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S03EP02: ‘The Trapped’ with Chris Paton

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The Family Histories Podcast - The Trapped with Chris Paton

In this second episode of Series Three – The Trapped – Andrew meets professional genealogist, genealogy tutor, and author Chris Paton. Andrew will be finding out how Chris became interested in tracing his family tree, how researching in Scotland, Ireland, and Northern Ireland can vary, and he’ll be asking him about his work with genealogy course provider Pharos, and his former television career working on history programmes with the BBC.

Listen to the episode

S03EP02 – 'The Trapped' with Chris Paton The Family Histories Podcast

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The Life Story:
Jessie MacFarlane

Chris has chosen his Great Grandmother Jessie MacFarlane (later Jessie Paton) as his choice of life story.

Jessie was born Jessie MacFarlane in Inverness, Scotland in 1866, and married David Paton in August 1889. Jessie’s husband worked for shoe manufacturer R. & J. Dick, Ltd of Glasgow, but managed two of their shoe shops in Brussels, Belgium. It’s there where the newly-weds relocated, and raised a family of four.

However, when the First World War breaks out, German forces occupied Belgium and new orders issued resulted in David needing to go into hiding or face being transported to a concentration camp. Unfortunately, their oldest son had to go off to war, leaving Jessie with her daughter, and two young sons – the youngest being Chris’ Grandfather.

As war progressed, and Belgium remained occupied, Jessie found her next son being arrested as he came of age, and taken to a concentration camp. Whilst in hiding, David fell ill and died in 1916, and that left Jessie, her daughter Ann, and son Charles, whose own health was beginning to falter.

With a stroke of remarkable luck, Chris has uncovered a collection of letters between Jessie and her brother-in-law James Paton in London, that shows of the determination in the voice of Jessie’s own words as she seeks to find safety for what remains of her family.

Her bravery and sheer determination is put to the test.

The Brick Wall:
Thomas Graham

We’re on the trail of Chris’ 3x Great Grandfather Thomas Graham who was born in about 1820/1821, and originally from County Armagh in what is now Northern Ireland.

Chris managed to break one brick wall that revealed Thomas’ early life, but there’s a second one obscuring Thomas’ later life that is causing him a headache.

Chris has found Thomas as a 60 year old Clerk on the 1881 census with his wife Eliza at Barrow-in-Furness, England. He then appears at a wedding in 1881 at in Barrow-in-Furness and then seems to go missing.

  • 1820/21: Thomas Graham born in County Armagh, Ireland (now Northern Ireland)

  • 1881 Census: Thomas Graham noted as a 60yr old Clerk with wife Eliza at Barrow in Furness, England

  • 27th June 1881: Present at a wedding of son Edmund at Barrow in Furness

  • 1901 Census: Wife Eliza Graham listed as a ‘widow’, living in Belfast.

He is noted as one of the named fathers on a marriage record in 1885, but that’s not a clear indication of whether he was actually alive or not.

Eliza turns up as a widow in 1901, back to Belfast, so the available evidence seems to suggest that he died between 1885 and 1901. He doesn’t appear in the 1891 census of England, and Ireland’s equivalent census no longer exists.

It’s known that there were some family members in England at the time, but Chris has not managed to find a suitable candidate for his death.

  • When did Thomas Graham die?
  • Where did Thomas Graham die?
  • Will the Poor Law records of Barrow-in-Furness provide a clue?

If you think you can help Chris to break through his research brick wall by answering, or helping him to get closer to answering these two questions, then you can reach him via his Scotland’s Greatest Story website, or send him a message via our contact form and we’ll pass it on to him.

In the meantime, Chris is intrigued by Andrew’s offer of help, but has questions about what’s waiting in the garage…

Episode Credits:
Series Three, Episode Two

  • Andrew Martin: Host and Producer
  • Chris Paton: Guest
  • John Spike: Sándor Petőfi

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