Why YOU should do the #RussianDollChallenge?

Have you ever done the #RussianDollChallenge? Source: Medium.com.

Some of you may have heard of the #RussianDollChallenge, a hashtag I created on Twitter in September 2018 to discuss direct female ancestral genealogies. And why, you may ask, did this become a popular (dare one say, trending!) topic and, more importantly, why did I create the hashtag to begin with?

You have all owned or at least heard of Russian dolls, those charming, empty, heavily-decorated wooden puppets that, decreasing in size, are stacked one inside the other. When displayed, they form a neatly-ordered row, each representing a “generation”. Because the bigger doll is generally considered the “mother” of its immediately smaller “daughter”, the analogy with the world of genealogy is obvious. If we, as the smallest piece of all – i.e. the smallest daughter (or son, as the case may be) – begin to trace our lineage through an unbroken chain to our mother, and her mother, and her grandmother, and her great-grandmother, and so on, we will at some stage reach a point where we are simply unable to carry on further, be it because no records are available, or because the identity of the most remote female ancestor cannot be established.

Don’t believe me? Have a go! Although I have successfully managed to locate the immense majority of my ancestors in the last – I’m estimating here – seven or eight generations, when it comes to my matrilineal ancestry, I find myself struggling. My maternal grandmother’s maternal grandmother was born in Spain in 1868; her mother was born in 1845, and her grandmother in 1816; her mother before her was born in 1773, but her mother (that’s my six-times great-grandmother, in case you weren’t counting) is a mystery. Because I have not been able to find her baptism, I can just assume that Gabriela Gómez was born sometime during the mid 1700s, probably around the same area where she would later marry twice and give birth to four daughters.

Considering I’ve been able to track my ancestry up most lineages until well beyond the year 1750, it is very frustrating to have this matrilineal brick wall hovering over me – and believe me, I have tried to find Gabriela’s origins time and time again, to no avail. My father’s side is equally frustrating, if for a moment we ignore the fact that I am connected to my paternal grandmother via my father, and not my mother. My father’s five-times great-grandmother was a Mary Lewis, who I assume was born, possibly in Herefordshire, sometime around the mid-1750s.

You’d be surprised how few generations Queen Elizabeth II can trace her line back on her direct maternal side… Source: TudorTimes.

You’d be surprised how easy it is to become stuck if you try the #RussianDollChallenge. Take Queen Elizabeth II, for instance. Her father’s line is impeccably royal, and there is even some blue blood floating about on her maternal grandfather’s side, but her maternal grandmother’s family is surprisingly un-royal (and therefore makes genealogical research harder). The Queen’s maternal grandmother, the Countess of Strathmore, was born Nina Cecilia Cavedish-Bentinck in Belgravia in 1862; her mother was Caroline Burnaby (1832 Leicester -1818 Dawlish), who was in turn the daughter of Anne Caroline Salisbury (1805 Dorchester – 1881 London). Her mother was Frances Webb (1775 Stanway, Gloucestershire – 1862 Salisbury), but her mother, Marry Garritt, is a mystery. When and where she was baptised has not yet been fully established – I have done my best to trace it too, and concluded there are at least two potential candidates who could be the Queen’s direct ancestor. In short, this means that Queen Elizabeth II cannot trace her matrilineal line with certainty beyond her four-times great-grandmother – and that is historically quite recent, especially for a royal. Fortunately the number of matrilineal generations increases for Mia Grace Tindall and Lena Elizabeth Tindall, Princess Anne’s granddaughters via her daughter Zara, who happen to be Queen Elizabeth’s only living female-line descendants other than her three sons (the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York and the Earl of Wessex), as well as Princess Anne’s son Peter Phillips.

Anne Caroline Burnaby (née Salisbury) is Queen Elizabeth’s great-grandmother – though who her great-grandparents were remains a mystery. Source: Wikipedia.

