Browns’ End

Luanne, the author of a blog I follow, The Family Kalamazoo, posted a piece about the cause of death of some of her female ancestors.  Over the years I have accumulated several records, but, unlike Luanne, had not thought to consider them together.  In this first post on the topic I will focus on my Brown ancestry.  The only one I can remember is my mother.

John Brown

Continue reading “Browns’ End”


1939 and all that

chapel street 43 (640x452)
Rear view of 43 Chapel Street, Brownhills, by Joan Jackson.

A while back I looked at my father’s family as war approached – also 1939 and all that.  Now I visit my mother’s family, name of Brown, who lived at 41 Chapel Street.  Number 41 is the house beyond the hedge on the right of the painting.  The artist was Joan Jackson, who lived later at 43 with her husband Les.  Number 41 was where I spent the first year of my life and where my mother grew up.

I pointed out that searching the 1939 Register, online via Findmypast, can be a frustrating exercise, as the records of many people who are long dead remain locked because they have not been updated to anything like the present.  This time it would be more difficult.  I would have to break in by the back door.

Continue reading “1939 and all that”

Being for the benefit of Mr Brown

My mother had an uncle named Jonas Brown. He lived in a row of old houses known as Woodbine Terrace, which comprised one shop and nine houses; Jonas lived in the middle house. The 1911 census records the head of household was John Brown, widower; the others were children John, Alice, Hannah and Frederick, mother Rebecca (widow)(my great grandmother), and brothers Edwin and Jonas. Eight people occupied just four rooms.

woodbine terrace (640x401)
Woodbine Terrace, Chester Road North, Brownhills, left, about 1956.  Image from a postcard for sale on ebay by GuyArab.

This family seems to have met with considerable misfortune. Their father, Jonas (snr), had died in 1889 from a bronchial condition, another in my category of “miner’s disease”. From newspaper reports it is clear that they were short of money. John had suffered an eye injury, which kept him out of work, and Jonas had lost a leg in a mining incident.

In the days before the systems of welfare support introduced to the UK in the nineteen forties households with no one in work could soon find themselves in crushing poverty. The old age pension had been introduced in 1911, but help for people of working age came largely from charity. Local savings societies were set up as insurance to cover the cost of medical attention, or as limited insurance against unemployment. The Brown family was to require financial assistance from the townsfolk.

brown jonas concert news 1924 title

The Lichfield Mercury, 16 Feb 1912, reported: “A concert was given for the benefit of Mr John Brown of Woodbine Terrace, who has been unable to work for nearly two years owing to illness, was given in the Council Rooms … .” The same paper, 16 May 1913 reported: “Band Parade. — On Saturday afternoon the Brownhills Town Band (the official band of the 2nd North Midland Field Co. R. E.) paraded the principal streets … made collections for the benefit of Mr John Brown, jnr, of Woodbine Terrace, who has been incapacitated from work through illness for over three years … total £3 8s 9 1/2 d.

Applying inflation, from for example, suggests this would be worth £354.46 in today’s money. Today’s Express & Star, the Wolverhampton-based newspaper, reports that, according to the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, the average annual income for the Walsall area, of which Brownhills is a district, in 2014 was £20,823; about £400 per week before tax. On that basis the collection raised about one week’s pay.

It was not all doom and gloom. The Lichfield Mercury again: ” A singing cointest took place on Saturday evening at the Brownhills Working Men’s Club … Mr Jonas Brown second”.

Lichfield Mercury 18 Dec 1925: “On Saturday last a collection was made at the Brownhills Working Men’s Social Club on behalf of a fellow worker named John Brown, of Woodbine Terrace, who has been unable to work for some time owing to an injury to his eye, when the sum raised was £3 5s 8d.”


brown jonas funeral news 1938
Lichfield Mercury, Friday, August 12, 1938

B is for …


I had thought this branch might have something to do with Great Barr or Barr Beacon, to the east of Walsall, and where my relative lived before moving to Devon in the late 1950s, but I traced the line back to a place named Barr in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland in 1789. This, in turn, may be derived from Scotland, where there are such places in both Ayrshire and Renfrewshire.

Man with beard.
Usually from Bedford, Bedfordshire.
Probably from Blythe, Warwickshire.

Roger bonsire 1246 Bart (London); Robert Bonsir 1332 Subsidy Roll Sussex. OFr bon sire ‘good sir’. Presumably, to do with the Norman Conquest?

Bouckley / Buckley
William de Bockeleye 1332 Subsidy Roll Warwickshire. Buckleigh in Abbotsford, Devon, Buckley Heath, Sussex, Buckley Green, Warwickshire, etc. None of these seems to fit my Bouckley ancestry in the Measham area.

Not in Reany. But from Bradbourne, Old English brad, broad and from Bury burh, place by the fort.

From North Yorkshire. Brotherton about 1030. Farmstead of the brother or a man called Brothir. Old English brothor or Old Scandinavian personal name, plus Old English tun.

Edwin and Florence Brown
Edwin and Florence Brown (mother’s parents) in the honeysuckle arbor at Leigh Cottage, Stonnall, Staffordshire.

Not really covered by Reany. Probably a person of dark or swarthy complexion.

The Grave of Old John Brown

roseville wallbrook map 1885 os
Part of the Black Country where my Brown ancestors lived in the mid-nineteenth century.  Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

In The Elusive Mister Brown I closed with the notion that my 2nd great grandfather John Brown would take some tracking down. It is not the most common permutation of English names, that is John Smith, but it must be a strong contender for second place!

My uncle told me: “They are all buried at Coseley”, which is another town in the Black Country. So, in 2009 I went to Christ Church to mooch around the graveyard. A lot of graves were overgrown or so eroded as to be illegible. I found nothing of relevance to my search.

