Monthly Archives: June 2015

Genetic Genealogy: it’s all in the Hill (DNA) – Part 2, “Operation Spit and Swab”

Last month I wrote about my decision to embark on a genetic genealogy journey.  This included a FamilyTreeDNA (FTDNA) Y-DNA 37 and mitochondrial “Full Sequence” test for dad; a FTDNA Family Finder autosomal test for me; and an autosomal test for both mum and dad with

The test kits from both companies arrived speedily. The Ancestry kits ordered on 19 June arrived on 23 June; the FTDNA kits ordered on 17 June arrived on 26 June.

It was now time to commence what I described as “Operation Spit and Swab.”

I decided it would be too much to inflict both tests on the same day for my dad. So the Ancestry tests were undertaken on the evening of 26 June, as dad was home from the nursing home for the weekend.  Timing was key. You are advised not to eat, drink, smoke or chew gum for 30 minutes before taking this test. So I had to work round dad’s tablet regime.

Ancestry DNA Test Instructions

Ancestry DNA Test Instructions

The test itself involved spitting into a small tube. Although the kit explains it amounts to less than ¼ teaspoon, I was a little concerned it may prove problematic as my parents are elderly and dad is not in the best of health.  I also think they were both a little daunted initially because the tube looks to be deeper than it actually is. In reality dad had no difficulty. And, although mum took longer, I suspect this owed something to the fact she had just emerged from a hot bath.

Tests completed and activated online, they were posted (return postage included) on 27 June and I now await the results. The processing time according to the website is 6-8 weeks. I’m now at the obsessive site stalking stage, tracking the progress of the little vials of spit. Mum’s arrived on 3 July 2015, although I was temporarily thrown  by the American date format of 07/03/2015! Dad’s is still somewhere in the post.

I have also linked the tests to my Ancestry Family Tree. This is proving to be the most time-consuming activity, because I realised that my Ancestry (private) tree is so old; and I have a backlog of data to input into my Family Historian package so it is not simply a case of uploading a GEDCOM file. I also wonder if it is worth linking the tests to my full family tree or whether I should just create a specific direct (public) ancestor tree for the purposes of the DNA tests.

28 June was the date set for the swab element of “Operation Spit and Swab”. The advice it it is best to conduct this test first thing in the morning before brushing teeth, eating, drinking or putting in dentures, (fortunately the latter was not a consideration for either of us).  It meant getting to my parent’s house as soon as dad woke up on Sunday morning, an early start on a non-work day for me.

FTDNA instructions

FTDNA instructions

The test involves two 30-60 second swab scrapings, one for swab for each cheek. These swabs are then inserted into separate vials.

Dad, who has undergone the Ancestry and FTDNA tests, said they were equally simple to do. The most difficult element  for me was planning the optimum time.

Both dad and my swab kits were posted on 29 June. Postage is not included from England[1] with FTDNA, so this cost £3.50 per kit.

Projected timescales for the autosomal test is similar to However a FTNDA website update indicates that, as of 24 June, turnaround times for mtDNA tests are subject to delay (now anticipated to be 7 to 9 weeks); the Y-DNA tests have a slightly longer delay (11 to 13 weeks). So it pays to keep checking the website for any changes.

Once again I found setting up surnames and most distant ancestor details on the FTDNA website to be more labour-intensive than the tests.

Now it’s a case of an anxious waiting game. I will provide a further update once the results start arriving. But this could be quite some time away.


[1] Postage is prepaid for US customers

Bigamy in Batley? 

This is the curious tale of Stephen Burnett, the brother of my 3x great grandmother, and his wife Abigail Hirst.

Stephen was the son of Robert Burnett and his wife Ann Jackson. The Burnetts moved frequently in the early days of their marriage, probably as a result of Robert’s trade. He was a tinner/brazier.  Many young tinsmiths took to the road as pedlars or tinkers in an effort to save enough money to open a shop in town. Stephen’s baptism is recorded in the Flockton Register for St Michael and All Angels Church, Thornhill on 5 June 1796.[1]  The family eventually settled in Drighlington, where Robert opened his business.

Stephen did not follow the family trade.  By the time he married Abigail Hirst on 24 December 1815 at All Saints, Batley Parish Church, following banns[2], he worked as a miner. Abigail was the daughter of John and Susannah Hirst[3]All Saints Church, Batley 2

During this period, Batley was not the normal location for marriages for Drighlington folk.  The town fell within the remit of Birstall Parish, and the normal venue for such occasions was St Peter’s Church in Birstall.

However, within a short time of their marriage, there appears to have followed a strange turn of events. On 14 November 1816, with Abigail pregnant, it seems that Stephen travelled to Leeds to enlist as a Private in the Army, joining the 51st Foot Regiment[4], the forerunner of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.  Claiming to be 17 years of age he enlisted for life[5].

In the meantime Abigail, now living in Adwalton, gave birth to a son, Thomas, on 5 April 1817. The baptism took place at St Peter’s Birstall on 1 June[6]. Oddly, Stephen’s profession is described as a collier, no mention of the Army.

Stephen may have been in Yorkshire in January 1821 because a Stephen Burnett acted as a witness at the marriage of John Burnett at St Peter’s Birstall.  John was another of the children of Robert and Ann Burnett. The only question mark is that Robert’s father was also called Stephen, and to date I have not traced his death.

However, whatever the circumstances, Stephen was clearly estranged from his wife.  On 30 May 1825 in Batley Parish Church, the same location as her earlier nuptials, Abigail undertook what in effect appears to be a bigamous marriage to William Gallaway[7]. There is no marital status indicated for either party in the Parish Register.

