What strategies should I adopt to find an elusive ancestor in the early twentieth century? He may have deserted his family, so I can't rely on records of a wife of children to corroborate identification.
For many years, I thought my great-grandfather [John] Stanley [Reynolds] Wright had a pretty well-documented trajectory through life. Although I hadn't been able to 'kill him off', that was a mere detail for when I had a spare 15 minutes (hah!)
The details I know (or thought I knew):
- 27 May 1861: Born in Plumstead, Kent, England to parents John Charles Wright and Caroline Ellen Brown. Birth certificate from the GRO shows his name as Stanley Reynolds Wright. ('Reynolds' is unexplained and is never referenced again that I have found). Source: GRO birth certificate.
- 1871 census: Living with his father (a widower) in Waltham Cross, Cheshunt, Middlesex (and his older sister and younger bother). His mother died in Feb 1871. He is shown as Stanley Wright.
- 1881 census: Living with his father and step-mother (and his younger brother) in Kings Norton, Worcestershire. He is shown as Stanley Wright, and his occupation is House Painter &c.
- 15 April 1883: married Mary Ann Harper at St. Judes Church, Birmingham, aged 21. He is shown as John Stanley Wright, and his occupation is Decorator. Source: GRO marriage certificate.
- 5 August 1883: Birth of his first child Stanley Charles Wright in Burton Extra, Burton upon Trent. Source: GRO birth certificate. He is shown as Stanley Wright. The birth was registered by his wife Mary.
- 1885-1891: Birth of children Ellen (Birmingham), Mary (Sutton Coldfield), John (Stapenhill, Derbyshire) Frederick (Stapenhill) Source: 1891 census
- 1891 census: Living in Stapenhill, Burton on Trent, Derbyshire with his wife and children. He is shown as Stanley Wright and his occupation is House Painter.
- 1894-1899: Birth of children Susan (Birmingham), Robert (1896 Kings Norton Worcestershire), Frank (Kings Norton), James (Kings Norton). Source: All 1901 census except Robert born 1896 which is a GRO birth certificate on which the father is shown as Stanley Wright and the birth was registered by Stanley's wife Mary).
- 1901 census: Living at 40 Highbury Road Kings Norton with his wife Mary and Children (all of whom are living at this point). Occupation: House Painter.
- 1911 census: Mrs M. Wright is shown as a Widow boarding at 1 Eton Road Balsall Heath (occupation Charwoman) with 5 children: Susan aged 18 (a brushmaker), Robert aged 15, Frank aged 12, Daniel aged 11, Dorothy aged 9 and Ethel aged 8. There's no data given on children born alive/still living/dead. No sign of sons Stanley and John and Frederick, and daughters Ellen and Mary Agnes (all old enough to be married?).
So: Clearly (!) Stanley Wright the father died between 1901 and 1911 -- more likely after 1902 given there was an 8 year old daughter in 1911. So I needed to find a death between 1902 and 1911, even if it wasn't coming readily to hand (so to speak). There's no death of a Stanley Wright of anything like the right approximate age between 1902 and 1940 on FreeBMD (the Stanley Charles Wright who dies in 1915 is the son Stanley born 1883).
The real spoke in my wheel came when a cousin in Canada contacted me and told me that Frank Leslie Wright and his younger brother James Daniel and younger sister Dorothy were sent out to Canada as British Home Children because their parents couldn't afford to keep them (with private supporting documentation). Interesting, I thought, because it told me something about the economic status of my great grand-parents... but then I went looking a little more.
Home Children Records at Library and Archives Canada including the next page tells me that Dorothy, Frank Leslie and James Daniel all went out to Halifax, Nova Scotia on the Carthiginian in 1912, sent by Middlemore Homes which was a charity set up to send needy children from Birmingham to Canada for (supposedly) a better life.
And then I found a source online that summarised the reasons why the children went sent abroad (Library and Archives Canada Search Result in which the parents were reported as separated and the mother was living with 5 children that she couldn't afford to keep. (The 5 children in the 1911 census?)
I can understand why she would tell her landlord in 1911 that she was widowed (more respectable) but tell the Middlemore Home more honestly that she was separated ... but that leaves me with a challenge to find Stanley Wright born 1861 either living or dead in the years post 1902-ish.