I received a request to break down a brick wall this week from Pre-World War II Birmingham in Warwickshire – though it is now in the county of West Midlands.
The challenge was, essentially, how to identify someone’s birth and family when that person had changed their name, having got married.
As it was a ‘brick wall’ that was entirely surmountable, by applying some easily available records, I thought it might make a good blog post that others may benefit from.
All I had to go by was that Mrs Smith (not her real name) had lived in a particular road in a suburb of Birmingham in the late 1930s and shared a house with another couple (whom I will call Mr & Mrs H Jones). I was only given the lady’s married surname, as her first name was not known. Other facts I had were that she had been widowed young, when she lost her husband in the First World War and that he may have been an officer.
So this is how I approached the problem.
I was on a visit to The Library of Birmingham and so I took the escalators to the fourth floor where the Archives and Heritage centre is now situated. Many of the records, however, are accessible online and so even if you are on the other side of the world you would be able to duplicate these steps.
I took a look at the Electoral Registers for Birmingham and found Mr H Jones, Nell his wife and Mrs Annie Alice Smith listed as eligible to vote. Their address was in the Mosley area of Birmingham.
Now I checked the GRO indexes online for the marriage of lady called Annie A (leaving the surname blank as it was unknown) and a man with unknown first names, but a surname of Smith. I assumed that they married between 1905 and 1918, as the information I had was that he had died in WWI.
Frustratingly I could not find such a match.
Next I consulted the run of Trades and Street Directories to find the names of people living in the road where we knew that she had resided in 1938. Some directories can be found online on various websites now, so it is possible to have done this step from the comfort of my own home, should I have chosen to do so.
The first hurdle was that as she was one of four people living in the house and only the name of the main householder was listed for each property. I could see Mr Jones listed but not Mrs Smith. I had been told that Mr and Mrs Jones left Birmingham, as the war began, so that they could join the war effort. I wondered if Mrs Smith left too, or was there a possibility that she remained in Birmingham?
Looking at the volumes for 1939 and 1940 I could find two householders that were possible contenders – a Mrs Annie Smith in Selly Oak and a Mrs Alice Annie Smith in Edgbaston. This last one, with her first and middle names the other way round from her listing in the Electoral registers, made me wonder if this was the reason why I had not found her marriage.
Returning to the marriage indexes online I now entered the new details and was rewarded with the marriage of an Alice Ann Evans (surname changed to protect privacy) marrying a William Samuel Smith in Devon during the year 1916. Seeking corroboration I searched the military records online and found a Corporal W. S. Smith MM who had then been commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and who had died of his wounds at the Somme. This seemed to echo the information that I had been given about the widow’s husband, so I was now confident that I had found the lady’s name.
When carrying out your own research it is always worth keeping in mind that some of our ancestors may swap their first and middle names. They may also even modify one of the names, as in this case, with the lengthening of Ann to become Annie. If you are new to family history research then you could be thrown off the scent when you are looking for your own ancestors, if they too changed their names like Alice Ann did!
Armed with the quarter of Alice Ann’s marriage, I was now able to find her in the church register for the parish church at Paignton. I could equally have bought a copy of her marriage certificate from the GRO. Both would have furnished me with her father’s name, which was Thomas and that his occupation was a School Master.
I then turned to the 1911 census to find Thomas Evans, school master, in a town in Worcestershire and one of his daughters was the elusive Alice A Evans. The census also provided me with her age, last birthday, and where she was born.
Armed with this I could search now for her birth, finding that she was registered with the names Alice Ann and I could also go on to find her death registered in 1983 at Portsmouth.
The brick wall had been overcome.
If you’d like to find out more about how to tease out your elusive English or Welsh ancestors then CLICK this link: