‘I dis­cov­ered a crim­i­nal dy­nasty on my fam­ily tree’

Robert Ward has found forg­ers, killers and fraud­sters in his colour­ful fam­ily his­tory. He also made an as­ton­ish­ing dis­cov­ery closer to home, says Matt Ford

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - READER STORY -

he un­ex­pected is only to be ex­pected in ge­neal­ogy. But one WDYTYA? Mag­a­zi­nee reader was ab­so­lutely bowled over when he dis­cov­ered ev­i­dence that he was de­scended from a re­mark­able crim­i­nal dy­nasty, as well as find­ing some other in­cred­i­ble rev­e­la­tions closer to home.

“I have been re­search­ing my an­ces­tors for more than 35 years,” says Robert Ward. “I’ve al­ways liked his­tory. As a child I was fas­ci­nated that when­ever you saw books about roy­alty you would see a fam­ily tree and yet I knew noth­ing about my own an­ces­tors. I can re­mem­ber won­der­ing if it was pos­si­ble for an or­di­nary per­son to do their own tree.

“I also won­dered if we were re­lated to the Baron Wards of Birm­ing­ham. We’re not, of course! But it was a de­sire to find out whether we were that got me started.

“This was be­fore the on­set of the in­ter­net, when the most ad­vanced find­ing aid was the In­ter­na­tional Ge­nealog­i­cal In­dex run by the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints – then in its in­fancy, and ac­ces­si­ble only through mi­cro­fiche read­ers.

“Al­though im­per­fect, I thought that it was ter­rific, and it led me to dis­cover my Mid­lands kin in parish reg­is­ters through­out War­wick­shire and Stafford­shire.” notes that her father, Charles Cas­tle, had been born in Bris­tol in 1872. He mar­ried Har­riet Sewell in St As­aph’s Church, Birm­ing­ham in 1894. His father was listed as Charles Cas­tle, a French pol­isher.

“The fam­ily lived in Bow Street in an area of Birm­ing­ham, which was re­cently made fa­mous by the Peaky Blin­ders TV drama se­ries,” says Robert. “I’m con­vinced that they lived on the pe­riph­ery of that world, be­cause that’s the sort of fam­ily they were, as I was to find out.

“My Grand­mother had 10 brothers. In 1934 two of them, Frank and Wal­ter, had a fight, and Frank stabbed and killed Wal­ter. I don’t think he planned to kill him – Frank al­ways de­nied that he had meant to.

“I found the story in the na­tional press. But my father knew noth­ing about it un­til I told him. He was born in 1937, and it seems it was one of those dark fam­ily se­crets that no one ever talked about.

“My dad did meet his ‘Un­cle Frank’ soon af­ter he was re­leased from prison in the 1950s. But he says he never knew about the killing, and Frank died shortly af­ter­wards.”

Frank wasn’t the only Cas­tle with ‘ form’. Ac­cord­ing to Robert, there are at least a dozen names on his fam­ily tree who spent time in prison, as he found out when the crim­i­nal reg­is­ters were placed on Ances­try and Find­my­past. “I think they were driven to it by poverty,” he says. “When you’ve got 10 chil­dren to feed, you’ve got a job on your hands.”

“It was shock­ing, but also in­trigu­ing. I’ve been do­ing this for so long that noth­ing gen­uinely sur­prises me and I just wanted to find out more.

“In par­tic­u­lar, my great great grand­fa­ther, Charles Cas­tle, had an ex­tra­or­di­nary crim­i­nal ca­reer.”

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