It is a distinct possibility that Abigail was pregnant and this forced the issue. It appears she and William may have had a son, Joseph, born in Adwalton in around 1825. No baptism has been traced to confirm the parentage of Joseph. But he features in the 1841 and 1851 censuses with the family[8].

In this period there was a seven years’ absence defence for bigamy.  If a spouse had not been heard of for seven years and there was no indication as to whether they were still alive, in such circumstances the abandoned partner was free to re-marry.  A variation of this was if the spouse had been absent and overseas for seven years.[9]  If the spouse subsequently reappeared, the second marriage, although not bigamous, would be declared void.

However, if it was Stephen that visited home only four years earlier in 1821 this would cast serious doubt about the application of the seven year rule. An appearance at a family wedding would hardly go unnoticed. Neither could the overseas absence claim apply as, although Stephen enlisted in 1816, his Regiment was home-based until spring 1821.

Within months of Abigail’s “marriage” to William events took an unanticipated twist. In November 1825, after eight years’ Army service, Stephen was discharged to pension. He was suffering from an illness described as “organic disease of the thorax”, which he contracted in Falmouth in 1818. This was now serious enough to render him unfit for further military service.

His discharge papers describe his conduct as good. They state he was born in Flockton. They describe him as 5’6” tall, with brown hair, grey eyes and fair complexion. They also give his trade, a collier. It appears he immediately returned home to Drighlington, where he was again a witness at a family wedding – this time for his sister Mary in December that year.[10]

One cannot begin to imagine the consternation caused to William and Abigail when news of Stephen’s return reached them. Now at the very least their “marriage” would be declared void; at its worse the ignominy of a trial and the threat of transportation if convicted hovered over them if the truth came to light.

They were spared the ordeal.  An ill man, shortly after his return Stephen died aged 30.  His burial took place at St Paul’s, Drighlington on 4 July 1826[11].

This still left William and Abigail in a tricky situation. Now a widow she was free to marry and this is the course of action she took to legitimise her union with William. Swiftly after Stephen’s death, Abigail and William married at a different parish church, that of St James, Tong, on 1 October 1826[12]. The entry in the register now states Abigail is a widow.  And was it an accident or deliberate that William’s surname had subtly changed to Galloway?

Tong Parish Church

Tong Parish Church

To conclude the strange tale of Stephen and Abigail, their son Thomas survived to adulthood. In the 1841 census he is living in Tong with Abigail’s parents. He married Betty Webster on 6 March 1843 and the register entry names his father as Stephen Burnett, miner[13]. Thomas’ address at the time of his marriage is given as Farnley.  After initially living in Tong, Farnley appears to be where Abigail and William settled sometime between 1839 and 1841[14]. In addition to Joseph the couple had at least six other children. The youngest child was named “Hirst,” a reference to Abigail’s maiden name[15].

There are a number of question marks over the theory behind the story. These include the baptismal entry for Stephen and Abigail’s son Thomas, and the possible reappearance of Stephen in 1821 for John’s wedding. Another apparent discrepancy is Stephen’s signature. Stephen could sign his name. Because of this we have four samples signatures taken from marriage registers and his Army papers.

The entries in the various parish registers are fairly consistent. The signature on his Discharge Papers is not identical, being just his initial rather than full Christian name. But the rest of the signature is not out of step.

So is the Stephen Burnett in the Army the Drighlington Stephen Burnett? I suspect it is, as the mystery which surrounds Abigail and William Galloway’s two marriages coupled with the timing of Stephen’s Army discharge and death seem to point to something being amiss.


  • Parish Register of St Michael’s, Thornhill
  • Parish Register of St Peter’s, Birstall
  • National Army Museum – History of the 51st Regiment of Foot
  • Find My Past: WO97 Royal Hospital Chelsea: Soldiers Service Documents
  • Parish Register of Batley All Saints
  • Find My Past: 1841 and 1851 Census
  • Parish Register of St Peter’s, Leeds
  • Parish Register of St James’, Tong
  • Parish Register of Leeds St Peter’s Parish Church
  • Find My Past GRO BMD Records – Baptisms
  • “Marriage Law for Genealogists: the definitive guide” – Rebecca Probert
  • “Divorced, Bigamist, Bereaved?” – Rebecca Probert

[1] Thornhill St Michael’s Parish – Flockton Register
[2] Note the marriage was by banns and not by licence. So even if the parties were underage at the time of their marriage, it would not have subsequently be declared invalid
[3] Her baptism is recorded in the Parish Register of St Peter’s Birstall on 7 October 1798. At the time her parents lived in Drighlington, although there is sometimes some overlap in records between Drighlington and the neighbouring village of Adwalton. The 1851 census records Abigail as being born in Adwalton.[4]
[5] Find My Past, British Army Service Records: WO97 Chelsea Pensioners British  Army Service Records 1760-1913, Box 645, Box Record 95 – Discharge papers
[6] St Peter’s Parish Church Birstall Parish Register – Baptisms. transcript indicates 17 June for baptismal date, but this appears to be an error
[7] Batley All Saints Parish Register – Marriages, under the name Abigal Burnet
[8] This is supposition. In the 1841 census, when no family relationships were given, Joseph is recorded in the Farnley home of William and Abigail, age 16.  In the 1851 he is described as “son”. But that could equally refer to being the son of just William as it could to being the son of both William and Abigail.
[9] “Marriage Law for Genealogists” and “Divorce, Bigamist, Bereaved?” – Rebecca Probert
[10] Mary Burnett is my 3x Great Grandmother. Her marriage to William Clough is recorded in the St Peter’s Parish Church Birstall Parish Register – Marriages[11] St Paul’s Church, Drighlington – Burials
[12] St James’ Parish Church, Tong Parish Register – Marriages. The place did have family associations, as by the time of the 1841 census, Abigail’s parents lived here.
[13] Leeds St Peter’s Parish Church Parish Register – Marriages
[14] Given the birth places of their children according to the 1851 census, and the fact that by 1841 they were living in Farnley
[15] Hurst according to the 1851 census, but Hirst in the GRO entry and 1841 census,

