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20 Mar 2016

Missing you: The world of decade-long searches for kin and kith

Last weekend I stumbled on and, sites where people post messages for individuals missing from their lives.

Each message is a forlorn thing, penned with logical hope gone and only illogical wonder remaining.

In 1915 my great grandpa's uncle James Taylor wrote his first codicil in Swansea. A canny man, he had become moderately well-off from a lifetime at the tinplate works, shearing the sheets that came off the rolling mill. He despatches a dead daughter in one line, declaring... her family need no support.

I begged to differ. Eva his granddaughter who was actually born in his house, was then 18 and motherless. Her father had just remarried. Eva took on a ghastly job at the tinplate works dipping iron sheet into sulphuric acid, and presumably, as she was just an assistant, would be occupied in disposing of the 'pickle liquor sludge' as well.

Well-provided-for my backside, and a house point if you can see where this will link with our first paragraph.

Age 22, Eva added to the woes by falling pregnant, which hadn't happened in the family since fifty years when great aunt Lavinia was 18 and somehow spent time alone with Cornish carpenter Martin.

Actually getting pregnant prior to marriage had been common in the Welsh towns: though absolutely not in the Cornish villages where the family had come from. Did the town provide a place for nookie, or a more relaxed attitude to meeting, or more enjoyable social interactions, I don't know?

Testimony from testy older relatives was very much of a place dominated by strict moral code, highly regarded education and a Protestant (Methodist) work ethic. This explains why great aunt Lavinia (and others!) got married.

But, Eva's sweetheart did not bring that option to the table. Was he just visiting, an ex-soldier on to Cardiff at the first sign of trouble?

All hell broke loose at home. Once again, there had never been an illegitimacy and the timing was awful with grandfather Taylor dying and her father still pumping out fresh siblings.

Eva cut her losses and left rigid stuffy Morriston and its acidic overtones forever behind, opting to go back to her childhood home, the peculiar medieval town of Bishops Castle under the delightful, pagan, Shropshire hills.

Leaving my own family aside for the minute, I yesterday went on to Missing You, the website joining people together. I had a good browse for people who I thought I could quickly help.  I focused on people looking for a birth mother, as that can be quite straightforward.  The searcher knew that his mother Paula Heeley had a baby in North Manchester 1969 but couldn't find her birth. There in FreeBMD was Paula's marriage five years later.  Looking at the birth and marriage records together I could see she'd taken the name Heeley from a stepfather and had actually been born a Tomson. These events were all happening yards from the searcher's home suburb in North Manchester.

Little did I know my Eva's journey would end up on these same pages.   Despite doing the family history for so many years I knew little of Eva, and certainly nothing of the 1921 situation.  My mind was blank when I contacted her granddaughter, Allie, in February of this year.  Allie quickly told me of Eva's first child, an older sister to her Dad that none of them had ever known, born in 1921, and I quietly got to work. At this stage I didn't even know if they cared, I just felt I had to look.

When I started looking for Eva's baby girl, who we'll call May, I knew her life story would surprise. A few moments in and I was on those very pages of Missing You.

"I am looking for my brother born to May Jones in Liverpool in 1940."
Signed off by a lady in Canada.

I was staggered! It seemed May had taken a different surname (Jones) and had a son plus this lady in Canada, neither of whom showed up in the birth indexes.  This raised many new questions.  It looked like May had several relationships and had probably been adopted by a couple named Jones. It was definitely the same May however as the site gave her second married name.

Whew! And here comes the problem with these sites. There is just no visibility concerning messages posted and replies given. They just disappear into a blank hole with a bald 'thank you for your contact'.

I believe I will never get a response to the two hints I gave yesterday to the location of the two birth mothers. I shall continue to hunt out such cases. It took barely five minutes on FreeBMD.

Ordinary people have no clue how to drive a site like FreeBMD, just as I would struggle to operate kit in an opencast mine. (Although I do have a 1994 JCB licence!)

It annoys me when people tell the world they have been 'searching' for 40 years for their family member. Posting repeated confusing messages after midnight is not searching just as playing with a Tom-Tom without batteries in bed is not driving.

I steered clear of those folk and did my best yesterday to do brief efficient research with intuition thrown in, to spare these people any more time-wasting online.

Back with my own Missing lady, May. Barely three weeks after contacting Eva's granddaughter Allie, a reunion is now happening in spring 2016. Not with me, but with the family of missing May, conceived in the land of Welsh tinplate 1920. With in fact the very lady who posted on Missing You in Canada over ten years ago. Though I'm grateful to the site for the posting, it was no help whatsoever in facilitating present-day contact. For that, my friends, we added a splash, not of sulphuric acid this time, but of that modern innovation, Facebook, born 2005.

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