Friday, 31 December 2010

Information about Father Flint ...can anyone help?

I received an email recently from Julie McNeill who lives in Queensland, Australia. Julie is not related to me but follows my blog as she was born in Selly Oak in Birmingham and has published her own family history blog called:


A work-in-progress of the roots and branches of this life handed on from the journey of mothers before me, so the future doesn't forget....

The story of the maternal line of Julie’s family in the 20th century is in parts sad, powerful and compelling reading from a personal and social history viewpoint and I am certain that there will parts of the story which will be familiar to other people both in the UK and Ireland, as well as in Australia, Canada and other countries which received child migrants.

Thank you to Julie for her permission to publish some of her email and also to tell some of the story here on my blog.

Julie emailed:

“I follow your Brummie tree blog and was wondering if you know anything or can direct me to information or photographs of Father William Flint, later Canon, who was Administrator of Father Hudson’s Homes at Coleshill.

On my Inheritance blog following the history of my Grandmothers arrival in Ladywood in 1940, she was resident at a Hostel in Monument Road, working as a Metal Machinist at Handsworth and pregnant and single.

My mum, her baby, would be 'organised' by Father Flint up to her transportation to NSW. You will see letters from my Nan to him in the processes.

I would appreciate any insight or comment to what I have done so far, from afar...

Julie McNeill


St.John's Orphanage, Thurgoona NSW

Kathleen Clarke 3rd row down 5th from right
The Story in brief

Julie’s grandmother, Kathleen Clarke was an orphan, whose mother had died in a Glasgow asylum when Kathleen was only 3 years old. She never knew her father and as a teenager she arrived in Birmingham, living in various lodgings in Ladywood during the early part of the 2nd world war.

As a young single woman in wartime Ladywood, Kathleen became pregnant and had a baby, also Kathleen, in 1940. The baby was Christened at the Oratory church on Hagley Road but, living in temporary digs in the midst of the bombing blitz on Ladywood, Kathleen found that she was unable to look after her child and instead paid to have her cared for by foster parents in Hednesford, Staffordshire.

On her blog Julie observes:

“ She managed to pay 12 shillings and six pence for little Kathleen's foster care so she would have a proper family and be out of danger of the Nazi's nightly bombing blitz of Birmingham which destroyed shops, buildings and people. Every day could have been her last. Every day she got on the tram with her gas mask to go to work at the Munitions factory and a house or business had been hit ”.

However, in 1943 Kathleen fell off a tram and the injury she sustained made it difficult to earn a regular income, meaning that she could no longer afford the regular payments to the foster parents in Hednesford. In desperation she wrote to Father William Flint of the Father Hudson's Homes for Homeless and Friendless Catholic Children in Coleshill and the 3 year old was taken into the nursery at Coleshill before moving to Nazareth House in Rednal in 1944.

Julie records:

“ Mum's memory begins nine years into her childhood. Nothing before nine. It was the first time she travelled to Southampton from Nazareth House at Rednal, Birmingham. It was freezing even with a new red coat she and a few others got for Christmas. Twenty-two children had been picked from their orphanage. They walked carefully up the plank of the massive ship S.S. Asturius on 8th February 1950 care of the Immigration Department, Sydney, N.S.W.

“ The Commonwealth of Australia had paid their ticket, but they were kids and weren't to know that there was a plan and a policy behind their excursion to the other side of the world - what they would now call a win-win situation ”.

Life in Australia was hard for the innocent orphans who were trained from the age of 5 to do harsh domestic and agricultural chores. Disobedience was punished by the nuns with malicious, sometimes cruel discipline.

Back home in Birmingham Kathleen senior had married a Polish man named Bruno Frackowiak and the couple set up home in Selly Oak.

In 1955 Kathleen Frackowiak told her husband Bruno about her illegitimate child in Australia and in 1956 she went to see Father Flint at the Coleshill complex to request the possibility of her daughter coming back from Australia. The priest's first response was that it would not be in the girl's best interests but eventually, in February 1959, 18 year old Kath finally left the care of the nuns in Australia and returned to England to meet her mother for the first time in her life. Her mother Kathleen Frackowiak, nee. Clarke, met her off the ship in Southampton and they returned to the family home in Hubert Road in Selly Oak.

This is just the briefest outline of the story and there is much more on Julie’s website.  

Julie herself grew up in Selly Oak but emigrated to Australia in 1978 with her family.

If you have any information about Father William Flint, the Father Hudson’s Homes emigration scheme or Nazareth House in Rednal, please contact Julie through her website or email me at  

Thursday, 30 December 2010

CD of West Midlands records free with BBC magazine

I just purchased a copy of the January 2011 edition of the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? magazine as there is a free CD of West Midlands records with this edition containing:

  • Two complete county directories of Staffordshire and Worcestershire for 1835
  • Birmingham and surrounding districts directory 1863
  • Birmingham memories - Personal Recollections of Birmingham and Birmingham Men 1877
  • Aston parish records 1554-1639
  • Misc. images of maps, records and photos from Birmingham and the Black Country
This lot'll keep me happy into the New Year! Plus the magazine itself has many interesting articles.

Once I've had a good hunt through the directories I will let you know if any of our ancestors are listed. Here's a little gem to start off with, an 1875 print of Brick Kiln Street. Elsewhere on my website we have a family of Finns listed at Brickiln Street in both the 1861 and 1871 Census:

An albumen print showing the corner of Brick Kiln Street and Stainforth Street, Birmingham in 1875. This set of prints was taken as part of the Birmingham Improvement Scheme. Image from the Birmingham Archives.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

A warm welcome to our American cousins

I am delighted to have been emailed recently by Jamie Evans. Regular readers of this family research blog will be aware that in the past 12 months Jamie has carried out a significant amount of research into our Finn ancestors who went to live in Cleveland, Ohio in the early 1900s.

The Finns were ancestors of my father Geoff. His maternal grandmother was named Mary Helen Finn and she married Henry William Clayton.

Mary's parents were Thomas Finn and Bridget Flynn. See this post for more details: 

Both Bridget and Thomas Finn (my g-g-grand parents) originated from Galway in Ireland. The evidence from census records indicates they came to Birmingham in the 1850s/1860s and anecdotal evidence suggests they were displaced by the great famine of the late 1840s.

Thomas Finn had an older brother named James, who lived close by Thomas in the Newtown area of Birmingham, close to St Chad's RC Cathedral.

From Jamie's research it seems that it was the cousins of Thomas and James Finn who left Birmingham in the early 1900s to live in Ohio. Their parents were Patrick and Catherine Finn. Patrick's brother Martin was father of Thomas and James.

The family of Patrick and Catherine Finn consisted of at least 8 children, half of whom went to Ohio.

The members of the family who went to Ohio were all sisters:

Mary born in 1852 - never married.
Ellen born in 1859 married a man named Ratchford.
Julia born in 1865 married Edward Robinson.
Ann born 1868 married Thomas McKiernan.

Jamie has carried out fairly detailed research showing how members of the family travelled back and forth to America right up until the mid-1900s. Another researcher in Birmingham, Ian Payne, has also confirmed that his great grandparents, including his g-grandmother Mary Jane Payne (nee. Finn) went to America to visit their relatives in Ohio on many occasions.

Jamie's more recent research has traced living relatives, descended from the Ratchfords of Ohio. In December 2010, Jamie emailed:  

"Trawling the web looking for the surnames we have for the children of the original Birmingham families who went to Cleveland way back, I came across an obituary of a Paul Penkaty Junior, who died on 20th June 2010, Copy attached, it states he was born in Cleveland, Ohio on 27th December 1953, the son of Adrian and Lucille (Asbury) Penkaty.