But why should one try to do the #RussianDollChallenge? Well, as any genealogist knows, women tend to be underrepresented on most official records – from marriage certificates (which don’t feature the mother’s name in England and Wales) to baptisms and wills, where the wife’s maiden name is rarely mentioned. With such an obliteration of their original identity, is it any wonder that tracing a woman back in history is much harder than it is tracing a man?

To conclude, by doing the #RussianDollChallenge we are not only figuring out our own origins and remembering our female ancestors, but we are also highlighting the importance of our female-line heritage and our matrilineal history.

March 8th is International Women’s Day, and I invite you all to use this article as a source of inspiration to tweet and post about your female-line ancestors in the days to come. Let me know in the comments below, or via my Twitter feed, of how many generations back you’ve been able to go on your matrilineal side. Remember to use the hashtag #RussianDollChallenge and to hit the “like” button if you’ve enjoyed this article!

You may be the last doll in a long chain of Russian dolls… But how far back can you go? Source: Medium.com (sofia.boulamrach)

Posted in Birth, England, Famous Genealogy, Genealogy, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Women | Leave a comment

Are you going to THE Genealogy Show 2020? Because I am!

This is definitely the week of announcements! OK, this may no longer be actual news to some of you – I fully realise the talk I’m going to tell you about now was already announced a few weeks ago – but following the huge success of 2019 edition of THE Genealogy Show, I can’t really see the old year out without talking about next year’s edition – and yes, you’ve guessed it: I’ll be there again with a new talk!

As many of you know by now, THE Genealogy Show was conceived through the enthusiasm and vision of the Show’s director Kirsty Gray, who turned it into a reality thanks to the help of a wonderful international crew of volunteers – among whom I am privileged to include myself. Most of us, having been regular attendees at Who Do You Think You Are? Live in preceding years, acutely felt the sting of losing such a fantastic event on this side of the Atlantic.

The first edition of THE Genealogy Show took place last June in Birmingham’s NEC, and will return again to the same venue on 26 and 27 June 2020. While undeniably retaining some parallels and similarities with WDYTYA LiveTHE Genealogy Show is different from traditional genealogy events and trade fairs in the UK because of how it has been conceived and executed: based on a solidly international basis, with an incredibly democratic outlook and a unique grassroots attitude which allows new ideas to just materialise, to the delight of attendees. One of the many surprises in store for you in 2020 will be… An Escape Room Experience!

Some very fond memories of the 2019 edition…

In 2019 I spoke at THE Genealogy Show on Spanish genealogical research. My talk for the 2020 edition (scheduled to take place on Friday 26 June) will shift to a much more personal story, titled Finding Paul: How I discovered a cousin I never knew I had. It will be a first-hand account which will cover a wide range of areas: genetics, family history, ethics…  But I’m keeping the biggest of all surprises until the very end of my talk, so why not join me in Birmingham? You will find further details about my presentation on THE Genealogy Show‘s website.

I can’t close off without mentioning the other speakers on the programme. For the first time a genealogy event of this size will have an all-female cast as its keynote speakers: Celia Heritage, Roberta Estes, Maureen Taylor and Fiona Fitzsimons. In addition, I am truly honoured to share the speaker programme with some of the most amazing names from the genealogical world: Jonny Perl, Michelle Leonard, Les Mitchinson, Nathan Dylan Goodwin, Robert Parker, Dave Annal… The list is practically endless!

Remember that tickets for THE Genealogy Show are already on sale (check the website for current offers and discounts), with early bird fees applying until 5 January 2020!

Crowds of enthusiastic genealogists arriving at the 2019 edition last June.

Posted in Birmingham, Events, Genealogy, THEGenShow2019, THEGenShow2020 | Leave a comment

Family Tree Live – here I come!

Family Tree Live returns in 2020!

This is definitely the week of exciting announcements (and this may not be the last – hint hint), for today the organisers of Family Tree Live 2020 have finally released their programme of lectures and workshops for next year! Oh, and yes, you’ve guessed it: I will be there!

