This is an essay I did back in 2001 when I was doing an introduction to family history course via the University of Birmingham.
The task was:
A 3,000 word-equivalent project with charts, pedigrees and diagrams as appropriate, producing an outline family history from the collection and management of relevant material.
This was in the days when you had to go to libraries and record offices to scroll through microfiche and microfilm until you found what you were looking for. This, however, is just the narrative minus the charts, etc.
My Fairbairn Family
My Nan was born on New Year's Day 1920. She knew very little about her family. She knew her elder sister, Lucy, her younger sister, Winnie and her half sister, Irene. She knew about her sister, Ida, and her brother, Jimmy, both of whom had died young. Nan knew her father's name was James Southall but she had no recollection of him as he had died when she was only two and a half years old. She remembered her mother, Emily Fairbairn, and recalled that she had been known as Pem. Her mother had died when she was young and the family had been split up. She also mentioned an Aunt Kate and an Aunt Hannah. I had successfully traced the Southall line back to Nan's great grandfather, Joseph Southall in Tipton, Staffordshire. However, it was the Fairbairn line that was intriguing as nothing was known about them.
This is the limited information I had to start with. The marriage certificate for James and Emily had already been obtained in order to trace the Southall line. Emily Fairbairn had been 19 when she married James on 10 December 1906 at St Michael's & All Angels, Smethwick. (Emily must have been about six months pregnant when she got married as Lucy was born 21 March 1907). James and Emily were both shown as living at 84 Regent Street, Smethwick and Emily's father stated to be Alfred Fairbairn, Moulder. From this information, it was calculated that her date of birth would be c1887. A copy of her death certificate was obtained. She had died Emily Gittins (wife of Reginald Gittins, her second husband) on 4 August 1930 aged 41. This made her date of birth c1889. A search was made of the General Register Office (GRO) indexes for birth's from 1885-1890. The only reference to be found for an Emily Fairbairn was in June Quarter 1887. There was also a reference to a Kate Fairbairn in September Quarter 1885. Aunt Kate? Both had been registered in Sculocates. A request was sent off to Sculocates for the certificate for Emily Fairbairn to be sent ONLY if the father was listed as Alfred. A 'phone call was received from the Register Office to advise that the father's name was not Alfred but John.
The 1881 Census index had been checked for an Alfred Fairbairn. A 20 year old Alfred had been found to be living at Oldbury Road, Smethwick, with father, Robert, sister, Maria and a child, Herbert. No connection could yet be made between this Alfred and Emily.
Irene, Nan's half sister had managed to maintain contact with family members. Nan had not had this opportunity as she had been farmed out to distance relatives of her father's when her mother died. Contact was made with a cousin, Kate. Kate had been born to Kate Phipps nee Fairbairn, Emily's sister. Kate was interviewed and from the information she gave, a basic family tree was drawn up. Apart from her mother, Kate, she had Aunts Emily and Ethel, Uncles Samuel and Arthur. Another search was made of the GRO index for birth's in case something had been missed. This time the search covered 1881-1897 and a note was taken of all the Fairbairns (and name variants) registered in Kings Norton, West Bromwich, Aston and Birmingham. There was only 16 references. Included in these names were Kate, Samuel Alfred, Arthur Albert and Ethel May, all registered in Kings Norton. But no Emily. However, there was an Emma Fairbairn, Kings Norton. This had to be Emily! A request was sent off, again stating that the certificate should only be provided if the father's name was Alfred. At last a certificate arrived. Emily had been born Emma Fairbairn on 19 July 1888 at 193 Bearwood Road, Smethwick to Alfred Fairbairn and Selina Povey. Church records were checked to find the baptisms. All five baptism's took place at Holy Trinity, Smethwick between 15 April 1886 and 13 May 1897.
Although the census records for 1891 were fully indexed for this area my Fairbairn family could not be found. A search was made of the properties in Bearwood Road and the family were found at 193. Alfred FIRBIN was living with his wife, Selina, daughters, Kate and Emma and son, Alfred. The head of the household was Kate Povey. The census showed that Alfred was 30 years old and born in West Bromwich. The 1881 census mentioned earlier had shown a 20 year old Alfred who was also born in West Bromwich. Given the rarity of the Fairbairn name in this area, Alfred could be one in the same.
A search was made of local churches for the marriage of Alfred Fairbairn and Selina Povey. Kate had been registered in September Quarter 1885 but baptised Keziah on 15 April 1886 at Holy Trinity. The dates gave a starting point. The marriage certificate for Alfred and Selina was found in the church records for Old Church, Smethwick and showed that they were married on 1 November 1885. The birth certificate for Kate has been requested from both Sandwell Register Office and Birmingham Register Office but the correct certificate has not yet been located. This was requested in order to prove that she was born before her parents marriage. The marriage certificate stated that Alfred's father was Robert, glass maker. Again, cross referencing with different records confirmed that the 1881 census did indeed show Emily's father, Alfred.
