Ever since I started to research my family tree I've been trying to find out what happened to my mum's half-brother, Don. He was 14 years older than mum and vanished from her life when she was still a child; no one seems to know where he went and I've been unable to find any records of him, or even any reference to him, after the 1940s. Where did he go ?


Don was born at the home of his maternal grandparents, 14 Godman Road, Peckham, in south London on 21st May 1914. His father was a 35 year old Swiss immigrant to England, Josef Hänggi, who was working as a hotel porter, while his mother was Nelly Alice Jones, a girl of 20; the couple were not then married although Nelly claimed to be when she registered Don's birth on 1st July.

Josef Hänggi was probably born somewhere in the Swiss canton of Solothurn though the year is uncertain; the limited evidence indicates that it was between 1877 and 1879. The records indicate that his father was also named Josef and it's known that he had at least one brother, named Karl, and a sister named Marie; what contact there was between Josef and his family back in Switzerland is unclear although he was certainly aware of his brother's death in 1935 and he is known to have maintained contact with the Swiss embassy in London. Although his surname is correctly spelled "Hänggi", it later appeared as "Hangge" and, during the Second World War, it was apparently anglicised to "Hankey" for a time.

Nelly Alice Jones was born in Peckham on 15th December 1893, being the sixth child in a family of ten born to Charles John Jones, a locksmith, and his wife Emily Constance Weston. The family lived in or near to Peckham for many years although Nelly's mother died in 1901; her father married again in 1905 but lost this wife in 1912, and married for a third and final time in 1917. It seems likely that Josef and Nelly met while both working at a London hotel though there's no real evidence. Josef has eluded all attempts to find him in records before 1914, though he is thought to have come to England in the 1890s, and Nelly may have been working at the Kenilworth Hotel in Great Russell Street in 1911.


Josef and Nelly eventually married in Marylebone on 29th July 1915 when Nelly gave her address as 14 Godman Road; whether this was really her address or she used her father's address rather than admit that she was already living with her future husband is unknown. Where Don was at this time is also unknown, though family stories do suggest that he may have been living with Nelly's parents. Sadly for them all, the marriage did not last very long. Nelly became pregnant again but suffered a miscarriage which caused a haemorrhage from which she died in Camberwell Infirmary on 2nd March 1916, aged only 22; not yet 2 years old, Don had lost his mother.

Exactly what happened in the years following Nelly's death is mostly unknown. Josef continued to work as a hotel porter or valet and it's believed that Don lived with his mother's family in Dulwich. Josef eventually met and married his second wife, Anna Elizabeth Kuhn, in St Pancras on 25th January 1922 and, as far as is known, Don then moved back to live with his father and stepmother, probably in Huntley Street, St Pancras, before the family moved to a large rented house in Harrington Square, a little south of Camden Town in 1924. Donald was joined by four more children between 1923 and 1928, one boy and three girls, including my own mother, although one girl died at the age of 2 and the boy, Alfie, took his own life shortly before his 18th birthday.

What little has been passed down the family line suggests that Don's childhood continued to be difficult and unhappy. Both my mother and aunt, the two surviving children from Josef's second marriage, have said that their father was a harsh and difficult man who seems to have had a very bad relationship with his eldest child. Although the details are sketchy, it seems likely that Don may have spent some time in borstal after his father reported him to the police for stealing money; this would have been in the late 1920s when Don was in his early teens. Later, it's thought that Don may have returned to live with his grandparents in Dulwich for a while; my aunt has a memory of visiting the Jones's in Dulwich with her mother when she was quite young though the actual purpose of the visit is unknown and she doesn't recall Don being present.

Other stories have Don visiting his father's house in Harrington Square, firstly sporting a cast on a broken leg and later arriving on a motor bike, both events being in the mid-1930s and on both occasions asking his father for money. The first visit resulted in an altercation on the front steps of the house and Don being sent away; on the second visit, the money was forthcoming but he was told to come back only if he could repay it - his sisters never saw him again. Whether or not he had any further contact with his father or stepmother is not known though it seems unlikely.

The only other sightings of Donald are a single entry in the 1934 electoral roll when he was living at 23 Coleherne Road, Kensington, and a story from one of his maternal cousins who recalls that Don used to visit a maternal aunt who became the family matriarch; this was probably in Twickenham, the aunt being Jessie Annie March. Although there's no clear evidence as to when these visits took place, it seems most probable that they were before 1950 and they may even have been before 1940. It may be that Don was a keen cyclist, sharing this hobby with one of his aunt Jessie's children, Frank; if this was the case, it would suggest that Don's visits were in the 1940s as Frank was almost 10 years younger than Don.


So where did Don disappear to ? There is no record of him in the UK's marriage and death indexes and he doesn't seem to appear in any lists of emigrant passengers up to 1960. He doesn't appear as a casualty in World War 2 and there's no record of him in the available lists of merchant seamen. He does not appear in any electoral roll other than his one inclusion in 1934. He does not appear in any of the available online indexes of genealogical records from other countries anywhere in the world and the only references to him anywhere online appear to be in postings that I've made.

I have to assume that Donald himself is no longer with us as he would be 99 years old in a few weeks time, but being unable to discover his fate is proving most frustrating. It has to be possible that he changed his name, perhaps in an attempt to sever himself completely from the father with whom he had never got on; he might have changed it to his mother's maiden name of Jones or perhaps adopted the anglicised version of his own name, Hankey. Perhaps he travelled to Ireland or Europe, for which journeys passenger lists don't exist. Wherever he went and whatever happened to him, he had to go somewhere. Did he marry and have children who would be cousins of whom I've never yet heard.


Find Donald Hangge in my family tree

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