Isa and Charlie – Double Tragedy

This week’s 50 Marriage Mondays post concerns my maternal grandmother, Isa, and her first husband, Charlie.  As all her surviving descendants are from her second marriage, this marriage has been little discussed.

Marriage Certificate - Charles Henry Brown & Isabelle Frances

Marriage Certificate – Charles Henry Brown & Isabelle Frances Rebecca Jones

Bride: Isabelle Frances Rebecca Jones, a Typist
Groom: Charles Henry Brown, a Motor Mechanic
Date: 18 August 1928
Location: Christ Church, Sparkbrook, Birmingham
Bride’s father: Charles Bertram Jones
Groom’s father: George Brown, deceased
Witnesses: Charles Percival Fleming Jones, Sarah Jane Brown

Charlie & Isa's wedding

Charlie & Isa’s wedding

All of the people named on the marriage certificate, except the groom’s deceased father, appear on this photo of the core wedding party: bride, groom, parents, probable best man and bridesmaids.  The person missing is the groom’s mother.  Only one of the bride’s three then living brothers, Charles Percival Fleming Jones, who served as a witness is included, so I think he may have also served as best man.  The other witness was the bridesmaid seated next to the bride, Sarah Jane Brown, the groom’s sister.  The two younger bridesmaids standing at either side are Doris and Gwendoline Brown, nieces of the groom, but I am not sure which is which.  The fourth bridesmaid is Muriel Simms, the bride’s maternal first cousin.  The older couple are the bride’s parents, Charles Bertram and Mary Louisa Jones.

Charlie and Isa both grew up in Sparkbrook, Birmingham and were recorded at their parental homes on the 1911 census, the same addresses as on the marriage certificate.  By that time, Charlie’s father, George Brown, had died and his mother, Alice had taken in a lodger named Alfred Dean.  The connection of Alfred Dean with the Brown family was long term as he proved Alice Brown’s will in 1942, more than 30 years later (National Probate Calendar 1942, p. 611):

BROWN Alice of 45 White-road Sparkbrook Birmingham 11 widow died 10 May 1942 Probate Birmingham 8 July to Alfred Dean motor driver.  Effect £138 13s 4d.

As Charlie was only about 6 when Alfred joined the household, it is likely that Alfred influenced Charlie’s development as a motor mechanic.

Charlie & Isa with car

Charlie & Isa with car

Charlie’s Death

Sadly, the marriage only lasted 2 years and 3 days, cut short by Charlie’s untimely death.  His death certificate provides the details:

Date: 22 August 1930
Location: I.D. Raddle Barn Road, Selly Oak [Selly Oak Hospital]
Cause of death: I(a) Actinomycosis of Liver  (b) Abscess of Groin (Laparotomy 4.7.30)  No P.M.
Residence: 45 White Road, Sparkbrook [The couple lived with Charlie’s mother, Alice]

The cause of death was a slow and unpleasant one.  Actinomycosis, caused by the bacteria Actinomyces israelii, is usually an infection of mouth, digestive tract, or respiratory system, which typically results in inflammation and abscesses.  Only a small proportion of cases involve the liver, so Charlie’s case was unusual.  Diagnosis is difficult because the bacterium requires anaerobic culture conditions.  Family anecdote suggests that several conditions were considered, including psittacosis as Alice had a pet parrot.  The laparotomy, a surgical opening of the abdominal cavity, probably confirmed diagnosis but lead to spread of the infection to the groin.  Consequently, a post mortem was unnecessary.

The condition would be treated with penicillin today.  In 1930, penicillin was a very recent discovery that did not become widely available until methods of mass production were developed in the 1940s.

Baby Peter

Isa’s daughters know that Isa and Charlie had a baby boy named Peter, who died shortly after birth.  However, official records of the birth and death have proved elusive.  Even a stillborn child should have been registered as stipulated in the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1926, but there is no good match in the online birth registration index.  It is thought that Peter was born a few months after Charlie’s death at Isa parent’s home, where she returned after Charlie’s death.

Special thanks to Isa’s daughters for sharing the certificates and photos.

