Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My First Big Genealogical Breakthrough

The following story of my first great genealogical breakthrough was published in "500 Brickwall Solutions to Genealogy Problems" by Moorshead Magazines Ltd. in 2003.  (The photos included here were not part of the published version.)

Growing up in Canada, I heard that my paternal grandfather, Thomas Cherryholme, had family in England, particularly a brother John William and a sister Eleanor. It was thought that Eleanor had married someone named Britt. My father and twin uncles often spoke of their "Uncle John Willie" with great sadness -- they longed to know the family they had never met.

In the late 1980s, I started compiling family tree information to attempt to provide my daughter with a sense of her roots. Genealogy has since become a passion and by the late 1990s, I was pursuing the search for my grandfather's family with vigour.

My uncle Victor (one of the twins) had traveled to England on at least three occasions, returning each time without having found any trace of his father's family. My parents had gone to England in the early 1970s and also came back not having found any trace of relatives. They weren’t looking in the right place though, insisting that Thomas had been from Sheffield. 
On the 1881 British Census, every instance of the family name Cherryholme occurs in Barnsley, Yorkshire. There are still several Cherryholme families living in Barnsley and Liversedge – the actual area from which Thomas truly hailed. It is now known that John William had already died by the time Victor made his first trip to England.
Initial research ascertained that Thomas had come to Canada as a Home Child in 1912, a ward of the Dewsbury Union Workhouse following his mother’s death at the Workhouse in 1908. I received a copy of my grandfather’s emigration record from England and his military record from the Canadian Archives. Both records helped to provide a lot of previously unknown details about Thomas.
With the arrival of the Internet, some research has become much easier than it had been in earlier times. International telephone directories can now be consulted from home. The Internet provided the link that closed the ocean between the families of John William and Thomas Cherryholme.
In early 1997, letters outlining what little I knew were sent to selected Cherryholme entries in Yorkshire. Those letters were able by then to include the surname Tolan as Thomas’ mother’s maiden name and that the family had been from Heckmondwike. No replies were received.
Recording every Cherryholme entry in the St. Catherine’s birth/marriage/death index back to 1837, and tracking families through census returns allowed me to compile detailed family unit records of my grandfather’s ancestry.
In early 1999, I again wrote to Cherryholme entries in Yorkshire – but this time I sent a letter to every entry shown and enclosed copies of family group records.  In July 1999, a letter arrived from Tom Cherryholme of Cleckheaton:

"My father was called John William ... I was called Tom after Dad's brother who went to Canada. ... This brother had three sons, two of them were twins. Dad said he worked for the Government in Canada. Dad had a sister Eleanor. She was married to a man called Pat Brett. ... Dad had some cousins who lived in Batley name of Tolan."

Eighty-seven years after they were separated, and 40 years after their deaths, their descendants made contact. By naming his youngest son in his memory, John William had ensured that his youngest brother would not be forgotten. My grandfather had become a hero to the nephew who was named in his memory -- a nephew he never knew he had.
John William's son, Tom, and I, Thomas' granddaughter, have now shared a couple of telephone conversations and have exchanged photos, letters and cards. The ocean between the two families now seems much narrower indeed.   Sadly, Tom died in Cleckheaton in June of 2001 – not quite two years after I found him.

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