Family Tree Live is a relatively new event – the first edition only took place earlier this year, after Who Do You Think You Are? Live was discontinued in 2017. In fact, 2019 saw the celebration of three brand new events: THE Genealogy Show in Birmingham, RootsTech London at the ExCel, and Family Tree Live in Alexandra Palace. For the moment only THE Genealogy Show and Family Tree Live have confirmed their dates for 2020, while RootsTech is yet to confirm whether it will hold its European event every year or every other year – I’m told that the location is also subject to much speculation.

Workshops were a very popular feature at Family Tree Live 2019. Photo credit: Family Tree Magazine.

The 2020 edition of Family Tree Live will take place on 17 and 18 April 2020, and will once again be hosted at Alexandra Palace. I was unable to attend the first edition last April, so I confess I’m quite excited to visit this new event in what for me is a new venue – I’m only familiar with Alexandra Palace through the WDYTYA episode when Julian Clary visits to learn more about his grandfather’s military experience during the First World War.

One of the characteristics of Family Tree Live is their workshops – groups of up to ten participants around a table to learn about a specific topic. I will be leading a workshop, set to take place on 18 April at 1.30PM, on Spanish genealogical research, with a special focus on online resources which anyone with an interest in this particular country should consult. There are a number of other workshops, sorted by category, which you can consult here. Remember that all lectures and workshops are included with admission, but booking is required.

Posted in Events, Genealogy, Spain | Leave a comment

See you at the Salon de la Généalogie Paris 15!

I am extremely pleased to announce that I have been invited to talk at the next edition of the Salon de la Généalogie Paris 15. The event, the largest of its kind in the French-speaking world this side of the Atlantic, will be held as usual in the town hall of the French capital’s 15th arrondissement and within easy distance of the city’s main historical landmarks.

The Salon will officially kick off on 3 and 4 March 2020 with activities exclusively reserved for children, to encourage the younger generations to take an interest in genealogy and family history. There will also be children-only activities on the morning of 5 March, followed by the launch of the programme for adult attendees. This year’s edition saw a huge affluence of genealogy enthusiasts (7,000 adulthood participants and 300 children, according to the event’s website), and it even got a significant amount of press coverage – so I’m doubly excited to be taking an active part in 2020!

The Salon puts a strong emphasis on educating children and encouraging them to take an interest in genealogy and family history. Photo credit: Salon de la Généalogie Paris 15.

The details of the full programme will be announced in upcoming weeks, although sessions about genealogical research in a number of countries (e.g. Belgium, Germany and Switzerland), as well as France of course, have already been confirmed. Access to the Salon is free of charge.

My talk, given in collaboration with Eric Jariod from the French association Gen-Ibérica, will take place on Friday 6 March, and will focus on ancestral research in Spain (further details will also be announced in due course). This will not only be my first time at the Salon, but the first-ever talk I give  in French! So you can definitely expect a few beads of sweat before my talk! 🙂

A glimpse of a prior edition of the Salon de la Généalogie Paris 15. Photo credit: Salon de la Généalogie.

The event is organised by local association Archives & Culture. For more information about this event, please visit the event website and keep an eye open for further updates!

On se retrouve à Paris!!!

Posted in Archives, France, Genealogy, Spain | 1 Comment

Happy Birthday, DNI!

Front of an example of a modern-day DNI card.

One of the least-used resources of family research in Spain, and yet perhaps one of the most valuable, is the DNI, the acronym of the Documento Nacional de Identidad (National Identity Document). This small piece of plastic, which nowadays features not just the bearer’s name and surnames (remember that Spaniards usually have two surnames), but also their address, date and place of birth, parentage, and of course a photograph, has a very interesting history – one we should bear in mind considering the DNI’s value to any family historian.

The DNI was created 75 years ago this week by decree of Spain’s military dictator, Francisco Franco. Until then, Spaniards had no way of legally proving who they were, unless they produced a copy of their birth or baptism certificate – which could entail an obvious risk of committing fraud by assuming someone else’s identity. Spaniards would use other, less orthodox methods of “demonstrating” they were who they said they were: membership cards, letters issued by local authorities, and so on.

