Strangers in the Night

Archie ROWLEY (1897 – 1981) and Harry HARVEY (1893 – 1979) lived their lives twelve thousand miles apart, yet, before cars and planes were commonplace, their paths, so very nearly crossed. Archie and Harry, had the unfortunate luck to be born just in time to participate in a conflict we now call World War I. To them it became the “War to end all wars”.

Military service can be a boon to a family historian because of the information that is recorded and kept. Four years of Harry’s life is recorded in twenty-two pages of his army record. [1] Not only did the “war to end all wars” fail to end any war, it was followed a mere twenty-one years later by a sequel that obliterated over fifty percent of the British records of the first one. [2] In September 1940 a German bombing raid struck the London War office, and what remains of these records is now known as the ‘Burnt Documents’. Archie’s service in the Gordon Highlanders is recorded on a single medal card all other records burnt in the raid. [3]

Archie and Harry both served in France. Late 1915 or early 1916, Archie was gassed and blinded for three days, it impacted his health for the rest of his life. [4] On 12 July, 1916 Harry was sent to hospital in France with neurasthenia, a medical term used at the time known colloquially as shell shock. [5] He was shipped to England and admitted to the King George Hospital for treatment, he does not appear to have returned to France, and was transferred to the Australian Flying Corps 13 March, 1917. [6]


[1] National Archives of Australia (NAA): B245 Harvey, HC ( : accessed 13 March, 2016)

[2] Service records for the first world war. The National Archives ( : accessed 27 June, 2016)

[3] British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2008. Original Data: Army Medal Office. WWI Medal Index Cards. In the care of The Western Front Association website. Retrieved 27 June 2016.

[4] Adams, GF, Family History Workbook, unpublished, “Interview with self” p 70. In the possession of Georgina Adams.

[5] Smithsonian Magazine, The Shock of War, C. Alexander, September 2010 ( Retrieved 27 June, 2016)

[6] Same as 1, above.

Finding a difficult ancestor

I have been slowly tracking down a particularly difficult ancestor called Margaret MORRISON.  Firstly her name is unbelievably common in Scotland at the time she lived. Secondly she never married and so I had no documents that listed her parents.

She was the mother of my grandfather Edward WILCOX who was illigitimate. I was able to find his father Charles Edward WILCOX in Glasgow the 1891 Scottish Census where Margaret is listed as the Housekeeper.

At first my fascination was with Charles’ wife Mary SNEDDEN whom he married in Edinburgh – what happened to her, was she still alive? I tracked her down fairly quickly, discovering that she lived her life out in Galashiels. That was some time ago, and now my focus was on my ancestor Margaret MORRISON.

I needed more information,  so although I knew who the children were, from the 1881, 1891, and 1901, Scotland Census,  I decided to lash out and get their birth registers.

We Scots are proud of who we are and we lead the English speaking world in access to family history archives. For less than £1 I can instantly download an image of the page in the registration book. To access that information here in Australia it costs up to $45 and can only be accessed by snail mail.

I digressed. Charles Edward WILCOX had ten children by these two women and Margaret already had two other children  whose fathers’ were not named. I could not find anything to define when one relationship ended and the other began, I suspected that they overlapped – not an unreasonable guess for the Victorian era. There were too many Margaret MORRISON’s to prove or disprove her status in either 1881 or 1911. Now I was frustrated, returning to the lesson on brick walls in my course I thought about the collateral lines (using siblings) and I decided to get the birth registers of the second Morrison child Alfred Edward,  his middle name implied that Charles could be his father but he had not been given the WILCOX name so I knew his father was unnamed and had ignored him so far.

This was when I struck gold. For reasons unknowable, on Alfred’s birth, she called herself Margaret Ann Hatt MORRISON. Now, assuming she predeceased Charles because neither woman was named on his death register, I moved to a death search between 1901 and 1920 where I found a possible Margaret who’s mother’s maiden name was given as HATT, the informant, her daughter Alice CAMPBELL, could possibly have been Alice MORRISON now married.

Finally,  could I prove or disprove this death register with a birth? It was known that she was born circa 1865 in Aberdeen,  Aberdeenshire.  Two possible births were found one Margaret and one Margaret Ann. Margaret Ann’s mother had a maiden name HATT and so closed the circle of proof.

Margaret MORRISON was born Margaret Ann MORRISON on 5 November, 1864 in Morningside, Aberdeen. Her father was Robert MORRISON a clock maker and her mother was Annie HATT. She was never married and had seven children, Alice L and Alfred E MORRISON, then Charles, Thomas, Edward, John and George WILCOX. Alfred and Charles both died in infancy. Margaret died in Glasgow on 23 October, 1919 nine months prior to the suicide of Charles Edward WILCOX, the father of at least five of her children. No mention of Charles is made on her death certificate, her daughter now Alice CAMPBELL informed the registrar.

I cannot tell you how addictive the hunt and the find is, it has to be experienced.  I am so glad I decided to join the Diploma of Family History at the University of Tasmania,  I have decided to continue to study even though the next unit is Convict Ancestors and I have none.

Stay tuned for the next exciting adventure: