Overcoming obstacles’ – Alan Johnson

The secondary heading for this talk was “The tale of Alfred Hyam Wicks, an Oundle tailor” and it proved to be a fascinating and informative talk about all the different research techniques that were necessary to uncover the background of the father of Alan’s mother-in-law. Alan worked through the methods he used and illustrated each step with images of the documents he collected; it was also an illustration of the length of time it may take to complete the research: Alan started his research in 1988 and continues to collect information but the essential facts were completed in 2011 – 33 years later!!
Alan started the research in 1988 with minimal information to go on: the name, the fact that Alfred Hyam Wicks was married three times, he was a tailor and had had premises in Priestgate, Peterborough and that he had died in the mid-1920s. There were no certificates, photographs or newspaper cuttings.
The first step was to get a marriage certificate for the final marriage which gave Alfred’s age as 43, a widower and his father, Matthew, was a sawyer. His wife was Annie Elizabeth Greetham, 35, a spinster, daughter of James Greetham, a chairmaker. The second step was to get a birth certificate which showed that Alfred was born in 1874 and that the mother’s maiden name was Hyam. The third step was to get the 1881 census records (1891,1901 and 1911 would not be available until 1991, 2001 and 2011 respectively).
When the 1891 census did become available Alan hit a brick wall as he could not find Alfred Wicks or any other family member so he abandoned the research and took it up again in 2006 when he was given a gift that included a subscription to Ancestry. By this time, of course, the 1901 census was available and Alan was also able to find Alfred on the 1891 census as a tailor in Heckington. By 1901 Alfred was in West Street, Oundle aged 26 as a tailor married to Charlotte Oakley (Alan bought the marriage certificate showing that they had married in 1898). Alan used information in the census to do more research but was unable to find anything more about Alfred’ father.
The seventh stage of the research had to wait for the release of the 1911 census which showed that Alfred was a widower (Alan discovered that Charlotte died in 1909). Step 8 was finding Alfred’s second marriage in 1912.
Alfred died in October 1926 leaving his third wife with two small children and a stepson. Alan thinks the family may have been helped by the Salvation Army in the difficult times that followed the death of the breadwinner at the relatively young age of 48; he does know that the family moved into one of the first council houses in Peterborough in 1929; Alan’s mother–in-law married in 1949 and her husband moved into the family home and the tenancy was transferred to the younger family.
One major problem remained – Alan had been unable to locate Alfred’s father but in 2011 he had a breakthrough as a result of the Family Search release of indexed Norfolk registers. Matthew appears to have originated from Ickborough near Brandon and subsequently moved to Lincolnshire.
Alan gave an interesting talk that was enjoyed by everyone in the audience; it was particularly useful in giving pointers to different ways of “breaking down walls” and in illustrating the way in which family history research has changed over the 36 years since Alan started looking for Alfred Hyam Wicks.
[Margaret Lake ]

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