General Franco was issued with the first ever DNI card.

The order to create the DNI was given in 1944, a mere five years after the end of the cruel Civil War which tore Spain into two rival factions. However, it would not be until 1951 when the first DNI was issued – apparently the effects of the war made it impossible for the state to fund the launch of such a costly administrative procedure.

As each card has a serial number, the first one was issued in favour of Franco himself, while the second was given to his wife, Carmen Polo, and the third to their only daughter, Carmencita. Numbers 4 to 9 have never been used – and are likely to remain so. The next sequential numbers up to 100 are otherwise reserved for members of Spain’s Royal Family. Former King Juan Carlos I bears DNI number 10; his wife, Greek-born Queen Sofía, number 11; their eldest daughter, the Infanta Elena, number 12, and her sister Cristina number 14 (for superstitious reasons number 13 was omitted). Spain’s current king, Felipe VI, bears DNI number 15; his daughters, the Princess of Asturias and her sister the Infanta Sofía, bear numbers 22 and 23, respectively.

The first three DNI numbers were used by General Franco and his immediate family. Those between number 10 and 100, except number 13, are reserved for the Spanish Royal Family.

Numbers are otherwise assigned not in order of issuance at national level, but by region; therefore, depending on which area a new bearer is issued a card for the first time, he or she will receive a higher or lower number than would have been the case elsewhere in the country.

Naturally, the physical appearance of the DNI has changed over time. At first, given that many Spaniards were illiterate, adding the bearer’s fingerprint was compulsory. Photographs were stapled on, and then stamped over to try and avoid counterfeits. The information about the bearer was also modified over time, while those DNI cards issued in the Sahara (a Spanish colony until 1975) were issued bilingually in Spanish and Arabic. Nowadays DNI cards issued in Spain’s bilingual regions (Catalonia, Galicia, the Basque Country and Valencia) are also in the two respective languages of the area. A person’s marital status and profession, once featured on the DNI, are now no longer reflected in the modern version.

The leader of the Spanish Communist Party Santiago Carrillo had at least three fake DNI cards during Franco’s dictatorship.

Having a deceased relative’s DNI card can give a Spanish genealogist a wealth of information – not just the ever-solicited photographic portrait of the bearer, but an exact date of birth, and the parents’ names – all of which is essential information if we need to order the person’s birth certificate.

Who knew that such a small piece of plastic could bear so much interesting and useful information?

Posted in Genealogy, Spain | Leave a comment

Discovering a new Italian family mystery… down under!

Lately my family research has mainly focused on my Italian ancestors, and I’ve been extremely busy adding every single birth, marriage and death recorded in my great-grandmother’s village under the civil registry collection on FamilySearch, which covers the period 1866 (when civil registration began in Italy) to 1910. By doing so, not only am I “growing” my family tree exponentially, but I am also discovering links to many other families I had no idea I was related to.

Yesterday, while I was taking a break from this fascinating but time-consuming task, I decided to try a new resource which I occasionally dip into, just to see what results may come up: Google Books. I typed in the name of my Italian ancestors’ village, San Marzano Oliveto, and my great-grandmother’s family name, Amerio, and pressed search. My eyes immediately focused on an extract of a book called No need to be afraid: Italian settlers in South Australia between 1839 and the Second World War, by Desmond O’Connor. This is the intriguing result I got:

My interest was instantly piqued. Someone from my family’s home-town with my great-grandmother’s surname living in Australia in the 1920s and active in right-wing politics? I just had to get to the bottom of his story. And he had to be a relative, right? Well, not necessarily. Amerio is a fairly common surname in the village, and the surrounding area, so the chance of Giuseppe Amerio being a direct blood relative was no means guaranteed. However, thanks to my ongoing efforts to chart not just my family but all families in the village would, I hoped, make it easier to locate who this man was, and determine if he and I were actually related.