Lucille Ellen Asbury was the daughter of Ellen Ratchford who married Henry J. Asbury as per the family obituaries I found earlier and forwarded to you for the blog, Lucille was born in 1924 and died on 18th May 1999 in Lewisville, Watonwan, Minnesota USA.

On the Obituary entry there are 2 e-mail dedications from friends of Paul Penkaty, being a little cheeky I sent a message to one of these e-mail addresses, but again there was no reply, that's when I did a little digging and decided to contact the brother of the deceased who is listed on the obituary as Dennis Penkaty who lives in Minnesota USA.

A week or so later, Jamie emailed again, having made progress in contacting Virginia Kass, the sister of Paul and Dennis Penkaty:

"Hello James, in looking up geneology of my family, I came across your site earlier this year. I am the daughter of Lucille Ellen Asbury Penkaty. She was the daughter of Ellen Ratchford Asbury, who was the daughter of Ellen Finn Ratchford.

I have a sister named Andrea Ellen Penkaty Smith and I believe you contacted my older brother Dennis. My younger brother Paul Henry Penkay died earlier this year.

Most of the Ratchfords that I knew are now dead. I did know some McKiernans but the last I knew was Sister Marie Nativa and we lost contact with her after my mother died in 1999. Actually we lost contact with a lot of them when we moved from Ohio to the state of Minnesota (in the upper Midwestern part of the USA)

The only other decendents I know of are Francine Asbury Trivisano (daughter of Thomas James Asbury & Beverly Asbury Erdlac (daughter of Henry Charles Asbury). Both still living in the Cleveland Ohio area. But neither was all that close to the Ratchford/Asbury family.

It seems once my Grandmother Ellen Ratchford Asbury died in 1935, my grandfather Henry James Asbury pretty much cut himself off from the family.

I was born in 1948 so a lot of that was way before my time. And when my grandmother died in 1935, my grandfather only kept in contact with 2 relatives that I know of. Alice Schindler (I think that was her last name) & Sister Marie Nativa. But that was because my Mom stayed with her Aunt Alice who lived in Dunkirk, New York during the summers & because she was close to her cousin Sister Marie Nativa."

Well done to Jamie once again for great detective work, I hope that Virginia and her family will feel free to contact us in the future and send us up-dates for the blog. We are pleased to be able to say "welcome to your Anglo-Irish roots" and hopefully in the future we may even be able to trace the town or village that the Finn family came from in the mid-19th century.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Family Miscellany - It's off to work we go

My parents worked hard all of their lives and the family archive contains various documents which track their early work patterns from the early 1950s.

Most of us probably believe that modern life has become more bureaucratic and more obsessed with health and safety regulations than it used to be fifty or more years ago, but these two documents show how the authorities loved their forms just as much back in the early 1950s as they do today.

In June 1952, at the age of 13, my mom Joan Lawlor took up a paper round. But it wasn't a case of picking up her delivery bag, climbing onto her bicycle and off she goes, as the local authority had a few administrative hoops for her to jump through first.

First of all, the 13 year old would-be paper girl was required to pass the examination of the school medical officer, who certified on 2nd July 1952 that "in my opinion employment in accordance with the provisions of the Bye-Laws regulating the Employment of Children will not be prejudicial to his (her) health or physical development, and will not render him (her) unfit to obtain the proper benefit from his (her) education".

The certificate then had to be signed by the newsagent., Mr Clarke of 476 Coventry Road.

But not only was it necessary to get the School Medical Officer's say-so before doing a paper round back in 1952, all children between the ages of 13 and 15 wanting to get a part time job also had to have an Employment Card under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.

My mom's Employment Card permitted her to deliver newspapers for Mr Clarke between 7.15 a.m. and 8 a.m. and 5 - 5.45 p.m. on School Days and a slightly longer window of opportunity on Saturdays and Sundays. Permission to deliver milk was scored out.


Famly Miscellany - Crisis What Crisis?

I've been rummaging back through the family archive (aka 'mom's old biscuit tin') this weekend and here's an interesting document, a bread ration card.

But before anyone jumps to the same conclusion that I did, that this must be from the 2nd World War, take a closer look at the dates on the card and you'll be reminded that this card relates to bread rationing of 1979 - 1980.  

Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan generally gets the blame for the strikes of late 1978 to early 1979, which became known as the Winter of Discontent and for his famous remark to the press "Crisis what crisis?". The strikes of November 1978 did include a bread strike which led to panic buying.

But by the summer of 1979 Callaghan had been voted out of power and Britain's first female PM, the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher had taken over.

So I am slightly confused at the dates on this ration card which would have been 12 months after the bread strikes of November 1978. 

Was there another bread strike under Mrs Thatcher or did bread rationing go on for a further 18 months after the winter of discontent?

The card, by the way, is registered to my mom Joan Millington at our old family address at 107 Station Road in Harborne. I would have been 18 years old when this was going on so perhaps bread was not on my personal list of priorities (or not that kind of bread anyway). Although I do remember sugar rationing as I was working in Asda on Harborne High Street in about 1977/78 and recall being in charge of replenishing the sugar stocks everytime we had a rush of desperate housewives and stampeding pensioners!

Julie McNeil responds to this post:

Wow - I emigrated to Australia in Jan 1978 age 14 - You are right about us thinking about the war though I was surprised that rations didn't end until 1952?

I vaguely remember the 1972? blackouts, petrol rations, queues for bread. no tv, candles to light me to bed, it was cosy.

Are you getting your bread and butter in the big freeze of 2010?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Family Miscellany

Below is an assorted selection of interesting items from the family archive. Items of family history interest don't have to be restricted to old photographs and birth certificates and most old documents can tell an interesting story or two for future generations.

So take my advice and think twice before emptying the contents of your top drawer into the nearest available black bin liner!

Item 1 is page 2 and 3 of Harry Robinson's passport (Harry was my dad's brother-in-law), issued on 3rd June 1958. But as you can see, back in 1958 a man's passport also included his wife, implying a rather chauvinistic assumption by the Foreign Office that the wife was never going to travel abroad without her husband.

So it is that both Kath and Harry Robinson are included in his passport. The bearer is registered as Harry, a setter operator, born in Birmingham on 31.3.1920. Height 5ft 4in, eye colour blue, hair brown and no special peculiarities.

Kath is registered as his wife, a machinist born in Ahmadabad, India on 3.1.1922. Also 5ft 4 with blue eyes and blonde hair.

The passport was due to expire in 5 years time, on 3rd June 1963 and their visas included:

20 Juil 1958   Boulogne
21 Juili 1958   Schweiz
25 Lug 1958   Uscita
29 Juil 1958   Dunkerque
30 Juil 1959   Boulogne
8 Aug 1959   Oostende
2 Aug 1961   Oostende

There are one or two other visa stamps that are difficult to read.

On page 31 of the passport there are details of the 'travelling expenses' declared by the holidaying couple on three different journies to the Continent:

24 June 1958    £100
8.7.1959   £94
15 July 1967   £40

And if we are wondering how far that £100 worth of travelling expenses stretched back in 1958, the photograph below of Kath feeding pigeons was taken on 22nd July 1958 in Milan, indicating a fair journey across Europe by train perhaps?

