Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Emily Clayton, nee. Philips - back another generation

I have just been dabbling on the Ancestry.co.uk website. I have been paying a membership subscription for quite a few months now and have to say it is a very good website for access to a wide range of downloadable records such as birth, marriage, death and all the UK census records. I also use Find My Past a lot on a pay as you go basis, there's not a lot between the two sites for basic users like me.

Ancestry also offers the facility to build a tree online which I have avoided doing because I have already put a fairly substantial tree onto the Genes Reunited website. But tonight I thought I'll just try out a tree on Ancestry out of casual interest and I am very encouraged by it's features, such as throwing up links to online records as well as to other people's trees who have similar ancestors, literally within seconds of entering a new ancestor.

So, as much as I was avoiding it, I may have to spend a few hours (who am I kidding?) entering my complete tree onto Ancestry, simply because of the potential to get fresh leads and contacts so instantly. 

The reason I am blogging this information though is really to make a quick note of the fact I have been alerted to someone else's tree which provides useful information on both living relatives and linked ancestors. I won't identify the person until I have made contact with them, but just to say the tree owner is descended from Miriam Clayton, the daughter of Fred and Emily Clayton, nee. Phillips (Fred being my g-grand father's brother).

What is most intriguing for me in this research is the identification of Emily's parents, James Edel Phillips and Emily Barlow. James apparently born in Deritend in 1854. Regular followers of my blog may recall the recent post concerning an email from Mary Taylor who is descended from George and Emily Clayton (Emily being the daughter of Emily Wayne, nee. Philips) and my subsequent few posts which contained my tentative research into Emily's Jewish origins: 


So this is potentially a great development as well as being another one of those interesting coincidences that seem to occur in the study of genealogy. I am convinced that genealogy is at least half as much about one's intuition as it is logical detective work. Having said that, I can see myself becoming more closely acquainted with http://www.ancestry.co.uk/ 

Watch this space as they say.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Nan and Grandad Mill in India and the birth of Kathleen M

My Aunty Kath and her husband Harry were two of life’s truly decent, salt-of-the-earth working class people – proud hardworking Brummies who had both grown up in the cobbled inner city streets of Ladywood, romancing and courting through the uncertain Blitz years of the 1940s and marrying at St Peter’s church near Broad Street in 1942. True and lasting love not only blossomed for K and H, but the happiest days of their lives were fulfilled in spite of the constant threat of Herr Hitler’s bombs, raining down on the factories and streets of Britain’s industrial heartland.

Aunty Kath's birth registered in Army Returns 1921-1925.
Millington, Kathleen M - 1922
Station recorded as Nasirabad.

Kath was my dad’s second oldest sister. Not quite a fully fledged born and bred Brummie; the family in-joke was that fair-skinned, blonde-haired and blue-eyed Kathleen was actually not really a Brummie at all - but the world’s most unlikely looking Indian. In fact, Kathleen Mary Millington entered the world not at Dudley Road, Sorrento or Selly Oak maternity hospitals but in the far away city of Ahmedabad in the northern Indian region of Gujarat on 3rd January 1922. She was baptised on 20th January at the church of Our Lady of Carmel in Ahmedabad where her god mother was Sister Violet Baptista and the minister a Roman Catholic Chaplain named Father P. Fernandes. Her father’s occupation was given as ‘Private’ and her parent’s address recorded simply as ‘camp’.

My granddad Mill was a young soldier in the Worcestershire Regiment when he was posted to India in about 1919. In those days a long-term posting to the other side of the world meant that young British privates were unlikely to come home for years as opposed to months, so their wives were given the unique opportunity of following on to join them in India. To my grandmother Florence, this was a chance in a lifetime for a young working class woman from the back-streets of Birmingham. The couple already had one child, Annie, who unfortunately became very ill just before Florence was due to embark on her long voyage around the treacherous southern tip of Africa to the east.

William Joseph Millington

Florence was told by the local doctor in Ladywood, “if you take that child, you can expect to bury her at sea”. It was an impossible choice – to miss the chance of the experience of a life time and stay at home in the court houses of Garbett Street to care for her sick toddler, or to leave her daughter far behind in the care of the child’s grandparents. Rightly or wrongly, Florence made the painful choice to board the Milti Aids military supply ship for a voyage which would take her on her very own passage to India. Many years later, my Aunty Annie, now an old lady and nearly blind, expressed her deep sadness about being left behind:

“ I was very sad about it for many years, but recently I’ve sorted it out in my mind. Flossie was only a young woman and from such a poor background, it must have been so thrilling to travel around the world. My father was very disappointed when she arrived in India without me. He had a little place laid out for me with my own little knife and fork.

