I started tracing my family history on 11th August 1981. Firstly I noted down everything I knew, I was lucky that my grandfather Abraham was still alive, he told me that he was one of nine children, his fathers name was also Abraham and his mothers was Catherine Garthwaite. My grandfather was born at 3 Goth Street Liverpool when his mother Catherine went to visit her mother from Thornton Hough (across the Mersey). My grandfather Abraham knew his grandfathers name (my great grandfather) which was James, however James had died before my grandfather was born, but he could remember being looked after by Jane who he said was James’s second wife. This ‘fact’ was to cost me a lot of research time and more than once I thought my grandfather’s memory was not all it could be. Abraham also showed me the papers to wind up James’s estate at Newton dated 21st February 1917. Why 1917, James had died before Abraham was born in 1893. Abraham also told me Newton was near Dalton in Furness and he knew the family once lived on a farm in the area which was near to a golf course.
On 25th August 1981 I went on my first of many visits to St. Catherine’s House in London where details of all births and marriages after about 1837 are held. I soon found that deaths and wills were also held nearby and information from these would help me unravel a lot of facts that are accumulated from research. Mid September I made my first journey to the Dalton in Furness area to see what I could find from the local records................
Mid September1981-----1st MAJOR FIND
I travelled to the Dalton in Furness area and headed straight for Newton, which turned out to be a rather small village. I cannot remember what I was expecting to see but I saw an ordinary small village without a church or cemetery. Where are people who die in Newton buried, probably Dalton in Furness I thought as that was the nearest place of any size, although still only a village. On the way out of Newton I saw a war memorial and stopped to have a look at it. It showed that Joseph Slater had died in the first world war and James Slater also served (and survived). This was not my great great grandfather James as he died before my grandfather was born in 1893, I also had proof that his estate was wound up on the 21st of February 1917 (i.e. before the end of WW1). At least it showed that Slaters were (or at least had been) inhabitants in this area at some moment in time. So off to Dalton in Furness Church of St. Mary which I had passed earlier.....
St. Mary's churchyard was well looked after but a lot of the headstones had been taken from the graves and stood in line against a boundary wall, some were also laid into a path, sacrilege I thought. I found 4 grave stones with Slaters mentioned, we were obviously in abundance in this area. The most interesting was of George and Ellen and their family (years ago a family would have one gravestone that contained references to other family members who were not actually in the same grave - it reduced costs). George and Ellen came from Park farm, a quick look at the map and a golf course was fairly nearby, was this the place my grandfather had told me about. In fact it wasn't but I thought it may be at this point, I seemed to be getting somewhere and without too much trouble.
After finishing looking around the graveyard and also inside the church (and after the verger had made sure I was not up to any mischief, spying from his home next to the church) I left to investigate a cemetery less than a mile away, which I had passed earlier on the outskirts of Dalton. The cemetery, I thought, would be an 'overflow' in use only in more recent times. On entering the gate I saw a large area with very old headstones dotted about quite sparsely, a newer and even bigger area was to the rear with lots of headstones. This newer section would take some time to look at so I decided to look at the older spartan area before leaving to find the camp site which I was to use as a base over the next few days.....
I could not believe what I found within the first few minutes of looking, a gravestone that mentioned James and his (2nd ?) wife Jane. It had to be my great great grandfather and his wife as it showed that Jane died on 21st February 1917, the same date as on James’s estate winding up papers. So Jane died after James therefore the estate wind up papers were because of her death not his- obvious really but I was only an amateur at this at the moment, I would get better given time. Off to the camp site feeling very satisfied with my days work.
TIME TO REFLECT ON MY FINDINGS
Overnight I consolidated my knowledge, I knew my father and mother Walter Oliver and Alice (obviously), my grandparents Abraham and Nellie, my great grandparents Abraham and Catherine and my great great grandparents James and Jane (although Jane was supposed to be James 2nd wife and therefore not really my actual gg grandmother).
According to the gravestone, James was 50 when he died in 1879, this means he was born about 1829, before St. Catherine’s house register of births started. If he had been born after 1837 I would have been able to get a copy of his birth certificate and that would have told me who my ggg grandparents were. Before 1837 the church had to keep records of all baptisms. The records are now usually held by the local record offices, but in St. Mary's case the church still held them, so I made an appointment to see them during my 2nd day in Dalton. Baptisms are not as accurate as births because people can be baptised at any age, however most people would be baptised during their first year, but not all, this had to be born in mind when interpreting any data. Before seeing the church records I had a look at the local history section of Barrow in Furness library. A lot of data was collected from here including a list of all Slaters in the area that were listed in the first ever census to include names, in 1841.
