S03EP03: ‘The Emigrant’ with Helen Parker-Drabble

In the third episode of Series Three of The Family Histories Podcast, Andrew meets author and ‘geneatherapist’, Helen Parker-Drabble, who explains how she got into researching family history, and how she applies psychology in her research to better understand her ancestors. We hear the story of her Grandfather Walter Parker, and we’re looking for the answer to a conundrum posed by a 1906 vaccination card.

Life Story – Walter Parker

Helen has chosen her Grandfather Walter Parker, who was born in Upwell, in Norfolk, England in 1885, and whom Helen has focused her book ‘A Victorian’s Inheritance‘ on.

When he was 21 years old, Walter’s silent act of protest led him to the choice to either see his parents evicted from their home by the Duke of Bedford, or to leave the Cambridgeshire village of Thorney with his friend for a new life in Canada. He chose the latter, living as a labourer on a plot of prairie land in Winnipeg for 30 years.

He returned to England when he was about 50, and after another series of events unfolded, he would add an unexpected late chapter to his life that continued the Parker line.

However, Walter’s life was far from simple, and the weight of his family’s trauma weighed heavy upon him.

Brick Wall – Walter Parker

Helen is sticking with her Grandfather Walter Parker for her brick wall, as she has stumbled across a conundrum, that she needs your help to unravel.

According to the passenger lists of the ship SS Ionian, Walter Parker emigrated to Canada from Liverpool, England on 7th March 1907. He traveled by boat to Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada. He then turns up in Winnipeg, also in Canada, on 24th March 1907, and she has found evidence of him taking lodgings there on 29th March 1907. All of this makes chronological sense.

However, Helen also has in her possession, a Vaccination Card for the SS Ionian. This is stamped (as opposed to written) with the date 13th March 1906 – almost one year before Walter travelled on that same ship. The card does not state Walter’s name, but why else would he have it in his papers upon his return?

  • Are there any other records that could help explain this card?
  • Might those records help to prove the year was stamped incorrectly?
  • Might Walter have been using someone else’s card to avoid a vaccination?

If you have any ideas or know of other clues that might help Helen with her brick wall, you can contact Helen directly via her website or her Twitter account @HelenPDrabble, or head over to our Contact Form (and we’ll pass the message on).

In the meantime, Helen jumps at the chance to accept Andrew’s offer of help, but can he get her aboard on time?


Episode Credits
Series Three, Episode Three

  • Andrew Martin: Host and Producer
  • Helen Parker-Drabble: Guest
  • John Spike: Sándor Petőfi
  • Debanjali Biswas: Photographer

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