Yorkshire Family History Fair – a Celebration of Family History from Yorkshire and Beyond

27 June 2015 marked the 20th year of the Yorkshire Family History Fair. I last went about ten years ago so I decided it was high time I returned.

I booked my ticket in advance which worked out very cost effective given the “Buy One Get One Free” offer:  £4.50 for both my husband and I to attend.  Not bad for an event at York Racecourse. I reckon it worked out cheaper than back in 2005 (always a plus point for a Yorkshire lass).

The event did not appear to be as large in terms of exhibitors as when I visited all those years ago.  I seem to recall that back then it was spread over more floor space and included some of the big national players.  And, in a marked difference from the family exhibition I attended earlier this year, there was none of the big genealogical DNA testing push, such a heavy feature of “Who Do You Think You Are? Live”.

As the title suggests the emphasis of the Yorkshire Family History Fair is very much based around predominantly, but not exclusively, Yorkshire Family History Societies and Yorkshire-based family history organisations.   Many of these had individual tables unlike at “Who Do You Think You Are? Live” where there was a Yorkshire Group of FHS’s umbrella table.  The various Archives in Yorkshire were also represented, such as East Riding Archives, West Yorkshire Archive Service, Borthwick Institute for Archives and the North Yorkshire Record Office.

A View of a Very Busy Ground Floor

A View of a Very Busy Ground Floor

But you would be wrong in thinking the Fair was purely limited to County of Yorkshire exhibitors.  Family History Societies from across the North of England and as far afield as Huntingdonshire, Clwyd and Aberdeen and North East Scotland were there, as well as nationwide organisations such as The Genealogist and S&N Genealogy Supplies (event sponsors), Society of Genealogists and Guild of One Name Studies.

I was particularly pleased to see Shropshire Family History Society there, given my latest research project.[1]   They were so helpful I even ended up signing up as a member!

In common with other similar events there were a series of free talks throughout the day including:

  • “Looking For Tommy”– Tracing a Military Ancestor”;
  • “Breaking Down Your Brick Walls Using Unique Tools and Data” and
  • “Recording, Reporting and Preserving Your Family History”.
Looking for Tommy talk

“Looking for Tommy” Talk

I especially enjoyed the former talk and have taken away some new hints and techniques for using The Genealogist’s Military Records Series to further my search into my military ancestors.

The event was well attended.  At one point in the afternoon the card machine did not work to take payment for one of my many purchases, presumably down to the numbers of people present, and not my enthusiastic spending spree.  Luckily my husband was on hand with cash (and he has forgotten to ask me to pay him back).

York Family History Fair Purchases

Yorkshire Family History Fair Purchases

It was fantastic to get such in-depth advice and information from all the various exhibitors.  I would recommend the event equally for beginners and the more experienced researcher particularly because of the local knowledge and expertise of the many Family History Societies.

And the added bonus was the location at The Knavesmire.  On such a beautiful June day, probably one of the nicest this summer, we nipped out for a stroll around and were treated to an impromptu, whistle-stop tour of the immaculately kept, flower-filled racecourse.  We even learned they have their own floriculture unit to grow the seeds and seedlings.

Parade Ring, York Racecourse

Parade Ring, York Racecourse

Many thanks to all those involved in organising the Fair and those many volunteers working on the various tables. I will definitely not leave it so long before my next return.


[1] See my blog post entitled “Shropshire, Staffordshire, Shrouds and Shoes”

Genetic Genealogy: it’s all in the (Hill) DNA – Part 1

I have finally succumbed to the lure of genetic genealogy.  DNA testing was heavily pushed at Birmingham’s “Who Do You Think You Are? Live” earlier this year. Up until that point it was not an issue I had really given a second thought to and I did resist the hard sell on the day.

To be perfectly honest I viewed it as an “Emperor’s new clothes” type of subject and to a certain extent I still remain very sceptical about what it can offer for my tree.

Also I am more of a humanities than pure science bent so, although there is some cross-over, I found the science behind the whole DNA package a bit overwhelming.  Therefore if you are interested in that side of it you will be disappointed in my genetic genealogy adventure. This will be more about my personal genealogical DNA journey of discovery and what, if anything, it will add to my traditional family history research.

The Birmingham experience did sow the seed of interest in the field so I guess the hard sell worked to a slower, less impulsive time-frame.  Since my return I have tried to broaden my education around the subject.  I wanted to find out as much as possible before deciding whether or not to take the big leap, not to mention part with my hard-earned cash.  That is just my personality – cautious, wanting to weigh up all the options before I commit, undertaking a risk/benefit analysis type of approach.

As a first step I looked at the “International  Society of Genetic Genealogy” Website and Wiki page[1].  I read a number of informative blogs.[2]  Kerry Farmer’s book “DNA for Genealogists” gives a brief but information-packed overview of the subject, including details about the major providers. Finally I looked at the websites of the various suppliers.