Like in all other locations across Italy at the turn of the century, many inhabitants of San Marzano Oliveto chose or had no alternative but to emigrate abroad. Many, of course, went to Argentina, while others, like my great-grandmother, went to the United States. But some, I have recently discovered, also settled in Australia, and this made me wonder if I could trace Giuseppe Amerio’s story down under any further. After all, there is no shortage of Giuseppe Amerios in my family tree file (56 to be precise), and a substantial percentage of them could have been the individual who became so enamoured with Mussolini’s politics…

A call from help on Twitter yielded some very good advice: try searching on Trove, Australia’s national library search engine, which is free and includes newspapers as well as a number of other printed resources. In went the words “Giuseppe Amerio”, and lo and behold came a torrent of results, mostly from the 1920s and 1930s, when Giuseppe would of course have been politically active. I was lucky enough to find an article penned by him in 1928, where he compares Benito Mussolini to Italian national heroes Mazzini and Garibaldi. The article not only gave me a clearer picture about my potential cousin’s political views -I think the least said about that the better, by the way-, but astonishingly it also included an actual photograph of Giuseppe himself! Trove truly is a genealogical treasure trove!

Giuseppe Amerio, Italian Consul in Adelaide.

But could the newspapers reveal anything else about Giuseppe’s background? Well, nothing is mentioned about his year of birth, which would have been very helpful, or his parentage, which would have allowed me to pin-point him on the tree immediately, but there was a very useful entry which unlocked the mystery definitively: his marriage announcement!

It turns out that in April 1927 Giuseppe married fellow Italian Vincenzina Amerio, who had arrived in Australia barely a fortnight before. The marriage announcement, and subsequent reports about the wedding itself, included a reference to Vincenzina’s father, a man called Achille Amerio. With such an unusual name, I scoured my family tree file for anyone who fitted the bill – and voilà! Achille Amerio, born in San Marzano Oliveto in 1875, the son of a local veterinarian, had married Leonilda Giulia Asinari, and had had three children called Luigi Francesco, Remigio and (drum roll please) Vincenza! I freely admit I was slightly disappointed to observe that this branch of the family does not belong to my own lineage – not as far as I know anyway – which made me suspect that Giuseppe too may well have belonged to a different family from my own.

I decided to try yet another online resource: I typed Giuseppe and Vincenza’s name in Ancestry to see if I could get any additional information about them. The only helpful record I was able to retrieve was a passenger list from 1934 showing Vincenza travelling to Adelaide via Melbourne, accompanied by Luigia Leonilda Amerio.

The passenger list for the SS Viminale, showing Vincenza Amerio travelling from Genoa to Australia in 1934.

Luigia Leonilda Amerio was a new name to me, and for a moment I thought this might be Vincenza’s mother coming out to Australia to visit her daughter and son-in-law. But the name was not exactly right: Vincenza’s mother was Leonilda Giulia, not Luigia Leonilda.

Ah, but of course, once again Trove had the answer: a short article from 1934 (in Italian) stating that the Consul’s wife and their little daughter had recently arrived in Australia from a trip to the motherland. Well, well, well! Giuseppe and Vincenzina had a daughter called Luigia Leonilda Amerio. And that got me thinking: following tradition, could the daughter had been named after her two grandmothers? Leonilda was obviously her maternal grandmother’s name – was Luigia her paternal grandmother?

It was clear I was onto something, although so far I had basically only managed to find information on Giuseppe’s wife. His origins were still a question mark. I then had one of those wonderful eureka moments that unravel a mystery in an instant. Vincenza’s birth certificate, to which I had access thanks to the collection on FamilySearch, stated that she died in 1976 in the Italian city of Verona – a fair distance away from sleepy San Marzano Oliveto.

Vincenza’s birth certificate, with a marginal note stating she died in far-away Verona in 1976.

