FINDING FRANK SOLLEY – NOT PLAIN SAILING!
by Ian Robinson
This article was originally published in the April 2009 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
It started in 2002 with just the name of a relative ‘Frank Solley’, a known occupation of Valet (Domestic) and a couple of photographs of him from many years ago. There was also a connection, somehow, with America and that was about all I had.
A speculative posting on a web forum by me in 2002 brought no responses and so Frank remained a bit of a blank page in my project book. Membership of The Sole Society brought help but things were difficult because a date of birth was unknown and Frank could have been Francis? Nothing was known about his origins or what came of him. This situation remained until November 2008.
Some searches on one of the ‘big name’ research sites didn’t bring up anything obvious in Births, Marriages and Deaths but, surprisingly, several mentions of Frank Solley in ships’ passenger lists and an all important record or two of applications for US passports! Closer inspection of those pages showed up a Frank Solley who travelled far and wide in his employment as a Domestic Valet. Even better was that the passport application contained a photograph taken in 1921 that seemed an absolute dead ringer for the two photos in family possession.
The application included the name Frank (not Francis), a date of birth in 1882 at Shotover, Oxfordshire and a declaration that his father was Michael Becker Solley who had lived at Four Marks, Hampshire. This is in my own neck of the woods and I had been told that Ethel Solley, Frank’s sister, and her son George had lived at Four Marks years ago.
To be honest from this point onwards information has been discovered on an almost daily basis and I have accumulated a lot of details about Frank, his family and his sailings around the world back in the 1920’s and 1930’s. There really is just so much information available on computer records these days!
Having obtained that all important date of birth for Frank I was off to the Hampshire Records Office at Winchester where a search of GRO microfiche was going to be a bit of a doddle? Alas it wasn’t to be and I could find no record of Frank’s birth in 1882 or one full year either side. I found Michael Becker Solley, born at Eastry, Kent on 28th January 1857 and a search for a Frank Solley showed one also born at Eastry in 1879. The possibility of a connection existed between the two.
The assumption now was that these two may have been the two I sought and that Frank had later made mistakes on his US applications?
A 1901 census search found me the ‘right’ Solley family but without a Frank or Ethel at home. Another search in 1901 found me a different Solley family but with a Frank, an Ethel and a George. Confusion time again. I was still struggling with positive census identifications and BMD’s.
I then chanced upon a 1901 census record which included the whole family but had recorded the Head of the house as Michael Rucker Solley! Wife, mother-in-law and five children shown including one young man apparently named Delbert Frank Solley. He was 8 and shown as born at Forest Hill which seemed at odds with the mention of Shotover, Oxon as a place of birth but things were getting better.
I still needed to sort out his birthplace and eventually I did find him in those original GRO indexes I had searched before but this time listed as De Bert Frank Solley. No wonder he just settled for Frank later in life! I am awaiting the arrival of the copy birth certificate to add to my file and I then need to sit down and sort through everything I have found out about Frank’s life.
Having found that he was not ‘at home’ for the 1901 census I thought he may have already been off on his documented travels but I believe I may have found him hiding again – this time as Frank Solly (no ‘e’), aged 19 and working at a servant / footman at a mansion house at Great Amwell, near Ware in Hertfordshire. The Head of the house at this venue is Mr Albert Sandemann, merchant shipper of wine and possibly a purveyor of fine port? The link here is established as young Frank’s birthplace is listed as Shotover, Oxon albeit that the original script is very unclear and the transcription not that much better.
My most recent information from various archives has not been fully examined and corroborated by me but there is a chance that he went off to Canada in September 1901 (depending on whether the census had already been recorded) and then he moved on to America from 1903. He became a naturalized US citizen and took off around the world as valet to wealthy bankers and brokers. There is a record of a US draft for him in 1918 and he appears in a good number of passenger manifests.
I have been in contact with a very nice lady in Texas who has helped me with some research although she is not directly connected with his line and there are still a number of things I want to find out about him. He married in New York and there is the possibility of surviving grandchildren in America. I don’t know fully about his death yet but it may possibly have been September 3rd 1961 in New York, New York – although the name by this time is recorded as Francis Joseph Solley. He did have a son by that name. He was married in New York to Margaret McNamara in June 1907. I also believe that four of his siblings followed him to America. His father, Michael Becker Solley, died at Four Marks in April 1923. He had been a gamekeeper and had moved a few times during the course of his life. I have found mention of a Forest Hill and a Shotover mansion in Oxfordshire which may well have had an estate and shoot worked at by Michael Becker Solley
The other missing family member from the 1901 census was Ethel and I believe that she ‘appears’ as a domestic servant aged 16 at a big house or Hotel in London. Her birthplace is shown as Oxford. She ended her days at Four Marks and was succeeded by George who died in 1989 aged 68.
Investigations, confirmations and clarifications will continue as I go forward. It really is amazing how much I have learned about Frank in just the last fortnight and how far I have managed to come now with my original name, occupation and photos.
Looking at the two photographs, one is a copy of Frank’s passport picture and the other is him visiting the Eiffel Tower on a date unknown but estimated to be around 1930.
Fascinating hobby this genealogy, good things come to those who wait !
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