Brick Wall Solutions - the elusive Alfred Beeston
The question I’ve heard repeatedly from English friends since 1992 is “What have you done with our Alfred?”
Whilst researching my own Beeston family who originated in Mugginton, Derbyshire then progressively moved to Fenny Bentley, Kniveton, and Hognaston (all in Derbyshire) before going to Heaton Norris (Lancashire) and Stockport (Cheshire), I made contact with a Beeston living in Kniveton. Since there were only a few families of this name it seemed likely they were interconnected so I started researching his family as well.On a trip to Derbyshire in 1992 my parents visited our Kniveton connection who had been gathering data on our family from the local churchyard and parish records. When dad arrived home he announced that he had been given a job – to find Alfred! Now Alfred was born in 1883 at Idridgehay, the son of Michael and Jane Beeston – he had four siblings. All the family could tell us was that he had emigrated to Australia about 1910/11. There was little trace of what had happened to him in their records and he was unheard of since 1930. Rumour had it that he married an Australian girl and that his last address was some school of music. Dad brought home a photograph of Alfred taken in Sydney with a woman on his arm. Not a lot to go on.
I examined death and marriage indexes, directories and electoral rolls as best I could at that time for all the eastern states but found nothing definitive. In 2005 Eric and I made a trip to the UK and naturally called in at Derbyshire – of course we were asked yet again why we couldn’t find Alfred. It turned out that a niece of Alfred’s had several tins of family documents so we spent quite a while taking photographs of documents of the family in general but of Alfred in particular – memorial cards, Band of Hope certificates, newspaper clippings and many family photographs. She was very keen to know what had happened to him – her father, Isaac, had died without knowing the fate of his brother.
A plaque in the parish church at Bradley, Derbyshire commemorates those who were serving with forces overseas during World War I – Alfred Beeston was recorded at Sydney, Australia. We found the plaque hidden behind the church organ – it was indeed fortunate that I had known about its existence through an extensive series of Derbyshire memorial inscriptions on microfiche (including Bradley, All Saints) available at the Queensland Family History Society.
While in Vancouver on the journey home we checked out the National Archives of Australia World War I index and found (and ordered) Alfred’s service record. He was discharged medically unfit in 1916 having served with the 19th Battalion AIF for just 18 months. Apparently he wanted to return to England but was refused permission – he never made it back again. Later, from Find My Past, I found that Alfred had departed London on 26 April 1912 on the Orvieto bound for Sydney. It seemed like we were at last making progress but then nothing further happened until a few weeks ago.
I recently acquired Dan Lynch’s book Google Your Family Tree and made a start on reading it. Of course, when it came to the test exercises to try out the different Google options, I used my Beeston family. I haven’t managed to get past page 25 yet but have already had four great finds one of which involved Alfred Beeston. I managed to find someone else searching for Alfred and hoped she would answer all my questions but, alas, I actually knew much more than she did. At least I could allay her fears that Alfred had died young and lonely following his army discharge – I had a photograph of him as an older man in Sydney. A suggestion was made by one of her contacts that perhaps our Alfred was the person who had been cremated at the Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park in 1950. Though the details were not a perfect match, I purchased the death certificate – the information had been supplied by the clerk at the Prince Henry Hospital so an imperfect match was not surprising. Despite the fact that the father’s name is incorrect (Alfred instead of Michael), all the remaining facts would indicate that at last Alfred has been found. He was one of just two Alfreds born in Derbyshire over a four year time span and the other Alfred (in another of my trees) clearly remained in Derbyshire where he married and had a family.
Alfred’s death certificate indicates a possible marriage in Christchurch, New Zealand and a search of the Historic Australian Newspaper Collection uncovered legal notices relating to his will – perhaps we can now start to answer some of the other questions that his niece has about what his life in Australia was like.
Brick Wall Tips
- Talk to living relatives – they usually know more than they think
- Collect as much information as you can – certificates of siblings, photographs, letters
- Join your local society – they have many records not available online
- Learn to do Google searches more effectively
- Search online – you might find others chasing the same person; combine your information
- Purchase a certificate even if it doesn’t match exactly – the informant may not have all the details correct anyhow
- Never give up