This post is one of a series exploring how the same source might be approached in different ways by different types of researcher, so we can better understand each other and work together more easily. There’s an introduction to this, and the associated posts like this one, here.
On reading the scant details regarding E. Beaumont’s accident my thoughts first turned to questions regarding his identity. As a family historian, I wanted to know who E. Beaumont was? What was his life like, both before and after the accident? How did his accident affect him and his family? Where had he come from, what led him to be working on the railways? Did he have any living descendants?
Other types of historians might look to understand how typical Beaumont’s accident was, to place it in a wider context – what can his life tell us about employment or railways or health and safety at the time? However, my fingers itched to start investigating him as a person, to somehow identify him and give his life shape and form beyond existence as a statistic. I want to know his story.
The accident happened tantalisingly close to the 1911 census – would I be able to find him on this record?
Was it possible that a local newspaper reported the accident? I know from talking to the Railway Work, Life & Death project that worker accidents rarely made the papers. But might I get lucky?
It was worth a punt. First I searched the newspapers at the British Newspaper Archive for a ‘Beaumont’ with the keyword ‘Cudworth’ in March and April 1911. Nothing. I tried removing ‘Cudworth’ and using the keyword ‘accident’, then ‘waggon’. Nothing. I wasn’t surprised.
Next up was a trawl through the 1911 census on Find My Past for an E. Beaumont living around the Cudworth area, just in case something obvious cropped up. I chose to search first on Find My Past, because you can order the search by first name or by place.
I found a ‘Charles Edward Beaumont’ whose occupation was ‘Railway Train Examiner’. I hopped over to Ancestry to see if any related records had been attached to him – a shortcut to searching through the census years. I quickly established that the same occupation was recorded for him in 1901 and 1891.
Next, I flicked back to Find My Past to view the Trade Union records available. This revealed that Charles Edward worked for Hull & Barnsley Railway Company. Our E. Beaumont worked for Yorkshire and Lancashire Railway Company.
At first I thought that perhaps ‘train examiner’ might translate to ‘goods guard’ but this find was already beginning to feel like a bit of a shoe-horn. One of those cases where on the very surface of things it looks like a possible match, but digging deeper soon reveals it’s not.
Again I turned to the knowledge of the Railway Work, Life & Death project who were able to confirm for me that the occupations were quite distinct from one another.
Back to the drawing board.
Could the railway collection on Ancestry help? A quick view of the index and then the record description told me they wouldn’t this time. The Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Company isn’t covered in the collection.
So, I went back to the Trade Union records on Find My Past. I’d noticed there was a column for accident dates and I thought that if I managed to find an E Beaumont with the right date in this column then I would be sure to have found the correct chap.
Again, no joy. No E Beaumont’s with the right accident date. No E. Beaumont’s recorded as goods guards either.
Hmm. I had a quick brain wave. The website The Genealogist allows you to search the census by keyword. I fired up the site and searched the 1911 census for ‘Beaumont’ and ‘Goods Guard’. No location. No first initial. I tried to make the search as broad as possible.
This turned up only one Beaumont with a first name beginning with E. Ernest Beaumont, born in Stainland, Yorkshire in 1882. In 1911 he was a goods guard lodging at 14 New Brunswick Street, Thornes Lane, Wakefield.
To be thorough, I tried the same search again with just the keyword ‘Guard’ and found no further possible results. I searched once more, this time with just the keyword ‘Goods’ and this time I got another possibility.
There was an Emmanuel Beaumont, born 1888 in Beal, Yorkshire and living at Plymouth Grove, Low Green, Knottingley. He was recorded as a railway goods shunter.
Both Ernest and Emmanuel’s names rang a bell. I’d seen those names in the Trade Union records on Find My Past. So, off back to Find My Past I went. This time armed with 2 names, 2 dates of birth and 2 addresses. You can see why I have an endless number of tabs open on my browser can’t you?
Although different genealogy sites host different records, they also share a number of core collections (such as censuses) but the way in which this data can be searched or sorted varies across the sites. Furthermore, the records may have been transcribed by different people and so it’s always worth checking the same sources across multiple sites.
Right. So, back at Find My Past, the Trade Union record for the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants noted Emmanuel as a shunter for the “L & Y” company and his admitting branch as Wakefield. He joined on 14th May 1908. He has no accidents recorded but in the ‘excluded’ column the numbers 6.2.09 have been recorded, indicating he left the union before the accident.
I looked for Ernest but couldn’t find a record that corresponded to him. The Ernest’s that were on the record were either born at the wrong time or had completely different roles (e.g. night porter).
Tantalising though these finds are, they are not very conclusive. The Beaumont in question might not have been recorded on the census as a goods guard. He might have had no occupation recorded, after all he’d just had his toes crushed. Or the keyword might have missed some finds due to transcription errors.
I re-ran the census search. This time taking in all census years and although there are other E. Beaumont’s with the word goods or guard within their occupation – these don’t fit. For example, there is a William Edward but he’s a ‘goods clerk’ and there is another Ernest but he’s a ‘packer fancy goods’.
I also re-ran the search for 1911 using keywords, ‘pauper’, ‘unemployed’, ‘retired’, ‘out of work’, ‘formerly’, ‘workhouse’, to see if these provided any further possibilities. I’m pleased to say they didn’t!
Sadly though, that’s still not enough to conclude that either Ernest or Emmanuel are the person in question. Although at least now we have two possibles that we might investigate further.
You could try tracing them forward and seeing if anything pops up – like a WWI enlistment record followed by an immediate discharge due to crushed toes – you never know!
This particular search scenario would be unlikely to occur in exactly this manner in a family history search. For a start, it’s the wrong way round. Normally, you’d find an ancestor and then try to find out about the things that happened to them – not find out things that happened to a random person and then try to work out who they were! Although it’s possible that I could be asked to search for ‘Ernest Beaumont’, discover the ‘Beaumont accident’ and be unable to conclude whether it is related to my client’s ancestor, or not.
In cases like those all I can do is present as much information on my searches as possible. I can provide for and against statements (if needed) and at least my client is in a good position to assess any further evidence should it come to light. This also allows them to make an informed decision about whether they want to keep pursuing such a search. There is a cost involved in tracking down archival records, either in your own time and travel expenses or in paying a genealogist.
A more likely case is that a client discovers that their ancestor was a ‘goods guard’ but little other information. Depending on the service the client has requested, one of my jobs might then be to investigate this role. What did it involve? What were the working conditions like? The pay? All this would provide precious context to an individual’s life. That’s where contact with projects like the Railway Work, Life & Death project can be absolutely invaluable.
On a final note though, if Emmanuel Beaumont is our E Beaumont then Emmanuel seems rather an unlucky name where waggons are concerned. The Penistone, Stocksbridge and Hoyland Express newspaper reports on 25 October 1930 that a man named Walter Day Ardron (a 35 year old weighman at Upton Colliery) met his death after being crushed between buffers.
The newspaper article goes on to explain that Walter’s brother was lowering four wagons on to 10 existing lowered wagons. Emmanuel Beaumont shouted out “Let them come; I have them.” The wagons travelled slowly down on their own momentum. As Walter’s brother bent down to apply the brake to let the wagon’s go, so that Beaumont could link them, they heard a shout and poor Walter was crushed (article ‘Crushed Chest’, page 2, column 2).
I shall desperately try to resist the urge to investigate further!
I run a family history business called Genealogy Stories whereby I help others to discover their unique past. I believe in the importance of storytelling as a way of exploring and understanding our ancestors so alongside my traditional research services I offer the Curious Descendants Club – a membership with a family history writing community at its heart.