The night before Lotusphere Comes To You 2007 (Manchester edition) I sat next to Diane…
For the full background on this subject please see here.
A couple of months ago I acquired a CD with the Parish records for St Nicholas (Chiswick) from 1855 to 1901. It revealed the details of my main suspect for my Alice West, living a stone’s throw from my great-grandfather Henry Clinch… this was not the right Alice West. My great-grandmother was Alice Maud West, and this one turned out to be Alice Jane West. Disappointing maybe, but by this point I had two options, and this removed one of them.
The other major development during the past couple of months was the early availability of the 1911 census (following a successful challenge under the Freedom of Information Act to bring it forward from 2012). Of course, I headed straight for the record of Henry Clinch and ‘wife’ Alice – information recorded six months before the birth of my grandmother – and it revealed one important detail… that she was born in Acton. This was rather interesting – it recorded Henry as being born in Chiswick, but the 1901 census shows the two birth places reversed. This could have been an error on the part of the census recorder. Ten years later the head of the household was responsible for entering the details, so you’d have to assume Henry wouldn’t have got it wrong.
So, knowing that Alice West was born in Acton, I turned back to a birth certificate that my mum’s cousin Susan had sent me (she acquired it based on a strong hunch) and two previous census records (1881 and 1891). Although the family had moved from Acton to Hammersmith everything matched up… Alice Maud West born in Acton at the right time, and her parents’ names matched the census information to the birth certificate.
Knowing this was the right Alice West, it confirmed the names of her parents – Frederick West and Harriet Underwood (and we’ll call him Frederick West, not Fred West). Tracing back further, Harriet was born in the tiny Hampshire village of Froxfield Green and was the daughter of Stephen Underwood and Harriet Restall. Stephen, born around 1819, was listed as an agricultural labourer, but also as the Parish Clerk – which says that he was literate. Frederick West was born in the Kingston area, the son of John West (unfortunately not an heir to the tinned fish empire) and Sarah (surname as yet unknown). Frederick lived in The Bittoms, an area of Kingston now dominated by a large car park and County Hall.
And there you have it… a mystery solved but opening up new avenues of investigation. What prompted young Harriet Restall to leave a tiny Hampshire village and pair up with Frederick from Kingston and then live in Acton? Today it’s commonplace to move around – I think about my own life moving between Twickenham, Isleworth, Shiplake, Hounslow, Shepperton, Knaphill and now Camberley. In the 19th century it was fairly unusual to go far from your place of birth – maybe for employment or education reasons, but that’s quite difficult to pin down. The search goes on.