How WDYTYA? Magazine helped to find Caroline Hill’s extended family
How long have you been doing your family history?
I started researching 28 years ago after my father Douglas Roy Andrews died. I found his birth certificate and a solicitor’s document, signed under oath by his mother, where his surname was changed from Gerry to Andrews when he was five years old.
This came as a huge surprise to me as it indicated that my maiden name was not Andrews but Gerry. My sister Linda had no idea of the name change and at the time we believed that we were the only living relatives on Dad’s side. His father’s name was James Henry Gerry and we knew nothing of him. This sparked my interest.
What had you uncovered before hitting your brick wall?
My father never discussed his family and I knew practically nothing when I started this journey. His birth certificate was dated 1922 and gave his mother’s name as Armenal Alice Keast. The documents revealed that she was often referred to as May, and formerly known as Davies. James Henry Gerry, Dad’s father, was an electrical engineer from Bristol. However, Armenal’s residence at the time of registration was at an unofficial mother and baby home in Cardiff. I traced Armenal’s Keast family and found them in Pensilva near Bodmin Moor, Cornwall.
Her first marriage was to a William Gerry, who also came from Cornwall. After 17 years of marriage and no children, Armenal was widowed.
What was stopping you progressing your research?
Despite many online searches, I couldn’t find any information on my grandfather James Henry Gerry. Was it a coincidence that Armenal’s first husband William and James had the same surname of Gerry?
Why did she state in the ‘name and maiden name of mother’ column that she was formerly Davies, when her maiden name was Keast? How and why did she end up in Cardiff giving birth to my father?
I investigated Armenal further on the FreeBMD website ( freebmd.org.uk) and discovered that a woman with a similar name and formerly Davies had given birth to a son, Colin Derrick, in Bristol in 1919. Curiosity led me to order the certificate. My suspicions were confirmed – Armenal had given birth to another boy before she had my father. Again the birth certificate stated that she was Armenal Gerry, formerly Davies, but this time the father was not William Gerry or James Henry Gerry but a Richard Gerry! To say I was shocked was an understatement. Were these Gerry men related or was she lying?
Armenal married her last husband James Edward Andrews in 1927 in Bristol at the age of 47. My father was five years old at this point and this was the year she had the solicitor’s document drawn up and signed under oath stating that she had been married to James Henry Gerry, now deceased, and was the mother of Douglas Roy Gerry. Did she also lie in this document and commit perjury?
How had you tried to solve it previously?
I have six children and although I’ve been desperate to find out more, time has been
My father never discussed his family. I knew practically nothing
limited. I tried online and entered different spellings of the surname Gerry such as Gary, Geary or Gery. Also, my sister-in-law, Sarah Lott, put me in touch with Elizabeth Owen of Merlin Genealogy Solutions, whose expertise has been invaluable.
What’s your ‘eureka moment’?
My breakthrough came while reading
WDYTYA? Magazine. A letter from a reader on the ‘You’re the Expert’ page caught my eye. Krystal Gary had always wanted to know more about her grandfather who had sadly passed away and, although she lived in Canada, she wrote to the magazine hoping for help. Her grandfather was Colin Derrick Gary and she knew his mother was Armenal Keast but had been unable to find out more. Could this be the same Armenal as my grandmother?
How did it solve the problem?
I emailed WDYTYA? Magazine straight away and they put us in touch. After several emails, we were able to confirm that Krystal’s grandfather Colin and my father Douglas Roy shared Armenal as their mother.
Over the years, the surname Gerry has changed to Gary for my Canadian cousins, which shows that you shouldn’t ignore names with different spellings.
Krystal and I have been able to share the information that we have gathered over the years, as well as useful tips from genealogist Elizabeth Owen.
By pooling together this information, which included some oral history (family stories and memories that Krystal had gathered), we were able to fill in gaps in Armenal’s history. This gave us fresh avenues to explore in order to unravel the mystery of the three Gerry men and why Armenal put ‘formerly Davies’ on both Colin’s and my father’s birth certificates.
How did you feel when you discovered the solution?
I feel elated to know that I have living family members on my father’s side, who I had no clue about previously. When Krystal sent the photograph of her late grandfather to me by email I was stunned to see the likeness between Colin and my father. They had similar hair, mouths and even glasses!
We still don’t know whether they are half or full brothers, or if they knew of each other’s existence as they both worked in similar trades in Bristol. However, I’m sure we’ll have more eureka moments.
In the summer of 2013, I flew to Canada with my husband and three youngest children to meet Krystal, her husband and parents John and Marilyn. The first time I saw them was at the hotel we were staying in and we hugged and cried as a family with a shared history. Sitting next to John, Colin’s son, was like sitting with my father – his mannerisms were so similar. John was amazed to hear how similar his father Colin was to my dad. It was a wonderful moment.
Did you discover anything else interesting along the way?
Unfortunately we haven’t solved the riddle of the three Gerrys yet, but Krystal revealed some much more fascinating information. It transpired that Colin went to school in Olveston near Bristol. Eric Garrett wrote a book called The History of Olveston Schools, which contained photographs of him as a little boy. Krystal knew that Armenal had given Colin away and a Mrs Pick and the Churchus family had cared for him. This was before the Adoption and Children Act of 1926 so finding any documents might be difficult.
He was awarded a scholarship to Thornbury Grammar School and later joined the Gloucestershire Regiment. He married Doris Brownlow in Nottingham and they had two boys, John and his brother Brian. After the war, they emigrated to Canada.
What is your advice to other family historians who hit an obstacle on their family tree?
Think outside the box and don’t give up. I’ve found snippets of information in unlikely places and important clues from gravestones, history books and oral history. If I hadn’t subscribed to WDYTYA? Magazine and read Krystal’s letter, I would never have met my Canadian cousins.
Douglas Roy Gerry’s birth certificate from 1922 stated that his mother’s first name was May
Caroline Hill ( centre), with her Canadian relatives Krystal Gary and her father John Gary
The father of Armenal’s son Colin Derrick is named as Richard Gerry on the child’s birth certificate