I'm trying to fill in the gaps between the records I already have about William Henry Cole, born in Slapton, Devon, England around 1890, died in Holyoke, Massachusetts in 1943.

The relevant part of his timeline for this question is:

  • 1901 Census age 11 with father William (44), mother Florence E (36), sister Olive (10), and brother Harold (3) at 12 Buxton Road, Rock Ferry, Cheshire (Civil Parish: Birkenhead)
  • 1911 Census age 21 with with father William (54), mother Florence E (46), sister Olive (20), and brother Harold (13) at 533 New Chester Rd, Rock Ferry, Cheshire (Civil Parish: Birkenhead). His profession is "Apprentice Hot Water Engineer"
  • 1913: He is initiated into the Masons. His lodge is Clyde no 408 Glasgow, Scotland; his occupation is steamfitter. (This card came from an index created later in Massachusetts, USA, so the event was recorded afterwards, when the memberbship index cards were created.) The collection is Massachusetts Grand Lodge of Masons Membership Cards 1733–1990. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts (accessed via Ancestry.com: Massachusetts, Mason Membership Cards, 1733-1990)
  • 1921: 19 June Census day in 1921. The 1921 Census (not yet released) might list Place of work and industry.
  • 1924: He departs the UK for the United States on the Celtic, arriving in New York on 10 Nov 1924. On the UK Outward passenger list, the previous address is 136 Mountcollyer St, Belfast. The US passenger list agrees that he is coming from Ireland, and gives his mother's address as 42, Highfield Road, Rock Ferry, Cheshire. His visa was issued in Belfast.

He becomes a member of the William Whiting Lodge of Masons in Holyoke in 1926; his obituary from 1943 says that he came to the USA in 1924, and lists his surviving siblings Olive and Harold in England, and his membership in the William Whiting Lodge of Masons.

I'd like to collect more information about his whereabouts between 1911 and 1924. One obvious record which would fill in the gap would be the 1921 Census, which is not yet released. Apparently there has been some debate about whether the ONS can release the 1921 Census because of the data protection acts; the release date might be in 2022, 100 years after the census was collected.

This thread Data Protection and the 1921 Census on the Who Do You Think You Are? magazine's forum mentions a 1915 National Registration, "which enumerated everyone (male and female) born between the 16th of August 1850 and the 15 August 1900".

I'm looking for early 20th century sources in the UK such as school yearbooks, trade directories, Masonic membership information, other directories that might have residence information, and any other records that might shed more light on this period. (If I find WWI service records, I will add them to this timeline; negative search results so far.)

I searched Scotland's People for Glasgow around the time he might have lived there, and found some similarly-named people in the Valuation Rolls, but none of them was a good match -- as far as I could tell, they were long-time residents of Glasgow and not 'my' person. The timing of the Valuation Rolls available made it unlikely 'my' William Henry Cole would have been captured in those records.

3 Answers 3


Re the period in Rock Ferry: Trade Directories for Cheshire can be found on the Cheshire Archives & Local Studies site - their scanned images of trade directories look useful as there are three Kelly's Directories from 1902, 1906, 1910 - these can be downloaded in .PDF format - several files per directory.

Also of value is the Historical Directories web-site. That has been revamped recently as previous hardware and software were obsolete and its new search engine is of debatable value. (In fact, the site seems to admit as much). You may find it easier - though very long winded - to browse the pages. It does give you other Cheshire directories such as a 1914 Kelly's or a 1900 Gore's. (It does have wider coverage of England & Wales).

Be aware that UK directories vary in their coverage. Most directories aimed at the county level will include only people with a service to sell (or with conspicuous wealth). They are not census substitutes as some would have you believe. However, some - often entitled Post Office Directories - do seem to include a much wider selection, including ordinary workers.

For Scotland, the National Library of Scotland have a site for Scottish Post Office Directories. Unfortunately, it rather looks like their latest is 1911 with a Post-Office Annual Glasgow directory for 1911-1912. (Browse Towns / Glasgow / PO Annual Directories and you'll see the list).

  • I've struggled with the new interface on the Historical Directories site, too. Most of the directories I've found so far are not in the right time span (Ancestry's search engine seems particularly bad, constantly returning hits outside the person's lifespan, even when you tell it not to.)
    – Jan Murphy
    Aug 25, 2014 at 22:54

Most obvious thing to try would be Electoral Rolls which would show place of residence in October of each year. Even with often poor scanning I've had good results on ancestry for London - don't know if the rest of the country is available.

  • FindmyPast are supposed to be digitising electoral registers from the British Library collection. However, we seem to be continually missing deadlines on that project. (Mind you - it must be enormous...)
    – AdrianB38
    Aug 25, 2014 at 22:31

The big ship building companies like Harland & Wolff had yards in Glasgow, Belfast, Liverpool & Southampton. It was common for them to switch staff around from project to project. So you often find craftsmen from Belfast working in Liverpool, people from Glasgow in Belfast. And so on. The 3 locations William resided (Glasgow, Belfast & Birkenhead) fit that pattern. My guess is he either worked in a ship building yard or for a company that supplied parts for ships.

The occupant of 136 Mountcollyer St, Belfast in 1918 and in 1924 was a W. McMillan, flax dresser. Presumably William was lodging there:


Unfortunately Ireland didn’t have a census in 1921 (due to civil disorder) so if he was there at that time, you won’t find him listed. The 1921 English census is going to be on Findmypast. The 1921 Scottish census will be on the Scotlandspeople site.

  • It's possible he worked in the ship yards, but another occupational reference I found said that title was for men who worked on buildings (presumably steam heating systems). I'm keeping an open mind, though.
    – Jan Murphy
    Dec 14, 2021 at 19:00
  • Steam heated buildings were never very common here in Ireland or in Britain. It's not impossible his skills were needed for that but I think it more likely he was employed in ship building where it was definitely much more common. Especially because of the 3 places he lived. All were key ship building cities. Dec 15, 2021 at 16:05
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    PRONI (the Public Record Office) in Belfast has the ship building company Harland & Wolff’s personnel records. D4413/5/17/1 covering 1909 – 1986. The records are not on-line but you could get a Belfast based researcher to look them up to see if your ancestor was listed as one of their employees. Dec 15, 2021 at 16:31
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    Hot Water Engineer and Steam Fitter feel somewhat different. HWEs could very well work on domestic and industrial heating systems but my understanding would be steam was not involved there, only hot water. Then again, maybe he did both, as boundaries between technologies aren't always as we think. Take today's gas fitters who (in the UK) often seem to do plumbing as well. It's all pipes, after all...
    – AdrianB38
    Dec 20, 2021 at 14:57

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