Sunday, 26 March 2017

Why did the Derby Poor Law Guardians lose grandad's place of birth?

Beware what you wish for is one of those warnings I have never really understood.

William Henry Hall, circa 1930
But then I have never really made that many wishes and likewise have never really been one for planning out my life.

For me it’s about bumping along which some would suggest betokens a lack of ambition but on the other hand means I am rarely disappointed.

And in the same way I have not got over upset about the discoveries I have made about our family history.

There have been the usual ups and downs, from unemployment, sudden and early deaths to some surprising achievements and along the way a few born out of wedlock,  a couple of rogues and a lot of ordinary people who lived out their lives against the great events of the last three centuries.

But just occasionally I have been brought up sharp, like the time I discovered a relative who had committed suicide.  It had been one of those fairly routine exercises in tracking him down and sending for his death certificate only to be confronted with the evidence of a horrible death and a sense that I was somehow intruding into someone’s private life.

And today has been another of those moments.

I knew that my grandfather and his siblings had been brought up in care and that eventually one would be dispatched to a naval training camp, another to Canada as a British Home Child, the eldest apprenticed to a blacksmith and great aunt Dolly into domestic service.

Laura Isadora Pember nee Hall, 1968 
What I was not prepared for and what has saddened me is that the entry in the census returns for all three while in foster homes listing their places of birth "as unknown."

And yet the documentary evidence is all there.

Great uncle Jack was born in Bedford my grandfather and great uncle Roger in different parts of Birmingham and great aunt Dolly in the Derby Workhouse.

Which leaves me with that simple question of why were their places of birth unknown?

It might have been the policy of the Guardians to omit such information which looks to be the case given that none of the youngsters in either foster home has a place of birth beside their name.

And I certainly don’t think it was because the information was not out there.  My great uncle Roger was 13 in 1911 and must have known where he had been born and likewise it beggars belief that the authorities didn’t know where great aunt Dolly had been born given that it was in their own hospital.

Now I know that their mother way well have been unable to help. I had long suspected that her grip on reality was light.

After a brief spell of looking after them in 1913 she was judged  to be “unfit to have control” and the younger three were taken back into care, and later in 1939 she was in the Borough Mental Hospital where she died in 1963.

But I still find it hard that the children were listed as such.

Great aunt Dolly was well aware of where all of them had been born and said so in a letter she wrote in the 1970s and I suspect so did the others.

It is true that later great uncle Roger would tell the Canadian army that he was born in Derby but he also listed as his next of kin his aunt rather than his mother which would suggest a deliberate decision to muddy the waters which given that he was running would fit with him also lying about his age and changing his name.

It is all a long time ago and all of the children are now dead but I am more than a little angry that such a vital piece if information as their place of birth was never recorded.

Location; Derby

Pictures; William Henry Hall, born 1899,  Laura Isadora Pember nee Hall born 1902, and John Nelson, Montague Hall, born 1896,  from the Pember and Simpson collections.

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