Finding Mother

June and Celia

June and Celia

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.

  • Stephen Bowen

    Hello I’m Stephen and I can get no where with my mothers family history. She was born 1/6/1920 and there is no birth certificate. The record I can find of my mother is her starting school in Blaenavon 1925 where the name given as father is referred to as guardian. There is a name on my mothers marriage certificate under father which is crossed out and replaced with the guardians name.

    • Hi Stephen, it sounds as if she was born under a different name for some reason or not registered (because of illegitimacy perhaps?). Was she ever officially adopted by her guardian? I would probably start by finding out more about him – usually there is some link between a baby and her guardian. Can you read the name of the father on her birth certificate? If she was born in Wales this is likely to be a popluar Welsh surname which causes problems of its own – but if it was unusual enough, you could try looking for him on marriage or death indexes in the same place or at around the same time?

      • Stephen Bowen

        Hello Kerrie,
        Thank you for your reply.
        I don’t have any birth certificate for my mother, I did apply under her name of Evelyn Mary Dumayne but no certificate was found. In 1925 my mother started school in Hillside Infants Blaenavon. Her father was put down as Thomas Vaughan Dumayne (guardian). Thomas was a timekeeper at the Blaenavon works until he later moved to Risca where he died in 1953.

        On my mother’s marriage certificate (1945) the father’s name is Frederick Lewis huer of coal. This is then crossed out and replaced with the name Thomas Vaughan Dumayne.

        Thomas’s wife was Edith John who died in 1972 my mother died 4 years later in 1976.

        Another interesting fact is that on the 1911 census there is a girl staying with Thomas and Edith called Laura Button aged 10 (adopted). I can find no further trace of Laura.

        I can go no further but if it was possible to see the 1921 census information that may give some clues. Otherwise do you have any ideas?
        All the best,

        • Karrie

          Hi Stephen, leads I would follow are:
          1. Look for birth records for Evelyn Mary Lewises born in the right quarter of 1920. If not, try searching without a surname – I suspect her mother’s maiden name will be the same as hers.
          2. Look for Frederick Lewis, a Hewer, in 1911 – although you’re right – the 1921 will be much more useful in this respect – unfortunately the government’s position is that this won’t be released in its entirety until 2022, so we have quite a wait. There are a couple of possibilities in Blaenavon although both men were over 35 and would therefore have been quite old to be your grandfather. Find My Past is the best way of searching for names and occupations.
          3. Look further into Thomas Dumayne – what was his link to Laura Button and Bristol, where she was born? Did Thomas or Edith have any younger sisters or cousins who may have been your grandmother? Did any of them marry a Frederick Lewis?
          Let me know how you get on!