Living Locally

Just a quickie today, I mentioned in the last post that I would talk about the benefits of living near your
ancestors. The vast majority of my known ancestors came from Berkshire, some from the west and, more
recently, I have found some from the east. I live 10 minutes from the eastern border of Berkshire, so it’s
not a huge difficulty in getting to the places mentioned in the records. In fact, my parents have recently
moved to within a mile of where a chunk of my dad’s family were born & grew up and I work in the same town as my grandfather was born.

This is all well and good, but what benefits does this offer, especially as a LOT of my research has been
done online? Well, the Berkshire Records Office (BRO) is only a 45 minute drive away, so I can often be found in there poring over microfiches, microfilms or even original documents to find new leads. More recently, I have been trying to find places mentioned in the records to get an idea of what life was like etc. This came in handy when a New Zealand cousin sent me a photo of a house, the only info written on the photo was the town ‘Old Windsor’. She gave me a few clues as to who was living there and why (they were apparently looking after the church). A little digging and I have found the house, Church Cottage, right next to St Luke’s Church, it’s still standing and it hasn’t changed that much. Other places that have gone are Bartlett’s Farm in Albany Road and Trafalgar Place. There are new(ish) houses where Bartlett’s Farm was and just a wasteland where Trafalgar Place stood though there is evidence of concrete floors & demolished brick walls scattered around.

While searching for Bartlett’s Farm, I came across a rather interesting set of documents at the BRO, letters
to and from Burnett Brothers & Sons in London, regarding the valuation of the property (amongst others). One of my relatives is mentioned in several of the documents as the then current tenant and there is even a hand-written letter from him. All of the documents are from 1897.

When I spoke to my parents about this search for old buildings, they handed me a book that a neighbour had given them when they moved in, all about the buildings in the town, it proved very useful in many ways, not least the fact that the author had printed he address in it and was still living there. I made a phone call and she agreed to meet me to chat about some of the houses. When I arrived, I was amazed to find she had all of the school records for the local school as the headmaster had decided to get rid of them and she felt she should preserve them for posterity. I am so glad she did, I found many of my relatives in there, including my own grandfather (the first time I’d seen him recorded as having been in the Workhouse, unlike many of his siblings who spent a lot of time in there it seems). It also confirmed my Smith/Attwell conundrum as he was recorded as Attwell but with a note stating his name was given as Smith when he was admitted.

The other interesting one was a mention of my Dad’s 1st cousin, Frederick William Attwell. His last attendance was in 1920 and the note next to it said ‘Left the country (Gone to Canada)’ his address was Albany House and the parent/guardian was ‘The Master, Boys Home’. I have since discovered much more about him, but using online resources and the kindness of other people halfway round the world, I will elaborate on that in the next thrilling installment!

Anyhow, none of this would I have found if I wasn’t close enough to visit the places in question. Speaking to locals is also a huge benefit, they will tell you things that no records will show, some of which are useful and some not, but when you find a clue that opens up a whole new branch, grasp it with both hands!!

I have several places further afield that I need to visit to try to further some of my other lines but I know I will only be able to get so far, as each little clue takes a while to research further and if you are only there for a few days, you can only get so much.

I know I am one of the lucky ones, most of my lot didn’t move too far.

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For Smith, read Attwell!!

Since the last article (yes, it’s been a while, I’ve been busy researching!) it seems I may have broken through part of the Smith brick wall! The reason, it seems, that there were no Smith registrations during the life of Robert Ernest Smith (1853) is that he and his ‘wife’ Elizabeth, as given on the 1891 census, is that they were not married. I mentioned in the last article that his relative’s name (given in the Windsor Workhouse records) was given as Mrs Attwell at their home address and I thought it must be one of his daughters that had married. I searched around & came up blank on that line of enquiry, but while searching around, I came across a curious coincidence. In the 1901 census, there was an Elizabeth Attwell in the Workhouse, of the same age as his wife and given as born in the same area (Windsor). Strange, I thought, until I also found the name of 2 of her daughters and also the son that I’d just discovered (Albert) also in the same institution at the same time. All of the ages were approximately correct, but it could still be coincidence. I started delving deeper & found in 1881, Elizabeth Attwell with her 2 eldest daughters (different ones from 1901) living in the workhouse again, both children given as being born in the workhouse. Further searching found all of her children in 1901, all (except for Robert E) living as Attwells in various places, all with the right ages & birthplaces.

I next hit the BMD registers and lo & behold, most of them popped up immediately, including an entry for the birth of one Ernest Robert Attwell, born in the 1st quarter of 1884. I know from the family that Robert Ernest Smith was born on the 19th Jan 1884 so that seems like a good fit to me. I’ve ordered the certificate.

I popped back to the Berkshire Records Office to investigate the Workhouse records and found that her eldest daughter, also Elizabeth, was back there in 1917. I also found a record of one Frederick Attwell, born in 1909 whose relative is given as Mrs Smith (Attwell), Park Lane, Thorpe Leigh, Egham (there is no Park Lane, only a Park Avenue). I also found Kate Attwell (aged 15) in 1900 in the Pauper’s Service Book, being sent out to work for a Mrs Hoare in Clewer for 2/6 a week as a servant. Sure enough, in the 1901 census, she’s still there.

So I now have to wait for various certificates to prove all of this (if the father’s name is given on the birth certificates) but it all fits really well and I have tried to disprove many parts of it and have failed every time.

My initial impression is that Ernest Robert Attwell would likely be the son of Robert Ernest Smith, due to the name and the fact they are together in 1901, how many more of the children are his, I don’t know & I guess I’ll have to invest in a few certificates & hope she was honest & up front enough to name the father for each of them. I know that they were back together in 1909/10 when they moved into Park Avenue and that all of the marriages I have found so far of the children are all done in the name of Smith. Apart from that it’s all up in the air, but at least I have a name for her now & have been able to go back another generation on her side.