What is unusual about this image is that it was clearly a black and white photo, selected parts of which were coloured, presumably by hand. So Kath's dress is pink and the pigeons blue with just a touch of the same blue on a lady's dress in the background, possibly a dash of yellow in Kath's hair and in the shirt of the man directly behind her and even a delicate application of red lipstick, but everything else remaining in mono shades. I wonder was this a technique used by an Italian street photographer or did Harry take the photo and the technique was applied by a developer in the UK? These days the technique has become popular again in digital photography, but I am certain in the 1950s it was done by hand almost to artistic levels in the popular magazines of the day such as The LadyGood Taste and Cosmopolitan.  

This is a very fragile photograph showing a group of women in a convalescence home. The lady in the 2nd row, end of row on the left in the dark dress is my grandmother, known to us as Nanny Mill, or Florence Millington, nee. Clayton.

Presumably Florence was recovering from an operation or illness. I don't know what year this was taken but can I safely guess it was in the late 1940s / early 1950s by the fashion and hairstyles?

On the subject of grandparents, here is another very fragile document, the four torn quarters of which are held back together by ancient strips of sellotape, all of which adds to it's character and authenticity. This is my maternal grandparents' marriage certificate.

James Lawlor of 92 Walsh Road, son of Denis Lawlor and Catherine Cushen of the same address, married Elizabeth Whelan of 49 Bolton Street, daughter of John Whelan and Anne McDonnell of the same address at the Church of St Michan, Halston Street, Dublin on 22nd July 1938. They were married by the Rev. John Scanlon in the presence of Patrick Gorman of 20 North Brunswick Street and Mary Whelan of 46 Bolton Street. 

I hope my dad Geoff will forgive me for posting up this next set of documents ("not so much of the old" I can hear him saying), although he should not be embarrassed as they show him in an entirely glowing light.

Firstly, from the Summer term ending July 1948, dad's school report from St Peter's R.C. School. At the age of 11 Geoffrey Millington was about to move up into the senior section of the school from Class J8. We can see from his report that he attained good remarks and above average scores in all of his subjects, achieving 100% marks for arithmetic. His head teacher, E.M. Clements, adds "Has worked steadily and is getting on".

But I love my grandfather's reply on the back of the report, which I feel indicates a touch of working class deference for those in authority at the end:

Dear Miss Clements & Staff. 

I am very pleased with Geoffrey's school Report and I am sure he will do better in the future.

Yours Respectfully

Mr W J Millington  

My grandfather's confidence in his son "doing better in the future" certainly seemed to pay off as, four year later at the age of 15, my dad achieved a glowing end of school report in July 1952. A report that I for one would have been envious of showing 90% grades in several subjects and remarks which repeatedly included "Excellent" and even "Top boy in class!" in science. Strangely the one subject area in which he dropped marks over a four year period was arithmetic - by far his top subject at aged 11, which may well say more about the teacher than the pupil.

And finally...

The format of school reports may not have changed much over the years but here is a document that to the best of my knowledge we don't see these days, it's my dad's Scholar's Leaving Certificate issued by City of Birmingham Education Committee.

The document certifies that Geoffrey Millington attended St Peter's R.C. School and "is legally exempt from attendance at School, having ceased to be of compulsory school age as defined by Sections 35 and 38 of the Education Act, 1944".

Head teacher Miss Clements remarks: 

"An extremely intelligent boy who has done very well at school. He has been most efficient as School Captain. Conduct - excellent".

Dated July 24th 1952. Chief Education Officer was M. Russell.

More miscellany in the future.

Do you have any scanned documents you can contribute to the website?

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Census asks family historians to share their stories

The 2011 Census has launched a new family history page of the 2011 Census website along with a Facebook page where amateur genealogists can share their helpful tips for searching census records and discuss their findings.

The idea is to provide members of the public who are keen to delve into their family's past with easy how-to guides, hints and tips, and give those who are already up to their eyes in second cousins, twice removed, the opportunity to share their experiences with others.

Anyone wishing to offer their census story for consideration can do so via or post their story on 2011 Census Family History on Facebook. The 2011 Census team is also looking for interesting census- related stories to feature in local newspapers, radio and websites. These too can be sent using the family history email address.

The 2011 Census will take place on 27 March 2011 when everyone in England and Wales will be asked to complete and return a census questionnaire. For the first time the questionnaire can be completed online using a unique access code.

The completed paper questionnaires will be scanned and the data digitised, but a 'photo' of the handwritten questionnaire will be kept confidential until released after 100 years.

Censuses will also take place on the same day in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Friday, 5 November 2010

The Clayton family in the Census

One of the earliest records we have of our Clayton ancestors at the moment is this record from the 1841 Census which records Thomas and Hannah Clayton, whom we believe were the grand parents of my great grandfather (Henry William Clayton). We know that the family came to Birmingham from Willenhall in the late 1800s but the Census records of 1841 and 1851 indicate that Thomas Clayton came from Shrewsbury and Hannah nee. Worthington came from Tetnall near Wolverhampton. The couple had just one daughter in 1841:

1841 census - household transcription

Address: Willenhall Road, Willenhall, Wolverhampton

CLAYTON, Thomas M 25 1816

CLAYTON, Hannah F 26 1815

CLAYTON, Mary Ann F 9 1832 Staffordshire

Here is the same couple in the Census of 1851, note the mis-spelling of Clayton (Cleyton) which makes the search for this family difficult. In this record they have two additional children, Thomas and William. Thomas junior became the father of my great grandfather.

1851 census - household transcription

Address: Back of John Street, Willenhall, Wolverhampton

CLEYTON, Thomas Head Married M 35 1816 Wood Screw Maker Shrewsbury Salop

CLEYTON, Hannah Wife Married F 35 1816 Tetnall Staffordshire

CLEYTON, Mary A Daughter F 16 1835 Wolverhampton Staffordshire 

CLEYTON, Thomas Son M 9 1842 Scholar Wolverhampton Staffordshire

CLEYTON, William Son M 6 1845 Scholar Wolverhampton Staffordshire

By 1871, Thomas Clayton junior has married Emmie Clayton and they are living in the St George's parish of Birmingham. The couple have four children which include my great grandfather Henry William Clayton:

1861 Census

I have so far been unable to find a record for Thomas and Hannah Clayton in the 1861 Census, however I have discovered a record for a 19 year old Thomas Claton (note there is no 'y' in the surname) living with the Ross family. It is suggested he is a nephew of the head of the family through another word has been scored out underneath the word nephew suggesting some confusion. He is a latch maker born in Willenhall.

The wife of this family is named Mary Ann Ross - could she be Thomas Claton's older sister? Her age is given as 41 which is out by about 10 years compared to the other records of the Clayton family in 1851 and 1841, but it is worth considering there could have been an error.

1871 Census

11 Berlin Place, Frankfort Street, St George's, Birmingham

Thomas Clayton, Head, born about 1833 in Wolverhampton, a black smith.

Emmie Clayton, wife, born about 1843 in Birmingham

Thomas Clayton, son born about 1862

Emma Clayton, daughter born about 1867

Henry Clayton, son, born about 1869

Samuel F Clayton, son, born about 1871

10 years later the same family is living at 74 Fordrough Road, Aston. They have two further sons, brothers of my great grandfather, Frederick and Alfred:

1881 census

74 Fordrough Road, Aston

Thomas Clayton, Age: 44, Estimated birth year: abt 1837, Head, Spouse's name: Emma Clayton, Gender: Male, Where born: Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England Blacksmith

Emma Clayton, born Birmingham, aged 43

Thomas aged 20, twine maker, born Birmingham

Mary E. aged 18, corset maker, born Birmingham

William H. aged 14, scholar, born Birmingham

Samuel, aged 12, born Birmingham

Fredrich, aged 8, born Birmingham

Alfred, aged 6, born Birmingham

Keep watching this space as I add more records appertaining to the Clayton family.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Jewish immigration into 19th century London - some history

The history notes below are from Moving Here - Migration Histories:

19th Century

By 1800 there were about 20-25,000 Jews living in Britain, mainly in London and the major seaports. By the middle of the 19th century that figure had risen to perhaps 35-40,000, as settled migrants had families and new arrivals continued to join them.

