‘Our theatrical ancestors led dramatic lives’
A tantalising story about an opera singer inspired Ray and Diane McClure’s research, which uncovered a tragic comedian and a world-famous composer, says Gail Dixon
any genealogists begin with few snippets of family gossip to work from. Ray and Diane McClure are no exception. Their journey to the discovery of the facts behind the rumours has revealed an astonishing cast of characters, from an Italian composer who enjoyed royal patronage, to a comic legend whose sudden and violent death divided a family.
“We were always fascinated by the family story that Diane’s great great grandmother was a famous opera singer called Emma Corri, who travelled to Australia aboard a clipper to sing,” says Ray. “It was a story well worth investigating.
“Our search began with Diane’s grandfather, John Leslie Osborne, known to all as Jack. He was born the day before Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and lived to the age of 100. He was thrilled to be invited to the Queen Mother’s 100th Birthday Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s Cathedral in July 2000. On the day, Her Majesty spoke to him and shook his hand.”
Jack’s birth certificate was a great starting point and gave them his parents’ names, John Henry Osborne and Ada Osborne, née Young. They lived in Loughborough, where Jack was born in 1900.
The 1901 census revealed that Ada’s mother was living with them. Her name was Emma J Gardner and she was a 59-year-old widow who was born in Dublin and worked as a music teacher. This was the first clue to musical connections in the family. A quick scan of the 1891 census revealed Emma Jane Gardner as the head of the family in Freehold Street, Loughborough, aged 50 and married, although living alone with her daughter Ada Young, who was an assistant dressmaker.
“Were Emma Jane Gardner and Emma Corri the same person? We searched for an Emma J Corri, born in Dublin around 1840, and were in luck with just one hit. Emma Jane Corri married Frederick George Younge in Dublin on 19 December 1852. Someone had posted a family tree on Ancestry that included both Emma and Frederick. Our smiles were as wide as a Cheshire cat’s.
“We searched the tree only to find that this Emma Jane Corri died in Sunderland in 1870, before Ada Young was born. Our hopes were dashed and the smiles vanished.”
A search for a crucial birth record for Ada proved fruitless. Ray and Diane instead took stock and decided to look for a marriage record between an ‘Emma J’ and a Mr Gardner between 1871 and 1881. “Success! Private William James Gardner married Emma Jane Young on 21 December 1875, in Deal, Kent. She was aged 35, a widow and her father was given as Haydn Corri, Professor of Music. This was what we call our Who Do You Think You Are? moment – it really had the wow factor, because it established the link to the Corri name.”
Looking at the 1852 marriage record for Emma Jane Corri and Frederick Young, Ray and Diane were thrilled to see the same name for the bride’s father – Haydn Corri. They had the right person – she didn’t die in 1870. “Don’t assume published family trees are accurate. They are only as good as the research used to compile them.”
The duo had loose ends to tie up. The ages on Emma’s marriage, birth and census records didn’t add up. “It seems that Emma had knocked seven years off her age. Also, if Emma Jane was a widow in 1875, what happened to Frederick George Younge? He must have died between Ada’s birth in 1870 and Emma’s second marriage in 1875.”
Don’t simply assume published family trees are accurate. They are only as good as the research used to compile them