My uncle died last summer, the man who got me into family history in the first place.  I realised as I read the various books and blogs on the subject that with him went my last obvious chance to undertake a Y-chromosome test for my maternal grandfather’s line.  This is one of my Irish lines, ironically the one I have had the most trouble with.

There was also the dawning recognition over the past few months that my parents will not be around for ever.  I may not have many more months and years to mull over a decision. A few years down the line I do not want the regret of not doing it when I had the chance. So for me the decision about going for testing is not around what I want to get out of it in the short-term, its more about seizing the opportunity whilst I still have it.  Wrapped up in this is an element of lodging DNA for future reference, so it is there as tests develop.Family Tree DNA

Once the decision to go for it crystallised in my mind, I had to choose which testing company to go with.  Size of database was a major factor, and within that the interest of those undertaking tests for the genealogy angle.  I am not particularly bothered about any health screening element so that swayed me against going with a company offering those services – maybe I am wrong but I had the perception that those undertaking such tests may be less interested in the genealogy element.

Linked to database size I also considered potential future growth and geographical areas covered.  Type of test offered played a part.  Finally I also have an inherent curiosity and wanted to see what each of the tests offered in terms of results.

Decision made and time to approach by parents. Dad’s initial response was to ask why I wanted to waste my money.  However he agreed to it.  Initially I intended ordering only a Y-DNA 37 test for him.  But after consideration I also decided to go for a mitochondrial “Full Sequence” test.   Not wanting to be left out I have gone for the Family Finder autosomal test for me.  I placed my order with Family Tree DNA[3] on 17 June and am now eagerly awaiting the arrival of said kits.

Mum was interested too.  So on 19 June I ordered an autosomal DNA test for her.  However I decided to go with a different company, to see how the experience compared.  I’ve placed this order with AncestryDNA[4].  At the same time I decided to order an autosomal test for dad too, though I have yet to tell him.  I only hope all the spitting and swabbing does not cause him to regret his decision to say “yes”!

Amazingly, as I’ve been writing this post the Ancestry testing kits have arrived. Astonishingly quick delivery time as it is only 23 June. Now to pass these on to my parents – and let the fun begin!

Ancestry test kits


[1] and[2] For example

The Battle of Bellewaarde, 16 June 1915: A Batley woman’s efforts to discover her Royal Scots Fusilier husband’s fate

This blog posting is the story of two people: Michael Rourke and his wife Margaret Duffy. Michael died during World War 1.  The story is as much about him as it is about his wife and the extraordinary efforts she made to discover his fate.

Both were parishioners of Batley St Mary’s RC Church, ordinary working class Yorkshire folk, with the County Mayo background typical of the parish.  Margaret did not have the money and contacts of some who found themselves in similar desperate positions during the war.  But she had persistence, ingenuity and determination.  Her story is the story of many other families up and down the country trying to find out what had happened to missing husbands, fathers and sons.

Michael and Margaret do not have any link to my family. This work is based on research I did for my charity booklet about the men named on the Batley St Mary’s War Memorial.

Michael was born in West Town, Dewsbury in 1877. He was the eldest child of Irish-born parents, Patrick and Bridget Groark (neé Mullany) who married in 1876.

At this point it is worth mentioning the complexity of certain Irish surnames which, even in the late 19th/early 20th century, continued to have various versions.  Groark was one of these, and the family can be found using a number of variants including Groark, Rourke and even Groak. I have referred to Michael as “Rourke” throughout, as this was then name he used when enlisting in the Army in the 1890s, and indeed the family seemed to use this version initially.  But by around 1900, at the time of the birth of their youngest child Agnes, the family were transitioning from Rourke to Groark, and this version became the commonly used one as the 20th century progressed.

Michael was one of ten children. His siblings included Mary Ann (1879), James (born in 1881 but who died the following year), Maggie (1883), Lizzie (1887), James (1889), Henry (1892), Francis (1894), Nellie (1896) and Agnes (1900).

Initially the family lived in the Dewsbury RC parish of St Paulinus.  In 1881 they resided on Ingham Road, Dewsbury with Patrick described as a cart driver.   By 1889, as is shown in the baptism for their second son bearing the name James, the family had moved to neighbouring Batley.  James was their first child to be baptised in St Mary’s parish.

In 1891 they were recorded as living at North Street, Cross Bank, one of many streets of houses in the vicinity of St Mary’s church; then in Wooller Houses, in nearby Carlinghow in 1901.  By 1911 they were back in North Street.  During this period Patrick worked in agriculture as a farm labourer, and the 1911 census gave more detail specifying that he was a cowman.  Bridget worked in the woollen industry in 1881 as a weaver and in the following census as a rag sorter.

13-year-old Michael is recorded in the 1891 census as working as a coal miner.  In April 1897 he enlisted in the Militia with the 3rd Battalion, The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry).  As mentioned earlier his attestation papers were under the name “Rourke” and indicate that he was employed as a hurrier at Critchley’s colliery. It is in this name that all his military records can be found.

“Hurrier” was the Yorkshire term for the person who moved the coal tubs from the coal face where it had been hewed to the shaft at the pit bottom. They might be known as a waggoner in some parts of the country, a drawer in Lancashire, a putter in Northumberland or a haulage-man in Scotland.  Hurriers in this period were usually youths as this was one of the early stages in a normal career progression pattern through underground pit roles.

