6 February 2010

Descended from aliens?

Those who know me also know that I have a passion for family history. I will not go into the whys and wherefores, just tell you a story about how I finally found my paternal Grandfather.

My Dad doesn't really remember his Dad, John. John died way back in 1937 when my dad was just 5 years old. All I knew of John when I was growing up many years after his death was that he was buried in the local cemetery and that he was much older than my Grandmother. I became aware at some stage that he had been a farrier.

Years later when I started researching my family history I asked my Dad if he knew where John had been born. He didn't. Actually Dad said he didn't know anything about any of his family. This I have always suspected as not quite true because if you're in a car with him travelling around the local area he will tell you unprompted who lived in what house where and who lived there afterwards and also throw in a character assignation or three just for good measure. As I became more frustrated over the years because I wasn't getting anywhere with the Mason branch and questioned him again and again, risking wrath of the sort of proportions that would have me running for underneath my sister's bed when I was a child, he made it clear that they were all dead and buried and what did it matter? He has never understood my curiosity concerning my roots.

I found John's death certificate. Poor man was 55 when he died of pneumonia. So now I had a sort of base year in which to search for his birth, sometime around 1882/3. I had his Father's name from his marriage certificate when he married my Grandmother. Easy I thought.

John Mason; there were literally thousands of them and hundreds born in those years and besides I didn't know where he was born, not really. My Dad said John had been born in the Black Country but that's a pretty big and populated area. I went through the 1891 census with a fine tooth comb but couldn't find a John living with a William for a father. I waited for the 1901 census to be released in 2001, thinking it might hold all the answers, after all, John may have been living in Aldridge by then and I could finally track him down. It was so disappointing when he wasn't to be found.

I began to think that possibly John had just been dropped off on planet earth sometime around 1882/83 and lived as some sort of shadow until he married my Grandmother. Was I descended from aliens? There's many who would answer that as I'm so weird I probably am. Well they're wrong!

In 2001 I returned to Aldridge having spent nearly 20 years in London and turned towards more locally available records. The burial record didn't give any further information however, the monumental inscriptions from the village cemetery did offer a tantalising morsel. There was an inscription for a Mary Mason, wife of John who had died in 1929 and with her was their beloved son, Jack who had died aged 22 in 1928. I knew John was a widower when he married my Grandmother but had never thought about the possibility of my Dad having step siblings. I returned to the 1901 census but still nothing.

Then one day when looking in one of Mom's cupboards for something I came across a WW1 Victory medal, 1915 Star medal and a Silver War Badge, awarded to John. Eureka! I now had a regiment and a service number. Perhaps the army records could provide the pathway to John's origins. I berated my Dad for not telling me about these medals to no effect. I found his medal roll record. Corporal John Mason had been a farrier in the ASC but had been pensioned off in April 1915, hence the Silver War Badge. And that was as far as I got because John's service records were part of those burned by a Mr Hitler's minions during WW2 so I will know why he was pensioned off.

Over the years I would return to the 1891 and 1901 census and search again for John but although there were many possibilities I could never find the match I was looking for.

Then early in 2009, the 1911 census was released. Unfortunately only available on one website that charged arms and legs to view images and whose search threw up (again!) far too many possibilities meaning arms and kegs would not be enough to track him down, I would need to start selling vital organs, I sat back and continued to wait. Until that is said web site introduced a cheaper subscription and then I was in and within ten minutes I had him! He had been born in 1882 in Hednesford Staffs, a mining village not far from Aldridge.

Quickly and with a fervour I returned to the Birth indices and there it was, right name, right quarter, right district and so I applied for the certificate and finally got the proof that I wasn't descended from aliens!

And yes, with that information I was able to revisit the 1891 and 1901 census and find him and his siblings and his step siblings and his wife Mary and his son, Jack.

It took nearly 20 years but I got my man in the end. And now I have a whole new branch to pursue in earnest.

If you were wondering how I chose my blog title, after reading this to the end, you now know!