Do you ever find a family line that has a mix of occupations – and you wonder how much the behaviour of one generation has affected the subsequent ones? I came across one such line recently.

A cousin of mine (7th cousin once removed but, hey, who’s counting?) recently shared a link to an online digital archive of American newspapers, as part of the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America collection. As I always do when faced with a ‘new’ searchable database, the first name I type in is ‘Holborow’. As its such a unique surname I’m always pretty sure that any results have a link back to my family – and I came across some fantastic articles in this archive.

Descendant Chart for John George Holborow

The first of this particular branch of the Holborow family to go to America was John George Holborow. Born in Sopworth, Wiltshire, he appears on the UK census returns up to 1881. Despite the fact that I haven’t been able to locate him on a passenger list, information from his naturalisation documents seems to suggest that he arrived in America around 1885.

J G Holborow, as appeared in Los Angeles Herald, 4 November 1904
J G Holborow, as appeared in the Los Angeles Herald, 4 November 1904

The 1892 Voter Register places him in Oakland, Alameda, California, gives his height as 5’10.5″ and states that he was naturalised on 31 May 1890 in Los Angeles, California. His occupation is given as Druggist.

In 1894 he is still in Oakland with the same occupation. However, in 1896 the Voter Register places him in Santa Monica. It lists his occupation as Custom House Inspector.

By the time of the 1900 census he is listed as Hotel Keeper on South Beach, Santa Monica.

Los Angeles Herald, 2 July 1904
Holborow Hotel re-opens following refurbishment; Los Angeles Herald, 2 July 1904

However, by 1910 he is no longer in South Beach and no longer a hotelier (although his wife, Alice, is listed as the proprietor of a ‘Rooming House’ – in the Los Angeles City Directories of 1908 and 1910 she is down as providing furnished rooms). The family is located at 506 South Flower Street, Los Angeles, with his occupation as Chief Clerk for Pacific Electric railway. (Nowadays South Flower Street is in downtown LA, and the address is roughly now where the City National Plaza towers are.)

So what happened in that period? Well, searching the newspaper database, I uncovered a bit of a scandal from back in 1904 involving not only J.G. but also a number of local politicians …

In May 1904 a game of stud poker was played at “the Holborow hotel at Santa Monica”. The players, other than J.G., were a California rancher by the name of Jasper Thomason, city trustee of Santa Monica John C. Steele, Ocean Park trustee G. M. Jones and a Santa Monica city treasurer Frank W. Vogel. The next day Thomason decided that his losing  was due to Steele playing with marked cards and issued a warrant against him. Subsequently, charges were made against the others for violating state laws (playing both stud poker and draw poker – both of which were illegal). In August J.G. appeared before the City Recorder, entered a plea of not guilty for the draw poker, but guilty for stud poker and paid his $100 fine. A further charge was made against J.G. about using marked cards, and his trial set for early October 1904 but was delayed until November.

The trial went on for weeks until it was decreed that it should go to superior court (up until this point it had been in ‘township court’). Ill-health on JG’s part meant that it was some months before the trial came to court. Dates were fixed and moved and fixed again and then … a tiny article in April 1905.

Los Angeles Herald, 28 April 1905
Los Angeles Herald, 28 April 1905

And that’s it … no more mentions of the great Santa Monica poker scandal. JG is mentioned as attending a Temperance Movement meeting and performing a “stirring reading” later that year, and then … nothing.

Not so his eldest son, however.

Frank, 1907
Frank, 1907

Frank Parks Holborow, his middle name being his mother’s maiden name, was born in Los Angeles in January 1889. He first gets a mention in August 1904 as planning to take part in the Southern California Swimming Association “big carnival of water sports” at Ocean Park. He’s listed under his nickname of Caddie, and raced in the 50-yard and 100-yard amateur events.

He competes again in 1906 for the same races. Although he didn’t place in the 50-yard, he came second in the 100-yard  – and there was a small ruckus in that the winner (a Wilbur Kyle of San Diego) had competed at a professional level and so shouldn’t have been in an amateur race. In 1907 he came third in the state championship  and went on to become state champion and to set a number of short-distance ocean-swimming records.

He was also a volunteer coastguard by at least 1908, when he is mentioned as being on the boat crew that saved a local man who got into difficulty paddling a canoe off Venice Beach. Frank also played water polo for the local team.

Frank on right
Frank on right

Frank married in 1910 to Mary Ann Hugo. They would go on to have two children. In the 1920 census Frank is listed as a riveter in a ship yard (oddly he also lists his father’s birthplace as Australia …). However, he is mentioned in a 1926 newspaper article as “athletic director of Club Casa del Mar”. This is borne out in the 1930 census where he is listed as “Athletic Director – Health Culture”.

Club Casa del Mar is better known today as Hotel Casa del Mar, a historic luxury hotel.

