My Blog


Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

The Second World War Experience Centre is a Leeds-based archive dedicated to preserving the memories of anyone involved in the Second World War. Most of our ancestors living through those times would have been touched by the war in some way, for example serving in the armed forces, taking in an evacuee, experiencing the bombing of their local area, or being affected by food and other necessity shortages. One of the most interesting features about this wonderful archive is that it contains a varied collection of material including diaries, photographs, books, official papers and oral recordings, preserving the memories of people that the war had an impact on in some way.


The Centre was established in 1998 and was registered as a charity the same year. The archives quickly grew and as word of the Centre’s work spread, more material was donated. In February 2003, staff was delighted when they achieved full registered museum status.

Those featured in the archives include people who fought against the allies, civilians on both sides of the conflict, children whose young years were affected by the war and people who opposed the fighting for religious or moral reasons. Whether you are hoping to find a particular relative, or simply want to research this period to complement your family tree findings, you are bound to find something of interest.


National treasures


Visits to the Centre are by appointment only to allow the staff to give everyone a warm welcome. The material available is constantly being added to and people are encouraged to donate material; particularly precious are the recorded memories of those who experienced the war in various capacities because if these had not been recorded, like much other family history

Material which is committed only to memory, they would have been lost forever.


The museum’s  is an excellent starting point for family  history research. It gives a comprehensive taste of the varied material and the different collections on offer, which include war in the air, on land and at sea, the civilians’ war, clandestine war and the newly-developing Axis war section comprising German and Italian alliance material, plus information on foreign nationals and British civilians abroad.


To help people researching their family history, staff at the Centre has set up a ‘Useful links’ section on its website. This gives details of many different organisations that can assist anyone building their family tree, including overseas contacts and groups which may serve in putting old friends and family members back in touch.


It is impossible to calculate the number of people who were affected by the Second World War, an event which would have had a huge impact on the lives of our ancestors. The work carried out at the Centre allows the public access to a huge variety of documents and memories which may otherwise have been lost, destroyed or forgotten. The stories told there are a part of history preserved to help future generations understand what life was like during the Second World War.

•           All photographs courtesy of The Second World War Experience Centre.


Bringing history to life


One of the most interesting sections of the website for family history researchers is the space devoted to the memories of those who lived through the war. Their experiences are many and varied, and some are accompanied by photographs and audio clips – an exciting way of bringing history to life through the words of those who were there.


Patricia Potton, like many other young girls, eagerly joined the Wrens as soon as she became eligible, despite having her call-up papers burnt by a family member. She shares her memories of how unusual it was when women began to work during the war years, and remembers how wives were still expected to do most of the work at home, despite working the same long hours as their husbands.


A most poignant tale is that of sisters Pam and Judy Crisp, aged 13 and 11 respectively, who were evacuated from London early in the war to Deal in Kent. Their father, Alfred, who worked as a firewatcher in London, sent them beautifully illustrated letters detailing humorous events happening at home. On the centre’s website, Judy describes her excitement at waiting for the postman to deliver another letter from her dad, and her sadness at his premature death in 1950; he was only 58, but had suffered poor health due to serving in World War 1 and being gassed at Ypres.


Brave Second World War firewatcher, artist and doting father Alfred Crisp.

Right is a selection of the precious letters and postcards Alfred Crisp sent to his evacuated daughters Pam and Judy? The Centre is always grateful for donations of material, no matter how small, so if you think you may be able to help, and then get in touch.

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Newspaper reports of daily news, views and happenings nationwide are as interesting today as they were when first published all those years ago.


If you can’t discover the true facts of a family legend, or are finding an ancestor tricky to locate, you may wish to consider looking in old newspapers that were published in the area where they lived, as these may yield fascinating snippets of information about some ofyour forebears. If details of old newspapers cannot be sourced locally, such as at large central libraries and record offices, then it can be worth a trip to the British Library Newspaper Library at Colindale Avenue, London NW9 5HE, and also the Society of Genealogists (SoG) in London. Sometimes you may even get lucky and find old copies in the attics of the local newspaper office – as I found in Penrith, where I once spent a happy, albeit dusty, day searching through them.


The London paper Evening Mail for 1819 (bound copies can be found in the store in the lower library at the SoG), for instance, could hold the answers if you are searching for a wealthy miser in a family surnamed Courtois. It states that Mr Courtois was a hairdresser in London near St Martin’s and the Haymarket. He left £240,000 – an amazing amount in those days that you can borrow from a lender at


Or can you claim John Cater Warner as one of your ancestors? He was married to Elizabeth Long on 17 July 1815, but the Evening Mail reported on 28 September 1819 that he was charged with bigamy as his wife, Elizabeth Warner, was still alive.


What the papers said


The amount of information to be found in old publications is hugely interesting, although be warned – you may never find anything pertaining to your family despite wading through reams of newsprint, and searching through publications is terribly time-consuming. On the plus side though, it is an entertaining ‘hobby’ that can become a full-time occupation if you have the time and inclination.


Items of interest are wide-ranging, as the following selection of snippets from a variety of local newspapers from all over the British Isles indicate.


1818: On the run


Two young men aged no more than 24 – William Harris, convicted atNorthampton in July 1818, and William Fitzpatrick, convicted at Lancaster in August of the same year – escaped from the convict hulk Bellerophon at Sheerness, Kent.


1819: Romance


At St Saviour’s, Southwark, David Avery Bell Haynes of the county of Stafford, was married to Miss Matilda Pamplin Hinsum (not clear if the latter is a place or her surname), Essex, on 12 March 1819, having been previously married at Gretna Green.