The same attestation papers also provide a physical description. Michael was 5’3” and 104lbs, fresh complexioned with light grey eyes and dark hair.  However within a week of signing up, he purchased his discharge for £1.

In July 1897, still employed by Critchley’s  but this time as a collier, he changed his mind and re-enlisted  in the Militia serving once more with the 3rd KOYLI for just over 12 months before transferring to the Regular Army with the Royal Scots Fusiliers in July 1898.  His Regular Army attestation papers describe him as 5’3¾” and 111lbs, fresh complexioned with light grey eyes and brown hair.  He had a small, round scar over the outer end of his right brow and a scar on the back of his right middle finger.

However a pattern was emerging as, yet again, Michael had a change of heart and in November 1898 was discharged on payment of £10, half of which was refunded in May 1899. He returned once more to work for his former employer at Critchley’s colliery.

The reason for the refund is not mentioned. But the probable cause is because, true to his previous form, Michael had once again signed Militia attestation papers in January 1899 with the 3rd KOYLI and by April 1899 was back with the Royal Scots Fusiliers[1]. The 1901 census shows him at home with his family, but his occupation is a soldier.

I have not tracked Michael’s life in the next 10 years, but according to newspaper reports he did serve in South Africa in the 2nd Boer War.

By 1911, Michael had returned home to Batley. Weeks prior to the 1911 census Michael’s mother Bridget died.  She was buried in Batley Cemetery at the beginning of March.  Michael was now once more out of the Army and living with his family.   He had changed career totally and now worked in the woollen industry as a mill hand willier[2].  This was his occupation immediately before the war at Messers Chas Robinson and Company’s mill.

On 7 June 1913 Michael married at St Mary of the Angels Church. His bride was Margaret Haley (neé Duffy), a widow with three children.

Margaret was born on 11 December 1876, the daughter of County Mayo-born coal miner Patrick Duffy and his wife Mary (neé Regan). The Duffy’s have two other younger daughters recorded in censuses – Mary and Catherine.  A fourth daughter, Bridget, died infancy. The family lived in Birstall[3] with Margaret, when reaching working age, being employed in the local woollen industry as a weaver.

Margaret married general labourer John William Haley in late 1899 and the couple settled in Whitwood, Castleford.  The marriage was short for John died in 1903, age 34. At the time Margaret had two children, Thomas (1900) and Patrick (1902). She was also heavily pregnant.  She returned home to Birstall and her family.  Daughter Margaret Kathleen was born in late 1903. By 1911 Margaret and her three children were residing with her widowed father in the town, but she moved to Batley after her marriage.

According to the baptismal register at St Mary’s, Michael and Margaret’s only child, a son named Michael, was born on 11 April 1914. The family lived at North Street, Cross Bank and this was the family address when war was declared.

Michael and his three brothers all joined the Army.  Michael was immediately called up as a National Reservist, going out to France with the 1st Battalion, The Royal Scots Fusiliers in early September 1914[4]. James enlisted with the York and Lancaster Regiment; whilst Henry and Francis served with The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry).

Michael Rourke

Pte Michael Rourke, 6093, 1st Bn Royal Scots Fusiliers

In early November 1914 Margaret received an official communication from the Infantry Record Office at Hamilton informing her that her husband had been admitted to hospital at Port-le-Grand, suffering from bronchitis.  She had not received a letter from him since the middle of October and was naturally very anxious about his condition, although the communiqué did give her  some small measure of reassurance that any news about his health would be immediately passed on to her.  Shortly afterwards, that same month, he was invalided home with rheumatism.  After a spell in England he returned to the Front for a second time.

In May 1915 a letter from him was published in the “Batley News”.  He said he was well and the weather very hot.  He also mentioned that the men got a bath and change of clothing when out of the trenches.  He also enclosed a copy of an address to his Battalion by his Brigade Commander, highly complementing them on their part in an action in which Michael participated.  This read:

“In order to cover the right flank of troops on our left, your battalion was ordered to take up a very bad and exposed position on a forward slope and sure enough on the morning after you were exposed to a very heavy shell fire, followed by an infantry attack by vastly superior numbers.  The Germans came pouring through, and it soon became obvious that your position was untenable, and we were ordered to take up a position further back. 

The Colonel, gallant soldier that he was, decided, and rightly to hold his ground, and the Royal Scots Fusiliers fought, and fought until the Germans absolutely surrounded and swarmed into the trenches.  I think it was perfectly splendid.  Mind you, it was not a case of “hands up” or any nonsense of that sort.  It was a fight to a finish.  What more do you want?  Why, even a German General came to the Colonel afterwards and congratulated him and said he could not understand how his men had held out so long.  You may well be proud to belong to such a regiment, and, I am proud to have you in my brigade. 

General Sir Smith Dorrien also praised the RSF for their fine work after Neuve Chappelle.  He visited them in billets and addressed them in terms of high praise.  “None but the best troops could do the work, and so I sent you, and you have done it”

 Michael’s last letter home was dated 14 June 1915.  By early July his family were becoming increasingly uneasy as to his wellbeing, but there was still no definite information.  The first disquieting news had arrived from a fellow-Batley soldier in late June. Pte C King of the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers wrote to Margaret on 21 June as follows:

“Mick and I were together on June 15th and promised that if anything happened to either of us on the 16th we would write to his home.  I hope you will not take this too seriously but live in hope; I went round his regiment and could not find any Mick.  Some of his pals told me he was wounded”.

