November 18, 2018

A Man With Two Surnames – John William Mennell

John William Mennell

John William Mennell


Quite often people work backwards to an ancestor and then that ancestor seems to just disappear without trace. A family history brick wall, as it is called. That’s usually when I get involved!

Back in 2015 I did a family tree for a customer and their great-great-grandfather was one of these people. What follows is a description of how I tracked him down and identified his ancestors.

1.John William Mennell – What We Knew

My customer’s grandfather; Norman Mennell was born on 6 Oct 1908, he married Marie Linfoot on 5 Sep 1931 and on his marriage certificate his father’s name is shown as John William Mennell, occupation despatch clerk. Norman’s birth certificate also names his father as John William Mennell, occupation Foreman porter, his mother is shown as Annie Mennell, formerly Watson.

John William Mennell is shown on the 1911 Census as a Foreman Porter married to Annie (they have been married for 14 years), they have had 5 children, all still living, one of which is Norman shown aged 2.

Mennell Family 1911

Mennell Family 1911

John William Mennell married Annie Watson on 17th April 1897, the marriage certificate shows John William Mennell is 25 years old, occupation Furniture porter, address; 8 Downhill Street, York. His father’s name is shown as Joseph Mennell, occupation saddler.

George William Mennell Marriage 1897

George William Mennell & Annie Watson Marriage 1897

The family also appear on the 1901 Census:

Mennell Family 1901

Mennell Family 1901

Prior to that my customer knew nothing about him other than he had served in the Boer War.

2. Finding a birth for John William Mennell

John William Mennell’s marriage certificate shows he was 25 on 17th April 1897, therefore he was born in 1871 or 1872. The 1911 and 1901 census records both show he was born in York. Searching the birth records for 1871 and 1872 in York for John Mennell showed there were only two births in York but both were named John William Mennell. Searching the census records for John Mennell with a father Joseph in York failed to return any results.

The birth certificates for each of the John William Mennell’s were obtained:
1. John William Mennell born on 12 Apr 1871 in Holgate Lane, Bishophill Junior showed his mother to be Mary Mennell, a domestic servant; no father’s name was shown.
2. John William Mennell born on 15 Oct 1872 at 29 Jackson Street, St Maurice, York showed his father to be John Mennell, a Solicitors clerk and his mother to be Sarah Mennell, formerly Braithwaite.

If his age was correct on his marriage certificate then the more likely of the two to be correct would be John William Mennell born in 1871 as the other would only be 24 on 17 Apr 1897. However, more proof was needed to be certain as marriage certificates can be wrong.

3. Elimination of John William Mennell born 1872

It was relatively easy to eliminate John William Mennell born in 1872 as a candidate for being the father of Norman Mennell born 6 Oct 1908 as both the 1901 and 1911 census records show him as single and still living at home with his parents (both parents in 1901 and just his mother, a widow, in 1911). We know that John William Mennell (Norman Mennell’s father) married Annie Watson in 1897 so John William Mennell born 1872 cannot be Norman Mennell’s father.

There are a couple of trees on Ancestry that incorrectly show this John William Mennell as Norman’s father. Unfortunately people tend to go for the easy solution and the less embarrassing. People prefer a legitimate birth to an illegitimate one! However, history is history, you might not like what you find but you must accept it.

4. Attempting to Prove/Disprove that John William Mennell born 1871 is Norman Mennell’s Father

Just because John William Mennell born 1872 could not be Norman Mennell’s father it didn’t follow that John William Mennell born 1871 was, this still needed proving (or disproving).

The 1881 census showed Mary Mennell, aged 34, unmarried, occupation Lodging house keeper, living at 22 Butlers buildings, St Dennis, Walmgate, York with her 3 children; Sarah, aged 13; John W, aged 9 and Jessie , aged 1 month. Also living at the same address were John Robson a cab man and George Mennell, aged 31, a stable man.

Mennell Family 1881

Mennell Family 1881

Unfortunately the family could not be found on any census following the 1881 census and the next census showing John William Mennell was the 1901 where he was married to Annie Watson. So linking John William Mennell born 1871 with Norman Mennell’s father; John William Mennell, was not proving easy.

The next step was to attempt to find the individual family members; Mary Mennell and John William’s siblings Sarah and Jessie.

Nothing much turns up for Mary Mennell apart from a 1911 census record showing a Mary Mennell, charwoman, aged 63 in York Workhouse. Although the age is incorrect (Mary would have been 67) this is likely to be the correct Mary Mennell. A death record is also found for a Mary Mennell in the June quarter of 1914, again the age is wrong (showing 66 instead of 70) however it is likely to be the correct Mary Mennell as the workhouse probably did not know her correct age.

John William’s sister Sarah Mennell unfortunately dies in 1884 aged 17 and so there are no further census records to be found for her.

John William’s other sister Jessie again does not show up on any census records later than 1881.

There must be a reason why the family cannot be found on later census records and the most obvious is that they are living under a different surname. Jessie Mennell would only have been 10 at the time of the 1891 census and so she is likely to be still living with her mother, if they are both still alive.

A search on findmypast.co.uk carried out on the 1891 census for girls aged 9 – 11 with the first name Jessie in the Yorkshire area gives quite a number of results but the quantity is not so great that they cannot be looked through in an attempt to find a match.

