Meet Thomas Tozer:
He is my great, great uncle on my dad’s side. He was a member of the Territorial Army who fought in the First World War, but died shortly after the Battle of Passchendaele, the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917, at Flanders. My sister and I and a friend visited his grave at Dochy Farm Cemetery, Zonnebeke, (pass the Dochy on the left hand side) when we went on a trip to some First World War battle sites in 2009.
He was a childless man who’d managed to survive three years of the notorious war. The thing is, the tour guides couldn’t find out what he died of, so I signed up to Ancestry.co.uk to see if I could find anything else out. Yet, I’ve signed up and haven’t had a chance to look him up yet properly having been sidetracked by many other family members. A quick look and more trickiness; there are loooads of Tomas Tozers, in all different battalions and regiments – East Kent, Medical Corps, Shropshire Light Infantry, West Yorkshire Regiment. Searching further, I discover I’ve spelt his name wrong: Thomas not Tomas. Even spellings make a difference. When I find him, it simply says “Killed in action”. I remember then that the tour guides had given me this information previously, but were confused – the Battle of Passchendaele was over by 6th November. So, how did he die? The problem is, military records don’t always offer all the titbits of information you’re after. Maybe they found him on the 3rd December? Maybe he died later from his wounds? Surely, it wouldn’t say “Killed in action” if that was the reason? This is a miniature quest for me.
Problem is, there are all these miniature quests popping up all over the place, like frogs in a pond. One name leads to another and another.
I’ve been sidetracked with so many other people…like trying to find out what my grandfather on my dad’s side did during the war. He was a member of the East Kent Buffs and spent time in Africa, but he never wanted to talk about it. And because he died when my dad was quite young, we don’t know much about what he did, or what he went through, or even much about his parents and other ancestors.
Other people I want to find out more about, but I’m at a slight dead end with, are those on my mum’s side, even though I already know a lot of juicy information (it’s crazy what our pasts throw up). My mum’s originally from Mauritius, moved over here in the late fifties when she was about five. Her father, Grand-pere, worked alongside the Prime Minister, Sir Seewoogasur Ramgoolam. Her grandfather, Henry Wright, on her mother’s side, my grand-mere’s side, shot her grandmother, his wife – Ita Wright. She survived – shot in the arm – but he didn’t last much longer: he was found dead in his prison cell while serving time. Some say the police killed him, finally seizing their opportunity to rid themselves of this troublesome brute, who once shaved the face of a policemen with the smashed end of a glass bottle. I’d like just one picture of him. Just to put a notorious name to a face. And maybe, just maybe, I could find out who he was before he became this brute. Did he become this unhinged alcoholic due to time served in the First World War trenches? I’m not sure – nobody in my family seems to have much information; will the online records have any more? Who’s to say…
The problem is that I’m not sure if any African/Mauritian records are actually available online. From what I’ve searched for, there aren’t any on Ancestry.co.uk. Other tricky things – if you use other people’s information and trees, there are discrepancies. That messes things up. And finally, a big problem – why did people name their kids after themselves in the old days? It’s a right bugger sorting through hundreds of John Woods, Arthur Woods etc. Slooooows it all down. And so many children too – five in one census, five more in another ten years later! Crazy. That’s ten more families to possibly delve into. I’d like to find out that I’m distantly related to someone I’ve known a while – like my mum, who found out that her and her work colleague, also from Mauritius, are actually distant cousins.
Not everything is so dramatic, but I quite like finding out the smaller elements of information. Where did my partner get his middle name from when his father had a different middle name? I found out and told him:
“It’s your grandfather’s middle name. Your dad had your grandfather’s first name as his middle name.”
Or how about what my great grandfather, my dad’s grandfather Arthur Wood, did for a living:
At one point he was a motor car cleaner, later, a chauffeur. But then I found out he was some sort of butcher earlier in life. In fact, in the original census, it looks like it says Butcher’s Barman, whatever that is. Maybe I’ve read it wrong? But his father, John Wood? He was a cabman, obviously the old horse and cart style, born in Lincolnshire – the first breakaway from West London on my dad’s side.
And Thomas Wood’s wife, my dad’s grandmother Laura Georgina Bass?
A lady’s maid.
And her father and mother – William and Elizabeth Bass?
Well, they were grocers.
To you, it might be boring. To me, it’s as interesting as finding your favourite song on vinyl in a charity shop that you missed the opportunity to buy years ago.
More to come in part two.