This one will run and run I suspect!

The S-Word part 2

At the end of the last instalment, I mentioned that I had a breakthrough which challenged some of what I believed about this family. The breakthrough came with Ancestry’s release of the WW1 pension records. I knew from my father that his dad, Robert Ernest Smith (junior) had served in the Army in the 1st World War and had been released early on health grounds.

Checking the pension records, I found Robert’s details and the first thing that caught my eye was his next of kin. It turned out that his mother (that I believed had died before 1901) was still alive in 1914 and she was living at No.2 Laburnum Cottages, Park Avenue in Egham. This address was new to me, so I immediately started investigating. Looking at old-maps.co.uk, I found that the road didn’t exist in 1899, but had appeared by 1914. I decided to go and have a look down that road to see if I could find Laburnum Cottages and I wasn’t disappointed, it was still there, a semidetached property with just the two houses. I decided to knock on the door and speak to the current owners, not really expecting to find much out (we are talking 93 years ago after all) but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the current owner knew more than I would have expected. It turns out that his grandfather (I think) bought both houses back in 1950, he moved, with his family, in to No. 1 Laburnum Cottages. The current owner told me that, when his family moved in, there was a Mrs Smith living at number 2 as a tenant and she stayed there until she died in the 1980s. At first I was very excited, thinking this was the wife of Robert Ernest (senior) however, when I thought about it I realised it couldn’t possibly be her as she was born c1856 but that this Mrs Smith could still be a relation.

The owner said that his mother was still alive and she would remember more, so I gave him my phone number & he said he would call me with any new info. A day or two later, he called me and gave me some more info. He told me that, when the property was purchased, there was also a Mr Smith living there but that he died somewhere in the 1950’s or 60’s and that he’d fought in the war and had been gassed. He also mentioned that living next door was a Mrs Bissett and that she was Mr Smith’s sister. Also he mentioned a Miss or Mrs George that lived with the Smiths and that she was Mrs Smith’s sister. Crucially, he also said that Mr & Mrs Smith took on the house from his parents.

I knew that Egham Museum held the Rate Books for this area, so I spent a couple of sessions poring over those and found that Robert Smith first appeared in the house (which had been built in 1907) in April 1910 and was also given as the ratepayer in 1911 (though he actually died in 1910), then Mrs Smith took over. In 1919, she was recorded as Mrs Elizabeth Smith (matching the name I had from the 1891 census) but there was a gap in Egham’s collection of Rate Books after 1930 and in the next available one (1934) there was a Miss George living there and she was still there in 1940-41. Then there was another gap and in 1943, the rate-payer was Albert George Smith who continued to appear until their rate Books ran out in 1962-63. The owner of the property changed in 1950, confirming what the present owner had told me about his ancestor buying the property.

I needed further information, so I went to the Surrey History Centre in Woking and looked through the Electoral Rolls where I found Albert George Smith first appeared (with Elizabeth Smith, his mother) in 1924 and is there until 1964 (with a gap of a few years between 1927 and 1930, I assume for his military service), Elizabeth disappeared after 1931. From these records, I also found that Miss George was actually Edith George and she appeared in 1929 and stayed there for a long time. I haven’t looked beyond 1970 but she was still there with Albert’s wife Alice E Smith.

As Elizabeth disappeared in 1931, I checked the BMD records & found that she’d died in the September quarter of 1931 (I was a little shocked to find any record as very few births, marriages or deaths seem to have been registered by this family). I ordered her death certificate and it gave her address, which matched the address I had been researching. It also said she was the widow of Robert Ernest Smith and gave the informant’s name as one W R Prangley (son-in-law). Again, a new name to me and a little searching found a marriage between Kate Smith (one of Robert Ernest Smith (senior)’s daughters that I already knew about) and a William R C Prangley in the June quarter of 1915 in Staines. A little further searching found two children born to this family, Gladys L Prangley (1916) and Bernard F Prangley (1919)

Going back to the information that the present owner of Laburnum Cottages gave me, I also checked the details of the next door neighbours and there was indeed a Mr & Mrs Bissett living next door to Mr & Mrs Smith and Mrs Bissett’s forename is given as Ellen. One of Robert Ernest Smith (senior)’s daughters was, in fact, Ellen Smith. I haven’t managed to find a marriage entry for this one as yet, but I feel confident that this is the correct Ellen.

One other clue I have to look for next is the name that I found in the Windsor Workhouse’s records. I mentioned in the last article that Robert Ernest Smith (senior) died in the workhouse infirmary in 1910 so, while I was at Berkshire Records Office, researching another branch of the tree, I ordered up the Death Register and the Inmate’s Relative’s Address Book from the workhouse. The Death Register confirmed the details I had and mentioned that he was from Egham and was buried in Egham (paid for by the Union) and the Relative’s Book gave up the name Mrs Attwell at 2 Laburnum Cottages, Park Avenue, Egham. Yet another new name to me and I believe (though I have yet to prove it) that this was one of his eldest daughters who had already married. It seems to me that, while Robert (senior) was alive, nothing was registered, after he died there definitely seems to be more registration going on. Unfortunately, I still don’t know what his wife’s maiden name is or where and when they were married, I know nothing of his parents and there is a gap after 1891 where they could have had numerous children that I have no knowledge of. I still don’t know why only the two Roberts appeared in the 1901 census (and at a different address) my best guess at the moment is that the census taker missed their house or they were out at the time, though that doesn’t explain why they were living where they were. According to the Electoral Rolls, Robert was still around the same area as they were in 1891.

I have a feeling that this family will be elusive for a long time to come, but I always hold out hope that one breakthrough could blow it all wide open!