Old Roots Genealogy

Family & Social History

John Williams Army 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 (Marshall) Williams (1900 – 1975)

Catherine (Kate) Jarrett Marshall
Relationship: Great grandmother
: 29 June 1900
Place: Caernarfon, Gwynedd (Carnarvonshire at the time)
Died: 1975
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.

Catherine Williams (4th from the left) & Benny Greenwood’s wedding in 1953

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Winifred Williams (1921 – 1975)

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.

Winifred William (right) and her younger sister, Ceridwen in 1962

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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.

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Williams Family Gathering – Faces From The Past Prompt

Williams / Marshall family party in Holyhead in 1943

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.

Catherine Marshall & Benny Greenwood – Wedding Wednesday

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.

1939 Register On Ancestry

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.


Transcription & Original Errors

We all make mistakes, transcribers and the original form writers (whether they be parish clerks or census enumerators) included. As we know, it’s important to check original documents whenever possible and not trust in just the transcription, but sometimes the details on original documents should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Bad Handwriting

I would imagine that most people researching their family history have come across a few transcription errors – usually names that have been mis-transcribed from difficult to read old handwriting. On the 1911 census, my great grandmother Kate is listed as Rate, her brother Uriah is Vira and her sister Eunice is Marck.

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Unreliable Documents

Sometimes even primary sources of genealogy information are incorrect. The misleading information they contain, rather than helping you through a brick wall, can simply add more layers to the wall. Let me give you an example from my family tree.

One of my ancestors was named Harold John Evans(1) . His marriage certificate lists his father as Alec Evans, a waiter, and Harold’s age as 29 years old  – so we roughly know his year of birth. A BMD search brings up 1 birth for Harold Evans and 43 births for John Evans around the correct time (assuming the age on the marriage certificate is accurate of course). Three of the John Evans births were in the same county as the marriage, but can we be sure he was born in the same county he married (there is no census data available to check this). The Harold Evans birth was in a different part of the England, maybe he moved. If you research Alec Evans you will discover that he came from Edinburgh, perhaps his son was born there? And of course there is the name – there are no births around the time indicated by the age on the marriage certificate for a Harold John Evans.

We try moving onto the parents to narrow it down a little. Where did they marry? There are two marriage’s for an Alec Evans 5 years either side of the estimated birth of his son, one of these (to a Winifred Watts) is in the same county as the son’s marriage. We could assume that is him, although none of the births we found earlier have the mother’s maiden name as Watts.

So what now? It is of course very possible that Alec married Harold’s mother 10 or 20 years before his birth, or that they married after his birth (if they married at all). Perhaps Harold’s birth is missing from the BMD records. Maybe Harold was born overseas? Maybe Harold’s age is wrong on his marriage certificate? Now this is all starting to get a little confusing. We need to take a step back and re-evaluate.

The truth is simple if you have personal knowledge of the family. The marriage certificate is incorrect. Alec Evans was not Harold John Evans’s father. The marriage we found between Alec Evans and Winifred Watts is the correct one and Winifred was Harold’s mother. She never revealed who his father was, but it was not Alec (who she met 2 years after her son’s birth). Harold’s birth name was Harold John Watts – his birth record is now easy to find, and from that we can carry on tracing the tree backwards. But without that personal knowledge of the family story, it would have been a lot more difficult to locate Harold’s birth.

1. names have been changed for no real reason.

Cycling – Sports Centre Saturday Prompt

A day early, here’s a prompt post for Sports Centre Saturday. The sport in question is cycling and the sport centre (or club) is Bolton United Harriers & Athletic Club.

My grandparents both enjoyed cycling, but whilst for my nana and her friends it was a free way of getting from A to B, my grandad and his friends took it far more seriously.

Gilbert McAndrew and a friend in 1931

Bolton United Harriers & Athletic Club

When my granddad died, I found a membership medal for Bolton United Harriers & Athletic Club, where he most likely a member in the late 1920s and/or the 1930s. There was also another medal, this one a little is a little worse for wear and I don’t know where it was for, the only writing is “C.W.B. 1929” engraved on the rear. The medals were in an envelope with some cycling photos. If anyone has any idea what the mystery medal is, drop me a line in the comment box below.

Days Out & Racing

This is one of those times when I really wish I had listened more closely to the stories my grandparents told. I do know that they cycled to the Guides House at Warton in Lancashire and to Rivington Barn near Bolton, as well as New Brighton and the Lake District.

My grandad and his friends raced bicycles,  and in April 1933 he was knocked off his bike in Ambleside, Cumbria after taking a corner too wide and meeting a car coming the other way.

Lancashire Evening Post, 15 April 1933, article on my grandad’s accident.


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