These early migrants moved to Britain primarily for economic reasons. They were seeking better lives and the chance to practice their religion freely. In the closing decades of the 19th century, the community increased to around 250,000, with a rapid influx of large numbers from Russia and Eastern Europe. What were these people's lives like before they left? Why did they leave, and in such large numbers?

Traditional Jewish Life in Eastern Europe

Jews had moved into Eastern Europe - from the Middle East, the Mediterranean areas and Western Europe - in mediaeval times. Most lived under Polish rule, maintaining their own strong religious customs. Between 1770 and 1795 the Kingdom of Poland underwent three partitions and, by the close of the 18th century, the majority of Jews found themselves living under Russian rule. Most lived in small towns and villages called shtetls where they worked on farms, as innkeepers, dealers in liquor, rent collectors or in a variety of other trades and occupations.

A number of immigrants from this period left their memoirs of life in the shtetl Woolf Kossoff was one such: his grandson interviewed him in 1984 and the record of the interview was subsequently deposited at the Jewish Museum in London.
Jewish Life in late-19th century Russia
In the 19th century, conditions for Jewish people in Russia worsened considerably. From the early years of the century they were confined to living in an area of western Russia between the Baltic and the Black Sea, known from the 1830s as the Pale of Settlement.

Faced with the hostility of the local population, the Jews formed virtually separate communities. Their religion was different, and usually strictly observed. Their first language was Yiddish, not Russian or Polish. Their children were barred from many schools, and they had little interaction with their Christian neighbours.

Restrictive Laws

Jews were also restricted to working in permitted occupations, and entry to the professions was severely limited. Until the mid-1850s, many Jewish boys were forcibly conscripted into the Russian army for 25 years' service, where they faced considerable brutality and a high chance of death. All Jews faced anti-Semitism, often officially sanctioned. Read about Symon Freeman, one man of many who escaped conscription by emigrating to England.

Jews were increasingly forced out of their villages and into towns, where they competed for a limited number of jobs and often lived in poor and overcrowded conditions. Those who were allowed to remain on the land usually had to scratch a living from tiny subsistence farms.

The restrictive laws were made even harsher by the May Laws passed in 1882, which forced Jews within the Pale of Settlement to live only in certain prescribed towns. Click here to read about the Conditions in Russia and other Countries for Russian Jews.

Most Jews were restricted to working as artisans or in trade. Many were tailors, or less commonly, metal workers, cobblers and carpenters. Some worked in the food trade, as butchers or bakers, preparing food in accordance with Jewish dietary laws. Sometimes the woman was the main breadwinner, allowing the husband time for religious studies. As more and more Jews were forced into towns, there was intense competition for jobs, and wages were forced down below the poverty line.


Economic hardship was one reason why so many Europeans - for instance the Poles, Italians, and Irish - emigrated overseas in the late 19th century. For Jews, however, there was an added reason: persecution, which was rife in Russia and the other countries of Eastern Europe.

The persecution of Jews in Russia took on a renewed vigour after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. One of those associated with the assassins was a young Jewish woman, and this was used as an excuse for a series of attacks on Jews throughout the 1880s. Read more about the violence inflicted on the Jews in Correspondence Respecting the Outrages on Jews in Russia, February 1882.

In 1903, a pogrom at Kishinev sparked off another wave of attacks, the worst being in Odessa in 1905 where 300 were killed and thousands wounded. Jews in Russia lived in fear of new restrictions, looting, and brutal attack. For many this was the spur to leave the country.

All over Eastern Europe the Jews were frequently scapegoats for the local population. In Romania persecution was especially widespread.

The mass exodus abroad that resulted from the combination of economic hardship and fear of persecution was made much easier by cheap travel. More than two million Jews left Eastern Europe between 1881 and 1914. While the great majority aimed to reach the United States, many thousands sought to make a new home in Britain, where they knew they would find kinsmen in an established Jewish community. The address of the Jews' Temporary Shelter in London - the first port of call for arriving immigrants in London - was bought and sold on by prospective migrants in Eastern Europe.

Other useful links:

Hogan ancestors of Mary Taylor nee. Clayton

1911 Census - household transcription

Address: 22 Newspring Street Birmingham

HOGAN, John Head Married 49 years M 69 1842 Bootmaker Cork Ireland 

HOGAN, Mary Ann Wife Married F 68 1843 Birmingham

1901 census - household transcription

Address: 13, 1, Court House, Hospital Street, Birmingham

HOGAN, John Head Married M 58 1843 Boot & Shoe Finisher Ireland 

HOGAN, Mary A Wife Married F 56 1845 Birmingham 

HOGAN, Annie Daughter Single F 22 1879 Press Worker Brass Cutter Birmingham 

HOGAN, Thomas Son Single M 18 1883 Bicycle Fitter Birmingham

HOGAN, James Son Single M 14 1887 Spoon Stamper Birmingham 

HOGAN, Nellie Grand Daughter Single F 9 1892 Birmingham

1891 census - household transcription

Address: 7, 10 Court, Bromsgrove Street, Birmingham

HOGAN, John Head Married M 47 1844 Boot Finisher Ireland

HOGAN, Mary A Wife Married F 44 1847 Birmingham Worcestershire 

HOGAN, Patrick Son Single M 22 1869 Jute Floater Birmingham Worcestershire

HOGAN, Michael Son Single M 17 1874 Brass Polisher Birmingham Worcestershire 

HOGAN, Simon Son M 14 1877 Brass Polisher Birmingham Worcestershire 

HOGAN, Ann Daughter F 12 1879 Scholar Birmingham Worcestershire  

HOGAN, Thomas Son M 8 1883 Scholar Birmingham Warwickshire 

HOGAN, James Son M 4 1887 Birmingham Warwickshire

1881 census - household transcription

Address: 69, New Inkleys, Birmingham

HOGAN, John Head Married M 38 1843 Shoe Maker Ireland 

HOGAN, Mary A Wife Married F 34 1847 Birmm Warwickshire 

HOGAN, John Son Single M 18 1863 Shoe Rivetter Birmm Warwickshire

HOGAN, Patrick Son Single M 14 1867 Military Worker (Acct 8) Birmm Warwickshire

HOGAN, Charles Son Single M 12 1869 Scholar Birmm Warwickshire 

HOGAN, Michael Son Single M 10 1871 Scholar Birmm Warwickshire 

HOGAN, Simon Son Single M 4 1877 Scholar Birmm Warwickshire 

HOGAN, Annie Daughter Single F 2 1879 Birmm Warwickshire

1871 census - household transcription

Address: Howard's Place House Court, Birmingham

HOGAN, John Head M 28 1843 Ireland 

HOGAN, Mary A Wife F 25 1846 Warwickshire

HOGAN, John Son M 8 1863 Warwickshire

HOGAN, Patrick Son M 2 1869 Warwickshire

HOGAN, Charles Son M 0 1871 Warwickshire

The following record could be Mary A Hogan when she was a child - maiden name Hagan:

1861 census - household transcription

Address: 4, 5 Court, Old Inkleys, Birmingham

HAGAN, John Head Married M 53 1808 Bricklayer Ireland 

HAGAN, Bridget Wife Married F 53 1808 Ireland 

HAGAN, Mary A Daughter Unmarried F 16 1845 Birmingham Warwickshire 

HAGAN, Thomas Son Unmarried M 13 1848 Carter Birmingham Warwickshire

A message from Breda in Dublin re: Lawlor (O'Lalor) and Gorman (O'Gorman)

I was just back tracking though messages left on this website (there is a facility for guests to leave a message after each post but it is not autmatically visible so one has to search for them) and I found a message left by my mom's cousin Breda in August.