I had been unable to find the family in the censuses for 1861 or 1881, and, after much searching in vain, diiscovered that these records are missing. However, I did manage to find great grandfather Jonas Brown in the 1851 census, at Bloomfield, Tipton, with parents John (aged 44, miner) and Mary Ann, and, crucially, among other siblings, a 7-year old sister, Selina. Her birth was registered and I obtained the entry of birth from the General Register Office. This gave her mother’s maiden name as Davies, yet another frequent name, especially in Wales.

Nonetheless, there was only one marriage that could fit on FamilySearch – the image is now on Findmypast – and it took place on 26 Dec 1825 at Eyton upon the Weald Moors, which is just to the north of Wellington, Shropshire. There is an image of the church of St Catherine on religiousbuildings dot net. Back then fathers’ names were not recorded.

From the census I could calculate that John was born about 1807 at Ketley, Salop (an alternative name for Shropshire), but there were three baptisms of John Brown at Wellington in that year alone. How would I discern the “right” John? Maybe if I could find a record of burial it would give date of birth, and possibly even parents or other relatives. As you can imagine, I had given up on this, but thought I would give it one last try on Rootschat. So, in December 2014, I put up the question with no real hope of success, but if you don’t ask you don’t get.

The next morning there was a message to say I had a reply. It included: “11 May 1860, age 54, abode Old End”. Now I know my way around the Black Country reasonably well, but this was a place name I had not previously encountered. Today there is an Old End Lane just to the west of Wallbrook, where other family members lived, so that matched, too. The OS mapping from circa 1900 shows just to the west of Wallbrook an area named Roseville.

The GRO index includes 1860 Apr-Jun Dudley 6c 34 and I duly ordered a copy. When it arrived there was enough information to confirm that it was the right John Brown. The address was Roseville, Coseley, and the informant Sarah Harper, present at the death Broad Street Mamble Square Sedgley. Mamble Square was where Jonas junior was born in 1874. In 1861 a Sarah Harper, aged 88, relative was recorded with John Brown, son of the deceased, and his wife Elizabeth, formerly Harper; I think Sarah was her mother.

The cause of death was scirrhus pylorus, a cancer of the pylorus, which is the opening of the stomach to the duodenum. A pound to a penny it was “miners’ disease”.

I tried the same approach for Mary Ann, but to no avail; there were just too many candidates in the index of deaths.

It is clear when visiting the area that little remains of the townscape that John and Mary Ann would have known, probably swept away by a post-war housing clearance programme, including building large numbers of council houses. The Old Meeting House of the “Coseley Unitarians 1662” survives on Old Meeting Road and, of course, the parish church survives on Church Road.

The grave of old John Brown remains elusive.

The Elusive Mister Brown

I had always thought that the most difficult line to trace would be Brown, and so it has proved. Some hope lay in the knowledge, from the entry of birth to grandfather Edwin Brown, that great grandparents’ names were Jonas and Rebecca Brown formerly Eagles, which are not the most frequent of first names. It was also said that Edwin was from the Black Country, a heartland of heavy industry or “metal-bashing” in the Industrial Revolution and subsequently.

wellington all saints postcard
All Saints, Wellington.  Creative commons, via ShareHistory

My uncle has a commemorative mug. It reads simply: “Jonas Brown, 27/8/38, Shropshire”. Although it seemed likely to be date and place of birth, no one was really sure.

The first setback was that the birth was not registered with the General Register Office (GRO), so I would have to think laterally to find out his parents. What made things worse was that in the two England censuses that were available online at the time did not include Jonas: in 1901 Rebecca, widow, with four mainly grown-up children, appeared at Lichfield Road, Brownhills, but there was no sign of either in 1881.

Rescue came via FamilySearch, where I found a baptism of Jonas Brown, 16 December 1838 at Wellington, Shropshire; parents John Brown and Mary Ann, but, although there were no other likely records, I could not be sure if this was the right person.  Later, the image would turn up on Findmypast, which gave the abode of Dawley Bank, now a part of Telford, Shropshire.

Extract from parish register All Saints, Wellington, Shropshire, England

The relatively rare names made finding the entry of marriage straightforward enough and I sent off my application to GRO along with the £9.00 fee (as it was then). They were married at the parish church of Tipton, Staffordshire in the industrial heartland of the Black Country. Jonas, it records, was 25, widower, miner, resident of Tipton and his father’s name (heart sinks!) was John Brown, also a miner.

Widower?! I obtained the entry of marriage for his wedding to 19-year-old, Phoebe Young, also at Tipton, on 10 Dec 1860. I never did get around to ordering the entry of death for Phoebe, but it was registered at Dudley in the last quarter of 1862; she was 20 or 21. As far as I can work out there were no children.

John Brown would take some tracking down …

Why family history is so difficult (3)

To recap:

First post in this sequence here

The following line graphs show that decline in the frequency of the top three names was steeper. Prior to the eighteen sixties the top three names in males among Andrew’s Kindred was 50% or more, declining by 1919 to 26%, roughly half. The corresponding decline for females was from 44% to 18%.

top 3 names m line top 3 names f line

This shows why life becomes much more difficult for the family historian when researching ancestry beyond the mid-nineteenth century, especially when censuses and records of birth, marriage and death are no longer available.

AK mf 1820-1839

Using an example from my own ancestry these pie charts show that in males over half were John, William or Thomas and more than half of females were Mary, Sarah, Elizabeth or Ann. When coupled with family names such as Brown, Carter and Evans, which are all relatively frequent, or Dennis / Dennies, which is frequent in the places where my ancestors lived and, it seems, generally in mining communities, discerning one person from another can be difficult.

This pattern was turned upside down by the early twentieth century …

More to come