I found my mother and father’s entries in the year of their marriage – I just had to touch the page
This was the second person in a week to tell me how emotional they had felt having found details of their family members in the most mundane of records – Electoral Registers. This was a man in his 70’s whose mother had married two months short of her 18th birthday and here was her first entry in an official record alongside that of her new spouse. Just two simple lines of text but enough to conjure up an emotional image of his youthful parents in their first home.
A couple of days earlier an older customer had told me how she had cried when she found her father’s entry in a similar dull-looking blue-bound volume. He had fought in WWI and survived to marry and father two children but he had not escaped unscathed having been the victim of mustard gas and he died whilst still a relatively young man after several years as an invalid . My customer had only a hazy memory of a dark haired man and virtually no personal effects or photos of him. Over half a century later his entry in an electoral register was enough to reduce her to tears as she grieved for the father she barely knew.
Their stories had strong echoes for me as my first foray into an Archives was a visit (over 20 years ago) to Walsall Local History Centre where I used the Electoral Records to trace my birth mother. I started back in the year of my birth using the address on my birth certificate and intended to go through year by year until she inevitably disappeared. I was helped by my husband who started with the current year and was going to work backwards. It took less than a minute before he discovered that she was still registered at the same address as nearly 30 years before and was still married to the same husband (not my father – hence my adoption!). A few more minutes going back through the records showed the names of three half-siblings each appearing as they reached 18 and then disappearing as they left home shortly afterwards. What they didn’t reveal was that there was yet another half-sibling who hadn’t yet reached voting age.
It was a strong reminder that even the most basic of records – just a list of names and addresses – can be imbued with huge emotional content which is completely invisible to any casual viewer.