© Sue Adams 2013


Death, Divorce or Desertion?

I know that this marriage was short-lived because the bride went on to raise a family with another man, James Victor Wilson, within a few years.  The circumstances of the breakdown of the relationship and whether it was officially dissolved is something a mystery.

Marriage Certificate - Frederick Walter Mills & Alice Louise Lucas

Marriage Certificate – Frederick Walter Mills & Alice Louise Lucas

Bride: Alice Louisa Lucas
Groom: Frederick Walter Mills
Date: 5 August 1900
Location: St Margaret’s church, Birmingham
Bride’s father: Harry Lucas
Groom’s father: Thomas Oliver Mills

The son

Alice and Frederick appear on the 1901 census at 14 Grant Buildings, Grant Street, Birmingham, the only record I have found of them living together.  According to family accounts, the couple had a son, Walter Frederick Mills, who was raised by Alice’s second husband and went by the surname Wilson.  According to the registration of his death in California, USA, Walter was born on 23 May 1901 in another country.  So his birth should be indexed in the April-June or July-September quarters of that year.  The best match on name, Walter Frederick Mills, is April-June quarter birth in the Southwark district.  This is not Alice’s son.  Of the eleven registrations for babies named Walter Mills recorded in the two quarters, only one was in Birmingham, a Walter Harry F Mills (vol. 6d, p. 63).

The marriage was certainly over by 1905, when Alice gave birth to James Victor Wilson’s son, James Bertram.  A daughter, Alice Irene, followed in 1908.  In 1910, James emigrated to America, followed by Alice who sailed on the ‘Carmania’ with his children James and Alice, but not Walter.

Taking Walter to another country potentially presented legal issues.  Frederick could object and may have had custody.  The receiving country may have refused to admit a child without the support of his father.

The English 1911 census records a 12 year old Walter Mills, as an inmate of St Josiah Mason’s Orphanage in Erdington, Birmingham.  The 1920 United States federal census records Walter F Wilson, aged 18 and born in England, at an army post in Bexar, Texas.  The date of his immigration is given as 1912.  The 1930 USA census confirms the date of immigration and Walter’s identity as he is recorded with his wife, Clara, at Glendale, Los Angeles, California.

By the time of his immigration, Walter was old enough to travel independently, and his best chance of admission into the USA was claiming a relationship with Alice and James.  That would be easier to do if he used the Wilson surname.  Family accounts make it clear that, as an adult, Walter had contact with his mother and half-siblings, but so far, the evidence suggests that he did not live with Alice and James as a child.

What happened to Frederick Walter Mills?

I have not been able to identify Frederick in post 1901 records.  Between 1901 and 1960, deaths of eight men named Frederick W Mills and marriages of two men named Frederick Walter Mills were registered in England.  Similarly 1911 census searches produce many Frederick Mills of around the right age, including four born in Birmingham.

Alice’s marriage to her second husband, James Victor Wilson, should provide information on her status, whether she was widowed or divorced.  However, I have not found this marriage in the General Register Office index for England and Wales or the Statutory Register index for Scotland.  In the 1901 July-September quarter in Camberley, an Alice Mills married William Sibley and a James Wilson married a Mabel Goodman.  As these two marriages are on the same page, a search of the GRO index for Alice Mills and James Wilson produces a false positive result.  I also drew a blank with divorce records available on Ancestry and FindMyPast.

The lack of a record for Alice’s second marriage raises the possibility that no marriage occurred.  Could Alice have simply adopted the Wilson surname, but never formalised the relationship? Alice’s immigration and naturalisation status were derived from her husband.  According to Alice’s daughter-in-law, she would provide no family history information.  Perhaps she was guarding information that could have serious consequences.

So, I can’t prove or disprove death or divorce.  I suspect desertion, but can’t say who left.