Writing to Mr. A Baines of Upton Street, Cross Bank, Batley on 30 June Pte King wrote further about the fate of his friend:

“I am very sorry for Mrs Rourke.  His regiment was in the charge with us on the day I will never forget – the 16th of June.  I saw for myself that he was amongst the missing, but there is hope yet.  It was a bloody sight but a grand charge.  We had a lot of casualties and they lay all over.  My deepest sympathy goes to Mrs Rourke, for I am very much afraid that poor Mick is gone.  The Germans shelled us for 27½ hours after we made the charge and the men were blown to bits; it was hell”.

There then followed months of uncertainty interspersed with inconclusive, sometimes conflicting, information, as Margaret desperately tried to find any information as to what had become of Michael.

Around the same time as she received news from Pte King, she also received information that her husband had been wounded and taken into a Chelsea Hospital.  She asked the Record Office for information but they told her that her husband’s name had not yet appeared on any casualty list, and no report had been received that he had been admitted to any hospital.

But Margaret did not give up this line of inquiry; instead, using her church contacts, she followed it up by contacting Father F Kerr McClement of St Mary’s, Cadogan Street, Chelsea[5] to see if he could be of assistance.  Unfortunately he was unable to provide any positive news, writing to her:

“I am sorry you have had so much anxiety as to your husband and I have done my best to find his whereabouts.  He is not in St Mark’s College, Chelsea (which is generally known as Chelsea Hospital) nor in St Georges Hyde Park Corner, Victoria, Tite Street, or in any of the private hospitals visited by us”.  

On Saturday 17 July, Mrs Rourke finally received a communication from the War Office stating that they were sorry to inform her that her husband had been missing since the 16 June. At the time he was serving with the 1st Battalion’s “A” Company.

Margaret’s next recorded steps were to contact two organisations with expertise in tracing the whereabouts of missing soldiers – the British Red Cross and Order of St John Inquiry Department for Wounded and Missing Men.  The former organisation responded with the following news:

“Pte Pilgrim, of this regiment (the Royal Scots Fusiliers), who is now in No 2 Canadian General Hospital, Le Treport, tells us that there are two men named Rourke in his regiment.  The man whom he knows something about is a slim man, slightly built dark, with a moustache, about 38 years of age.  This man was wounded at Hooge on June 16th, and could not be brought in, as the Germans had retaken trenches which they had lost.  We do not know if this refers to the man for whom you are inquiring; perhaps from the description you could tell us if it is so.  But you must remember that it is not at all certain from this report what happened to Pte Rourke.  We hope to obtain more information which will make the matter clearer.”

The description given matched Michael’s. The records of the International Committee of the Red Cross do show that Margaret made enquiries about Michael, but sadly only the card noting this and Margaret’s address exist.

As more and more news filtered through, it appeared that Michael had taken part in an attack at Hooge where the Allies captured four lines of German trenches.  The Germans counter-attacked re-capturing the last two trenches.  Michael lay wounded in the third line of trenches, but so severe was the action that when the retreat came and the Germans re-captured that line, his comrades were unable to take their wounded colleagues back with them.

Margaret still did not give up, continuing to write to authorities in an attempt to establish any firm news of her husband’s fate, clinging to the hope that if not lying injured in an Allied hospital, perhaps he was being held as a prisoner of war.  With this in mind her next step was to write to the King of Spain.

Spain was a neutral country and King Alfonso XIII contributed a great deal to improving the treatment of prisoners throughout the conflict.  At his own expense he maintained a staff of 40 who helped him serve as an intermediary between prisoners and their families, using the Spanish diplomatic network in his endeavours.  In response to her plea for assistance she received the following reply:

“Palacio Real de Madrid,
October 30 1915

Madam, – I am ordered by His Majesty the King, my august sovereign, to answer your letter petitioning His Majesty to cause enquiries to be made in Berlin with regard to Mr Michael Rourke, you husband.  Although His Majesty’s Embassy in Berlin is charged only with the interests of France and Russia, His Majesty being desirous nevertheless of demonstrating his interests in British subjects, has graciously acceded to your request, and has commanded the Spanish Ambassador in Berlin to communicate with Great Britain’s representative there – the United States Ambassador – in order that in conjunction with the latter the necessary investigations may be made.  His Majesty earnestly hopes that these enquiries may be the means of procuring satisfactory information for you – E de Swire”.

Satisfactory information sadly was not forthcoming and Margaret continued in her quest.

Many other women were also tirelessly pursuing word about their missing menfolk, with advertisements for information appearing in newspapers.  It was in one of the Sunday papers that Margaret saw an advert from Elizabeth Morton from Chesterfield seeking news about her husband Lance Corpl Thomas Morton, 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers, reported missing on 16 June 1915 at Hooge.   Noting that this soldier was in the same Battalion as her husband and had been missing since the same date, Margaret wrote to Mrs Morton expressing sympathy with her and pointing out that she was in the same predicament.

Mrs Morton had received a response to her advert from a Pte Harry Thomson of the 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers, who was in a military hospital in Newcastle on Tyne.  He communicated the news of her husband’s death.  Mrs Morton passed Pte Thomson’s address to Margaret in the hope that he would be able to shed some light as to the fate of Michael.  Margaret wrote to him and received the following response:

“I am sorry to tell you that your husband, Pte Michael Rourke, was killed on the 16th June 1915.  He was slightly wounded with myself and Lance Corporal Morton.  I wanted him to go back to the dressing station and get looked after there, but he would not hear of it.  He wanted to go on and have it out with the Germans as he called it.  We went on together for about 20 yards when he fell with a bullet through the head.  He never spoke after it.  We managed to get him and some more of our men back later on and bury them behind our firing line.  I am sorry to have to tell you the sad news Mrs. Rourke, but it is best to know the truth.  The regiment lost very heavily that morning. The Royal Scots Fusiliers did their work very well.  I am glad to say that I am keeping a little better.  This is the second time I have been wounded.  I hope you are keeping well, yourself and all your family.  Anything also that you want to know about “Mick”, as we used to call him, I shall be pleased to tell you if I can.  I must close now as the doctor is on the rounds”.