While at the library I spoke to the local record office historian and told him what I was doing. From his records I again found some interesting data, most of it was not any use to me at this point in time, I had a lot of data that needed careful scrutiny before I could make any sense of it. I told the local historian about the farm near a golf course and said that I thought it may be Park Farm. The historian said that he doubted this and thought it was more likely to be a farm much nearer Dalton called Sowerby Lodge, he would be proved to be right that afternoon when I was to look at the church records. In the mean time off to look at some more of the gravestones in Dalton cemetery. In fact on my next visit to Dalton the following year, I would spend a whole weekend going round every churchyard and cemetery in the area looking for Slaters. The data would come in faster than I could work out its relevance, I therefore would start putting names and dates down into computer memory, a 16kbyte state of the art home computer -Sinclair ZX81. ?
RECORDS AND JAMES 2ND (?) WIFE JANE
The church records were laid before me for scrutiny, I felt the verger was rather reluctant to let a complete stranger look at ‘his’ records. I went straight to the 1830 baptism records with a view to finding my gg grandfather James straight away. No sooner said than done, I had found the following entry...
James son of James and Elizabeth of Sowerby Lodge. Baptised 31st October 1830.
The local historian was right about Sowerby Lodge. The gravestones showed that James was born in 1829 not 1830. But this was a baptism and not a register of births. I was therefore very happy that this was him., I then spent another couple of hours taking as much data down from the records as possible. Off to the library again and then home after a very successful visit.
I would visit the area another couple of times in the next few years and I also collected data from other sources e.g. Wills, Mormon Computer Files, Census returns, books etc. etc. With all the information I now had, I believed that I could trace my direct line back to about 1644 - not bad.
On my travels back to the Dalton area I had some pleasing experiences....
I bought a glass mug and pillows from the Dalton Co-op which is a relatively new building with the address of 102 Market Street. This address (along with 100 and 104) is mentioned in gg grandfather James estate winding up papers, it shows all three houses were sold to the Co-op for £1000. Although the building was new I still felt very nostalgic knowing that James had once owned the buildings on this site.
Another very nostalgic experience was going to the only Public House in Newton and having a drink. I could imagine James (and other relatives) having a good time in there and probably getting drunk more than once.
One relative owned Orgrave Mill according to his will. I set about finding this and after walking across some very muddy fields found what I believed to be the remains of the mill. I had my photograph taken and put a stone in my pocket from the foundations. It was some two days later that I found the site was not Orgrave mill and I have not been back to look for the correct one (if there are any remains left) . However I still have a stone that ‘is not from Orgrave Mill’.
There is also a street named ‘Slater Street’ in Dalton and from an old map it shows that someone named Slater once owned the land where the street was made.
After failing miserably to find any evidence that my gg grandfather had been married twice, as my grandfather had told me, I began to believe that he was not remembering correctly. Having a few minutes to spare on one of my trips to the Dalton , I decided to find Jane’s death in the local paper. This was easily found but it showed her name as Jane Knight - but James marriage certificate showed he married Jane Deason? It was easy from there, I quickly found that Jane Deason had died in 1862 and James had remarried Jane Knight. If the 2nd Jane had had a different first name it would have been clear but marrying two ‘Janes’ had me beaten for some time. When James married Jane Knight I think it was a nice touch that a John and Mary Deason (obviously relatives of James first wife) are shown as the witnesses. Anyway another problem overcome and my grandfather was telling me the truth after all.
THE BIGGEST HERO THAT EVER LIVED
In 1985 my grandfather died and it was at this time when I became fully aware of how my uncle Arthur (James Arthur) tragically died in the 2nd world war. Arthur died before I was born but I had been told he died in the desert in Egypt. The full and very tragic story can be found elsewhere on this web site, so I will not repeat it here but I will add to it......
I cannot comprehend how awful a death Arthur must have had but he is my total hero. I admire him immensely for facing the impossible with seemingly such brave actions. If I was granted one wish it would be to visit Egypt and find the plane (which was left in the desert as a monument to Arthur) and his grave so I could pay respect to my uncle.
The story is even more unusual than that told elsewhere on this web site. Firstly I could not find any death certificate for Arthur which was baffling. After a few conversations with my father he remarked ‘you know Arthurs first name was James don’t you’. My reply is unprintable but the gist of it was ‘no - why did you not tell me this before’. This solved my problem and the death certificate was then easy to find. On with the story -
My father had recently married my mother (1944) in Eqypt before any of the other family members could meet her, this was after all in the middle of a war. (Incidentally my father first meet my mother when he rode into the NAAFI on a donkey for a bet.)
