8 February 2012

Family Mystery

My Grandmother
My Grandmother
One of the most thrilling things about genealogy is stumbling across a mystery. Ours starts with my grandmother's birth certificate.

When I started researching our family history my aunt sent me copies of my grandmother's birth certificate. I was a bit baffled at first as there were two forms. There was the normal birth certificate and a Statutory Declaration signed  by my grandmother saying this was definitely her birth certificate.

The problem: My grandmother's name was Nora Osborne and her birth certificate said Nora Locke.

I asked both my father and my aunt about the discrepancy, but they didn't know their mother had a previous name. So I started digging.

Paternal Great Grandparents
William & Fanny Osborne

These are my paternal great-grandparent, William & Fanny Osborne.

Fanny first married a William Skorrow in 1902 and had six daughters before his death in 1915.  My grandmother was born three months before William Skorrow was killed in a mining accident...but why was a William Locke listed as her father? All we knew about William Locke is what's written on the birth certificate, he was a Private in E Company, 3rd Battalion K.O. York Light Infantry, previously a Colliery Hewer (miner).

After the death of her first husband Fanny married again in 1918 to William Osborne. On their marriage certificate W. Osborne is also listed as being a Private in the Kings Own York Light Infantry, but that's probably not uncommon for the area they lived in. The only extra detail I could gather is that his father was named Thomas.

Another facet to this mystery is of course the first world war, which started the year my grandmother was born and finished the year my great-grandmother married again. So it's bound to have played some role in the drama, but unfortunately many of the WWI services records were destroyed during the bombings of WWII.

So I was faced with three Williams:
  • W. Skorrow - the first husband
  • W. Locke - on the birth certificate
  • W. Osborne - on the marriage certificate
For months I wrestled with the puzzle. Unfortunately 1890-1900 has been the at the very edge of recently released records. I could find absolutely nothing on Locke or Osborne, so I started searching out the people around them.

Of the six daughters I found birth certificates for the first four Skorrow girls and my grandmother, but I realised I was missing the second youngest Emily. I searched and search through the birth records with no luck. I scanned through every Emily born between the years of 1910-1914 to no avail. In the end I can't remember what trick I used but I finally found Emmie Locke born July 1913. My father had assumed it was a nickname my great-aunt went by rather than her given name.

Of course this brought up more interesting questions. Emmie was born two years before W. Skorrow died, and my grand-mother was listed as a Mrs Locke on the birth certificates - obviously something being hidden. As divorce wasn't really an option at the time, so it was probably and illicit relationship or affair.

My big break through came with the release of the 1911 census. I desperately wanted to see what my great-grandmother was up to just a couple years before my grandmother was born.  I discovered Fanny living with her first husband W. Skorrow in his mother's house.  Along with Fanny, William and their four daughters was an unexpected surprise, George and William Locke...W.Skorrow's cousins!!
William Locke Osborne
William Locke Osborne

Finally I'd found the elusive William Locke! Unfortunately I still couldn't find the brothers in an earlier census, but I did manage to find George's military records. Hidden in a faint faded script I found the answer to my second mystery.  George lists his next of kin as his father Thomas Locke, but the important detail was the address - the same address that W. Osborne listed on his marriage certificate!  So I finally had proof that W. Locke & W. Osborne are the same person.

So it looks like my great-grandmother fell for her husband's cousin while living in crowded quarters. I suspect Fanny and W.Skorrow decided to split up and she and W. Locke pretended to be married until W. Skorrow died and Fanny could legally marry again.

The mystery I'm left with is why did William Locke change his name? Were they hiding from angry family or maybe from the military? I'd love to know more, but for the moment I'm a bit stumped. Anyone have any suggestions?

Have you ever discovered a family mystery?