By the time of the 1940 census, Frank is enumerated separately from his wife and son (his daughter, Alice, having married in 1934). He is living on Ocean Avenue, Santa Monica, with Mary and Frank (junior) living on Walton Avenue, Los Angeles. Presumably this was due to its convenient location for his work as athletic director – but why his family couldn’t live with him I cannot say.

In 1947 he is mentioned as Santa Monica’s city recreation director.

I haven’t found an obituary online for Frank – he passed away in 1967 – but its clear from the information I can find that he was somebody who valued his community and was a prominent figure. How much of that was influenced by the infamy that must have rocked Ocean Park back when he was a boy and the scandal his father was involved in  is virtually impossible to say – but it must have had an impact as a 15 year old.

Now, in case you’re worried – JG’s other son, Charlie Grover Holborow, does get a mention in 1902 …

Los Angeles Herald, 30 July 1902
Los Angeles Herald, 30 July 1902

… and again in 1904 …

Los Angeles Herald, 30 July 1904
Los Angeles Herald, 30 July 1904

… and its to one of his sons that we now turn our attention. Charlie married in 1912 and had two sons – William and Robert. In 1920 he is the assistant manager at a soda fountain (I assume this means a soda shop), and in 1930 he is listed as a restaurant manager. But its not Charlie that we’re interested here – its his son, Robert Gerhardt Holborow. He was born 20 September 1915, and is listed as a truck driver in 1940, and is living with his wife Bonnie, a production manager. However, at some point after this Robert became a policeman with the Santa Monica Police Department. His WWII Army Enlistment Records list his occupation as “Policemen and detectives, public service”, and served from 26 April 1943 until 17 November 1945. He had reached Detective at some point before 1957.

It was here that he came to my attention – via this amazing headline:

Headline from The Daily Mirror (Los Angeles Times), August 16, 1957.
Headline from The Daily Mirror (Los Angeles Times), August 16, 1957.

The LA Times blog has a good report of the overall story – that of the murder of an ad executive at a motel in Santa Monica – but the ‘interesting’ part is that the first trial was deemed a mistrial because one of the policemen handling the case coerced a false confession from the suspect, Charles Guy III.

Unfortunately this is the only copy of a photo of Robert that I can find:


 Detective Holborow is mentioned again in an article, this time from 1961 in the Lodi News-Sentinel in the bizarre-sounding case of a man who was certain he must have killed his wife but couldn’t remember doing it … (he’d killed her and buried her body in three different counties in south California – with her head being found in a box by three boys returning from a baseball game).

So there we have it … three different men all living three different lives – at least on the surface. JG – running a successful and popular hotel and ‘saloon’ winds up the wrong side of gambling laws. FP – sportsman, athletic coach, lifeguard. RG – ex-Army, police detective with a quasi-murky approach to murder suspects.

Without utilising such resources as online digitised newspapers I would never have found out half of what I did about this (distant) branch of my mother’s Holborow family. Whilst its a shame that I don’t have any obituaries for these three at the present time, its enough to be able to put a bit of meat on the bare bones of names dates – to know that they lived and interacted with those around them in different ways.

I think that’s the key message with all of the genealogical research – and one that we can lose sight of incredibly quickly!


    1. I suppose – although I think it may have been in part more to do with their standing in the community. That being said, neither Frank nor Juanita gets any birthday mentions …


  1. Right up my genealogical alley! Love these kinds of interesting stories that tell more about the ancestor or relative. Great work searching, and great post.


    1. Thanks, pastsmith! I’m glad that you enjoyed! Yeah – you never know what you find until you look (the genealogical mantra!) and adding those extra layers is always a good thing! 🙂


  2. I am Holbrook! Frank and Alice McMahon are my grandparents and your post as taught me more about them than I have ever known as my father Michael Frank MacMahon has passed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mikki – Wonderful to hear from you! Your father works out to be my 8th cousin (for perspective, our joint ancestor – William Holborow – was born around 1671 in the Wiltshire village of Luckington).

      I am working my way (slowly!) through the Holborows who left England (primarily for America or Australia/New Zealand) so I’m sure I’ll be back at some point to FP’s family!



  3. my auto correct …Holborow.

    Frank and Alice had two children. Boys. Frank Michael and William Patrick. Frank Michael had one daughter (me) and William Patrick had a son and daughter; also a stepson.


  4. Hello Dom! – Frank Morries Holborow II was my grandfather! He had a son Frank Edward Holborow III (so many Franks haha!), whom I am the daughter of. My great-grandfather, Frank Parks Holborow was well known throughout Santa Monica, he was briefly mentioned in this book about California Beach Culture

    Thank you so much for this blog, it taught me so much about a side of my family that was always mysterious to me!

    Liked by 1 person

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