Margaret forwarded the letter onto the War Office.  Towards the end of May 1916, eleven months after initially being posted missing, she received a letter in reply which confirmed that her husband was dead.  The letter read:

“Madame, with reference enquiry concerning Pte Rourke 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers I am directed to inform you that no further news having been received relative to this soldier, who has been missing since the 16th June 1915, the Army Council have been regretfully constrained to conclude that he is dead and that his death took place on the 16th June 1915 or since.  I am to express the sympathy of the Army Council with the relatives of the deceased:-your obedient servant C.F. Waitherton[6].

Michael died in what was known as the Battle of Bellewaarde. His body was never identified.  According to the website[7] dedicated to remembering the Battle, more than 1,000 men lost their lives within a 12 hour period on 16 June 1915, in an area of approximately ½ mile square.

Menin Gate Inscription

Menin Gate Inscription

Michael is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) memorial, alongside the names of more than 54,000 other officers and men whose graves are not known. These include Lance Corporal Thomas Morton, husband of Elizabeth, with whom Margaret had corresponded during her search.

Of Michael’s other brothers only the youngest, Francis, survived the war.

From cemetery and BMD records it appears Margaret never remarried. There is a burial in Batley Cemetery in April 1957 for Margaret Groark, aged 80.

The Menin Gate

The Menin Gate



© Jane Roberts and PastToPresentGenealogy, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jane Roberts and PastToPresentGenealogy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] I have traced six sets of attestation papers for Michael.
[2] A wilier/willeyer was someone who fed the willeying machine  which was used to break down the rag and wool, thus separating and cleaning the fibres
[3] Birstall adjoins Batley. Up until 1905 when St Patrick’s parish was established in its own right, Birstall fell within the Catholic parish of St Mary’s, Batley.
[4] Service Number 6093
[5] One of the oldest Roman Catholic parishes in central London
[6]  This featured in two newspapers, the “Batley Reporter and Guardian” and the “Batley News”. The latter indicates the letter was signed C F Watherston.
[7] Website includes extracts of the 1st Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers Unit War Diary.

Shropshire, Staffordshire, Shrouds and Shoes – Part 1

This is, I hope, going to be an on-going record of my progress in researching a family tree from scratch. This recurring section of my blog will record my research highs, lows, successes and failures, brick walls and hopefully their demolition. I have no set timetable to complete this, so there may be gaps of several weeks between updates. But finally I aim to piece together the history of my husband’s family and write some individual stories. Part 1 describes the preliminary phase of my research.

This particular project is inspired by my mother-in-law. A few weeks ago she announced she had a family bible, complete with a record of a couple’s marriage and the births and deaths of their children.  There was also a series of non-conformist quarterly meeting cards. She was unclear exactly how they connected to her and  so she loaned me the impressively weighty Victorian tome to see if I could discover more.  Within days she added to this treasure, with the discovery of a totally unrelated bundle of documents containing assorted certificates, an apprentice indenture, baptism and burial documentation, and a will linking to various branches of her maternal and paternal line along with some others connected to my now deceased father-in-law’s family.

19th century family bible

19th century family bible

So a wealth of documents to get me started,  far more than other families I have researched.  I feel a bit like a kid in a sweet-shop – so many choices. But I am focussing on one branch at a time rather than adopting a scattergun approach. And I am being disciplined in recording my information sources, as well as any searches (both succesful and unsuccesful), far more so than when I started our researching my family tree. Hopefully this will save time as I progress.

With this in mind my first line of research is my mother-in-law’s paternal line, starting with her father William John Haynes. The reason for starting here is that his is the most complete set of documents in the parcel of papers, with his birth, marriage and death certificates along with various other papers chronicling the key stages of his life. The bible does not relate to this branch of the family.

William Haynes’ birth certificate states that he was born on 27 February 1904 at Elford Hill, Eccleshall, Staffordshire. He was the son of master wheelwright, Joseph Thomas Haynes and his wife Maria (neé Yates).   By the time of William’s marriage to Ada Eardley on 15 September 1929, William’s father was described as  a funeral undertaker. This information was a catalyst for a rather unusual memory for my mother-in-law. She recalled staying at her grandfather’s house and sleeping in a bedroom full of shrouds! According to GRO indexes he died in 1958, in his early 90’s.

A preliminary search revealed that J Haynes undertakers still exists at Eccleshall, with the website providing a brief resumé of the buisness.[1] So in my later research I intend exploring the life and business of Joseph Thomas Haynes.

However, based on the information provided by my mother-in-law, my first week or so’s research has centred around the 1841-1911 census returns and the odd foray into parish records. Using this combination of online sources I have constucted a basic skeleton of a family tree.  This is reproduced below.

