101 Today – Mabel Coulson, birth certificate and photographic evidencePosted: 04/11/2011
Today it is 101 years since my paternal grandmother, Mabel Coulson, was born. As she died nearly 21 years ago, shortly after her 80th birthday, there won’t be a telegram from the Queen. The anniversary has prompted me to re-examine the genealogical evidence of her birth, something I have not done since I was just starting my family history. Back then (ca 1997), I “just knew” or “was told” that Mabel was born on 4 November 1910 at home in Birmingham, England.
The birth certificate found among her personal documents on her death is a short form copy. Copies of British birth certificates can be issued is either this short form or a full version that includes the parents names, occupations, residence, informants name and address and address of the birth place. Although disappointingly lacking in genealogical information, the certificate confirmed what I already knew and matched the entry in the microfiche index of births that I found for Mabel when looking for her siblings (Registration district: Aston, 6d 288). I verified who Mabel’s parents were using census records and civil registrations for other family members. Satisfied, I took it no further.
Wait, this document has more to tell! Notice the date the copy certificate was issued: 4 July 1969. Why that time? Usually, people apply for birth certificate copies when they need to prove their identity or age. Legal restrictions on the age of school leaving or marriage are typical reasons. However, in July 1969, Mabel was aged 58 and had been married to Thomas Adams (known as Tom) since 1937. The date does tie in with a passport application. I do not have Mabel’s passport or know if passport applications are accessible from 1969, but I do have some other evidence to support this theory.
From conversations with my mom (Mabel’s daughter-in-law), I know that we lived with Mabel and Tom between May 1969 and May 1970. It was during this time that Mabel and Tom visited their daughter, who had emigrated to Canada a few years before. While they were away, Mom fed Mabel’s cat Whiskey. As I was a toddler at the time, I do not remember my grandparent going to Canada, but do remember their house and playing with Whiskey. This is all here-say and memories, both potentially dodgy as evidence.
Mabel’s collection of photographs provides some documentary evidence for the trip and by inference the passport application. A photograph featuring the couple with Niagara Falls in the background confirms the trip happened.
From my experience with older photographs, I know that the content of the photograph (e.g. clothing), the format (e.g. size), materials and processes used can be used to date a photograph. Dating of nineteenth and early twentieth century photographs are covered in the works of Jayne Shrimpton, Maureen Taylor and others, but I know of no similar book covering the last half of the twentieth century. I have found some recent research papers listed on conservator Paul Messier’s website (
), which demonstrate the complexity of the subject. The back if this photo has a manufacturer’s mark printed faintly. I have adjusted the contrast so you can see it here. If I can find out when this particular mark was used it could substantiate (or completely blow) my theory, but I am probably not going to find this in time to include in this post.
Mabel’s collection includes seven square black and white photos measuring 3.5in (91mm) that feature airport scenes. One depicts Mabel and Tom and another depicts an aircraft bearing the livery of British United Airways. I think these may also be connected with the 1969 trip. The aircraft looks to me like a VC-10. The livery is remarkably similar to that depicted on a 1968 BUA timetable I found online at
So, have I proved my theory that the birth certificate copy was obtained to apply for a passport? Not exactly, but as with many genealogical investigations, definitive proof may not be possible. There is a body of evidence gathering and many more questions to answer. Are you convinced?
Now getting back to where I started:
Happy Birthday Gran!