1819: Breach of promise


Breach of promise is seldom heard about these days, but on 14 July 1819 an action was brought by Miss Maria Spencer (22), against William Cole (28), an attorney. Maria was a sister-in-law of a tavern owner called Mr Reynolds, and her mother (who had given permission for the marriage) lived at Oadby, Leicestershire, William’s father, a silk merchant, was against the marriage as Maria possessed no fortune. Miss Spencer won her case and was awarded £500.


1819: Adventure


Intrepid adventurers who sailed to a new life in what was called the New Colony of the Cape of Good Hope in November 1819 included Mr Thomas Willson and his party on the Northampton, Mr Bailey and ‘those with him’ on the Chapman and Messers Scott, Crause, Owen and William Smith and their parties on the Nautillus. The two latter ships sailed together and were to be the first to depart for the new colony. The Ocean and the Northampton were the next to leave, then the West Indian and the Belle Alliance, followed by the Weymouth, a stores ship which had been preparing to stock up at Plymouth.


1819: Scandal


A Captain Short appeared at Stafford assizes on a Wednesday in August 1819. He had married Ann Peters of Grantham on 5 May 1805; her father was in the 15th Regiment of Infantry and adjutant of the Durham Militia and had died in December 1804 at Stamford, Lincolnshire. It seems Miss Peters had been engaged to a Captain Lewis of the Warwickshire Militia, but then had run away with Captain Short. The couple rented a house called Brownes at Stone near Stafford when they arrived there in 1814, and a Mary Pickering of nearby Wolseley Bridge lived with them that year but it is not explained why. `Mrs Short’ arrived at the Crown Hotel in Stone calling herself Mrs Bell, with a Mr Bell in tow.


This confused story is not at all clear, although it appears to be about a juicy divorce case just begging to be solved. Do any of the names ring a bell?


1819: Marriage


On 7 October 1919, Captain de Havilland – the youngest son of Sir Peter de Havilland, chief magistrate of the island of Guernsey – married Martha, the youngest daughter of Richard Saumarez, late of Newington, London.


Were the de Havilland’s related to the famous aircraft manufacturing family, to the shoe designer and ‘Cobbler to the World’ Terry de Havilland I knew in the 1960s, or to my one-time 1970s neighbours in Fulham? It would be fun to link them all together.


1819: Tragedies


Miss Jane Browning of Frampton on Severn, Gloucestershire, was killed in an accident on Monday 4 January 1819. The inquest did not explain what kind of an accident, but two more accidents raise queries about the stability of road travel in those days. On Sunday 8 August 1819 at Hackney, London, John Owen Parr (53) `died yesterday morning in Kentish Town as the result of an accident sustained by the overturning of a stage coach.’ He left 10 children, one of whom may be your four-times great-grandfather or mother.


Then there was Mr William Howson (67) of Kirkby Lonsdale, but late of Bath Terrace, Newington, Surrey, who died `due to the Lord Exmouth’s opposition coach from Newcastle overturning on the previous day.’ Political accident, or was Lord Exmouth the name of the coach?


When you can find them, ancestral details given in newspaper stories can often fill in the gaps that those given in births, marriages and deaths indexes cannot.


Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Q I read the penultimate paragraph of the article ‘A field by any other name’ by Gillian Davies (September 2003 issue) with interest, as I have found the same scenario in my own research.

My paternal great-grandfather, Andrew Forrest, married Elizabeth Curtis in Exeter in 1848. Elizabeth died aged 46 in 1869 in Somers Town, in Camden, London. He then married Elizabeth’s younger sister, Sarah Ann Curtis (my great-grandmother) in St Pancras in 1871. I have since found out that this marriage was illegal as this relationship is listed in the prohibited degrees of marriage.


I noticed that one of the witnesses to the marriage, Sarah Crump (found in the 1871 Census), was a neighbour of Andrew and Sarah. In my further reading I have now found out that St Pancras was one of the main districts for clandestine marriages.


What other documentation am I likely to find relating to this second marriage, and where should I look? Could it be that Andrew and Sarah did not realise that they should not many?

Sally Waterman, 6 Bramley Lane, Blackwater, Camberley, Surrey



A When Andrew Forrest aged 46 and Sarah Ann Curtis aged 27 were married on 28 February 1871 by the local registrar, it was the latter’s duty to check on the status of the parties to ensure that they were free to many. Had there been such a check then they would not have been permitted to wed. One suspects that the couple probably knew they should not many but relied on witnesses present not to divulge the details.


The matter was unlikely to have come to light because it would not be obvious that any offspring of the first marriage were actually Sarah’s sister’s children. The census enumerator who would have called in 1871 shortly after their marriage would have assumed that they were children of a former marriage. It is interesting to note that, in the 1881 Census of St Pancras, there is a Sarah Forrest (born in Devon) living at 27 Bridgewater Street with three children, Beatrice, Arthur and Thomas aged nine, seven and three respectively. This tallies very well with a marriage taking place in 1871: unfortunately the husband listed is a John Forrest, aged only 40 (a printer’s compositor from Lincoln) and unlikely to have been a convenient alias for Andrew. However of the four Andrew Forrests in the whole of the 1881 Census in the age range 50-60, all were in the North of England or in Scotland where they had been born.


On the various civil registration certificates that you have, your great-grandfather, Andrew, is always listed as a confectioner so there may be other entries to which you have access – perhaps in local directories, other census returns, other certificates , and so on – which might substantiate this. If not, one might be led to suspect that he could have used an alias.