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Can’t find an ancestor?

by Nick Thorne, The Nosey Genealogist on February 8th, 2016

Nick Thorne

I was asked how would I go about finding a missing ancestor this week. Having taken a look at the research already done, by the family historian, my answer was quite simple.

“Think laterally and think creatively about the spelling of the names.”

If you are new to tracing your family history then you need to understand that not all our ancestors would have been able to read and write, so they were most unlikely to know how to spell their names and would have relied on others to write it for them. In these cases our forebears relied on officials to write down their name. It may have been the clergyman officiating at the time of a baptism, (or a marriage, or burial) who had recorded their name as he thought it should be written. But he may have heard it differently from how we now spell the name. Other officials, that our ancestors came upon, include the census numerator and the local registrar for births, marriages and deaths.


Today I was listening to the local radio in Jersey and the guest was talking about a woman who had moved away from the island to live in England. It seemed that no death details could originally be found for her there and the researchers had then employed a professional genealogist. The professional had, by trying different name variations, eventually turned up the death record in Worthing, West Sussex for the year 1993. The Jersey surname had been Anglicised from its true spelling of Le Brocq to Lebrock and so confused matters for those who had been looking. I wonder if the person reporting the death, to the local registrar in West Sussex, had no idea how this strange Channel Island name should be written?

Dorothy Lebrock

Death records on TheGenealogist.

When we are looking for ancestors we can become too fixed on a fact and so not find them because they are hiding under a different name, or possibly in different place from where we expected them to be. This is why I am encouraging readers to think laterally when approaching a missing ancestor from the records.

Even though I have written in an earlier post on this blog that advised researchers to focus in on a fact, you must still try to think laterally so as to be aware of people who might be the person you are seeking. By removing our blinkers that may allow us to see a name that has been written differently and realize that they are the person we are seeking.

Think how the name of the elusive person sounded in the regional accent for the place that they lived as the person filling in the document may have written down what they thought they heard.

So by using a little lateral thinking this can help family history researchers spot likely entries that may be our ancestor hidden in plain view!


Postscript: the story on the radio, that I make a passing mention to above, was about much more than just the misspelling of a surname. Dorothea Weber, neé Le Brocq, hid a Jewish friend called Hedwig Bercu in her house during the Nazi occupation of Jersey. For this there is a movement to have her recognised as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. There is, however, more to her story than wartime bravery.

Dorothea’s heroism was not recognised at the time and she was to suffer heartbreak and humiliation after the occupation. It turns out that Dorothea had married Anton Weber, an Austrian Baker in Jersey. With the war he was conscripted to serve in the German forces. On being captured, at some stage, he then spent some time in a POW camp. After the liberation Dorothea made enquiries and believing her husband had died in the war she inadvertently committed bigamy by marrying a British soldier, Francis Flanagan, from the liberating force and moved to London. When Anton was finally released he came looking for her and so she was arrested and brought back to Jersey to face a bigamy trial in 1949. Handed a suspended sentence it was not known, until now, what happened to her after that. It has now been found that she died in Worthing under the name Lebrock in 1993.



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