Florence Millington nee. Clayton

" So I stayed in Garbett Street with my grandparents. Granddad was a lovely man who doted on me. They called me ‘Honey’ and granddad was a master decorator – he painted me a beautiful doll’s house. It turned out that at a later date I could have been sent out to India to join them but granddad wouldn’t let me go. He said that they couldn’t look after me properly out there in India. When my parents returned from India in 1922 I didn’t know who they were – they told me I had a baby sister and I remember she had white hair and hardly any nose! ”

Life for my grandmother was full of curiosity and adventure out in the exotic Gujarat. From a background of poverty and toil back in rainy Birmingham, Florence now found herself aspiring to be the proverbial English lady abroad, with her own servants, tea on the terrace, army dances and games of tennis in the hot Indian sunshine. Even the basic family accommodation of the army camp in Ahmedabad was a million miles away from the struggles of home. Here was a vast land of huge contrasts and overwhelming diversity, a country with hundreds of kingdoms and provinces, about fifteen major languages as well as about 1,600 minor languages and dialects and at least 5 major faiths. It was a land of ancient traditions, extreme weather conditions and beautiful geography. I can only wonder how strange and exciting it must have been to my grandparents, the subtle tastes and aromas of the food, the bright colours of the bustling markets, the intricately crafted architecture of palaces, temples and courtyards, the dusty simplicity of the people in the fields and villages, the deep spirituality, the tranquil splendour and the clamorous chaos. I wonder how it affected them?

Map of India showing Ahmedabad on north west coast

Today, Ahmedabad is the capital city of Gujarat, a state only formed in 1960 during an era when the Indian government was re-organising the country and drawing out new states on a cultural and linguistic basis. Under the British, Gujarat had been part of the Bombay Presidency, with India’s most populous city, Bombay as it’s capital. Ahmedabad was and still is a Gujarati speaking city where the Hindu majority, whose local legends tell of how Lord Krishna founded his kingdom on the nearby coastline of Saurashtra, live alongside their minority neighbours such as the Muslim Bohris and the Parsi Zoroashtrians originally from Iran, in a cosmopolitan mosaic of cultural influences typical of so many Indian cities.

Modern Ahmedabad has a population of about 3.3 million people, more than three times that of Birmingham, the UK’s second largest city. Even with a population size approaching that of several European countries, Ahmedabad is only ranked 7th in the list of India’s most populous cities. Delhi is in third place with a population of 8.4 million, whilst Calcutta is second with 10.9 million and Bombay the most populated city in India has about 12.6 million people.

India as a country has the second largest population in the world, exceeded only by China. A forecast from the Indian Government estimated that there will be above 1.3 billion Indians by the year 2050 – this estimate has been criticised for being too ambitious in terms of the government’s population control policy. In the 1990s, the average per capita income was 2830 rupees per annum, equivalent to about £61 a year. Perhaps this gives us some indication as to the conditions that might have existed for the general populace of Ahmedabad in the early 1920s.

Gandhi was famously put on trial in Ahmedabad in March 1922.
My aunty Kath was 2 months old.

The British had taken over the administration of Ahmedabad in 1918, less than two years before my granddad’s posting. Prior to the imposition of British governance in Ahmedabad, the city had been under the rule of the Gaekwad and Peshwa factions who had in turn won it from Mughal rule in 1753. Modern Indian commentators credit the British for improving and developing the city, founding a Municipality Committee and establishing a railway link.

Even so, times were changing quickly for British rule in India and Ahmedabad was the place where Mahatma Gandhi’s massive peaceful disobedience movement first originated, a movement which eventually brought about independence for India in 1947. Gandhi had arrived in Ahmedabad from South Africa in 1915, setting up an Ashram on the banks of the river Sabarmati in 1917. Close to the Ashram, Gandhi lived a simple life in his small cottage and from here he orchestrated the greatest freedom movement the world has ever known.

