How do I find my ancestors’ story from family history records? | The Nosey Genealogist's: Help Me With My Family Tree
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How do I find my ancestors’ story from family history records?

by Nick Thorne, The Nosey Genealogist on June 4th, 2017
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The Nosey Genealogist at Birmingham Archives

Many researchers ask “how do I find my ancestors in the records?” and then they may want to know “how can I use these records to build a picture of my ancestor’s story?”

A point to remember is that ancestors didn’t exist in isolation and a good strategy is to build up their life story by looking at the events and people that had an effect on their lives.

Families can be complicated entities with step fathers/step mothers and sometimes unmarried parties in the equation. You may find people that married then separate and even sometimes get back together. In my own family I have an ancestor who remarried his first wife, after a period of divorce, but I hadn’t appreciated all of the story until recently. The strands came together by reviewing various records that I had gathered at different times.

Over a period we may collect various diverse search results for an ancestor, but we may not see how they fit together to build a bigger picture. It is important, for this reason, that every now and again we go back and review what we have. Sometimes this can suggest places for us to continue our research to find the story of our forebears’ life.

 

While doing some research this week I noticed a fact appeared in three completely different records. It was a town name that I had not paid much attention to having previously assumed that it was of little relevance to my ancestor’s life.

Beaumaris, in Anglesey, was where a First World War Royal Engineer officer in my family tree had been posted as he awaited being demobbed. Kingsbridge camp was on the Welsh island and I had first seen it on his service record. From the pages of this document I had gathered that my R.E. officer was suffering from shell-shock and attending medical boards in Bangor. I overlooked the importance of the town as it seemed to me that it was simply a posting where he had been sent by the Army at the end of the war.

Officer's war record

Page from a First World War officer’s service record

At a completely different research session, I had been looking at the time my ancestor spent living in Singapore and I had come across a Singapore newspaper website to aid me. Using the portal I had been able to find a snippet that gave the details of his marriage at the Presbyterian church in Singapore. In July 1921 he was reported to have wed Monica Mary.

The first thing that had struck me was I had not known that he had married this lady. In the WWI service record he had been married to a Mary Ellen, in Surrey, and family lore told me that he had been divorced from his first wife, then re-married her a few years later and they had then lived together in Singapore.  No mention of this intervening marriage had been drawn to my attention.

The family stories also said that his first wife, Mary had been lost at sea while escaping from the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in the Second World War. None of this explained me finding a marriage in Singapore to a completely different woman!

Japanese March in Singapore © IWM (HU 2787)

Japanese troops marching through Fullerton Square, Singapore. © IWM (HU 2787)

Skip forward to another period of research and I was using the Outbound Passenger Lists in order to write an article for publication. While I had the online search page open, on a whim, I typed in the first wife’s name and found Mary’s passage out to Singapore with their young daughter in February 1926.

Then turning to the second wife, whom I wrongly assumed my subject had met in Singapore, I did a search for Monica to see if I could find her going out to Singapore in the first place. I discovered her leaving London in May 1921 bound for the Straits Settlements.

Another entry had Monica and her husband visiting the U.K. in 1925, the year before his first wife and child emigrated to the colony. While I was pondering all of this I noted the entry given on the passenger list for their last address in the United Kingdom. It was a street in Beaumaris, Anglesey!

Then the penny dropped. Monica was probably from Beaumaris in Wales. The R.E. camp where my ancestor had recuperated was also in Beaumaris.

By Dr. Blofeld (OpenStreetMap) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Anglesey By Dr. Blofeld (OpenStreetMap) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I next turned to some research that I had done at The National Archives. While looking into something completely different I had taken the opportunity to order up the 1919 divorce papers for the first marriage to Mary. These revealed that he had still been a serving Royal Engineer at the time of the petition by his wife and that his address was given as… Kingsbridge Camp, Beaumaris.

So now, by drawing together various records obtained at different times, I had him posted to Beaumaris in the Service Records; Beaumaris in his divorce papers; Beaumaris as the address in the BT27 Passenger Lists where he and his second wife were visiting from Singapore in 1925.

A simple search of the 1911 census records for Monica (with her surname) in Beaumaris and I quickly found her family and could then research them back. With the review of my previous research and by now paying attention to the town that had popped up in several records, I am in a position to speculate some details to add to my ancestor’s family story.

 

I assume that while suffering from shell-shock and recovering from his war experiences in Anglesey he met Monica and fell in love. He first wife Mary filed for divorce, though not for adultery, but for the reason that he refused to return home to her in Surrey.

Demobbed my ancestor decided to try his luck in another part of the world and went out to Singapore. Within a year Monica followed and they married within months. In 1925 Monica and her husband visited her family in Beaumaris, but by the next year my ancestor’s first wife and child were on their way out to Singapore.

What happened to Monica? That is the next direction for this research to go. An article published in Singapore seems to point to her dying in 1925 but this, naturally, needs corroboration. Was she sick when they made their last visit to Wales? Perhaps a Singapore death records will reveal what she died of.

Family history research has a habit of opening up more questions just as you resolve some of the others. In answer to the question “how do I find my ancestors in the records?” and “how can I use these records to build a picture of my ancestor’s story?” my response is review what you already know. Check facts that you may have overlooked or discounted because you thought them irrelevant and see where they take you. Keep your eyes open as well as your mind.


 

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