Finding Mother

June and Celia

June and Celia

As part of a nostalgia season we’re having in the bureau this month, I thought I’d revisit some of my more meaningful blog posts. I hope you enjoy them:

June and Celia are cousins. They had never met before this photo was taken and Celia had never seen photos of her mother before. Their meeting is the very happy ending to a complicated piece of research carried out by Family Detective on behalf of Celia’s nephew, Tony.

When Tony came to us, his first request was that we would help him get through a brick wall in the search for Fazal, his paternal grandfather. Fazal was a Bengali Stoker in the Merchant Navy who had left Tony’s father and aunt in a children’s home at the start of the Second World War and never returned. ‘What had happened to the children’s mother?’ we asked. Tony gave us her details but said he held out little hope of ever finding his grandmother, Freda, as she had disappeared without trace during the war.

We found records of Fazal and a very likely death for him on board a ship in Karachi which explained why he never returned to the UK for his two children. Never wanting to be thwarted, we then took on the quest to find Freda in that difficult period of time – the 1940s. The hunt was on and the territory was huge – we learnt from her marriage certificate that Freda was actually Olive Winifred. Which of her forenames was she using? Was she living under her married name, her maiden name or perhaps a new married name? Where in the country had she gone? Her family was from Bedfordshire, but she had married in London and her children had gone to a children’s home in Wales.

Our best hope was finding a death certificate for Freda and with a clever little research trick we found it on the death indexes under the name Frederica Olivia and with a completely different surname. When the certificate arrived the birth date and place were correct and we knew we had found the right woman.

From the change of surname we deduced that Freda had married again. However, no marriage certificate was ever found nor any birth records for other children. The only clue to finding out about Freda’s later years was the informant of her death, June.

We traced June back and forth, trying to find a link to Freda and our client but nothing matched up. Our only hope was to get in touch with June and hope that she would talk to us about Freda. When we send letters to possible living relatives less than half reply. Weeks went by and we heard nothing from June. We were about to close the file when she rang our office, apologising for the delay because she’d been on holiday! June’s father was Freda’s brother. June and Celia were cousins. The reason we hadn’t made the connection was that June’s father had taken on the surname of his step-father (another complicated story).

June agreed to pass on her details to Tony and very quickly the two families were reunited. June had photos of her aunt Freda and Celia was able to see them for the first time. There are still many questions, of course, answers to which probably went to the grave with Freda but also a great sense of joy at having helped Tony and Celia find a few missing pieces of their family history jigsaw. Tony’s letter to us is here: Thanks from Tony Hague

Discussion: Have you ever hit a brick wall like this? What did you do to get through it? Are you currently stuck and need some help? Drop us a line in the comments and we’ll be in touch.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.