How do you find clues about family research?

5 Jun

When I was a kid, I remember me and my younger brother started a detective club, yes just the two of us. We had a leather case (very important) with neatly organised files on our suspects, code words (colours usually) and a name : *3A. Now I come to think of it, playing detective helped me to shape those skills I use today in research, problem-solving and, of course, my family tree research.

After finishing my post on William Banbury last week, my mind felt blank. I had exposed the the problem like spreading a deck of cards on a table. I had all these questions about him.

  • Was William his first or second name?
  • Why would a young man change his age so much in different records?
  • Why did he leave and why did he come back?
  • Etc,…

Now those questions are good but I kept asking them as if the universe would give me an answer. Then I tried something new, I tried putting myself in his shoes. So, step in the time machine with me will you?

My name is William Banbury, I’m a young strapping lad in my twenties around the turn of the 20th century somewhere in south England. I have a trade probably inherited from my father or a family member, I probably also met a girl living close to where I’m from but nevertheless I board a ship and leave for Winnipeg, Manitoba after 1900. My parents probably never approved of my decision but they have other children to worry about.

When I arrive there, I send letters back home to my sweetheart and she joins me a year later. We never bothered to get married in England, too much fuss, here out in the wilds of the Canadian prairies we will build our life the way we want. When our first son is born in 1906 we name him after myself, William and when our second son is born in 1907, we name him…. after my father, Robert, because well traditions still are strong even in immigrants.

We move a lot around Winnipeg, I have to keep my plumbing trade busy so our family moves often so I can have work.  I keep in touch with my homeland in a way, I participate in the Sons of England Benefit Society meetings and made president of the Elmwood lodge #325 around 1912. I also hear news about England in that time, maybe my father is elderly and sick, I also heard about war brewing between France and Germany. So in November 1913, I pack everything and come back to my homeland, maybe I’m too late for my father but I have work waiting for me.

Now all this is pure speculation, BUT, it did help me uncover a very important clue about where my suspect was born. I had already copied several 1901 and 1891 census results in South England for males named W. Banbury born circa 1875-1885 in England. I filtered those results, looking for a father named Robert. There he was, in Worthing, Sussex, profession carpenter. Now I remembered that William’s son, Robert got married in the 1940’s in Worthing. This was worth investigating.

I re-tried my search of Canadian Passengers Lists and I found a record of an arrival of M. Banbury, age 24, blacksmith arriving in 1903 in St-John, New Brunswick. The best bit on the record was this:

Excerpt from Lake Manitoba ship list in 1903

Excerpt from Lake Manitoba ship list in 1903

The said-Mr. Banbury indicated his parish of birth as Worthing, Sussex. I went back to the 1901 England census and noticed that my individual found in 1891 was gone from his parent’s house in 1901. I ran thorough searches around the area and he was definitely gone. His suspected father Robert was still found in the 1911 England census, with his wife, affected by total blindness. My guess is that he died not long after that and that maybe the reason William came back from Canada, he was the first son after all. Now I have yet to verify all these new bits of info, cross-check with other family members, identify where William’s wife was born (I have a hunch she’s from Sussex as well), validate my sources and ask my mother-in-law if I’m on the right track!

So is speculation a worthy tool in your family research? Do you dream about elusive characters like M. Banbury? Do you trust your instincts, imagination and creativity to solve a “brickwall”? Let me know!

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