In a manner of speaking, researching my french-Canadian ancestry has been quite easy; my ancestors emigrated to Quebec in the middle of the 17th century, they were given a piece of land, they got married, had children and so on for many generations. All of them are of french descent, Catholics and hardworking men and women, no nobles or merchants or scholars. So when my husband told me about his grand-dad being part Canadian, part English I thought to myself : “Ha ha! A challenge worthy of my skills!”
I started with what I knew: Robert Banbury (my husband’s grand-father) got married in the 1940’s in England, he was a Bombardier with the R.A.F. during World War II and died in the 1990’s in England. I got lucky at first, I found his death record in the “England & Wales, Death Index 1916-2006” using Ancestry so I had his year of birth : 1907. I started with the 1911 Canada Census and there he was in Selkirk, Winnipeg, at 315 Newton avenue, in the house of William Banbury, his father, Elizabeth Banbury, his mother and William Banbury, his brother born in 1905. It was difficult searching the census on ancestry.com because the surname had been badly transcribed (*quick tip for using the search form on ancestry.com, if you don’t have results when specifying a surname, search by date of birth, gender and location; then scroll through the index*). So when I found “Banbros” in the results, I accessed the image and there was the information I needed. So now, I had more leads for Robert’s father :
- William Banbury, born in England in September 1878, emigrated in 1902, occupation: plumber.
I also got extremely lucky when I discovered that the Manitoba province had a birth index online;I found Robert birth registration as well as his brother’s and also the name of their mother: Elizabeth Kent, born in England. According to the 1911 Canada Census, Elizabeth Kent was born in Oct. 1871 in England and emigrated around 1904 (it says 1906 in the indexed record but a closer look at the image reveals 1904). I thought I had enough clues to identify Robert’s parents in England but when I went straight to FreeBMD, the online index for births, marriages and deaths in England & Wales I hit my first brickwall. The surnames “Banbury” and “Kent” were way too common for me to identify the individuals I was interested in (not to mention that Banbury is also a town in England and Kent a county, you could see the shame written all over my face for going too fast….). Same result on the 1901 England Census, since I had no idea where William and Elizabeth were born (or married) I could not find out more.
So back to Canada I went. I knew William and his wife came back to England at some point and I found a record in the “Uk Incoming Passengers Lists, 1878-1960″ stating that William Banbury, his wife Elizabeth, his sons Fred (second name for William) & Robert, arrived in Liverpool on November 16th 1913. I still wasn’t sure that this was the right family as William and Elizabeth ages did not match the ones given in the 1911 Canada Census, however the names and ages of the sons did. I pursued my search and found that Robert emigrated back to Canada in 1928 thanks to the “Canadian Passenger Lists 1865-1935” and the “UK, Outward Passenger Lists 1890-1960“! This time, the record was more eloquent; Robert gave a contact address, Mr. Weare in Winnipeg, I quickly checked the 1911 Canada Census and found that they were neighbors back then! The best bit was that Robert also gave his father’s address in England: The Downs, South Cerney, Gloucestershire. So back to England: again I searched through English phone directories (*quick tip :there is an excellent free resource out there if you are researching individuals in England “Historical Directories“, a searchable digital library by the University of Leicester*) but I was still stuck because of the surname “Banbury” which was given, many a times, to roads! I had a hunch and searched in the British Newspaper Archive (I managed to snag a few free credits on registration) using the surname and address given by Robert in 1928 and (huzzah!) I found an article:
I had found William Banbury after a fatal accident near his home in South Cerney. The death index confirmed this. I was still wondering where he was born because according to the newspaper article above, he was born in 1881! I tried running a search in English Wills and Probate records, no results. I tried also finding William’s wife death record using her maiden and married name, no results. I was led to believe that maybe ordering the death certificate for William I would have his parent’s names but, as I have learned thanks to this excellent tutorial on english death certificates, I would not get that kind of information.
I’m stubborn and I was determined to find more information about William Banbury that could lead me to his identity per say. I went back to Winnipeg. According to the 1911 Canada census, William had emigrated around 1902, so he must be in the 1906 Canada Census of the Northwest Provinces in Winnipeg. I’ve tried searching the census on ancestry.com, on the Library and Archives Canada website, on automatedgenealogy.com (the best Canadian census indexing project): no results even when using surname variants, searching sub-districts, modifying the age range, etc. I had yet another ace up my sleeve: Manitobia : Digital Resources on Manitoba History they have a digital collection of books, maps and newspapers. I ran my search using the surname Banbury and William’s occupation: plumber and there I found:
This was getting better and better! I now needed other leads to know where William lived in Winnipeg so I could track him more easily in the 1906 Canada Census. The libraries of the University of Alberta make available a wide array of digital sources for the western Canadian provinces on Peel’s Prairie Provinces.There I also had access to phone directories for Manitoba and I found my man:
- In 1906, William lived on 467 Jarvis st. in Winnipeg, occupation: plumber;
- In 1907, William lived on 288 Patrick st. in Winnipeg, occupation: plumber for Cotter Bros;
- In 1908, William lived on 80 Hespeler ave. South Site (Elmwood) and had a plumber’s shop on 159 Bird’s Hill Road (see ad above);
- No directories results available for 1909 and 1910;
- In 1911, William resides on 315 Newton ave. (Elmwood) this is corroborated by the 1911 Census;
- In 1913, the year he left for England, William resides at 412 Jasper ave. This is corroborated by Robert’s record reentering Canada in 1928 where he states this address as his last one when he was in Canada. There was also this bit of information:
* Quick tip for historical directories like the Henderson’s Winnipeg : there are usually two entries for individuals: the standard alphabetical name listing (be careful that the directory is not divided in neighborhoods as you may have to view every one of them) and the street listing. Some pages have not survived or are in bad condition so don’t just enter the surname you are searching but also the name of the street or the occupation. *
So far, I have exhausted all possible avenues of research online. The 1906 Canada census yielded no further results for me even with the directories information. I found no marriage record for the Banbury’s in either Manitoba or England. I also thoroughly explored the immigration records from England for William and his wife Elizabeth in the year range but, again the surnames are too common and the gaps in their year of birth make it almost impossible for me to deduce if they landed in Canada (many port cities) or the US (again too many port cities). The only possibility left for me is to order the Banbury’s sons birth certificates in Manitoba in the hopes of gaining new information on their mother Elizabeth Kent or have a revelation in the next coming weeks.
I still have many questions : why did William Banbury leave for Canada in the first place and (more importantly) why did he come back on the eve of World War I? Where did he live when arriving in 1913? Did he return to his birth parish in Gloucestershire? Or is it his wife’s? End of the line for now and the moral of the story is : don’t just stick to censuses and birth/death/records in your research online, historical directories and newspapers are a excellent supplement, more and more of them are made available online by your library & archive center. Think out of the box, be thorough and approach your research like a detective.