Arthur was supposed to visit my father and meet my mother for the first time. A knock on the door was answered by my father expecting Arthur, but it was someone sent to tell him that Arthur was missing. My father joined in the air search for Arthur but everyone was looking in the wrong place, Arthur was well off course. They never found him at that time and he was presumed dead but nobody knew how. It must have been very hard for my parents and grandparents to accept his death without knowing how it happened. Some 2 years later they would be told the full story after Arthur was found by a geologist - see full story elsewhere on this site.
HAVE I GOT IT RIGHT ?
On May 21st 1997 I was looking at the family history and thought it would be a good idea to see if I still came up with the same family tree from the information that I had gathered. After all I had had a few years to ‘forget’ any implied data for the relationships between my ancestors. Then it hit me, I could be wrong. Although I still understand how I came to my original conclusions, there was now a (big) doubt in my mind about my gg grandfather James parents (or lack of one of them at least). I did not like this as it could be possible that the direct line is from a illegitimate child? My reasons for the doubt are as follows.......
When I found gg grandfather James gravestone showing that he died in 1879 aged 50, I worked out that he should have been born in 1829. I then found an entry for James in the church records for baptisms for 1830, a reasonable assumption that it was him. The church records also said that he was from Sowerby Lodge, which you will recall was where the local historian had predicted, after I told him my grandfather remembered the family living on a farm near a golf course. Everything tied in but there could be another explanation.
I was looking at the data and noticed that the following people mentioned on that gravestone i.e. Thomas, Jane, Abraham, and James appeared to be also living together in the same dwelling in the 1851 census for Newton.
THE GRAVESTONE SHOWED THOMAS SLATER OF NEWTON DIED 1868 AGED 58. JANE SLATER DIED 1871 AGED 82. ABRAHAM SLATER DIED 1872 AGED 84. JAMES SLATER DIED 1879 AGED 50. JANE WIFE OF JAMES DIED FEB 21ST 1917. ETC.
The ages of everyone agrees for both the gravestone and the census. The census showed Abraham and Jane to be single and brother and sister. It also showed Thomas and James to be nephew to Abraham i.e. Jane’s children. Looking at my records for baptisms from the church I found that Jane had 3 illegitimate children Thomas, Robert and James, who would be nephews to Abraham. However I noted James baptism down as 1820 but the census showed he was born about 1829. Could I have copied 1820 down instead of 1829 - yes I could but I am not sure. Another explanation could be that James dies an infant and Jane had another illegitimate son who she also named as James. Or that I missed James in the Church records, after all I had been ‘certain’ that I had already found him. NOTE (I have confirmed today [10 December 1999) that I copied the date down wrongly - it is actually 1828 which fits exactly for all other dates known for James - I am relieved to have sorted this out finally)
Whatever the reason I am 110% convinced that the people named on the gravestone and the people living together shown in the 1851 census are the same people and that James is my gg grandfather because of the dates given for his wife’s (Jane) death. Couple this with the fact (which I had previously overlooked) that on both of James marriage certificate there is no father shown, a sure sign of illegitimacy.
So we are from an illegitimate line but who cares (I do). I also noticed a coincidence that made me think... I had noticed this mistake after almost 15 years, on the same day of the year (May 21st) that Jane had died, some 126 years earlier. Had she been trying to tell me this for the last 15 years but without ‘getting through’ to me, are the 'signals' from the other world stronger on anniversaries????
After I had come to this conclusion I found that I already had the wills of Jane’s father James (m. Isabel), her grandfather James (m. Jane) and her g grandfather Abraham (m. Frances). Abraham is my gggggg grandfather which I thought was not a bad piece of research. I believe that these relationships are now proved absolutely by certificates, gravestones and wills without any doubt whatsoever.
The only part I cannot reconcile at the moment is my grandfather telling me about the farm near a golf course i.e. Sowerby Lodge. I believe my (and therefore my grandfathers) direct line never lived at Sowerby Lodge, however other parts of the family did, what exact relationship I am not sure at the moment, but it is one thing I may investigate in the future. Incidentally, now I have found out that Jane is my ggg grandmother I intend to get a copy of her will, along with the wills of Abraham (Jane’s brother) and Thomas (one of Jane’s 3 illegitimate children) to see what they contain (I now have a copy of their wills)
As you can see once you start tracing the family tree there is always something that requires explanation or researching - it can go on a lifetime and then some more?
8 JULY 1999
I have just been looking at the Mormon Internet site (www.familysearch.org) and found 'evidence' that my attempt of constructing a line from the data I have, further back to 1537 (Abraham m.Francis 1688-1777 back to Bryan m. Agnes 1537-1615) is shown as actual. Although these records are most certainly NOT PROVEN, I do think that they are 'most likely', however I do realise that I will probably never be able to prove them beyond doubt. This means that I can trace the direct line back definitely to 1644 and 'probably' back over 400 years to 1537.