Haynes Family Tree

Haynes Family Tree

The census search has proved fairly routine. No real difficulties tracking back to 1841. I used both the Ancestry and FindMyPast UK sites to do this. The only minor hurdle was finding William’s great grandfather, James Haynes, in the 1851 census. Although he was there in the 1841 census and then from 1861-1871, there was no trace of him in 1851. At this point I consulted on-line parish registers available for Shropshire on FindMyPast. Through the censuses I had located seven possible children[2] for James Haynes and his wife Ann. I then identified their baptisms in the Parish Registers for the parishes of Edgmond, Longford and Church Aston in Shopshire. This provided the breakthrough. The youngest children bore the surname “Haynes Parker” or “Parker Haynes”.  Only the youngest child George was born post-GRO registration. His baptism in 1838  is under the name Haynes-Parker, his GRO registration surname is Parker with Haynes being listed as a middle name.[3]  Eldest child, John, was baptised on 10 January 1824 at Edgmond Parish Church with the surname Parker and no mention of Haynes.  From this information it was now easy to locate James in the 1851 census – recorded under the name Parker not Haynes.

It also proved a breakthrough in locating James’ marriage. At the time of the 1851 census James’ mother-in-law Ann Hamlet resided with the James and Ann. The Parish Register of Stoke on Tern, Shropshire has a marriage on 31 March 1823 between James Parker and Ann Hamlet.  The Shropshire Parish Registers also provide a possible baptism for James in June 1797 at Lilleshall[4], illegitimate son of Ann Parker.

So if possible I would like to find out a little more about the reason behind this transistion of surname from Parker to Haynes, which took place during the late 1820’s to the early 1860s.

James’ son Joseph (1834) is the grandfather of William  Haynes. Born in around 1834 the Shropshire Parish Registers show that he was married by licence at Aston in Edgmond on 10 February 1859.  His bride was Mary Webb, daughter of William.  My husband says there is a family story that they are somehow connected to Captain Matthew Webb, the first recorded person to swim the English Channel. As yet, even despite this now shared surname, I have found no evidence to support the anecdote. My husband’s Webb Ancestry from the 1800’s appears to be Staffordshire based, with pre-1800s possibly Shropshire. A preliminary look at Captain Webb shows he was born in Shropshire in 1848. But it is something else to explore.

Of more immediate interest is an occupational connection between William Webb and the Haynes male line. They were all wheelwrights. By the turn of the 19th century the Haynes family  were diversifiying  adding building, joinery, carpentry and undertaking to their trade skill set.  In the late 1860’s they moved from Shropshire to Stone, Staffordshire to ply their trade and appear to have been extremely succesful at it. I had a quick look at the image archive on the Staffordshire Past-Track website[5] and was amazed to find images of  Haynes and Sons, Wheelwrights. This contains photographs of family events as well as ones of their business, including images of portable bandstands (one produced below)[6] manufactured by the family firm.  So again this is another aspect of the family history I intend exploring.

12 May 1910: Proclamation of the Accession of George V, Stone read from the portable bandstand in Granville Square. The portable band stand seen here was the first of its kind and was manufactured by Haynes and Sons, wheelwrights, of Station Road, Stone, and was purchased by Stone Urban District Council. See Copyright footnote at  [6]

12 May 1910: Proclamation of the Accession of George V, Stone read from the portable bandstand in Granville Square. The portable band stand seen here was the first of its kind and was manufactured by Haynes and Sons, wheelwrights, of Station Road, Stone, and was purchased by Stone Urban District Council. See Copyright footnote at [6]

Finally I quickly looked at the family details of William’s mother Maria (neé Yates). Her father John was a shoemaker, born in around 1830 in Stone, Staffordshire. John’s wife Ann and all his children were engaged in this trade. I traced John back to the 1841 census, living in the household of bricklayer James Thornhill and Ann. Other household members included George Yates (14) and Joseph Yates (7). From GRO indexes it appears that James Thornhill married Ann in 1838.[7]  So this is a certificate I would like to obtain to see if Ann’s name was Yates and to find out her background to see how this fits in with John.

I think the most satisfying aspect of researching my mother-in-law’s tree is her sheer delight at each new discovery. Of late she has struggled with memory issues, but this research is rekindling long forgotten episodes in her life.  It is an absolute joy for all concerned when some new find triggers the recollection of something buried deep in the recesses of her mind; or, because she knows I am working on her tree, she suddenly recalls some other fact or story. For example she thought her family routes were in Staffordshire, but when I identified a significant Shropshire connection she recalled her parents visiting family in that county. So this process is proving fascinating for me and an interest for her.

My next steps will be to try to flesh out the tree further with online parish records and the ordering of BMD certificates (oh, for that certificate price reduction, but sadly this research cannot wait!). Then to try to fill in the details of the individuals, their occupations and the times and areas in which they lived. I will return to this portion of my blog later in the summer.



[2] I say possible because of the omission of family relationship details on the 1841 census.

[3] GRO Ref: Q3 1838 PARKER  George Haynes Newport  Vol 18 Pg 124

[4] The 1851 and 1861 censuses record his birthplace as Lilleshall, 1871 Woodcote,

[5] Staffordshire Past-Track website:

[6] With thanks to Staffordshire Past-Track and Mr David Haynes for allowing me to use this image. Copyright is retained by David Haynes who has kindly made his collection available to Staffordshire Past-Track for non-commercial private study & educational use. Additional information about permitted uses of content and commercial enquiries is available via the Copyright statement Copyright Statement on Staffordshire Past-Track. Re-distribution of resources in any form is only permitted subject to strict adherence to the guidelines in the full Terms and Conditions statement.

[7] GRO Ref: Q3 1838 Stoke on Trent Vol 17 Page 147