On the 1st February 2014 I made a second visit to the Library of Birmingham. This time I wanted to find the marriage details for a Laura L Swadling. She had been born in the York registration district in 1892 so when had she moved to Birmingham? According to the marriage indexes on FreeBMD, she had married Robert H Taylor in the Aston registration district in the December quarter of 1916. Ancestry had made copies of some parish registers from several churches around the Birmingham area available on line but I couldn’t find the marriage listed.
So the next step in my search was going to be the laborious job of checking church parish records, register by register and page by page. I knew that many original registers were stored at the Library of Birmingham so I made an appointment to view the original marriage register of Saint James in Aston Park, which included 1916, at the new Wolfson Centre.
The Wolfson centre is located next to the Archives and Heritage area on the 4th floor of the library. When I arrived I was presented with a register the size of an old foolscap page that was about an inch thick. I carefully placed it on two book rests and very slowly turned the pages. When I reached 1916 I keep a lookout for Laura’s name. As I came towards the end of 1916 I wondered if she had not been married at Saint James after all. Then I saw it. Laura Leslie Swadling had married Robert Henry Taylor on the 11th November. Robert was 24 years of age and employed as a clerk. His father was also called Robert Henry and he was a carpenter. Laura was also 24 years old and she was employed as a conductress. Her father was called Thomas and he was a musician by trade. They were both residing at 177 Frederick Street at the time of their marriage. The certificate posed several questions. As Laura and Robert were living at the same address, was it the family home for either of them? Was the house a boarding house? Were Robert and Laura living together before their marriage? Or did they use the address of a family member, just like my father did, so that they could get married at St. James? As yet I haven’t found any evidence to answer any these questions.
The war in Europe began in 1914 so why was Robert still working as a clerk? Why had he not enlisted? Was there a reason why he had not joined up? The Military Service Act was passed by Parliament in January 1916 and came into force on the 2nd March. Previously men had joined the army on a voluntary basis. This act meant that single men between the ages of 18 and 41 could be conscripted to join army. Married men were exempt but in June they too could be conscripted. Men aged between 41 and 51 were conscripted for the last few months of the war. Military Service Tribunals were introduced for men who claimed exemption upon the grounds of performing civilian work of national importance, domestic hardship, health, and conscientious objection. Was Robert working in civilian work of national importance? I am unable to say, as I have not been able to find any war records for him.
Laura on the other hand was working as conductress. With the outbreak of war thousands of men went off to fight for their country. A shortage of manpower meant that women could, for the first time, take over the roles of men. In Laura’s case she entered the male dominated world of bus or tram drivers and conductors. Doing the work of men may have helped the cause that women should have the right to vote. By the end of the war women, over the age of thirty, had secured that right.There are no children listed for Laura and Robert. Laura died in 1981 at the age of 89 in Gloucestershire and I can only find a death record for a Robert Henry in Gloucester in 1949 but he is listed as being born in 1897 and not 1892 so I am not sure if this is him or not.
As I had no other birth record for Swadlings in the York area I was curious about who Thomas Swadling was and where he had came from. I decided to check ancestry’s census records. So what are censuses? A census is, according to the free dictionary.com, “an official, usually periodic enumeration of a population, often including the collection of related demographic information”. Could you repeat that? Ok. A census is a head count taken every ten years of the population of England and Wales. Information collected will include a person’s name, age, place of birth, occupation and address. Census documents are very handy documents when trying to research family history.
By using the library’s copy of Ancestry I found Laura in Bridgnorth on the 1911 census. She was 18 years old and her occupation was “at home”. She was living with her mother Elizabeth Louisa, who was 41 years old and had been married for 19 years. The census showed that Elizabeth had given birth to four children in her current marriage and all of her children were still living. Laura had three brothers. James William aged 16 who was working as a garage apprentice, Frederick Noel aged 8 and a pupil at school and Gilbert Lionel was who just 2 years old. Her father was not listed and was therefore not present in the household on the night the census was taken. The census also showed where each member of the family had been born and it looked like the family had moved from place to place over the years. Laura’s mother had been born in Banbury, Oxfordshire. Laura herself had been born in York, two of her brothers had been born in Pimlico in London and her youngest brother had been born in Leek in Staffordshire. I couldn’t find her father Thomas anywhere on the 1911 census.
I next checked the 1901 census on the Ancestry website and found the family living in the Saint George Hanover Square district of London.
Thomas was at home the night this census was taken. He was listed as being 31 years of age and had been born in Southwark London. Besides his wife Elizabeth, daughter Laura, and son James. Thomas had his 6 year old nephew Charles Perry living with him.
It looked like Laura was Thomas and Elizabeth’s oldest child so I looked for a marriage for them on the FreeBMD and familyseach websites. I found several entries that referred to Thomas marrying Elizabeth Louisa Johnson at St Mary Bishophill Junior Church in York on the 23rd May 1891 but if he was born in London what was he doing in York in 1891? I checked the 1891 census and found him aged 21 at the Cavalry Barracks on the Fulham Road in York. So that puts him in the right place for his marriage but where was he in 1881?
His whereabouts in 1881 were slightly disturbing. He was just 11 and a scholar at the Central District School in London. His relationship to the superintendent of the institution was that he was an inmate supported by poor rates. Why was he there? What had happened to his parents? I tried to find him on the 1871 census but he wasn’t listed.
Then something occurred to me. Was Thomas the son of Richard Swadling and Elizabeth Elliott and a grandson of Joseph Swadling from Englefield? When I was doing the research for the Bradfield Swadlings I had looked through some paperwork that I had received from another cousin of mine. He had been sent the information from a lady who had been researching Swadlings who had been born in Southwark in London.
In amongst the paperwork was a copy of a birth certificate for a Thomas Swadling who was born in 1869 in Southwark to parents Richard Swadling and Elizabeth Elliott and a copy of a death certificate for a Thomas Swadling who was listed as a former Orchestral Musician and had died in Portsmouth in 1950 at the age of 81. The informant on the death certificate was his great niece, E. M. Bloxham. So who was she? Her relationship to Thomas meant that one of her grandparents was one of Thomas’s siblings. Finding which one would also prove that this Thomas was in fact Richard and Elizabeth’s son. I found a marriage registration for an Elizabeth M Swadling to a Harold Bloxham in the Portsmouth registration district in 1921 and a birth registration entry for an Elizabeth Margaret Swadling in the Wandsworth registration district in 1898. Using the 1901 and 1911 census I found out that her parents were William and Elizabeth Swadling and she had four siblings by 1911. William had been born in Dunts Hill Earlsfield in Wandsworth in 1876. William had married Elizabeth in 1897. His father’s name was Joseph. And Joseph was a son of Richard and Elizabeth Swadling and an older brother to Thomas!
Going back to the 1901 census, Charles Perry’s parents were George Thomas Perry and Emily Swadling. Tragically Emily died in 1900 and George died in 1901. Thomas was Emily’s brother.
A mystery still surrounds Thomas. Why was he in Portsmouth with extended family around him when he died? Why had he not stay in Bridgnorth? His wife died there in 1935 and his children stayed in the surrounding area. Unfortunately there are still too many questions to answer.