By 1919 the mighty British Raj was already becoming edgy and a government act called the Rowlatt Act which allowed arrest without trial was drawing strong protest all over India. In that same year British soldiers under the command of General Dyer opened fire on peaceful protestors at Amritsar in the northern region of Punjab, killing an unimaginable 5000 people. It was a turning point in the independence movement which had hitherto been based entirely around peaceful non co-operation. Violent incidents began to increase, culminating in a number of brutal killings in Utter Pradesh in 1922. Angered and disillusioned by the outbreaks of violence, Gandhi called off his peaceful independence movement.

Some years later, Mahatma Gandhi’s famous 26 day Dandi march which started on March 12th 1930 from his Ashram in Ahmedabad to Dandi on the coast, a symbolic protest at the British government’s unfair Salt Law, was the impetus for a renewed and prolonged ‘Brits out!’ movement which eventually saw the Union Jack officially lowered for the last time in India on August 15th 1947.

The sights and sounds of 1920s India stayed with my grandmother all of her life

As a child in Harborne in Birmingham during the 1960s, I had my first exposure to the wondrous art of oral history through story. At the age of about 5 or 6 I would snuggle tightly up to my Nanny Mill on the big setee in our front room at 107 Station Road, transfixed and listening with bated breath on her every next word as she told us her tales from long-ago India. I could have no conception of the sheer magnitude of the wider context in which her Kippling-esque tales were set – the events that led to the end of the great British Raj and to the partition of India. Like Kippling, Florence’s stories of India were not of politics, revolutions and radicals, but of elephants, monkeys and mamsaabs.

Stories of how she met an Indian Cobra on a wooded path one afternoon and successfully stared the deadly reptile out until he slithered away back into the jungle. How monkeys would climb into the open windows to steal bread from the kitchen. How my grandfather got locked in a room with an unhappy mongoose and had to trap the angry beast by throwing a mosquito net over him. The sound of the wild dogs laughing in the Indian moon light and turning over the bins like demons in the night. Forty years later I remember each adventure as clearly as though I lived it myself, yearning to revisit my grandmother’s memories as if they were my own.

As children we would chuckle at my Nan’s random recall of the Hindustani language. As if talking to a simple servant she would say “mamsaab idero, kis wasti, tum bolo, jao jaldi”. For years we joked that she must have been making it up. Thirty years later, whilst attending a night school class at Bournville College, learning Hindi and Urdu from a Brummie Irish tutor named Sean, I began to discover what those old colonialist phrases really meant: “servant boy, come here, what is this? You speak. Go quickly”.

My grandparents returned to their humble abode in Ladywood in 1922 – although not without firstly missing the ship they were meant to sail on which apparently sank with great loss of life in the Indian ocean – bringing home with them their second baby, Kathleen Mary with her white hair and ‘no nose to speak of’ and my grandmother harbouring an illegally imported parrot named Polly up her skirts as she passed through customs. The novelty of having a genuine Indian parrot in the back-to-backs of Garbett Street quickly wore off and poor Polly was soon sold when Florence needed a few extra bob, just a couple of months later.

So the little sisters finally got to meet and thence grew up together in Garbett Street, attending St Peter’s RC school in their Daily Mail boots and later on blossoming into two of the loveliest ‘Honeys’ in War time Ladywood. As the air raid sirens wailed out over the slate roofs of Hockley and Winson Green, beautiful Annie would dance the night away to the smooth jazz of the American big bands in the infamous Palais in Monument Road, whilst her snow-haired Indian sister Kathleen kissed goodnight to her dashing sweetheart Harry on the corner of Ledsam and Blythe Street.

Margaret Flynn - On the Birmingham Pub Black List?

The Birmingham Pub Black List was published by the Holte Brewery and the Watch Committee of the City Birmingham in the early 1900s to inform publicans and club secretaries about local people who had been convicted of being habitually drunk under the Licensing Act, 1902.

An interesting record on the black list is this one (register no.25) of a Margaret Flynn of Park Lane, also known as "Moran" and "Finn". Unemployed Margaret, whose occupation was a flower seller, was convicted of being drunk and disorderly on 11th June 1903 at Birmingham City Police Court. She was sentenced to one month's hard labour and is registered as a habitual drunkard.

Margaret was aged 46, a stout woman with a broad face and fair complexion, she was 5ft 3 and a half inches tall, had blue eyes and brown hair.

The special attention of the Licensee of the Geach Arms in Summer Lane is drawn to Margaret's entry on the record.

