Anyone unfortunate enough to have a surname such as Smith, Brown, Williams and so on, knows that tracing their family tree will be full of difficulties. My own Browns, my principal line, have proved no different in that they have been shrouded in mystery, hidden behind half-truths and family fall-outs. Worse still, almost no one seems to have ever talked to any extent about them or to have passed on any reliable details.

I was always led to believe that my Browns had Irish origins and a 1st cousin of my father even confirmed this from stories told to him by his mother, a sister of my grandfather Brown. Apparently, she had said that one of her parents was born in Cork and the other in Killarney; neither turned out to be true. This great aunt also said nothing about an older sister, named Margaret, other than to tell her son that 'she had died at about the same time as her mother, aged 25'; while this was found to be true, she had made no mention of the fact that the sister had married and had a child, something which her son felt sure she would have mentioned had she known. Whether it was part of a deliberate cover-up or was the innocent passing on of a deceit passed down to her, is unknown. She would have been only 12 at the time of the relevant events, so could easily have been either deceived or mistaken when she recalled matters decades later.

This is not to say that some of the details passed down from previous generations were not accurate and useful. Having it confirmed that my grandfather's sisters, whom the family only ever seemed to know as Lil and Kit, were actually Elizabeth Mary and Hanora Mary helped to identify the right family in the 1901 census. Being told that my grandfather's father had died during the First World War, not very long after his wife, helped to find their death registrations - not necessarily an easy matter when you're looking for John Brown and Margaret Brown, both of uncertain age ! Rather strangely, given all of this confusion and lack of solid information, the family did keep a reasonable photographic record beginning before the First World War and a selection of these pictures can be found here.

I was never able to talk to my grandfather about his family as he died when I was only just 14 and family history had not yet occurred to me as a particularly interesting subject. I don't think he would have wanted to talk much about it anyway, as he doesn't seem to have spoken of it to his children either. However, years later when I did speak at length to my grandmother, she proved to be not only quite voluble on the subject and very forthcoming about her own background, but also provided some interesting details on her husband's side of the tree. For one thing, she did not say that the Browns themselves were Irish, though she did indicate that a Brown had married an Irish woman. She even provided some names which, though not in quite the right place in the tree, did turn out to be correct, and said that her husband had 5 siblings who had died young; this also turned out to be true, the number including the sister mentioned above but with no comment about her marriage and child.

Armed only with a very common name, possible Irish origins and the little information gleaned, I eventually started to try to track them down. What a game !


Moving on from the details mentioned already, I extended what I knew about my Brown ancestors by simply being logical.

My father was Leonard William John Brown, born in Kilburn, London, in August 1921, the first of 4 children. His father was ......

William P Brown. I found reference to his middle name being 'Percy' but assumed that the name was really 'Percival' until I found his birth registration; it actually was the diminutive 'Percy'. I knew my dad's mother's maiden name was the quite rare 'Hornett', which enabled me to find a marriage registration for my grandparents. This showed me that my great grandfather was .....

John Brown, who was described as being a painter and deceased by the time of his son's marriage in 1920. Looking further I discovered a birth registration for William Percy Brown in Paddington in July 1893, which accorded with what I knew from members of the family; looking at the certificate, his father was named as John Brown, a painter's labourer, and his mother as Margaret Sheehan, while his actual birthday was precisely right.

Evidence from the 1911 census confirmed that John and Margaret had had 9 children of whom 4 had died, although none of them were recorded in that census, either at home or anywhere else, other than Margaret who had married her cousin Thomas a few days earlier and was living a short distance away in Paddington. In the census of 1901, John and Margaret were found to have been living at an address of 25 Hazelwood Crescent in Kensington, together with all 3 of their then surviving children - Margaret, William and 'Lizzie'. Although 'Lizzie's' birth does not seem to have been registered, I subsequently discovered that she was baptised under her proper names of Elizabeth Mary at the Roman Catholic church of Our Lady of the Holy Souls, in Hazelwood Crescent on 26th February 1900. Two further children, Rosina and Hanora Mary, were baptised at the same church in March 1902 and May 1904 respectively, although both of these records give birthdates which differ by exactly one month from the dates given at the time the births were registered. Strangely, the baptismal records for these last 2 also gave a different address from the relevant registrations, both stating that the family was living at 101 Lancefield Street, whereas the registrations stated 25 Hazelwood Crescent; interestingly, the Lancefield Street address is one that was recorded in certain other records relating to the family of Mary Brown but referring to the home of John and Margaret, though the reason for such rapid and regular changes of address has yet to be explained.

Having identified the family of John and Margaret Brown with certainty, I next looked for a marriage between John Brown and Margaret Sheehan, which I found in March 1888. This marriage was at the Roman Catholic church of St Aloysius in Somers Town and the certificate showed that John was then described as being a builder's labourer and was 27 years old. He was living at 25 Little Clarendon Street, Somers Town in London and had probably been living with his future wife who gave the same address; she gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Margaret, just 3 weeks after the marriage. Although there's no trace of John and Margaret in the 1891 census, both the 1901 and 1911 censuses make it clear that the story that the Browns came from Ireland is erroneous as John's birthplace was recorded as St Pancras in both, although that of his wife was recorded as having been Ireland according to the 1901 census and Limerick, Ireland, according to the 1911 record. Clearly the suggestion that her parents were from Cork and Killarney was, at best, a mistake by my grandfather's sister. The marriage certificate also named John's father as .........

Edward Brown, a 'carman'.

This is where things became more difficult.


Researched and written by John Michael Brown. This research and the associated narrative are the copyright of the author. Anyone wishing to copy all or any parts should seek permission from the author before proceeding.
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