Genealogy Genie
Fiona  Jenner
Liverpool Merseyside
England L11 3DF
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Genealogy Genie    Fiona Jenner

Liverpool research. Local photographic services. BMD & Censuses for England & Wales

Here are some examples of complex searches and how I resolved the problem of missing data and misinformation.

The Colebourn Family of Liverpool

From my own research on my partner's family, we had the married name of a Grandmother: Catherine Williams, wife of Henry Williams, a sailor from Sierra Leone. We knew little else. Family anecdotes suggested her Father's name was Joey Cuff, and that he was Scottish. We knew Catherine had a sister named Margaret, and possibly one named Edith.

By cross referencing between 2 different BMD sources, I found a marriage in the September quarter of 1915 between Henry Williams and Catherine Colebourn at St Nicholas, Liverpool.

While looking through the register, I found a Margaret Colebourn, also daughter of the Dock labourer Robert, also married from Circus Street, to Samuel Cole. We had been told that the family were related to the Coles of the West Indies. Having found their real surname, I now set about searching for the family in the BMD records and census returns.

I found Robert Henry Colebourn, born 1861 in Priory Grove, Anfield, son of Ship Broker William Swettenham Colebourn and Elizabeth Carson Blair. By 1871 he was orphaned and living with his siblings and Aunt, Mary Blair of Kircudbright, Scotland in Toxteth Park, South Liverpool. This coincided with birth certificates of some of his children, which listed his middle name. In 1881, the siblings were living together in Toxteth Park, and Robert was an apprentice in the Tobacco trade.

Though 2 of Robert's daughters were married in the city, they lived in Toxteth Park through their adult lives and we believed the was a likely childhood link to Toxteth, given that Robert had lived there at 18.

BMD records listed very few Colebourn births through the 1890's and early 1900's, 6 of them in Toxteth park. Margaret was the first, born in early 1891, followed by Catherine, Walter, Ernest, Edith and Elizabeth. All except Edith were registered in Toxteth Park. With this information, I returned to the family and found that all the names except Walter seemed familiar.

I found Robert Henry Colebourn's marriage in 1901 to Catherine Lyon. Further research revealed that Catherine was the illegitimate daughter of Margaret Lyon and West Indian Sailor, Charles Frederick, although she put her grandfather's name of James Lyon as her father on her first marriage. Only the discovery of a later, bigamous marriage in 1914 listed her natural father as Charles Frederick (when she didn't have to show her illegitimacy, as she married under her Colebourn surname and described herself as a widow). Catherine's mother had married John Murray, another West Indian Sailor, when Catherine was 7.

Next came the challenge of finding them in the census. In 1891, after an initial struggle finding no-one with their full names, I traced Catherine Lyon's mother who was living in Toxteth park with R. Colebourn, C. Colebourn and baby girl M. Colebourn. I am assuming that they were vague about their full details due to their unmarried status, wrongly believing that this information would become public knowledge.

1901 proved to be an even greater challenge. I knew the likely names and ages of the couple and 5 of their children born before 1901, but none of them appeared on the index. I then decided to take on the more complex and difficult task of searching for any 7 year old child named Catherine with a link to Toxteth Park. This search resulted in a large number of returns, but looking through the list I happened across Catherine Murray. Knowing this was her grandmother's married name, I checked the return and found James Murray, with wife Catherine and children Margaret, Catherine, Walter, Ernest and Edith. I had found them, seemingly against all odds. I have to assume that "James Murray" was in fact Robert Henry Colebourn, as he was listed as Catherine's husband, with the same occupation and the couple married just a few months later, why he chose to be so elusive again we can only guess at this stage. Again, possibly because of their unmarried status, but I haven't yet ruled out a more sinister reason for his dishonesty... partixularly given his drop in status from Tobacco Trade Apprentice to Dock Labourer.

Further contact with other relatives turned up a more detailed story. Catherine Lyon had been a heavy drinker, and Robert abandoned her some time after their marriage (we believe he may have fled to Scotland, home of his mother, which might explain the tales of the Scottish grandfather). When Robert returned after 1914, he found his wife remarried to Thomas King, and he moved in with eldest daughter, Margaret and the rest of the Cole family. The children remained divided in their loyalties, which caused a permanant split in the family. Robert died a few weeks after being hit by a tram in the 1930's.