"Each has his own tree of ancestors, but at the top of all sits Probably Arboreal." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

From looking at old photographs: 1. George Jones

Last weekend I had a lovely extended stay with my parents, mainly for the purposes of Christmas shopping with my mum. However, while I was there I also had a hunt through some old photograph albums. I’ve seen all of these pictures before, of course, but they really come alive after making some progress, particularly on my paternal side.
Unfortunately I have no means of scanning any of the images at the moment, and of course they’re all at my parents, but I intend to get some copies made, and eventually get myself a scanner too – it’s shameful for a ‘serious’ genealogist to be without one! However, I thought I’d write a few posts about some of the images I found. In particular, the ones that provided more questions than answers...
First up, a copy that my mum had made of a photograph that is in fact in the possession of my father’s cousin. It is believed to show George Jones, the second husband (?) of my 2x great-grandmother Mabel Hall. Firstly, I question ‘husband’, because no one seems to be entirely convinced that they were married. However, Mabel’s death was registered with the name Jones, and I have found a potential marriage in Tunbridge Wells in the 1930s. This certificate is on my list of urgent things to order.
I believe they did marry in the 1930s, following the death of Mabel’s first husband William Hedgcock AKA Hayward, whom she had never divorced. Mabel and William’s daughter, my great-grandmother Victorine, was born in 1913, but Mabel must have left William (apparently an alcoholic) not long after this, and then quickly met George Jones, as Victorine apparently grew up believing that George was her father.
The photograph is professionally taken, apparently coming from a series of photographs of aviators. The name of the photographer is given, but I forgot to make a note of it. George Jones stands beside one of those really old-fashioned planes, in what can best be described as typical WW1 flying gear (need to swot-up on my military history!). On the back of the original, George addresses the photocard to ‘to my darling “Little Wife”’.
Though they apparently didn’t marry until the 1930s (if at all), “Little Wife’ is generally believed to be Mabel. She was later known as ‘Little Nana’. Indeed there is another photograph of Mabel’s son-in-law Les in WW2 military uniform addressed to her as such.
(Given that Mabel’s sister, the actress Amy Hall was on one play poster described as ‘the pocket Vesta Tilley’, I suspect that all of the Hall sisters were small of stature!)
Beyond the question of whether this is indeed George Jones and whether or not he was married to my great-great-grandmother Mabel, is another question: Was he really a WW1 pilot? The way forward would be Ancestry’s military records, or the Royal Aero Club Aviators' Certificates, 1910–1950, also to be found on Ancestry, but I’m not sure how far I’ll get without further information – certainly nothing stands out on a basic search at the moment. Ideally I would need a birth record, as you can search the Aviators’ Certificates on birth date, but that may take me a while to track down given how common his name is!
I’m also a little concerned about the timings. Mabel’s daughter with William was born in February 1913, which doesn’t leave much time before the war for her to meet George. Even if you accept that he quite likely didn’t join up straight away, there is evidence in the form of a playbill that William and Mabel ere performing in the same theatre troupe (and thus presumably still married) in June 1916, which squeezes the timescales further. On the other hand, if Victorine really did grow up believing George Jones was her father, as the story goes, then George and Mabel can’t have met much after early 1917, as Victorine would have been old enough to know her real father by then, surely?
Or perhaps George wasn’t a military aviator but a 1920s pilot? Though whether this was then really a ‘career’ I’m not sure?  Everyone who looks at the photograph seems to assume it’s First World War and it certainly can’t be much later than that (because of his age apart from anything else), but there’s no date or anything visibly military on there either. Perhaps I need to do some comparisons with other military photos from the period for more info?
The rest of George Jones’ story is equally muddy. Most of what I know about him was told to me by old family friend Brenda, who first furnished me with enough information to get started on my dad’s side of the family. Apparently, he later went to work as a chauffeur in America (Detroit, possibly?), where he was sadly killed in a car accident while working. His employers, a wealthy American couple I seem to remember, wrote a letter to George’s widow Mabel, which she kept for the rest of her life. Brenda saw this letter in the early 1960s, when she first befriended the family and shortly before Mabel died. Sadly, though unsurprisingly, we no longer have it, and therefore the fate of George Jones is perhaps lost forever. The dates are woolly (anytime from mid-1930s to early 1960s), and I have no idea why George was in America instead of at home in England with his wife. Though of course, perhaps she was out there with him? It is only the fact of them having written a letter that gives me impression that she was still living in England.
It’s an intriguing half-story that certainly needs some further investigation!
L x

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