This month’s blog is a little different to say the least. It is written for Anthony Wilkinson and his grandmother Carol Lyon in Australia. Carol was born ‘Carol Ann Greaves’ in Newcastle on the 4th October 1954, and emigrated with her parents on the ship ‘Fairsea’ from Southampton in the spring of 1968. Anthony contacted me a couple of weeks ago, initially by telephone, when on hearing the time delay, and being convinced I was being patched through to a sales desk I promptly hung up on him. Not a terribly auspicious start!
Nevertheless Anthony persevered and I am very pleased he did. The project of looking into his grandmother’s family roots in Newcastle, not only holds some important lessons for all of us researching our ancestors, but is developing into quite an intriguing story. It is a tale with so many twists, turns and unanswered questions Carol, Anthony and myself are hoping that someone reading this might hold the key to at least some of the questions it poses.
Initially Anthony was seeking information about the Scottish connections of his 2x great grandfather, one David Ernest Sutherland, of whom very little was known. It is believed he was killed during the Great War when his daughter Catherine Sutherland, born in 1913, was very young. Catherine had very few memories of him, but could remember ‘her mother getting the telegram in the morning and bursting into tears and letting her hair down’.
Anthony’s request was perfectly sensible based on the evidence contained within the marriage certificate of Carol’s mother Catherine Sutherland to Sidney Greaves in March 1932. Catherine had declared her father’s name as David Sutherland (deceased), the occupation column was left blank. So far so good. Anthony had also obtained a copy of the marriage certificate of Catherine’s father David Sutherland to Sarah Ann Curry dated the 21st November 1905. Even better, Catherine was legitimate.
In the 1911 census Catherine’s mother and oldesr sister Sarah are living at 22 Back George Street, with Mrs Curry snr, now Mrs McLeod - David was absent. Anxious to determine his whereabouts Anthony asked me to take a look and see what I could uncover. Find him I did, but certainly not where expected. In 1906 he was entered into the habitual criminals register, and whilst this came as a bit of a shock to Anthony and his grandmother it did provide a physical description of him; 5’2” with a fresh complexion, brown hair, blue eyes and a scar to the first and fourth fingers of his right hand. This information may have proved useful if we could locate his WW1 service record, which alas, to date, we have been unable to do.
There is no doubt that this is David as the address given in the register was the same as that for his wife in the 1911 census, and was also Catherine’s registered place of birth in 1913. In 1907 David added to his tally of illegal procurements of a bicycle, cigarettes, and boots (amongst other things) with the theft of a pair of trousers. He was subsequently transferred from Durham to Wakefield prison to serve his sentence. Another court appearance (if it is indeed the same man) on April 12th 1911 in Wakefield may account for David’s absence from home at the time of the census. Whilst finding a criminal ancestor may not be an ideal scenario, the associated prison and police records hold a wealth of information such as a physical description and often include a photograph!
Surely now it was simply a case of tracing the Sutherland family back through David’s father, who from the evidence contained in his marriage certificate, was called Hugh, a gas works labourer. Various census records showed Hugh had been born in Golspie, Scotland circa 1854. From his marriage certificate to David’s mother Mary Jane Phimister, a widow, maiden name Ward in 1880 Hugh’s father’s name proved to be William. So what is the problem I hear you ask? The first twist materialised in the form of an amendment made to Catherine’s birth certificate some six years after her birth in 1919. The entry reads;
‘In Entry no. 121 col. 4 omit David Sutherland and in col. 6 omit General Labourer corrected on the 2nd October 1919 by me C.w. Anderson Deputy Superintendent on production of a statutory declaration made by Sarah Sutherland & Mary Watson.’
The key word here being ‘omit’. Why had Catherine’s mother removed David Sutherland as the father? In an effort to track down the ‘sworn statement’ I took advice from the registrar’s office at Newcastle City Council. The staff there were most helpful and indicated that in cases like these where the couple were married, it almost invariably meant that David Sutherland was not Catherine’s biological father. Newcastle did not hold a copy of the statement made in 1919 and suggested I speak to the General Register Office, whose permission would have been required before any changes to the birth certificate could be made. Again the reason behind the instruction to have David’s name removed was reiterated, but worse news was to come. The ‘sworn statement’ which would hold the definitive answer does not survive, as it is GRO policy that these records are destroyed after a period of five years.
So where to now, and just who was Mary Watson? She was obviously someone who could corroborate the statement made by Catherine’s mother, and possibly had knowledge of the true identity of the father. Catherine had at least two younger sisters Cecilia (Cissy) Sutherland born in 1917 and Doris in 1921. Whilst it was possible that David could be father to Cissy even if he had been killed in WW1, he could not have been the father of Doris, and yet the birth had been registered as Sutherland. Had David in fact died at a later date, and in different circumstances, than those originally believed to be the case?
A search for the family in the 1939 register struck gold, finding three of the sisters living together at 107 Park Road, Newcastle upon Tyne. Catherine now married was living with a Thomas Watson an asphalt labourer b. 1877, Sarah A Watson b. 1889, Cecilia Sutherland b. 1917 and Doris Sutherland b.1921. There is also a ‘redacted’ record under Sarah’s name which may be the missing sister Molly or Margaret of who little known. Also at no 107, is John W Watson b. 1887, Primrose Watson, and John W Watson jnr b. 1924.
From this information it would appear Catherine’s widowed mother Sarah Ann nee Curry had married a Thomas Watson. The certificate for the marriage which didn’t take place until September 1934 proved this to be the case, she had indeed married a Thomas Samuel Watson, a widower, and some ten years her senior. The address given for both of them at the time of their marriage was 81 Back George Street. Thomas’s father proved to also be called Thomas Samuel (deceased) a Basket Maker. Naming patterns seem to run strongly in this family.
Using the occupational information gleaned from this record it was possible to trace Thomas back through the census. In 1891 he is living in a house of multiple occupation at No 3 Chapel Street, with several siblings, notably a John W Watson b.1887. Their father had been born in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk and their mother Mary in Leeds. Far from heading towards Scottish roots, this ancestral path was now headed in a distinctly southerly direction. By 1911 Mary is a widow aged 54 and living at No 73 Back George Street, just a few doors away from the Sutherland family at No 22. With her are sons John W, Alfred and a daughter Lilly. Could this be one and the same Mary Watson that put her name to the sworn statement in 1919?
Could it possibly be the case that Thomas Samuel Watson, Catherine Sutherland’s supposed step-father, could actually prove to be her biological one too? This is the crucial question where Anthony and his grandmother Carol need the help of descendants of either ‘Seaman Tommy’ or families descended from his father Thomas Samuel Watson or his siblings. They both realise that this information may come as a bolt from the blue, and the last thing either of them want is to create any upset. Like all of us on our ancestral trail they merely want to know the truth and get to the bottom of this family mystery.
Their story, like so many others, illustrates the importance of doing your own research, and doing it thoroughly. If Catherine Sutherland’s marriage certificate had been taken in isolation as proof of her paternity, Anthony and his grandmother may well have spent many years and a good deal of time and money researching the incorrect family line.
If you think you can help Anthony and Carol in their quest, please get in touch through this website and I shall pass your details on to them in confidence.