I have in my tree an interesting, if hard to pin down, individual named Francis (sometimes François) Unwin who was apparently born in Brussels around 1885.

I first encountered him in the 1891 Census of England (RG12/3653/73) when he was living in Idle near Bradford where he was described as the Great Nephew of the head of household, one David Unwin.

Obviously that left the question of his precise parentage open until I was shown a piece of paper on which my late grandmother had drawn a fragment of the Unwin tree:

Fragment of Unwin family tree

Whilst not all the details shown are exactly correct there is generally some truth underlying what is shown, and in this case it appears to show that Francis was the son of Fred Unwin and a "belgian girl" named (as best I can tell) Philoméne van Eckenroode. As there is a Fred Unwin, son of Paul, who is a nephew of the David Unwin in the 1891 census this is at least a plausible parentage.

Since then I have uncovered a range of other records that appear to relate to Francis, namely:

  • On 9th January 1915 he sailed as a first class passenger from Liverpool on the Transylvania arriving in New York on the 19th and giving the Bellvue Hotel, Philadelphia as his destination. He also appears to list an Alice Unwin of Queen's Road, Ilkley as his wife but I have found no trace of a marriage in England. Source - UK and New York passenger lists.
  • On 1st November 1918 a general partnership named "F Unwin and Co" was formed at 37 Rue le Pelletier in Paris with Francis Unwin of Moorhead Lane, Shipley and William C[lifford] Gaunt (who can be easily traced and appears to have been quite a character himself) of Bradford as the partners. Source - La Soierie de Lyon of 16th February 1919: Excerpt from La Soierie de Lyon of 16th February 1919
  • On 25th February 1922 a limited company called "European Textile Company" was formed at 21 Rue Poissonnière in Paris with François Unwin of Brussels and Mr Vaughan of Bradford as directors. Source - La Soierie de Lyon of 16th April 1922: Excerpt from La Soierie de Lyon of 16th April 1922
  • On 27th October 1923 he sailed as a first class passenger from Southampton on the Berengaria arriving in New York on the 2nd November and giving the Ambassador Hotel, New York as his destination. He was travelling with William Clifford Gaunt and both gave Gaunt's wife in Apperley Bridge as their UK contact. Source - UK and New York passenger lists.
  • On 6th April 1927 he sailed from Cherbourg on the Olympic arriving in New York on the 12th and giving the Vanderbilt Hotel, New York as his destination. His last address is given as Amiens and he is travelling on a visa issued in Paris on 29th March. Source - New York passenger lists.

That is basically the sum total of what I know, though I would love to know more, and it seems likely that Belgium and/or France probably hold the key to finding more information.

Specific things that I would love to find:

  • Any record of the birth of a Francis Unwin in Brussels around 1885.
  • Any record of a marriage involving a Fred Unwin probably in the early 1880s and likely in Belgium. Fred was born on 6th April 1857 and disappears from England as far as I can tell after the 1871 census.
  • Any record of a marriage involving Francis Unwin, most likely to somebody called Alice before 1915 in Belgium or France.
  • Any record of a Paul Unwin (father of Fred) in Belgium or France between 1871 and 1911 when he is missing from the English census records. In particular when he reappears in the 1911 census he has a new wife called Ann who he apparently married around 1883 but I have found no trace of the marriage in England.

That said Unwin is not exactly a common name in continental europe so any references to an Unwin in Belgium or France in the late 19th or early 20th century are likely to be of interest!


1 Answer 1


For British subjects (and anyone born overseas whose father was a British subject at this time would count), it is worth checking the GRO's overseas records - indexes are on various sites and originals can be ordered from the GRO. These include some military records, births and deaths at sea, and births, marriages, and deaths registered with the British consulate.

Unfortunately not everyone registered their kids while they were overseas - I do not see your Francis or his father's marriage although there are a few Unwins in far-flung places.

On the Belgium side: http://search.arch.be/ (some bmd's online, very recent site, years/places are limited and Dutch only). It looks to me like for Brussels the records currently online are 1870 and before.

https://archives.bruxelles.be/almanachs - these are historical directories. At in 1887 there was an "A. Unwin", haberdasher, at Ch De Mons (Chaussée de Mons?), the next year F. Unwin-Van Eckenrode, wool spinner, at the same address, still there in 1890, and in 1894 at two different addresses are a F. Unwin and a P. Unwin (your Paul?) - I stopped searching there but there are undoubtedly more records for your family.

On the French side, you normally need to know an area to search, ideally a commune - and then look for the department archives, as some have bmds online. There is normally little to nothing available online post 1902. You can use http://www.geopatronyme.com/ to look at where a surname is found in the birth records - it does not appear that there were any Unwin births up to 1940.

http://www.geneanet.org/ is the best place to go to try and find French or Belgian researchers who might be distantly related to you.

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