The 1861 census index held by Sandwell Community History and Archives Services at Smethwick Library was checked for West Bromwich as this is where Alfred stated he had been born. The family were found living at Parliament Street in Holy Trinity Parish. The record showed Robert, 32, glass maker, his wife, Mary, also 32 and children, Eliza, Emma, Maria and Alfred.
A search was made of the GRO index for births for Alfred's Birth and a copy of his certificate was obtained from West Bromwich Register Office. Alfred Robert was born 23 August 1860 at Parliament Street to Robert Fairbairn and Mary Thompson.
The census indexes were checked for 1871, 1851 and 1841. The 1871 census shows Robert living with daughter, Elinor, 19 and son Alfred, 10 at 15 Oldbury Road, Smethwick. Since Eliza is 9 on the 1861 census and Elinor is 19 on the 1871 and with Emma/Emily and Kate/Kesiah name changes it makes one feel that Eliza and Elinor are the same person. There was no trace of Robert and Mary in the 1851 census index. The 1841 census shows a Robert Fairburn aged 11, glass maker, living with Robert, 65, glass maker, Mary, 45, James, 15 and Mary Ann, 8. Assumptions have to be made about family relationships as this is not recorded on the 1841 census and will need to be proved or disproved by the use of other records.
Researching my Fairbairn family has been a valuable lesson in name variants (Emma/Emily, Kate/Keziah, Elinor/Eliza) and variations in spelling (Fairbairn, Fairburn, Firbin, Fairbain, Fairbaine, etc). It is important to have an open mind and 'think outside the box' when it comes to researching ones family. What would they have done then, without the knowledge we now take for granted?
A search for the marriage certificate of Robert Fairbairn and Mary Thompson was made in the local church records. Assuming that Eliza/Elinor was the oldest child, the starting point for the search would be c1852. The marriage was found to have taken place at West Bromwich Parish Church, All Saints, on 4 September 1850. Robert had been a 20 year old glass maker whose father, Robert, was also a glass maker. One of the witnesses was Mary Ann Fairbairn. This tied up with the names on the 1841 census.
A check was made in the 1851 census index for Robert's father and the other members of his family as shown on the 1841 census. No trace could be found for Robert, snr, however, his widow Mary was living as a housekeeper with her daughter Mary Ann at Spon Lane. James was living with his wife, Hannah and his children James and Samuel at Bowater Street, West Bromwich. References to James and his family and descendants have been found for the 1861, 1871, 1881 and 1891 census and it shows that they lived for all those years at 21 Hawthorn Street.
The International Genealogical Index (IGI) was checked for references to the Fairbairns in Staffordshire. It showed the christening of Eleanor (14 May 1827) and James (24 September 1825) both to Robert and Mary at West Bromwich Mare's Green Independent. The original source was checked on a visit to the Public Record Office (PRO), Kew. A copy was taken which showed James had been born on 24 August 1825 and Eleanor on 18 April 1827. No references to the other children were found in these records. The visit to Kew was also an opportunity to check the non conformist records for the baptisms of Alfred and his siblings as these had not been found in the Church of England records in the area. The records for the Wesleyan-Methodist Chapel of West Bromwich showed that, on 26 September 1860, Alfred Robert had been christened along with Maria. The next entry was for 24 October 1860 and showed Eleanor Mary along with sister Emma. The address given for them all was Spon Lane.
The IGI also showed a reference to a marriage of a Robert Fairbairn to Ann Sadler at Smethwick on 22 May 1816. The original source was checked and a transcript taken for future reference. Interestingly, Robert was shown as a widower.
A reference to the marriage of a Robert FAIRBAIN to a Mary Parish was found. A transcription was taken from the original records which showed that they had married at St Mary, Handsworth on 5 September 1824. It is felt that this is Robert and Mary, parents of Robert and grandparents of Alfred. Unfortunately, the certificate did not indicate if Robert was a widower. Robert is c53 years old when he marries 27 year old Mary. An assumption could be made that this is not his first marriage. Is it possible that his previous wife was Ann Sadler as he would have been 45 years old at that marriage. It states on it that Robert was a widower. Was Ann Sadler the second wife and Mary Parish the third? This is to be investigated further using burial records as a starting point. An application was made to the Staffordshire Burial Index held by the Birmingham and Midland Society for Genealogy and Heraldry. A reply has been received but unfortunately, there are no Fairbairn's (and variants) shown in the index for the whole of Staffordshire! It had been hoped to be able to compare the signatures on the two marriage certificates but it looks as though the certificate for the marriage to Mary Parish has been written out by one person and the wedding party just put their X. This could mean that Robert who married Mary could not write but it could also be that the priest just didn't give them the opportunity to do so.
