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.