Now that seemed to be a clue. It seems natural to assume that Giuseppe would have died in the same city as his wife, so I checked my records again, this time looking for a Giuseppe Amerio whose mother’s name was Luigia. And would you believe it, I only found one possible candidate who ticked all the boxes: Giuseppe Amerio, born in 1895 to Gaetano Lorenzo Amerio and Luigia Pelazzo, passed away in Verona in 1981, five years after Vincenzina. At last, I had found Giuseppe Amerio!!!

Giuseppe’s birth certificate, with a marginal note stating he died in Verona in 1981.

I don’t really think I need to continue my research into this couple to prove that Giuseppe Amerio (1895-1981) married Vincenzina Amerio (1905-1976). All evidence points in the right direction – but just to be sure, I may apply for their death certificates in Verona, or I may reach out to the Australian authorities to see if there’s a way of acquiring their marriage certificate in Adelaide, though I am satisfied to have unravelled my latest family mystery by simply typing in their names in a handful of online resources at my disposal.

And what of the other mystery? Is Giuseppe actually related to me, or, like Vincenzina, does he belong to another family which, despite the identical surname, is not connected to me? Actually, Giuseppe is indeed my blood relation. His paternal grandfather Giuseppe Amerio (they weren’t very adventurous when it came to choosing names, were they?) was the grandson of Pietro Francesco Amerio, my 5x-great-grandfather, making Giuseppe Amerio my great-grandmother’s third cousin and therefore my third cousin three times removed.

It truly is a small world, isn’t it?

 

Posted in Australia, Emigration, Genealogy, Marriage, San Marzano Oliveto, World War II | Leave a comment

William Samuel Morris (1925-1941)

Some of the stories in my family history are so graphic, so poignant, that they will always remain a fixture of my mind and my imagination. Such is the case of my grandmother’s cousin, William Samuel Morris, who died in the Second World War at the tragically early age of sixteen.

I first found out about William Samuel’s existence many years ago, when I began researching the English side of my family tree. My grandmother had by then passed away, but luckily her cousin Joan was still alive, and I was able to ask her questions about her side of the family. In doing so, Auntie Joan told me that her father, William Morris, a farm labourer from Herefordshire, had been married twice, and that she and her younger brother William Samuel were both born from the second marriage. Joan knew her father’s first wife had died young, and that there had been a child, whose name and sex she could not recall – and she added, perhaps somewhat dismissively, that the child died young anyway.

Tracking down someone with a relatively common name like William Morris was no easy task. It would be years before I was able to locate my great-great-uncle William Morris on the 1911 census, which showed him living with his first wife Emily (née Price) in the small village of Whitney-on-Wye, near the Welsh border. William worked as a wagoner on a farm, while Emily probably looked after the home. I was also able to find the birth record of their only child, a boy who was named William Grenville Morris. But as I knew, the little boy died soon after – aged 28 days, as it happens – having been born premature. Emily herself suffered from heart disease, and a few years later her delicate constitution gave in when she came down with influenza at the end of 1918, during the pandemic commonly known as the Spanish Flu.

My 36 year-old great-great-uncle William was left a childless widower, but a few years later he managed to overcome his grief and remarried, this time to a woman called Flossie Theodora Hopkins. Flossie and William had two children, the aforementioned Joan and her younger brother William Samuel, whose first name he was given in honour of his father and in memory of his late older brother.

The family lived happily at the foot of the Malvern Hills during the interwar years. William Samuel left school at a young age and as early as 1939, when he would have been only fourteen, he was working as a garage employee, near the town of Ledbury.

William Samuel, his mother and sister, circa 1930. Author’s collection.

The outbreak of war that same year would have stirred in many men across the country a great sense of patriotism, and William Samuel, caught up in the excitement, wished to enlist. He was, of course, far too young to join the army, but he was able to be recruited in the Merchant Navy.

William Samuel was engaged as a mess room boy (i.e. someone who waits at table on ships, maintains the officers’ quarters, works in the ship’s kitchen…). It would have been very hard physical work, but in view of his enthusiasm to fight for king and country, I am convinced that William Samuel would have been very proud of the modest role he had to play.