There were limited references to Fairbairns in the area. It was decide to collect every reference to be found and make family trees up even if they did not belong to the family being investigated. To get off to a good start the Will Indexes were checked for all Fairbairns (and variants) from 1858 to 1948. Wills can offer a fascinating insight into family and the relationships. Wills that have been proved in Birmingham during this period can be found in Archives at Birmingham Central Library. For Wills that have been proved at Lichfield a trip was necessary to Lichfield Record Office. Wills after this date are still held by the relevant Probate Office and the cost of viewing them is prohibitive for this kind of study. Basic family trees can often be drawn up and built upon later as other references come along. In conjunction with this, the GRO death indexes were also checked from the beginning of civil registration 1837 until 1950, so far. When a reference was found for a Fairbairn that had died in Smethwick, Smethwick Cemetery Records for that quarter were checked. When successful this gave the name of the person to be buried, age, address, date of burial, who did the service, place of burial and whether consecrated ground or not. For later burials the Electoral Rolls where checked to establish who had lived in that property and for how long. A letter has yet to be sent to Bereavement Services at Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council to find out who else was buried in the graves and the exact location so that a visit can be made to the cemetery. The information on family relationships taken from the wills and added information from the GRO Death Index, cemetery records and electoral records have been used in conjunction with the census records to draw up basic (sometimes detailed) family trees. The results of this research showed that apart from my Staffordshire glass making family, there were four other families in the area. The most detailed of the families was the bakers of Birmingham which descend from Ralph Fairbairn who was born in Scotland c1810. There were the 'engineers' of Staffordshire who descended from Thomas Fairbairn born c1832. The family of Richard Fairbairns born c1819 in Poplar, Mid, a stock and share broker of Birmingham. And finally there was the Wesleyan Minister family of James Parkinson Fairbourn who went from Lancashire to Staffordshire to Cheshire. It has been useful to have a note of these families so that when a reference is found for someone new it is easier to eliminate them from my own family. It is also to be wondered if one or more of these families is in fact connected to the glass makers. Robert born c 1771 was, according to the 1841 Census, born outside the county. Could he be related in some way to the baker, Ralph Fairbairn born in Scotland in c1810. Robert had four children with Mary, his first when he is 54 years old! It has been suggested that Mary is his third wife. How many children could he have had with his first and second wives if this turns out to be the case? Is Ralph Fairbairn his son? These ideas are to be investigated further.
It has been shown that by 1851 Mary was a widow so Robert must have died between 1841 and 1851. The GRO death indexes had been searched and a certificate was obtained. Robert FAIRBAINE had died on 9 November 1846 at Spon Lane aged 75 years. The cause of death being Disease of the Heart. The informant was Robert Fairbaine who had been in attendance at the death. Being 'in attendance' usually meant that the person had been attending to the person during their illness but had not been present at the death.
Three other death certificates were obtain as a result of the search of the GRO death indexes. The first was Robert Fairbairn who had been in attendance at his own father's death 58 years earlier. Robert FAIRBURN had died on 20 July 1904. He too had been 75 years old when he died. The cause of death had been Senile Gangrene and he had died at 81 Corbett Street. The resident of 81 Corbett Street had been Sarah Maltilda Hall who was the informant and had been present at the death. It is not known what her connection is and this is to be investigated.
The other two death certificates were for Alfred and Selina. Selina had died some months before her father in law, Robert. Selina Fairbairn nee Povey had died on 25 October 1903 at the Workhouse Infirmary, Selly Oak. She was just 38 years old and the cause of death was pulmonary tuberculosis. Although she is list as the wife of Alfred Fairbairn, a labourer of Smethwick the death was registered by the Steward of the Workhouse Infirmary. According to Smethwick Cemetery Records, Selina was buried on 31 October 1903. The address stated is Workhouse Infirmary but underneath is written 154 Gilbert Road. The electoral roll was checked for this address. The resident of 154 Gilbert Road was Emmanuel Thompson, her sister's husband.
Alfred's death certificate showed that he had died on 13 September 1937 at 1a Raddlebarn Road, Selly Oak, a euphemism for the hospital. He had lived slightly longer than his father and grandfather and had made it to 77 years. His occupation was given as 'of no fixed abode formally an iron moulder'. His son S(amuel) Fairbairn of 16 Lones Road, Smethwick had registered the death. Unlike his wife, Selina, he was buried in a paupers' grave at Lodge Hill Cemetery on 16 September 1937.
Nan would have been 17 years old when her grandfather died and yet she did not even know his name or that he existed.
Robert lost his father, Robert, when he was 16 years old. Emma had lost her mother, Selina, when she was 15 years old. Nan lost her father when she was 2 and half and her mother when she was 10. It is not surprising, then, that family information has not been preserved.