Daily Archives: 22nd April 2016

How Obituaries Can Help You to Fill Gaps in Your Family Tree

Obituaries have been written for people from all walks of life. Don’t assume that because you don’t know of anyone in your family that had money or a title, that they won’t have had an obituary.

Whilst researching my family history, my father revealed that his grandfather (my great grandfather), Stephen Clayson, was a lifeboat man operating out of Margate late 19th century through to the early 20th century and had apparently been given an award for bravery.

There was no apparent written or other documentary evidence of this held by my family so I did some digging. I first wrote to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution to ask if they could confirm what I had been told. I received a letter in reply that stated that my great grandfather had received the Silver Medal for Gallantry in 1905 for the rescue of four persons from the ketch “Malvoisin” of London on the 15th January of that year (I subsequently learnt that one of my cousins has this medal).

This having piqued my interest, I promptly visited the life boat station in Margate and was surprised to see a picture of my great grandfather on the wall of the boat house. I now have a copy of that picture.

At about the same time, I was corresponding with the husband of a Clayson who was also researching the Clayson family tree and who drew my attention to my great grandfather’s obituary in a local newspaper, published in 1937.

There was a wealth of information in the obituary and I paraphrase it below:

“Coxswain from 1905 till 1925, second coxswain for seven years previously and a member of the crew since 1883.

During his twenty seven years as second coxswain and coxswain the Margate boats saved 367 lives.

Mr Clayson (who) was born at St. Margaret’s-at-Cliffe, was the son of a farmer.

At thirteen he ran away from home.

His widow declares that he became a local boatman after he was shipwrecked on the Margate Sands in 1878.

He won the silver medal of the Lifeboat Institution for intrepid service in rescuing the crew of the Malvoisin, wrecked on the Kentish Knock in a terrible gale in 1905. In 1919, Mr Clayson led another gallant rescue which earned him a medal from Sweden. This was from the Swedish schooner Valkre wrecked twenty miles of Margate.

He was in the lifeboat the night of the surfboat disaster of 1897, when nine Margate boatmen were drowned.

Mr Clayson leaves a widow, five sons and five daughters.

The principal mourners were Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Clayson (son and daughter-in-law), Mr. and Mrs. Percy Clayson (son and daughter-in-law), Mr. Philip Clayson (son), Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Clayson (son and daughter-in-law), Mr. Louis Clayson (son), Mrs G. Weston (daughter), Mrs. A. Somerset (daughter), Mrs H. Mears and Miss Mears (daughter and granddaughter), Mr. and Mrs. R. Foord (son-in-law and daughter), Miss Betty Cribb (granddaughter), Miss Clayson (sister), Mrs. Carrie Atkins (sister), Mrs. K. A. Jeffery (niece), Mr. E. Clayson (brother) and Mr. Ted Clayson (nephew) and Mr. W. Mackie, sen., an old friend.”

So we have Stephen’s birthplace, his father’s occupation, when he left home, his own occupation and length of service (as second coxswain and coxswain), where he lived as an adult, his part in maritime rescues, his siblings, children, grandchildren and in-laws (although not necessarily all of them).

I hope that this helps to show you just some of the information that an obituary can reveal about your ancestors!