© Sue Adams 2013


Housing and Economic Status – The Family Home

The family tale is that Ada’s husband worked for her father, delivering coal to households.  This was dirty, back-breaking work that paid little, so Ada’s family, especially her children, received extra support from her parents in the form of dinner on Sundays.  The marriage certificate provides the following information:

Bride: Ada Emily Coulson, aged 21
Groom: Levi Frankcom Gascoigne, aged 29
Date: 29 July 1922
Location: Register Office, Aston district, Birmingham
Bride’s residence: 32 Gt Francis Street
Groom’s residence: 260 Soho Road, Handsworth
Bride’s father: Edward Charles Coulson, Coal Merchant
Groom’s father: Levi Gascoigne, Joiner

The bride’s Great Francis Street address was her parent’s home and the premises from which the coal delivery business operated.  The premises included stables for the horses that pulled the coal carts.  This photograph has been consistently identified as being the yard at 32 Great Francis Street, with horse and stable in the background.  The toddler is a nephew of Ada and Levi.

Yard at 32 Great Francis Street, ca 1941

Yard at 32 Great Francis Street, ca 1941

The groom’s address at 260 Soho Road was also his parent’s home.  The 1911 census confirms Levi Gascoigne senior’s occupation as a joiner.  The fathers of both bride and groom were recorded on the electoral register for 1912.  At that time, eligibility for inclusion in the register was governed by The Representation of the People Act 1884.  The franchise was restricted to men over the age of 21 who were not legally incapacitated (e.g. aliens, lunatics, idiots, certain public officials, felons) and also owned property, or occupied property with a ‘clear yearly value’ of £10 or more for the preceding year.  Responsibility for recording eligible men fell to the Overseers of the Poor, who collected the rates for the relief of the poor.  The rate book entries formed the basis of the electoral register with additional information from the registrar of births and deaths.  Occupiers could be owners, tenants or lodgers, so the electoral register does not indicate ownership status, but it does indicate the householder could afford the minimum rateable value of £10.  The most likely reason for Levi Gascoigne senior’s and Edward Charles Coulson’s voting qualification is that the tenement in Soho Road and dwelling house in Great Francis Street exceeded the annual rateable value of £10.

As discussed in 20th Century sources – Electoral rolls, Google Maps and Land Registry, the property qualification was abolished in 1918 and the franchise extended to some women for the first time.  In 1925, Levi Frankcom Gascoigne is listed on the electoral register at 60 Camden Street in the St Pauls ward, having qualified as a resident.  His wife, Ada Emily, then aged 25, did not meet the age requirement of over 30 for women.  Five years later, in 1930, Ada entered the electoral register, and the couple were recorded at the Camden Street address until 1939.  The 1945 register shows they had moved to 61 Firsby Road, Quinton in the Harbourne ward.  Although more people are included in the post 1918 registers, they lack the inferred economic status data contained in earlier registers.  However, other records provide an alternative source for such insights.

The part of Camden Street where number 60 should be now has modern buildings, and there is no Land Registry record for this address.  Two possible reasons the house no longer exists are World War II bombing and slum re-development.

The Firsby Road house was part of extensive residential development of Quinton that occurred during the inter-war years and later.  Consultation of maps of the area using old-maps.co.uk confirms that the relevant part of Firsby Road had been developed by 1938.  The current Land Registry record for 61 Firsby Road tells me that the property was first registered on 19 January 1973 shortly after transfer of title on 11 December 1972 from The Birmingham Corporation to Levi Frankcom Gascoigne. The Birmingham Corporation was the pre-cursor of the current City Council.  So, either during or shortly after World War II, Levi and Ada moved into recently built municipal housing, which was very likely an improvement on their previous residence.  By this time the couple had 6 children, the youngest born in 1938, so the family would have been high on the housing list.

The purchase of 61 Firsby Road in 1972 predates the 1979 ‘right to buy’ legislation.  The 1955 electoral register includes two adult children of the couple, one of whom was still living in the house in 1997.  The pooled resources of several working adults may have enabled the family’s purchase of their home.

© Sue Adams 2013

Ancestry. “Midlands, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1955”, database (ancestry.co.uk, accessed 28 July 2013)

Land Registry, Coventry Office. 25 Jul 2013. Register Extract. Title Number WK204317.