Now there’s a bizarre blog post title, but it’s all to do with my family tree (of course). It’s a strange process – I’ve had success getting back to an ancestor born in 1791 but still no luck with someone born 90 years later. My great-grandmother, Alice West, still continues to elude me. I recently acquired her death certificate (this is jolly, isn’t it?) but it confirmed nothing of any importance. It did confirm that my mum and uncle were right in that she died on Shrove Tuesday (my mum carried on making pancakes while my grandmother went to Alice Senior’s bedside), and it also showed that she died two streets away from where she lived (a bit odd, but I’m sure there was a reason).
Unfortunately this was in 1953, before changes to the death certificate format were introduced… so useful stuff like her date of birth are missing. It provides her age (72) but I know from experience that there’s often a year or two’s margin of error. So a best estimate says she was born in 1880. That fact however doesn’t nail down her identity and leaves three possible Alice Wests to choose from. I have a prime suspect but no confirmation so the search goes on.
One factor you can hope for in genealogical research is unusual surnames. Alice West became part of the Clinch family, and Clinch is a fairly unusual surname. There was a few knocking around the Brentford and Chiswick area (there probably still is) but they have been quite easy to trace and follow. What you don’t want to find in your family are Smiths or Browns because, quite frankly, there’s hundreds of them in a square mile. So, imagine the mild tinge of despair when it was revealed that my great great grandfather James Clinch had married Mary Ann Brown in 1875. Mary Ann… very common (or should I say “frequently-occurring”?) given names, and Brown… well, you get the picture.
However, this is all about getting the right clues, and on James’ and Mary’s marriage certificate was the killer clue. Mary’s father was James Brown (yes, ha ha, James Brown). James, a frequently-occurring given name, Brown. Great. But there was James’ profession… fisherman. Fisherman? This was 19th century Chiswick, not Grimsby. A fisherman in West London (Middlesex to be precise). Was there a big trade in hauling gudgeon out of the Thames? Hmmm, tasty. However, this one piece of information made it possible to trace James in the censuses, and pin-pointed him and his family. I knew his name, his trade and that he had a daughter Mary Ann born around 1850.
The term ‘fisherman’ as his occupation was, I think, a bit of a generalisation, as a few of the census documents state his occupation as ‘fishmonger’ – which is a lot more credible. The bonus was that I was able to trace James’ parents – his mother Mary Ann (see, I told you) and his father Russell. This was great, as Russell was a fairly unusual name at the time, and while you could take your pick from hundreds of Charles Smiths there was only three Russell Browns… one was my great great great great grandfather, born in 1791, and another was his son (James’ brother). In 1841 Russell and the family lived at Fisherman’s Place in Chiswick, and James had obviously entered the family trade as Russell was also a fisherman / fishmonger.
Also living at Fisherman’s Place in 1841 was a Mr George Brown and his family (including the other Russell). George’s occupation? You’ve guessed it, fisherman. So a good shout that he was probably my great great great great great uncle.
Now it starts getting difficult. 1841 saw the first complete census, so beyond this point you have to research parish records. In genealogical terms Russell Brown’s parents lived in the Dark Ages. They may have been alive in 1841 but there were 10,122 people with the surname Brown included in the 1841 census in Middlesex.
Finally, just for fun, I’ve included a little map of an area of Chiswick just to prove the wife was right, that a part of my family didn’t move more than a mile in 150 years. Actually this isn’t true because Henry Clinch Senior was born in the Reading area in 1819, moved to the Ealing area and is off this map in Brentford. However, these pins do cover over 100 years… the blue pin (bottom-right) was the location of Fisherman’s Place, home of Russell Brown in 1841.
The cyan pin (top-right) was where my grandparents lived until the 1980′s. The sort-of dark pink pins are James Brown, the red pins are James Clinch (James Brown’s son-in-law), green is Henry Clinch Junior (my great grandfather), and purple is where his wife Alice died. Yellow is the unconfirmed location of John Cotton, father of Sarah Cotton who married James Brown.