I must apologise Breda for not reading your message before today. Breda said:

Hi Pete, its Breda here from the old homestead of 92 Walsh Rd. Was talking to Jim Byrne from Cork a few weeks ago and he gave me your brummie site to find out information on the Lawlors and Cushions and I have certainly discovered a lot of information from you. My brother Vincent's son "Kieran O Gorman" who is starting his family tree asked me if I would have any information he could use, so now i am glad to say I can refer him to your site which is really the best I have seen. Wish I had you to track the Gorman side of my family, ha ha. Say hello to your mam and dad from me, hope they are keeping well, Breda (O Reilly)

19 August 2010 13:08

My reply to Breda's post today (2 months later - sorry Breda):


So sorry I have not seen your post before today (in October). I was just back tracking. Wonderful to hear from you. Joan will be delighted. I will be in touch. Let me know if I can help on the Gorman side - I am never one to turn down a genealogical challenge!!

Love to everyone. I have warm memories of meeting you all in the early and late 90s and have some great video footage of Aunt Lily singing Danny Boy at the home out at Howth.

Love to you all



Find out more at this link:

Friday, 22 October 2010

The family of Emily Wayne in the census

Emily A Wayne nee. Phillips was born in Kings Cross, London in 1876. Her daughter, also named Emily A Wayne, married my grandmother's brother, George Clayton. We know that the Phillips family were Jewish and, as was the common practice of Jewish families entering England in the 19th century, Phillips was probably an Anglicised surname taken by the family on arrivival. We do not know at the moment whether the Wayne family were also Jewish.

1911 census, former in-laws of Emily A Wayne at 173 Summer Lane Birmingham

WAYNE, Robert Head Married M 62 1849 House Enfield Middlesex 

WAYNE, Jane Francis Wife Married 42 years F 64 1847 Bristol Glouces
WAYNE, Rhoda Daughter Single F 42 1869 Shop Assistant Aston Warwickshire
WAYNE, Mariam Frances Daughter Single F 27 1884 Shop Assistant Aston Warwickshire
1911 census, Emily A Wayne, nee. Phillips has remarried Frederick Clayton - family living at 24 Colmore Terrace Great Hampton Row Birmingham

CLAYTON, Frederick Head Married M 37 1874 House Painter Birmingham C B

CLAYTON, Emily Annie Wife Married 5 years F 35 1876 London 

WAYNE, Emily Annie Stepdaughter F 10 1901 School London 

CLAYTON, Hilda Elizabeth Daughter F 4 1907 School Birmingham C B 

CLAYTON, Sylvia Priscilla Daughter F 2 1909 Birmingham C B 

CLAYTON, Miriam Daughter F 1 1910 Birmingham C B 

KERRIGAN, Thomas Boarder Married M 28 1883 Edging Tools Birmingham C B 

KERRIGAN, Ellen Boarder Married 10 years F 27 1884 Birmingham C B

KERRIGAN, James Boarder M 9 1902 School Birmingham C B

KERRIGAN, Thomas Patrick Boarder M 4 1907 Birmingham C B

KERRIGAN, Frederick Boarder M 1 1910 Birmingham C B 

TAYLER, Charles Henry Boarder M 48 1863 Iron Plater Worker Heredfordshire 

TAYLER, William Henry Boarder M 4 1907 Birmingham C B

1901 census, Emily Wayne at 27, 4, House Court, Summer Lane, Birmingham

Emily is listed in the 1901 census as the wife of the head of the household, even though her husband is not on this census record.

Emily's condition is described as married, she was 25 years old in 1901, her birth year was 1876. Her occupation was Printer Layer On.

Emily's daughter, Emily A Wayne, was also listed in this small household. She was just 6 months old (birth year 1901) and was born in Bow, London.

The third person listed in the household was Rhoda Wayne, described as Emily's sister-in-law. Rhoda was single, aged 32 (birth year 1869 - born in Birmingham) and her occupation was a Drapers Assistant.

1891 census - household transcription, Wayne family
Address: 15, Gladstone Street, Aston, Aston Manor

WAYNE, Robert Head Married M 43 1848 Machinist Enfield, Middlesex

WAYNE, Jane F Wife Married F 45 1846 Bristol Somersetshire

WAYNE, Robert Son Single M 22 1869 Machine Minder Birmingham Warwickshire

WAYNE, Rhoda Daughter Single F 22 1869 Birmingham Warwickshire

WAYNE, Edwin J Son Single M 20 1871 Screw Turner Birmingham Warwickshire

WAYNE, Arthur W Son Single M 19 1872 Machine Fitter Birmingham Warwickshire

WAYNE, Albert T Son Single M 15 1876 Turner Birmingham Warwickshire

WAYNE, Frederick W Son Single M 12 1879 Scholar Aston Warwickshire

WAYNE, Herbert Son Single M 10 1881 Scholar Aston Warwickshire

WAYNE, Edith E Daughter Single F 8 1883 Scholar Aston Warwickshire

WAYNE, Miriam F Daughter Single F 7 1884 Scholar Aston Warwickshire

WAYNE, Phillip B Son Single M 4 1887 Scholar Aston Warwickshire

HINDS, Hannah Niece Single F 18 1873 Domestic Servant Birmingham Warwickshire

Wayne family in the 1881 census

Address: 15, (Court 3), Gladstone St, Aston

WAYNE, Robert Head Widower M 33 1848 Tool Maker Enfield Warwickshire
WAYNE, Robert Son Single M 12 1869 School Bham Warwickshire

WAYNE, Rhoda Daughter Single F 12 1869 School Bham Warwickshire
WAYNE, Edwin J Son Single M 10 1871 School Bham Warwickshire 

WAYNE, Arthur W Son Single M 9 1872 School Bham Warwickshire

WAYNE, Albert T Son Single M 5 1876 School Bham Warwickshire

WAYNE, Frederick W Son Single M 2 1879 School Aston Warwickshire

WAYNE, James H Son Single M 0 1881 Aston Warwickshire
A mystery arises from the above census record in that Robert Wayne is listed as a widower and yet his wife Jane reappears in the 1891, 1901 and 1911 census. Would be interesting to find out the explanaition for this one. She clearly made a miraculous recovery!   
1871 census - Wayne family at Address: New Summer Street House Court, Birmingham
WAYNE, Robert Head M 23 1848 Middlesex 

WAYNE, Jane F Wife F 26 1845 Gloucestershire 

WAYNE, Rhoda Daughter F 2 1869 Warwickshire 

WAYNE, Robert Son M 2 1869 Warwickshire 

WAYNE, Edwin J Son M 0 1871 Warwickshire

Thursday, 21 October 2010

An email from Mary Taylor - a relation with both a Clayton and a Millington connection!

As if I needed further encouragement for publishing my family history research online, I was recently contacted via email by a relative with whom I have never spoken before, who is sharing some intriguing new information with us. 

Mary Emily Taylor contacted me via email, her father George Clayton was the first cousin of my father Geoffrey Millington. George Clayton's father, also George Clayton, was my grandmother's brother (my grandmother being Florence Millington, nee. Clayton). But according to Mary's email, her family tree has an additional connection to the Millingtons a generation or so before Florence Clayton married William Millington. Not only this, but Mary also refers to the surnames Hagan and Hogan in her Clayton ancestry - names which have appeared in my family history research.

