Friday 13 April 2012, 15:15
Way back in 2002 when I started working on BBC Radio Wales' 'Look Up Your Genes' family history series we used to tour the country with our roadshow. One of our first venues was in Caernarvon and thus one of the first full family history stories that I had the pleasure of researching was that of local man Harold Lowe.
Known as Commander Harold G Lowe R.N.R at the time of his death in 1944, he was probably better known as 5th Mate H.G. Lowe, survivor of the Titanic but to others he was simply "the one who went back".
Archives often contain unusual and poignant documents, but they are not the only source of information and this employment card along with a photograph of Harold Lowe was located on a CD titled " Titanic - The True Story". Vital to my search was the fact that it also confirms his date of birth.
The third of seven children Harold Godfrey Lowe was born on November 21st 1882 at his home Bryn Lupus, Llanrhos in Conway. Since this meant he was missing from the 1881 census it was necessary to purchase his birth certificate to confirm his parents' names; George Edward Lowe and Emma Harriett Quick who married in 1877 in her home town of Liverpool.
Harold's decision to go to sea was perhaps due to his geographical location rather that one based on family tradition, since his father was a jeweller and goldsmith, as were as his grandfather George Lowe and his great -grandfather Edward Lowe who originated from Chester.
By the time of the 1891 census an 8-year-old Harold and his family had moved to the Castle Hotel in Llanddanwg, Merionethshire, where his father's occupation is listed as Landscape & Cattle Painter, whilst his mother is the hotel manageress.
Just 12 months before that fateful night in April 1912 Harold can be found on the 1911 census listed as a boarder at 7 College View, Bootle at the age of 27, where his occupation is given as a Master Mariner.
Working for the BBC means that I sometimes gain access to the most unusual places, and of all the documents I've viewed the time I spent with the original Titanic documents was the most treasured. Behind the scenes at the National Archives at Kew, in a small room with two nominated members of staff to act as security we were very privileged to be able to turn the pages created by the White Star staff in the chaotic aftermath of the disaster...and don't worry of course I was wearing white cotton gloves to protect the pages for perpetuity.
I remember the vast lists of the names of the missing and the survivors scribbled in pencil, with many mistakes crossed through and roughly erased. This simple list projected a real sense of the urgent need to know who was alive and who had died.
By a cruel twist of coincidence whilst Harold famously survived the sinking of the Titanic two of his brothers tragically drowned in separate incidents. According to details published in his obituary in the North Wales Weekly News on 12 May 1944, it seems young Harold also had a lucky escape whilst out punting with his father, when their punt capsized at Barmouth and he had to swim to shore in his boots.
It seems that Harold was linked to various other deeds of bravery during his naval service; one that stands out is of Harold jumping overboard to rescue a Chinaman whilst suffering from a poisoned arm himself. Naturally, this type of detail is much more valued than any amount of facts obtained from a death certificate or will.
Crucially for the family history enthusiast the obituary also provided the names of the chief mourners who included his widow Ellen and details of his two children Florence and Harold, who was abroad serving in India but whose fiancee, Miss Marguerite Davies, attended on his behalf.
The obituary ends with the simple words " his coffin was draped with the Union Jack. On it were Commander Lowe's hat, medals and sword".
Find out more about the Titanic on the BBC History website.