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Mothering Sunday prompts flurry of family history searches

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Cat Whiteaway Cat Whiteaway | 09:00 UK time, Saturday, 17 March 2012

You could be forgiven for thinking that being a family history researcher is not a seasonal job. But each year as Mothering Sunday approaches my inbox swells with queries relating specifically to mothers, and then as June approaches the same thing happens with Father's Day.

So far this year is no different. This week I've appeared as an expert on BBC Radio Wales' Jamie and Louise programme, which means I get to chat live on air about my research, offering advice and even get the chance to surprise some listeners with information that has remained elusive.

Just before Christmas I received an email during another appearance on Jamie and Louise from Jean Cook in Wrexham who wanted help tracing her husband's ancestors.

Tony Cooke's mother had died in childbirth in 1928 when he was just three years old. Unable to ask his father too many questions Tony grew up without knowing much about his mother other than her date of death and her name, Gertrude Fisher.

A simple search of the marriage indexes using both his parents' surnames around the time of Tony's year of birth uncovered a possible marriage in Wrexham in 1924. After ordering a copy via www.gro.gov.uk for £9.25, five days later it arrived and the first piece of the jigsaw was complete.

As you can see below the certified copy confirms Gertrude's age and her father's name.

Marriage certificate

Knowing that she was born around 1905 meant the next logical step was to check the 1911 census to see if I could find a match for Gertrude Fisher aged around six living with a father called Joseph in the vicinity of Wrexham.

Bingo. The 1911 revealed not just Gertrude and her father but also a mother called Mary Jane and two siblings, Ronald and Ethel, aged four and eight respectively. The 1911 census is also the first one to confirm the length of time the head of the house has been married and how many children have been born, as well as how many children have died. It is also lovely to see the full address of the family, "37 Westminster Road, Broughton", written in hand by the occupier rather than the enumerator.

Quickly scanning the marriage indexes I located Joseph Fisher's marriage to Mary Jane George in 1902. The best website for this, since you can enter first names rather than the unknown maiden name of a woman, is www.freebmd.org.uk.

(Focusing on the maternal line means that the surname changes every generation and for this reason alone it seems that people often shy away from researching their maternal bloodlines - or at least they leave it until they have succeeded with the male lines. I'll never forget when once at a BBC family history roadshow someone asked me why I had bothered researching both sides of the family as the women's line didn't count! Perhaps Stephen Fry could invent a word for this type of person.)

Back to the 1911 census. Mary Jane's age was given as 31 and her place of birth as Wrexham. She was easy to spot on the 1881 as a one-year-old living with her parents Edward and Constance and numerous siblings in Broughton.

At this stage it always pay to check to see whether other people have already completed similar research into the same family. On Genes Reunited and Ancestry I found people who had helpfully posted a tree which declared that Constance was the daughter of Crompton and Margaret Hulme. There is even a photograph of Constance's sister Sarah dressed like Queen Victoria.

Yesterday Tony Cooke did not know the year of his parents' marriage and today he knows that Margaret Hulme was his great great grandmother. Another satisfied customer.

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