Mary has given me permission to publish exracts of her recent emails on the website and I have included my own response between the two emails: 

Email 1

My name is Mary Emily Taylor nee Clayton, my father and your father were cousins.

My parents were George and Irene Clayton, nee Hogan. My grandparents were George Clayton and Emily nee. Wayne, my great grandparents were William and Mary Clayton.

I can remember your grandmother (my great aunt Floss) visiting me every birthday, I can also remember visiting my great grandmother who I knew as Grandma Polly in Quinton. I was about 5 then.

I believe I have found a connection between mom's family and your own, my grandmother Frances had a cousin May Elizabeth Millington nee. Johnson. She was born in 1887 and she was a paper maker, she married Howard Emmanuel Millington born in June 1879. He sadly died in September 1907.

I also hope there is a connection with mom's grandmother Mary Hogan nee. Hagan.

If indeed this Howard Emmanuel Millington is your relation I have found him aged 12 living in Warstone lane.

Thank you for all your hard work concerning My Clayton Family History it has been a joy to read.


My reply

Having read Mary's initial email with great interest, I firstly looked back through my own research to see if I could find a match for Howard Emmanuel Millington. The name definately rang a bell as one I have come across during my research, but it may not necessarily have been a direct ancestor.

However, sure enough Howard Emmanuel Millington was related to our branch of the Millington family. This is my reply to Mary:

Hi Mary

I have had a chance to look back through my research and found a Howard Emmanuel Millington, born 1879 who was a son of Alfred Emmanuel Millington.

Alfred in turn was the 2nd child of James Millington, the younger brother of my g-g-g-grandfather William Millington. Both James and William Millington were boot makers who lived in Cregoe Street, Lee Bank, moving to Birmingham from Wellington in Shropshire in the early 1800s.

More about Howard and his family at this link:

So that's a definite 'second' link between us Mary!

In reference to the Hogan / Hagan connection. Both names are of interest to me. A branch of my dad's family were O'Hagans, who lived in Lee Bank. My g-g-grandmother, Alice O'Hagan married John Millington in the 1870s. In the census records I have also found the O'Hagan family named Hagan (without the 'O' prefix). Neither Hagan or O'Hagan are common names in Birmingham - so there is quite a strong case that families of this surname in Birmingham in the late 19th / early 20th century were related. Having said this I found records of a large O'Hagan family in the Aston area who I can't connect. My O'Hagans originated from Newry in Ulster. So I would be interested in more information if you have it.

More about the O'Hagans at this link:

I had not come across the surname Hogan until quite recently when I was contacted by a gentleman named Jamie Evans whose great grandmother Mary Hogan was possibly related to our great grandmother, Mary Clayton, nee. Finn (Grandma Polly in your email). Jamie's research has helped me to uncover a lot of information about a family of Finn sisters (off the top of my head they were cousins or second cousins of Mary Helen Finn (Grandma Polly) who all went to live in Cleveland, Ohio in the early 1900s. Their married names including Robinson, Rachford and McKiernan - one remained unmarried so kept her maiden name Finn. Jamie's grandmother, Martha Lilly Walton, attempted to take her own 3 daughters to America in the early 1920s but her attempt was foiled by her mother-in-law who actually boarded the ship with a last minute court order to remove the said grand daughters. The mother-in-law's maiden name was Mary Hogan and Jamie said she lived close to the Finns in Newtwon.

It's a fascinating story and Jamie has done an incredible amount of research, much of it just in the past 6 or 7 months, but he is still unsure as to how his grandmother, Martha Walton was exactly related to the Finns, except for the fact that her and her husband lived next door for many decades in Newtown to a man named John Finn (and his wife Catherine) who was, we believe, the brother of the 4 sisters who went to America.

The plot thickens! So if you have any information about the Hogans, this would be very interesting to read.

There are various posts on my website about Jamie's research, here are a couple of links:

Mary's 2nd Email:

Hello Pete,

Thankyou for your reply. I have read the information and once again I am intrigued, isn't it all wonderful?

I have a little more information on my grandmother Emily Clayton, nee. Wayne in the 1901 census in St Stephen, B'ham:

Emily A Wayne, 6 months - born 1900 in Bow. Her mother Emily Wayne nee Phillips age 25 born 1876 Kings Cross London.

Sister-in -law Rhoda Wayne, 32 born 1869 B'ham.

This is the interesting part for me as Nanny Clayton's father died when she was very young and even uncle Bill, dads brother asked if I had any information about him and I found him in the 1871 census aged 2 with his twin sister Rhoda living in New Summer St, then Gladstone Street, Aston

In 1891 aged 22, he was not mentioned living with Nanny Clayton and his wife, my great grandmother who I knew as May. Perhaps he was in hospital as it states wife not widow. I wonder if her husband was also Jewish or was it just her side of the family?

It is all very fascinating. I would love to know her family's original name. I have Mary Hogan nee. Hagan living in Hospital Street in 1901 aged 56, born in Birmingham. James Hagan, 14, born in 1887, a spoon stamper, Nellie Hagan aged 9 born in 1892 in Birmingham, granddaughter.


Thank you 

Thanks so much for your emails Mary, there are some fascinating leads here for further research and it's great to be able to publish it online in case others can help us to fill in any of the gaps. I am intrigued by the occurence of the Hagan and Hogan names as both of these Irish surnames were rare in 19th century Birmingham. I had previously thought of the O'Hagans as being a quite seperate branch of my ancestors living a few miles from Ladywood in the Lee Bank area. So the possibility of them having connections with the Claytons and the Finn/Flynn dynasty of Newtown, Aston, Hockley and eventually Ladywood, is very interesting.

Watch this space as they say!

Monday, 18 October 2010

When the Villa won the cup

I had an unexpected present earlier this year when I took my mom and dad to visit their sister-in-law Iris. Aunty Iris is the widow of my dad's older brother Bill who died a few years ago. Bill was a lifelong Villa season ticket holder and when I was a lad in the 1960s and 70s he used to take me to Villa Park on a regular basis in the days of Chico Hamilton, Charlie Aitken, Willie Anderson and Bruce Rioch. I remember watching Villa get promotion back from the 3rd Division and a Villa youth team including Brian Little win the FA Youth Cup. In those days a nipper like me could be lifted over the turnstyles and I'd sit on Bill's knee in the seats to watch the game!

But this historical Villa programme goes back a few more years before I was even born, to 1957 when the Villa beat the famous 'Busby Babes' Manchester United side 2-1 in the FA Cup final at Wembley. Uncle Bill had apparently won his cup final ticket in a poety competition. Iris tried to recall a few lines from memory and has promised me she'll try to find the whole poem which is in a box or cupboard somewhere.

The programme is a great piece of football history. Costing one shilling at the time, it clearly leans towards the Manchester United side which is described as the season's "Team of the Century". A journalist named Albert Sewell suggests that the Babes can be the youngest cup winners, having become the youngest League Champions the previous season. Having said this, Sewell goes on to warn caution to Manchester United, citing Busby:

"So long as they remember that the medals have still to be earned, that Villa are not here simply to make up the number, Manchester United should justify their position as firm favourites. Manager Busby will have warned his young men against the risks of being Cup Final favourites and the dangers of over confidence. He was right half in the Manchester City side rated certain to beat Everton here in 1933. Instead they lost 3-0. He remembers how the eager young Wolves were shattered 4-1 in 1939 by a Portsmouth team who were given no time outside Hampshire. Last year it was Birmingham's turn as the favourites who failed at Wembley. The ball is at your feet, United. A year ago you were the youngest League Champions. Now you can add the "Youngest Cup winners" title, too!"

