An Ethelbert Update – Part III

I’m behind on my 52 Ancestors posts and out of sync with my Holborows in … series, but I recently ordered and received a pair of death certificates for some Ethelberts, and one of which has lead to a bit more surprising information and reopened an internal debate about sharing historical terms and language which was once considered acceptable but is now most definitely not.

First up, the death of Ethelbert Senior in January 1868, Clerk of the Union. No surprises, although it wasn’t a family member who was the informant but a James Nelson. He has no connection to the family as far as I can tell, and in 1871 he is enumerated as a Shoemaker living in Chipping Sodbury, as he is in 1861.

His son (Ethelbert) who died in 1873, did not leave a will. However, there were Letters of Administration granted to a business colleague appointing him as Guardian to the youngest children until one of them turned 21. It also states, rather marvellously, that their only natural uncle, George, is a permanent resident of India. This is almost true. He was living in the West Indies, and we have already met him!

These Letters of Administration were replaced by ones granted to their grandmother, Elizabeth, a few months later. Presumably she objected to not being mentioned as a next of kin.

The second – and more interesting – death certificate is for his grandson, Ethelbert who died in Bridport on Christmas Day 1920:

Now, to refresh your memories, he had gone to (or been shipped off to) America with his brother and sister after their parents died. Ethelbert appears on voter lists in Nevada City, California until 1905 but had returned to the UK by at least 1911 and was in Chipping Sodbury as a visitor, and listed as a gunsmith.

I had hoped that the day of his death had warranted him a spot in the local newspapers, but upon checking the BNA (British Newspaper Archive) he did not. However … he did make the news up and down the country in July 1914.

And here I am going to take a pause. As genealogists – like historians – we have access to and regularly consume documents that reflect ideas, social mores and language that we would not countenance or find acceptable today. And this can bring up a kind of moral dilemma. Do we, as curators and disseminators of those stories, have a duty to present facts as facts or are we expected to apply a more modern filter? And how far or deep do we apply those filters? My personal preference is to present said document or said views along with a comment or two recognising the difference between then and now.

As such, I present to you first an article with a headline that literally had me saying yikes.

I think I’ve made my point. Not even one of today’s salacious red-tops would use the word “cripple” to describe someone (although I’m sure they may want to – and I’m sure I’ve seen “crip” before). Even “dwarf” carries with it pejorative overtones. Moving past the pre-war language, it’s quite an interesting article. Although only named E. Holborow, I am certain it is my man. It mentions him living on Burton Beach (the death certificate states he is “of Burton Bradstock”) and having “considerable property in America”. But there is more.

Here we have him named Albert and called a “plucky little gunsmith”. I imagine it is highly likely his name was misheard. “Ethelbert” becomes “It’s Albert”. In one article (presumably taken off the wire as the story found its way to Manchester, Lancashire and Derbyshire as well as across Dorset and Hampshire) he is named as Edward.

In yet another article, we get some more details:

In another article his ill-health is prescribed to malaria.

I find it sad that not only had he had a life “full of ridicule” but that he felt his life had so little value, as he says “I hold my life very cheap” and he wasn’t close to any of his remaining family (at this time he still had at least two brothers and a sister alive – as well as several nieces and nephews) and felt he had no ties (although I find it interesting that he had felt drawn to Chipping Sodbury at least). It is mentioned a few times that he has crossed the Western Ocean several times (meaning the Atlantic) yet I can find no mention of him in extant passenger lists under any spelling of first or second name. That (of course) irks me to no end!

And the fact that he built his boat from scratch using scanty tools and substandard lumber over two years and that it garnered a kind of grudging respect from the fishermen of Plymouth harbour is quite a testament.

Obviously he made his way back to Bridport as it was there he died, but recorded as a pedlar. What happened to his “considerable property” back in America? I don’t know that either. He isn’t mentioned in the California probate calendar.

I swear, these Ethelberts are the gifts that keep on giving!

Edited to add: I have recently been continuing my efforts to collate all known Holborows (aka a one-name study) and am currently working on those in the US census returns. I am up to 1910 and … I found the bugger! He is enumerated as Albert Holborow, not Ethelbert, which fits with the mixed-up name in the newspaper reports above. But he is a gunsmith (although the transcription is hilariously garbled as “Gymnast” – and Ancestry doesn’t give me an option to correct that field!), born in England c. 1860 and living in California. He is a boarder, residing with Edward and Lucretia Holmes, and their son George, in Fort Bragg, Mendocino County. Edward is a carpenter of Scottish descent, but was born in Massachusetts and Lucretia is a Californian native with parents from Iowa and Tennessee. I don’t think there was any family connection between them and Ethelbert/Albert.

In the previous census, he is living with his sister, Catherine, in Akron, Michigan, as well her husband, Mandes Simmons.


  1. What an amazing man and what tales he could have told. He needed the aid of crutches and completed a building project like that. So sad he ended his days, selling his wares. What strength, fortitude… yet so tragic.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That was really interesting. Brave, but I can’t imagine he would have been able to cross the ocean successfully. As for the title, I wouldn’t use “cripple” as an adjective at all, but I’m old enough to remember it being used and I remember the push to change the term. The old people in my family still say it to refer to their arthritis. So sorry he was ridicule. What exactly was his disability? I think I missed it in the article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think it stated what his disability was in any of the articles – and his cause of death was cerebral haemmorhage. I know his ill-health was attributed to malaria, but I don’t know if it would manifest itself in a way that would require two crutches.


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