As luck would have it a Jessie Atkinson shows up in York and looking at the family it is clear that this is the correct one:

Mennell/Atkinson Family 1891

Mennell/Atkinson Family 1891

  • The census shows the head of the household is Joseph Atkinson, aged 48, married, occupation; Saddler. (John William Mennell named his father Joseph, a saddler, on his marriage certificate).
  • Joseph’s wife is shown as Mary Atkinson, aged 43, born in York. (Mary Mennell would have been 47 at this time but the age difference is similar to the 1911 census and death record found for Mary Mennell).
  • Children shown are Jessie Atkinson, aged 11 (so the correct age for Jessie Mennell) and Eliza Atkinson, aged 9.
  • Living at the same address is George Mennell, single, aged 40, a groom/cab driver. (This looks to be the same person that was living at the same address as Mary Mennell on the 1881 census and I believe him to be her brother).

Unfortunately John William is not shown on this 1891 census record, however information from my customer indicates that John William served in the Boer war and that he was in South Africa around 1900 (this is from a family bible in her possession). A service number purporting to be his (2209) was checked and was found to relate to a JW Atkinson, 2nd Battalion, The West Yorkshire Regiment.

A service record for JW Atkinson was found and confirmed that JW Atkinson and John William Mennell were one and the same person:

JW Atkinson (Mennell) Service Record 1

JW Atkinson (Mennell) Service Record 1

JW Atkinson (Mennell) Service Record 2

JW Atkinson (Mennell) Service Record 2

JW Atkinson (Mennell) Service Record 3

JW Atkinson (Mennell) Service Record 3

JW Atkinson (Mennell) Service Record 4

JW Atkinson (Mennell) Service Record 4

JW Atkinson (Mennell) Service Record 5

JW Atkinson (Mennell) Service Record 5

JW Atkinson (Mennell) Service Record 6

JW Atkinson (Mennell) Service Record 6

JW Atkinson (Mennell) Service Record 7

JW Atkinson (Mennell) Service Record 7

  • The service record showed he enlisted on 12 March 1888 aged 18 years and 11 Months (this is actually exactly 2 years older than John William Mennell would have actually been).
  • He shows his next of kin as Joseph Atkinson (father), Mary Atkinson (mother) and Jessie Atkinson (sister), all of 5 William Street York.
  • He served in South Africa from 1899 and was discharged as medically unfit on 25 Oct 1900 after being wounded, his intended address on discharge was 3 Downhill Street, York. This is the Watson family home and the address shown for Annie Watson on her marriage certificate to John William Mennell in 1897. On the 1901 census John William Mennell and Annie Watson are shown as living at 4 Downhill Street and Annie’s parents and siblings are still living at 3 Downhill Street (next door).

A search for a marriage for Joseph Atkinson to a Mary Mennell brought up no results and there were no marriages for Joseph Atkinson to any Mary in York before 1891.

Joseph Atkinson married a Dinah Matthews in 1865 and the family is shown on the 1871 census living in Micklegate with their son John Thomas Atkinson aged 5, the occupation for Joseph matches that shown on the 1891 census. The couple are next found living in Drypool, Holderness, Hull on the 1881 census, however their son John Thomas died in York in 1872 aged 7. In 1891 when Joseph is shown in York living with Mary Mennell, Dinah is still living in Drypool but has reverted to her maiden name of Matthews, she is the housekeeper for Thomas Smith, a labourer and is shown as a widow.

The thing that really linked the Mennell and Atkinson families was Eliza Atkinson who was shown on the 1891 census, aged 9. This meant that she was born around 1882, a search for a birth record for an Eliza Atkinson brought up one record for Elizabeth Atkinson in the September quarter of 1882. However as Joseph and Mary were not married a search for the surname Mennell showed that an Elizabeth Atkinson Mennell was born in the September quarter of 1882 in York. Giving an illegitimate child the father’s surname as a middle name is quite common where the father is known.

5. Summary of John William Mennell’s Life

Born in 1871 in York he was baptised as John William Mennell on 25 Jan 1872 at All Saints, North Street, York, only his mother Mary appears on his birth certificate and on the christening record.

In 1881 he was living at 22 Butlers Buildings with his mother Mary and two sisters Sarah and Jessie.

It is likely that Mary Mennell moved in with Joseph Atkinson, a Saddler, sometime around 1882 as that is when their daughter Elizabeth Atkinson Mennell was born. Although the children were all registered at birth with the surname Mennell it is clear from the 1891 census that the family took on the surname Atkinson.

In 1888 John William lies about his age and joins the 3rd West Yorkshire Regiment as John William Atkinson. He serves in the reserves in England until October 1899 when he is mobilised and travels with the regiment to South Africa, he is discharged in 1900 due to being wounded.

In 1897 he marries Annie Watson using the name John William Mennell (presumably as this was on his birth certificate), his father is shown as Joseph Mennell, a Saddler. It is likely that he was asked for his father’s name at the time of the marriage and simply said Joseph and the registrar assumed the surname Mennell. However the West Yorkshire Regiment still record him as John William Atkinson on his discharge in 1900. So at this point he really does have two surnames.

He continues to live his life as John William Mennell until his death in 1945.

Whether Joseph Atkinson is John William Mennell’s father will probably never be known unless it can be proved via the DNA of his and John’s children. Joseph was in York at the time of John’s birth but he was still living with his wife in Hull on the 1881 census.

Comments

This all looks pretty straightforward but I can assure you it wasn’t! I took a number of different routes at trying to find the family before I started searching all the Jessie’s of the correct age in York, thankfully they hadn’t moved.

I also made the mistake of disregarding the service number which my customer told me about early on but I thought they had got the service number wrong. It all fell into place and corroborated what I’d found when I got the full service record.

So, if you have a dead end, brick wall or whatever you want to call it, this is a good example of why people disappear from records. Please get in touch if you’d like me to work on your brick wall.

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