In a supposedly impartial Cup Final programme, it is interesting to note the beginnings of the Manchester United supporter arrogance which has only increased over the past 52 years!

Whilst not exactly calling it a 'right of reply' as such, later on in the programme there is an editorial from another journalist named Rod Davies, who does at least lay out Villa's own glorious history going back to the days of Scotsman George Ramsay when Villa first won the FA Cup against West Brom in 1887 at Kennington Oval. In fairness to the Baggies, Davies also recalls how the Albion took revenge by beating Villa in the Cup Final in 1892.

"Then began a golden era" says Davies "in which they were five times League champions and twice winners of the Cup in seven seasons. When they won the Cup in 1895, they lost it - literally. Someone stole it from a Birmingham shop window. In 1897 they equalled Preston North End's 1889 feat of winning Cup and League. It was a wonderful period in the club's history, marked in 1897 by the opening of Villa Park, still one of the greatest grounds in the country".

Davies goes on to remind readers that if Villa were to win the Cup today against United, they would set a new record of winning it seven times.

"Today they are represented by a team of eleven players who are sound footballers, good club men and battlers to the last ditch - very proud of their record of coming from behind with the odds against them!"

If you examine the scanned copy of Uncle Bill's programme above, you may note that he was good enough to scribble in the final score next to the teams on the front cover with his fountain pen. And yes, Villa did of course go on to win the match 2-1 and just for all United fans all over Britain from Brighton right up as far north as Watford, here's a picture of the victorious underdogs.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Taking the Adderley family back to the early 1700s

I have said it before on this website, membership of Genes Reunited has very genuine benefits - especially when it comes to your attention that a fellow researcher has added common ancestors to their tree. I made contact with a gentleman named David Hudson several years ago, indeed before Genes Reunited was conceived of and in the dim and distant days when we family tree researchers were more likely to be found sitting in front of microfiche machines at the top of the library than surfing the internet in the comfort of our own homes. I seem to remember that David and I may even have corresponded via the Royal Mail when we initially exchanged information.

David is a descendant of Sarah Adderley who was the oldest sister of my paternal grandfather's mother (my great grandmother) Phoebe Adderley. The Adderley family lived in the Lee Bank area of Birmingham in the 19th century. Sarah and Phoebe had several brothers and sisters and their parents were Alfred Adderley and Emily nee. Carpenter.

A few months ago I posted about the Carpenter family tree and Emily's ancestors from the Stratford-upon-Avon area of Warwickshire.

On the Adderley side I could go back one further generation to Alfred's parents William Adderley and Caroline, nee. Partridge. However, it seems that David Hudson has taken this line back 2 further generations and it seems we have yet more Shropshire ancestors to add to the Millingtons and the Claytons, as follows:

Richard Adderley was born in Newport, Shropshire in about 1737 and he married Sarah Williams.
His spouse Sarah was also born in Newport, in about 1745 and died in about 1820.

According to David's family tree on Genes Reunited, Richard and Sarah Adderley had two sons:

The oldest was named Thomas Adderley. He was born in about 1775 in Newport, Shropshire and married Mary Wheat.

One of these sons was William Adderley born in about 1785. The place of his baptism was St Martins in Birmingham. There is an exact date for his birth which is 10th September 1832. William married twice, his first wife was Amela Davis and his second wife was Sarah Edge.

Amela Davis was born in Newport, Shropshire in about 1788 and died in 1851.
Sarah Edge was born in Warwickshire in about 1792.

It appears from David's tree that William Adderley had four children with his second wife Sarah Edge:

Caroline Adderley born about 1819.
Elizabeth Adderley born about 1822. Married William Burnett in Birmingham in September 1847.
William Adderley born about 1825 in Birmingham. Married Caroline Partridge.
Henry Adderley born about 1831.

The third of these children, William Adderley, was my g-g-g-grandfather, father of Alfred and grandfather of my g-grandmother Pheobe Adderley who married Terence Millington.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

In memory of Mary Morrisey, nee: Whelan

I wish to convey the condolences of the whole family to the daughters, sons-in-law and grand children of Mary Morrisey who was my mother's cousin in Dublin, on her death this week at the age of 80. Mary was the daughter of my grand mother's sister Catherine (or Kitty) Whelan.

Mary's death is particularly poignant because I have only recently been contacted by her daughter Colette who came across this website, read about the Whelan family and made contact not only with myself via email but also with members of the extended Whelan family in Dublin. Colette and Gaye Mulholland (a cousin of my mother and of Mary Morrisey and someone who has sent us several contributions of information and photographs for this website) recently met up in Dublin for the first time in their lives - which perhaps goes to show the powerful consequences of publishing genealogical research online. Anyone who has watched the BBC television series Who Do You Think You Are? will no doubt share my sense of wonder at how links can be reformed through family history research, even with the passing of generations, events, relationships and ultimately time, and I think this story is as a good example of that.

Colette is married to John Gallagher and they have 2 children. Colette also has 3 sisters:

Therese in Australia, Anne in Australia and Clare in Ireland.

As mentioned above, Mary was Kitty Whelan's daughter, but being born to a young single mum in 1930 in Ireland, Kitty's mother Anne (my great granny Whelan) insisted that Mary grew up outside of the family. Whilst family ties existed, it is fair to say that Mary's life was in isolation from her extended family network, though as Colette said to me recently, none of us can turn back time and attitudes towards single parenthood would be different these days.

However, Mary's death seems particuarly poignant coming so soon after Colette has made contact with the wider family that Mary was denied throughout her 80 years, though particularly as a child growing up in 1930s Dublin. It is less than a month since Colette emailed me.

I would therefore wish not only to convey the deep sense of sadness which I am certain exists on both sides of the Irish sea to learn of Mary's passing but to rightfully embrace and record Mary and her children and grand children into this extended family history.

God bless Mary Morrisey, nee. Whelan.

The picture above is called The Ascension of Mary

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Cecilia Costello ‘Our People’s Voice’

Below is a very interesting article written by a friend, Brian Dakin, well known Black Country dialect poet, which I am publishing in my Gazettes. This lady was not (as far as I know) related to us but there are significant paralels with our own Irish Brummie ancestors and interesting cultural references:

Cecilia Costello ‘Our People’s Voice’
Brian Dakin ( Billy Spake Mon) and Dr Esther Asprey

Cecilia is girl with pigtails

For some people fate moves the pieces of life’s jigsaw to make certain situations arise and experiences happen. Even if I had been sceptical before, after the discovery of Cecilia Costello I was convinced that the people with this conviction were right. The first time I came across Cecilia’s name was when I carried out an interview in my capacity as a Research Associate on the West Midlands English: Speech and Society project headed by Dr Urszula Clark at Aston University. I was carrying out an interview with Pam Bishop, a folk stalwart of the Ewan McColl era, discussing her involvement in the Charles Parker Collection held at Birmingham archives. Pam mentioned a Brummie lady called Cecilia Costello and a very rare recording made by the BBC of this local singer. She said I should investigate Cecilia’s music for the project. Cecilia had passed away some years before so although I made a note it wasn’t a priority due to the work load already undertaken.

The second part of the jigsaw came to me in my capacity as lyricist for Lozz Hipkiss in the Black Country folk duo of Billy and Lozz. Lozz owns Rooster Studios in Rowley Regis and is also the partner in RoosterSpake, our Black Country arts performance collaboration. We are always getting stories given to us and requests to see if we know of some event from the past.

