In my first blog this month I talk about the search for Alfred, my World War One hero. I have split this blog into three parts; these will be published during November 2014.

A journey of discovery using genealogy records to chronicle the brief life of a World War One Hero.

My interest for my Grand Uncle Alfred started upon discovering a letter, in a box of family photos and documents. Amongst other information the letter stated:

Alf joined the army pre-war as a bandsman in the 2nd battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He left Dover on 4th August 1914 as part of the 4th Division of the 12th Brigade. Killed in World War One [WWI] at 21 years old (battle of Le Cateau near Cambria on 26th August 1914), his death really shocked his brother John Edward Hatton and he used to visit his grave every year (1).

Intrigued, and with a couple of photographs of Alfred to hand I decided I wanted to find out more. I knew that the records that survive can be different for each person (some are sparse, some very detailed). But what did survive for Alfred to corroborate this letter?

Alfred Hatton, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Alfred Hatton, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Where to start?

It seemed obvious to start with the 1911 Census, so close to the Great War it lists the vast majority of men and women participating.

Using my subscription to findmypast.co.uk I found Alfred in Farnham, in the Royal Inniskilling Fusilers at Stanhope Lines (South Camp) Aldershot, Surrey (2).

My first fact was corroborated; Alfred had joined up well before 1914. Could I find out why he had joined up though? For this I looked for him on the 1901 Census.

I tend to use two subscription websites (as I have found the indexing to be very different). Using thegenealogist.co.uk I soon tracked Alfred down, with his two brothers at Central London District Schools, Hanwell (3).

For some of us this is the dreaded workhouse, however this information gave me my next clue. Utilising the fantastic website by Peter Higginbotham (www.workhouses.org.uk) I quickly appreciated that many workhouse boys learnt to play a musical instrument.

Was this what Alfred had done? This would perhaps be the reason for joining the Royal Inniskilling Fusilers as a bandsman (my second fact was corroborated). I shall perhaps never know, but it is a intriguing thought.

When was Alfred’s recorded death?

The letter suggests Alfred was 21 when he died so I checked the Index to War Deaths 1914-1921 (4). Omitting his year of death brings up the result I was looking for.

Upon receiving the death certificate from the General Register Office (5) and subtracting the date of death from Alfred’s date of birth (6) I confirmed Alfred was in fact 22 years. This doesn’t diminish the fact that her was far too young to die, however he was older than many of his generation who sacrificed their lives. I also noted he was recorded as ‘missing, presumed dead’. My third fact could now be corrected.

My next step, upon reading of the release of more than 230,000 wills of soldiers was to see if Alfred’s will survived. Searching online I ordered a scanned copy of Alfred’s will (£6.00) 7. The copy of the will that arrived by email was illegible. Disappointed I emailed the Government website probate research explaining the quality of the image. Within a couple of days I was pleased to receive another, rescanned image which was legible. Written in pencil the will revealed further information on Alfred:

In the event of any death I give the whole of any property and effects to Mrs N Bartlett, 2 ? Street, Ryde. Which she is to divide as she thinks best between her and brothers William Hatton and Edward Hatton. I hereby sign 8681 Alfred Hatton, August 6th 1914

So I had confirmation of Alfred’s sister and part of her address, plus Alfred’s brothers (John Edward being my Grandfather). Fourth fact corroborated. It was a poignant thought thinking of those effects reaching Nellie after the war.

Next week:

Service and operational records, casualty and rolls of honour.

Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Cambridgeshire. He delivers courses, coaching, talks, and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See www.myfamilygenealogy.co.uk for further details.

Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation. What stories could your ancestors tell?

  • 1 Source: Irene Hatton, letter to Valerie Hatton
  • 2 Source: findmypast.co.uk; ; RG14PN3123 RD34 SD2 ED13 SN9999
  • 3 Source: thegenealogist.co.uk; RG13/1206~F133
  • 4 Source: thegenealogist.co.uk
  • 5 Source: gro.gov.uk
  • 6 Sourced as part of some earlier family history research; 9 April 1892
  • 7 Source: https://probatesearch.service.gov.uk