But is it be possible that this person was one of our ancestors? She certainly seems to fit the profile of someone on the Flynn side of the family.

Margaret Flynn was the sister of my g-g-grandmother, Bridget Finn, nee. Flynn. Our Margaret was born in Galway in 1852 (she was aged 9 in the 1861 census and 18 in the 1871 census, so would have been either 50 or 49 in 1902).

In 1861 the Flynns were living in Northwood Street in Hockley and in 1871 they were living in Smith Street in Newtown. In 1871 18 year old Margaret was a warehouse girl.

In the 1881 census Margaret's age was given as 26 and she is living with her mother Mary Flynn and younger sister Maria (aged 24) in the home of her older sister Bridget Finn (my g-g-grandmother), husband Thomas Finn and their young children which included my g-grandmother Mary Helen Finn. Margaret's occupation was a press worker. The adjustment of the age brings her even closer to the lady in the Black List, if not an exact match.

Margaret was not living with the Finn family in the 1891 census when they were in Hospital Street or in the 1901 census at St George's Street. But all of these streets were in the Newtown area, close to Park Lane.

Could this have been the same lady listed in Birmingham's Pub Black List in 1902?

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Setting a fire on the Sabbath

Singers Hill Synagogue
Photo by Pete Millington
A few weeks ago I attended an event at the Girlguiding head quarters, Tefoil House, which is in Brownsea Drive off Blucher Street near Holloway Head in Birmingham city centre.

A couple of things interest me about this little area of back streets tucked away at the foot of Lee Bank behind the new Mailbox development, which was formerly the main sorting office for the Post Office.

Firstly, many of my ancesters lived in this area in Victorian times when the neighbourhood was made up of working class court yards of back-to-back houses. My great grandmother's family, the Adderleys, lived in Ellis Street, whilst my great grandfather Terence Millington lived in William Street, Thorpe Street and later on in his life in Bishopsgate Street.

Another thing which interests me about this area is that there is an orthodox synagogue close by, Singers Hill Synagogue, which has been in the area since 1856. My ancestors, the Adderleys, the Millingtons and the O'Hagans, who included in their numbers both Anglicans and Catholics, would therefore have lived close to the synagogue for many decades.

On the morning I was in the area it was a Saturday which is of course the Sabbath, the Jewish equivalent of Sunday for Christians and I noticed many people heading towards the synagogue for morning service (Shabbat). However, I noticed that many of the car parks were empty and was subsequently told by a lady at my event that this is because orthodox Jews must walk to the synagogue. In days gone by most Jews lived within walking distance of the synagogue so this was not a problem, but these days many people drive a car but park some distance away from the synagogue so they can still observe the rule in principle.

The lady I spoke to, a retired RE teacher as it happens, was extremely knowledgable about Judaism and told me that orthodox Jews do not participate in any activity on the Sabbath which constitutes work. This can include things like having contact with money or even lighting a fire.

This information struck a chord with my family history research and explains something I have often wondered about.

I have been told that my grandfather William Millington showed great potential as a scholar and had an aptitude for chemistry, but because his widowed father Terence was a poor man who lived his life in public houses, William was never encouraged to pursue further educational opportunities.

The story I have been told is that young William used to "light fires" for a local Jewish family. The family approached my great-grandfather Terence and offered to support William to study chemistry but Terence, perhaps out of pride, gave them a blunt refusal and instead William was sent to work in the Birmingham Mint. At the age of 15 he joined the army to fight in the Great War, was discharged for being underage and re-enlisted in 1917. William married my grandmother Florence, was posted to India for 2 or 3 years and on leaving the army in about 1922 he spent the next 47 years working in smoky, dirty foundries until his death from lung cancer in 1969.

What I had often wondered was why anyone would specifically employ a young person to come into a family home to light a fire.

Interestingly my grandfather was very adept at lighting fires and in fact it was an art he once showed me when I was a child, using the old newspaper against the fireplace trick which creates suction up the chimney and gets the flame blazing quickly. When I had a bed-sit in Edgbaston many years ago, which only had open fireplaces for heating, I was glad of my granddad's old newspaper trick to keep me warm with minimum effort (the real art is getting the flame going without setting fire to the room or the chimney!)

But now I know why the Jewish family employed my grandfather to light their fires... it must have been on the Sabbath.