Brick Walls, Brick Bats and Too Many Henry’s – A Frosty Journey into my Family History

Anne Cleave, our new editor, gave a talk via Zoom from The Isle of Mull on 2nd December 2023 entitled ‘Brick Walls, Brick Bats and Too Many Henry’s – A Frosty Journey into my Family History’. Her talk gave us an insight into the problems she had encountered with her family history research, how she tried to overcome these and she shared some advice on resources used along the way. (Paul reminded us of the introduction to Anne in the previous edition of The Kinsman.)

Anne told us about clearing her father’s flat and finding a chest of drawers that had been full of papers but was now empty, a catalyst many of us recognised as getting us started on research. All the photos, school reports and certificates were gone – but why?

With her brother Colin, Anne decided that they had to start and trace their roots, beginning with the paternal Frost line. She found her great grandparents on both sides and shared what she had found, illustrating this information with a photograph. Finding out about great grandfather Henry Frost was a confusing and frustrating experience and many brick walls were encountered.

The 1881 census showed Anne’s great grandfather Henry Frost born in Shoreditch and Anne decided to work backwards from this but the 1861 census contained a discrepancy in the birth year. Henry Frost appeared in the 1851 census living in Golden Square in Soho with possible relatives who seemed to be harp maker’s porters. Confusingly, Anne found another two Henry Frosts on another page of the Middlesex 1851 census.
Anne now referred to her copy of Charles Booth’s London Poverty Maps; Booth analysed the census records, colour coding the maps according to social class, then published his findings and these give a context to the various London neighbourhoods. Interestingly, Anne told us that George Gissing used some of Charles Booth’s information in his writing.

Looking for Henry on the 1841 census threw up another discrepancy when birth dates did not match up – if accurate, this Henry Frost would have been a father at the age of 14! Anne informed us that in the 1841 census, ages were often rounded down to the nearest 5 years; also, not everyone would have known their exact age. She also found Henry Frosts in workhouse registers and St Paul’s School, Westminster – too many Henrys!

Anne concluded her talk by saying that Henry Frost was still a mystery, one of the many brick walls so many of us encounter. During the after talk questions, one of our members suggested looking at parish baptisms and comparing these with census records as the former are likely to be more accurate. Another member, Jackie, also informed us that missing pages from the censuses can be found on Find My Past. Lorraine Simpson

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