Looking for Papa

Dec 13th, 2009 | By | Category: Personal Columns

It cost £150 to register for the year on the ‘Find my past’ website.  The search so far has gone through record after record after record and Sidney Poulton remains as elusive as ever.  Born at Isleworth Infirmary in November 1906 to Ellen Poulton, a machinist from Chiswick, he seems to disappear from view.  No father’s name appears on the birth certificate and the infirmary, which was part of Brentford Workhouse, is given as Ellen’s address.

The motivation in parting with the money was to find where he went, what other family he had, where he might have grown up.  The possibility of searching the entire 1911 Census was alluring, he must be there somewhere.  He would have been four at the time of the census in April 1911 and a four year old cannot just disappear, yet he is not to be found.  Each and every Sidney Poulton recorded is different from what we know of him.

The family story was always that he grew up with a foster family.  A photograph of him as a young man shows him sitting in a drawing room chair, dressed in a suit and a winged collar with a glass of sherry in his hand – a far remove from the workhouse – but no-one knows where the photograph was taken.

Who were the foster family?  Did he grow up with his natural father?  What was his father’s name?  Were their half-brothers and sisters?

A gentle and dapper man who died from cancer at the age of 65, he never told stories from his past.  Even his years in the National Fire Service in London during the Second World War were never recalled.  The only evidence that the quiet man, who sat in the corner devoting hours to his stamp collection, had once stood in burning streets during the Blitz was a battered fire helmet that lay in the spare room.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter where he was at the time of the 1911 Census, what difference does it make with whom he lived?

In years past, the niggling thought was always that our family name might have been completely different.  If Sidney’s father had married Ellen, what might our surname have been?  Maybe to have some clue about one’s ancestors would not be such a bad thing to want.

In more recent years, to have known something more of the family history might have been helpful.  A childhood memory remains of my grandfather being in a psychiatric hospital where we would visit him on Sunday afternoons.  Words like ‘nervous breakdown’ were mentioned.  He just seemed very tired and quiet.

Those Sunday afternoon visits during the weeks he spent in hospital were not so bad.  My grandmother would bring picnic food – cooked sausages and home made scones and flasks of tea.

Fighting deep depression some days, forty years later, to know his background would maybe have been helpful.  Is there some inheritance of the old Black Dog passed down through the family, or is it something no more connected to him than all the census returns through which I have read?

Leave Comment