One such request came from a man Lozz and I had known for years, as he helps run the Bromsgrove Folk club where we often play our own original songs and narratives. So I was even more surprised that the request came completely out of the blue and so soon after Pam Bishop’s interview.

The email was from Pat Costello (up to that point I only knew him as Pat) asking me for help in obtaining ‘hard copies’ of recordings the British Library had of his grandmother in conversation, one Cecilia Costello. See what I mean about jigsaw pieces!

Apparently copies can only be given easily to educational establishments such as Aston University, where I work. Pat had heard of my work there and knew me and Lozz well, so felt comfortable in asking for my help. At first I didn’t connect the two names until I read the rest of the email, at which point I twigged the connection. Pat also wrote that he had the copy of the original BBC recording of his grandmother on LP and also tapes of an interview he had done with Carl Chinn and his father talking about his life both in Birmingham and the influence of his Irish background. I quickly clicked the link to the British Library recordings, now certain the Cecilia Costello was one and the same lady that Pam Bishop had told me about.

What follows is a brief outline of Cecilia’s life and the impact that has been made on my life in becoming acquainted with this wonderful lady and her music. I truly believe she is the voice of our people and I am humbled to be embraced by the vibrant beauty and eloquence of her Brummie accent and the power of her delivery when enthralling with her wonderful narratives held in each song.

Never having met Cecilia I decided while writing this piece to have her music playing in the background. I was immediately caught by the purity of her voice. It made me think of the writer and poet Tom Paulin who in his Writings For the Moment spoke of the ‘eloquence of dialect’, and the raw power and energy evoked when a speaker (for Cecilia is heard speaking on occasions) or singer of dialect delivers a line.

Through the frailty of this lady’s voice (she was in her 60’s when first recorded) was an immense power and presence that caught me as a listener and prevented me from continuing with a train of thought until I had listened several times. Dialect singers of this quality have a great humanness and honesty about their love of each word, of each intonation. Sometimes it is stark, sometimes warm but always human.

If the reader has never tried to sing unaccompanied then they may not understand that taken away from any kind of accompaniment the voice becomes the messenger. Every emotion has to be conveyed by the singer. There is no place drama can be added or tenderness be conveyed by the deft use of an instrument. Here the voice is the instrument, the orchestra the truth in all its glory, and believe me, Cecilia Costello sings in all her glory. The listener is there with her on her ‘settee’ in Birmingham with all the technicians and visitors who had heard of this famous lady. To Cecilia no one was there and yet the world was in her living room listening to this ‘ordinary’ lady sing with such majestic purity.

It must have been the third time I listened to the recording that I felt I knew Cecilia well enough to continue writing. Born on 24th of October 1884 in the White Lion Yard 8 Dean Place behind the Bull Ring in Birmingham. She was the youngest of 10 children, 5 boys and 5 girls. Her mother Margaret Kelly nee Higgins lived in Galway and her father Edward lived in Roscommon coming across , as did many on the ‘boat trains’ to escape the starvation that ravaged their home land. Cecilia worked at the age of 12 as a trainee screw maker at Hawkins screw factory in Cheapside, This position was initially unpaid but eventually she was paid about 6 shillings a week depending on size and how many gross were made,. working long hours , 8 in the morning till 7 at night . She was recorded in the 1901 census at 17 years of age single and sleeping at Birmingham Workhouse Infirmary. Her occupation at this time was listed as a Brass Polisher.

Although a Brummie her roots were firmly placed in Ireland as can be seen embedded in her singing style. Although she sang with a linguistically Brummie dialect she sang with a very definite Gaelic style. Edward Thompson, an expert on origins of folk songs and dialects, suggests that this may have been because immigrants would not have staffed Catholic parishes with English-born priests but with those of rural Ireland who brought with them the Gaelic style of singing which transferred to ballads of English origin. Cecilia therefore had a natural style born out of her Galway background, her husband Thomas was from the Roscommon area which makes writing this piece all the more prescient in my passion for this lady and her work, as my own family on the Murray side came from Roscommon. They moved around the city quite a lot and it would take a long narrative to trace every settlement or road they lived in. Here however we are dealing with Cecilia and her wonderful interpretations of rare and better known songs of the people.

Very often the phrase ‘of their time’ is used and Cecilia certainly was that. She sang all around the city and gained a reputation far beyond its boundaries. There were several people in the late 1960s who were extremely interested in songs ‘from the field’ as it were. Much like the Alan Lomax recordings of black slaves or voices of people in minority communities, Charles Parker and Roy Palmer, along with people from the BBC, had decided to travel the country and record singers that they had heard about.

Ewan McColl also raised the profile of British folk with a series of recordings called Radio Ballads at this time, where he and other folk singers travelled all over Britain recording conversations with various communities and writing songs about them. Cecilia was most certainly of that time and much sought out by those interested in preserving oral history in song and dialogue.

Initially, Marie Solcombe and Patrick Shuldham- Smith recorded thirteen songs for the BBC; visits by Charles Parker and Roy Palmer followed, as did visits from Pam Bishop and Jon Raven, stalwarts of the local folk scene.

Cecilia’s repertoire astounded all who visited this inspirational singer. It ranged from classic ballads to narrative texts and children’s ballads. For collectors probably the most exciting is a rendition of The Lover’s Ghost (or to use its other name the Grey Cock) as it was a most unlikely song to find in the Birmingham area. No reports of its still existing in England had previously been found, though it had been recorded in Newfoundland.

Tony Green who was involved at the time remarked that “many of Mrs Costello’s songs spring from that classic Anglo-Irish repertory which came to England first with the ‘July Barbers’; the itinerant harvest workers who came over from Ireland in particular from about 1852 onwards and thereafter with the settled migrants of the mid-nineteenth century who gravitated to the cities because that was where work was.”

He went on to remark how her voice, warm and rich with strong Brummie inflections, hid the fact that she was just one generation from rural Ireland.

Maybe that’s why Cecilia Costello is so unique: she bore the souls of two very different spirits - the wild feral free flying soul of the Gaelic traveller, and the strong, fiery passion of the industrial city that had given her a life. She created not only a tension in her songs but a delicate tenderness and again the two characters almost marry themselves as her voice evoked past histories with her experience of Birmingham.

This short piece has, as I said it would, concentrated on her singing and her songs. For reasons unknown, Leader/ Transatlantic deleted the album of songs after only two years; a complete travesty since it contained such wonderful renditions of immensely important songs.

Folk music has always been the people’s history. It writes history from a different perspective than do historians. It is of the people and for the people the songs left by those gifted enough to understand its position and deliver its narrative in such beautiful ways should be kept for every generation to understand how our people came together and lived through cultural, social and economic changes. Cecilia Costello was one of those rare people touched with a gift that few have; the gift of being able to take a word and make it say whatever she wanted it to, be it joy, pain, cruelty or tenderness.

I hope this article will spark an interest not only in Cecilia but in all the treasures that lie collecting dust in the vaults of our cities, and more hopefully, in the virtual vaults of our country’s archives and libraries. To the young I say, go out and find them, discover for yourself real history of our people. Discover for yourself Cecilia Costello and all the performers who were, as she most certainly was, a voice of the people.

Cecilia Costello passed away in 1976 aged 91

Visit the website created by Pat Costello

Thanks to Pat for all his help and for the wonderful inspirational songs I can now listen to of this lady. Also I acknowledge the help of my colleague at Aston Dr Esther Asprey for her guidance in writing this short account.

1 "Cecilia Costello"

Recordings from the sound Archives of the BBC, 1951 and 1954

Published on Leader LEE 4054 mono 1974