it). Additionally, his step-father was listed as his father on the certificate. Taken at face value, this could have complicated and slowed down any search for his birth (especially as mother’s aren’t listed on marriage certificates) and may have led to his step-father’s family being incorrectly added to the family tree.
Finding these errors on my parents’ marriage certificate has made me reassess one of my brick walls (although I think in that case it may be more of a hindrance than a help, time will tell).
The National Archives site at Kew is currently closed because of the Covid-19 restrictions in the UK. In response to this, to help of all us genealogists stuck at home, the Archive is giving free access to all its digital records for as long as the site remains closed.
The only restrictions are that you must register (which is free), you can only download 10 items at a time and no more than 50 items in 30 days.
I had no idea that my great grandfather, John Williams, had served in the army, in three different regiments between about 1917 and 1945. My dad never mentioned it, even though he was close to his grandfather, and I wonder whether he even knew. I’m writing this post hoping it will help me fill in the blanks.
I only found out that he had served in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (TA) when I read my grandmother’s birth certificate, which shows her father’s occupation as ‘General Labourer (Private R.W.F.)’.
A search on Find My Past found that John had enlisted in The Royal Welsh Fusiliers (TA) on 8 July 1920 in Holyhead, Anglesey, his army number is listed as 4178620. The entry above John is for his brother-in-law, Joseph Henry Marshall (army number 4178619). A note at the end of John’s enlistment record stated he had previously been in the Welch Regiment (no. 85741) and had been discharged 2 months earlier on 8 May 1920. Sadly I haven’t been able to find any other information about John’s time in the Welch Regiment.
In 1931, John and his family moved from Holyhead to Fleetwood in Lancashire. He was discharged from the R.W.F. on the 31 December 1932, the reason given was “struck off strength” – meaning he was longer required. He was a lance corporal when he was discharged.
On the 8 June 1939, now living in Bolton, Lancashire, John re-enlisted, this time in The Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire) TA with the same army number as the R.W.F., 4178620.
In December 1939 his battalion was part of the 1st Infantry Brigade, attached to the 1st Infantry Division. They were sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. In May 1940, they formed part of the rearguard for the evacuation of Dunkirk and were based in Bergues.
According to casualty records, John was reported missing in action in France in May 1940, along with 11 other members of the 1st Loyals. He was later reported no longer missing, no date for him no longer being missing is shown, just that he was on Casualty List number 273.
Sadly that’s all I know of John’s military service. It’s one of those situations that I wish I’d discovered earlier, when there people I could have asked, but I will keep searching for more information.
John divorced from my great grandmother in the late 1940s, but he remained close to her and the family and my dad lived with him in Wesham when he was a teenager. John died in Wesham Park Hospital in Lancashire in February 1966.
Dates and places
- May 1900 – Born in Holyhead.
- Between 1917 and 1920 – Joined the Welch Regiment. Service number 85741.
- 1920 – 8 May – Discharged from the Welch Regiment.
- 1920 – 8 July – Enlisted in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (TA) in Holyhead. Army number 4178620.
- 1932 – 31 December – Discharged from the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Reason given “Struck Off Strength”.
- 1939 – 8 June – Enlisted in the Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire) in Bolton. Army number 4178620.
- 1940 – May – While serving in the 1st Batallion of the Loyal Regiment, he as reported missing in France.
- 1940 – Reported no longer missing (Casualty list #273).
Catherine (Kate) Jarrett Marshall
Relationship: Great grandmother
Born: 29 June 1900
Place: Caernarfon, Gwynedd (Carnarvonshire at the time)
Place: Wesham, Lancashire
The house smelled faintly of gas and everyone seemed to speak in Welsh, even though it was in Lancashire, those are my main memories of my paternal great grandmother, Catherine (known in the family as Kate) who died when I was 8 years old.
When my gran, Winifred Williams, was 20 she fell pregnant with my dad, she never told him who his father was, only that he was a sailor she’d met in Fleetwood. I have toyed with the idea of doing an Ancestry DNA test, but I’m not sure I want to open that potential can of worms!
It must have been difficult for her being an unmarried mother in 1941 and I have great admiration for her. She was luckier than many in her position because she had the support of her parents and her siblings.
A fairly comprehensive list of the surnames connected to my Williams / McAndrew family tree. Mostly for my information, but if you think any of them are of interest to you then take a look at my tree on Ancestry (you’ll need an Ancestry account, but you don’t have to have a current subscription).
The surnames come mainly from Lancashire, North Wales and Sligo.
This photo is from a Williams (and possibly Marshall) family gathering, taken in 1943 in Holyhead, North Wales. Third up on the left side of the table is my dad (John Williams) sitting on his aunt, Ceridwen Williams, knee.
I have no idea who anyone else in the picture is. The photo was passed to my dad from his mum, but all he could remember that she told him was that it was taken on a regular family gathering in Holyhead.
Daily prompts from Geneabloggers.
In 1953, my great grandmother, Catherine Williams, married Benny Greenwood in Kirkham, Lancashire. They held their reception at The Stanley pub in Wesham, this is them with friends outside the pub.
Benny died when I was very young and I don’t really remember him. But in the photos I’ve seen, I always think he looked like a lovely, cheery man. More importantly, my dad spoke very fondly of him, referring to him as ‘Uncle Benny’, and Benny seems to have treated my dad like a son. He taught my dad about gardening, showed him how to grow vegetables at his allotment and encouraged him in his mechanic apprenticeship.
So I’m dedicating this ‘Wedding Wednesday’ prompt to my step great grandfather, Uncle Benny.
Daily prompts from Geneabloggers.
The 1939 Register recently became available on Ancestry. Whilst this is great news for subscribers who don’t have a Find My Past subscription, I’ve found that it’s not as easy to use as it is on Find My Past.
Many of the Register’s entries only list a surname for the first person in each household. Ancestry have taken this literally in their transcriptions, resulting in a lot of people who are on the Register not appearing in the search results.
Great Uncle John
For example here is the Register entry for my great grandmother’s brother, John W Higginson, and his wife and children.
As you can see John W.’s surname is listed, but his wife and children’s surnames aren’t – this is the same for all the entries on their street and for many other entries in Bolton (and possibly other places). Find My Past have assumed that all the entries share the surname, Higginson, but Ancestry have left the surname blank in their transcripts.
I understand that Ancestry’s transcripts are completely accurate – no surname is listed so no surname should be entered. However, this means that if I search for another family member, say John W.’s son, also called John, the search returns no results. The only way to locate him is to either search for his father or search with no surname – neither of which are ideal.
Is There A Way Round This?
If you’re struggling to find someone on the 1939 Register using Ancestry, try searching for any family members you know of, you should eventually find them. If that doesn’t work, try using just their first name, date of birth and location. Although this will take a lot of checking of entries, Ancestry does have the useful feature of showing a brief summary of each result when you hover on it, which should speed things up.
I have submitted corrections on the entries I’ve come across, but whether Ancestry will accept them is yet to be seen. As I say, I do appreciate that strictly speaking Ancestry’s transcripts are correct.