Thomas Cunliffe – and the Australian WWI records finder

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This post is about family research (a personal interest of mine) and a cross-dataset search portal I recently stumbled across (a profesional interest of mine). Apologies for mixing the two all up – but it was rather fun, so it may not be the last time.

A bit of reverse engineering of my family tree is needed here I think.
So, in my twitter feed I spotted the following message a while back by @wragge

It’s not too pretty, but it seems to be working… Experimental search for WWI records across NAA, AWM, CWGC: bit.ly/XBjQNN (@wragge)

Me, off to check it out – it turns out that it’s a portal for cross-searching the Australian WWI records. Neat! I personally think it’s really pretty :-) It’s a bit slow – but it does the job of cross-searching and that makes it a hit for me.

So feeling that I must give this a try I search for Family name = Cunliffe  – and there I find a Thomas Cunliffe from Chorley. So the big question for me is: Is he related to my Cunliffes?

Usually when I do family research I begin with what I know and have in my family tree but in this case I couldn’t find a Thomas Cunliffe, born in 1883. So I had to begin somewhere else. Unfortunately, I can’t find anywhere in his military records that mention his birth date – only that he is 31 in 1914, so born in 1883.

Question: Is this normal that military records don’t list birth date?

I begin by looking in the Lancashire BMD for births between 1882-1884 of Thomas Cunliffe. I find one in 1883 in Chorley where I can see that the mother’s maiden name is Cunliffe. As this is the only Thomas Cunliffe in the above period born in Chorley I think it’s reasonable to think that this in the guy.

So mother’s maiden name is the same as son’s surname – what does this mean? Well more often than not it simply means that the mother is unmarried and the father is unknown.

Next stop is the Lancashire Online Parish Records (a wonderful resource produced by volunteers and all free of charge :-) ).

Here I did a search across all the available parishes for Thomas Cunliffe, baptised in 1883 +/-2 years with a single mother with the surname Cunliffe. I get 2 results, both from Ashton-in-Makerfield. Of these two only one fits with the BMD record.

Baptisms: 1 Sep 1884 Holy Trinity, Ashton in Makerfield, Lancashire, England
William Thomas Cunliffe – Illegitimate son of Ellen Cunliffe
Born: 14 Nov 1883
Abode: Simm’s Lane End
Notes: Private Baptisms omitted from their proper order
Baptised by: W. J. Melville
Register: Baptisms 1882 – 1899, Page 31, Entry 242  (lan-opc)

The date of birth fits, but this begs the question: why is he baptised in Ashton-in-Makerfield? I still feel that this is likely to be our Thomas as he has been baptised a whole year after he was born. He could very well have been born in Chorley and for whatever reason have moved to Ashton-in-Makerfield. This seems to fit with the pieces of the military records that I have seen too.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get much further than that with placing him in my own family tree. Right now I can’t find records that match his aunt mentioned as his living relative in the military records.

I just wanted to mention also the actual records I can access through the Australian WWI records finder. In the National Archives of Australia I found the military papers for Thomas Cunliffe with the Australien Imperial Force. One of the coolest things here is on page 30-31 (have a look), which is the Aunt Mrs. Makinson (mother’s sister) who as the closest surviving relative writes to the military asking for any personal effects to be sent on. I am just going to do my best to transcribe the letter here as I think it gives a wonderful insight into the time and the language :-)

Jan 4th 1916
Dear Sir we was sorry to
hear of my nephews death
Lance Corporal T. Cunliffe
and I am sorry to say that
is brother W. Cunliffe as been
dead one year and six months
so if T. Cunliffe as left any
thing or said anything I
should be pleased to hear
as I am is aunt as is mother
and me was sisters and he
[next page]
a nephew living with me
and if he as left anything
I should be pleased if you
would kindly send it to me
yours Truly
Mrs. Makinson
26 Park St.
Tyldesley
England

So if anyone knows anymore about this Thomas Cunliffe or his aunt Mrs. Makinson (presumably born Cunliffe??) or his brother William Cunliffe (died summer 1914) I would love to hear about it and see if I can piece together who he was and if/how he is related to my Cunliffe’s.

P.S. So I commented on Tim’s blog and asked whether it would also be possible to use the records finder via url with a first name search and he replied that this was possible and with service number too. Here is the link to it and here’s how it looks:

http://wraggelabs.com/ww1-records/?family_name=cunliffe&other_names=thomas&service_number=67

BTW, I just went through my mailing list post today tidying up and saw that Tim Sherratt who built this records finder will be in London this afternoon talking about ‘Exposing the archives of White Australia’. If you are not in London but want to follow it – it should be available on HistorySpot. I hope to follow it there.