By 1941 the war had entered its third year, and submarine warfare was at its height. By spring and early summer the amount of British ships sunk by German U-boats had increased exponentially. William Samuel and his fellow crew would have been acutely aware of the dangers that lay ahead of any crossing.

And yet, duty called. William Samuel began working as a mess room boy on the Merchant Navy’s SS Embassage, a relatively large cargo steamship that had been built in Sunderland in 1935 by J.L. Thompson & Sons Ltd.  In August 1941 the Embassage was commissioned to take cargo to Bathurst and Pepel, in Sierra Leone – then a British colonial protectorate – as part of convoy OS-4. The convoy, which left Liverpool on 23 August, was formed by a total of 33 vessels, some of which would have travel over the course of three weeks from Britain to the Protectorate.

The SS Embassage. Photo from City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 447-2184. Credit: Uboat.net.

Four days into the voyage, about 100 miles west off Achill Island the convoy came under attack by German submarine U-557, commanded by 26 year-old Oberleutnant zur See Ottokar Arnold Paulssen. In the dark of night, the Norwegian Motor merchant Segundo sank will the loss of seven men. Almost simultaneously, the British steam merchant Saugor was also hit and sunk, leaving 59 dead and only 23 survivors. Less than an hour later, another British steamer, the Tremoda, was torpedoed, leaving 32 dead and 21 survivors. Just before half-past-four in the morning, Paulssen ordered a new attack, this time with the Embassage as his target.

Given the string of attacks perpetrated in the preceding hours, it is hard to imagine that William Samuel and his fellow crew members would not have been alert to a possible attack. And yet, despite their efforts, a German torpedo pierced through the hull of the Embassage, which began to sink quickly. Of the 42 men on board, only five made it to an overturned lifeboat – miraculously, William Samuel Morris, who survived the explosion and the actual sinking, was among them. Among the other four were boatswain William Garbutt Magrs, from South Shields, and a young apprentice called William Kelsey, from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The story related by Magrs to his family after he was rescued was that both Kelsey and William Samuel Morris, who were only 17 and 16 years of age, respectively, were weakened by the lack of food and water. They were told not to drink sea water, as it would make them ill and delirious. William Samuel obeyed, but the ordeal was too much for the young lad, and he died the day following the sinking, on 28 August 1941. His comrades had no choice but to bury him at sea.

Position where the Embassage was sunk.

William Kelsey did not pay heed to his colleagues’ advice and began to drink seawater in order to alleviate his thirst. Within hours he became delirious, and often dipped into the sea from which Magrs or one of his other colleagues had to jump in and reel him back onto the lifeboat. On one such occasion, Kelsey managed to slip away, and drowned on 31 August.

The surviving three crew members, including Magrs himself, were picked up by the Canadian destroyer Assiniboine, and taken to safety. Magrs would later meet with William Samuel’s parents, and tell them of their son’s final hours.

William Samuel’s entry on the Grave Registration Report. Credit: CWGC.

Ottokar Arnold Paulssen, the commander of the U-boat responsible for the Embassage sinking, was promoted to the rank of Kapitäleutnant a few weeks later, and then made a Korvettenkapitän in December 1941. He was transferred to the Mediterranean, where on 15 December he ordered the sinking of the HMS Galatea, killing 470. The day after, near Crete, Paulssen’s U-boat 557 was accidentally struck by an Italian torpedo boat, the Orione, causing the submarine to sink. Paulssen and all of his crew died in the sinking.

As William Samuel Morris was buried at sea, he does not have a grave. His name is commemorated on Tower Hill (Panel 37) and on Colwall War Memorial near his family home.

William Samuel Morris was only sixteen when he died. Like most deaths during WWII, his was a senseless, unnecessary death, and yet for all his enthusiasm and courage to go away to fight, his name was almost forgotten -even by his own family – for decades. Until today.

Lest we forget.

Colwall War Memorial. Credit: Colwall Church.

Posted in 1911 Census, 1939 UK Register, Death, Genealogy, Herefordshire, Ships, World War II | Leave a comment