Missing (Sole) Connections
By Linda Butler
This article was originally published in the August 2001 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.
This tale has its origins back in early 1975. My future husband, Mel Butler, and I were in the vestry in the beautiful Francis Greenway designed central Sydney church of St James. We were giving the Rector's questions all the information needed for our marriage certificate. I got an incredible surprise when, in response to one question, Mel said his mother's maiden name was SOLE. I made some joke about a distant connection back in England, as my grandmother's maiden name was also SOLE. However, at that time I wasn't really interested in my family history and thought no more about it, until …
My grandmother, Hilda (SOLE) HAMILTON died in 1979. Helping my mother sort out Hilda's possessions, we came across a tin box crammed full with over one hundred photos, most of them obviously very old. We searched in vain for names to attach to these photos, but apart from unhelpful labels like "Uncle Fred" and "Annie and Mabel" there was little to help us identify the people in them. This fuelled my interest in genealogy, and the first task I set myself was to put names to all the photos. Twenty years on, and with the help of a Patricia HAMILTON, a distant cousin, most have been fairly confidently identified.
However, as I became more and more interested in tracing my family origins, I began to spend a lot of effort on the SOLE line. There was the glamour of our connection with the big top - the Sole Brothers Circus. And as Australia's bicentennial approached in 1988, genealogy became one of the nation's favourite pastimes as everyone sought that elusive convict ancestor – someone to be gloated over now, not hidden as in previous generations. It was the SOLE line of my grandmother that took me furthest back in Australia. Edward SOLE came to Australia in 1856, and married Margaret BREEN in 1860. In Margaret's father, James BREEN, I duly found my convict – he was convicted of highway robbery in Ireland and sentenced to transportation for 7 years.
I first wrote to Don Steel re his SOLE entry in the Genealogical Research Directory in 1989, but it was not until 1991 that we started corresponding in earnest, and of course by that time the Sole Society had been formed. In early 1992 I had a work trip to England and escaped for one glorious weekend of genealogy, with Don as my guide. We packed a lot into that weekend – a north of England family history conference, a trip to Kelshall with Sid Robinson and his sister Ivy, and my first meeting with Fred and June Sole. Very early on, Fred and I exchanged notes, and quickly decided that if we did connect, it was a lot further back than any research had yet taken us. Fred's branch was from Cambridge, mine from Kelshall.
As time passed, I hadn't gone very far with tracing my husband's SOLE line. The first time I questioned my mother-in-law, Winnie (SOLE) BUTLER, about her father, Harry SOLE, I was taken away from the rest of the family, the door was closed, and I was told in very hushed tones that her father was illegitimate. She hadn't even told her husband of forty years! I didn't like to push too hard along that path, so left it rest for a while. But as the years passed, and much of the research on the Kelshall line was being so capably undertaken by Maureen Storey and the many Sole Society members descended from that line, I once again made a start on Mel's Yorkshire family. I sent for all the relevant certificates that I had identified in the St Catherine's House Index. I found that Harry's mother was Sarah SOLE, and that her father was called George SOLE. I could find no trace of George's birth.
In 1997 I sought Maureen Storey's help in finding out more information about George, but we weren't able to match him to any person in the SOLE database. Then out of the blue in mid-1999 I received an email from Fred, who I'd been in regular contact with over the years, to say that a chance remark to Maureen at a Sole Society committee meeting prompted her to tell him of my interest in George. Fred had also been researching this particular person in the hope of proving he was the missing brother to his great-grandfather, William. I was speechless. Fred and I aren't connected, but it looks like he and Mel are.
Fred had been tracing the descendants of George SOLE in Bradford. He'd identified Mel's great-grandmother, Sarah SOLE, his grandfather, the illegitimate Harry SOLE, and Mel's mother, Winnie SOLE. He had found Winnie's marriage to Albert BUTLER, and the birth of Mel's brother Derek. Fred hadn't made the connection to Mel and also had not persevered with the hunt because Butler is such a common surname. It would have proved a discouraging search - Derek was Mel's only sibling, and WWII and 10 years intervened between their births.
When we finally made the connection, Fred had a wealth of information to pass on. This included the intriguing detail that George and his 'wife' Eliza BARKER had their banns published three times in Framlingham, Suffolk, but they "did not present themselves at the church for marriage". So not only was Mel's grandfather, Harry SOLE illegitimate, but his great-grandmother, Sarah probably was as well. I haven't had the heart to tell Winnie. George was employed on the railways, and together with Sarah's older brother, George, the family moved up to Yorkshire in the late 1880s. George stayed working for the railways, and Eliza ran a boarding house for single railway employees at 8 De Gray Street in Bradford. I can't name Harry's father, and his birth certificate does not give any clues, but I doubt that I'd be too far off the mark in assuming he might resemble one of his grandmother's boarders!
Mel and 'cousin' Fred finally met in April last year. Mel and I were on holiday in England visiting our daughter, Heather. She was doing a GAP year, working as an assistant housemistress in a boarding school in Brighton. We had a wonderful lunch with Fred and June in Peterborough one brisk April day. Fred gave Mel a printed copy of 'their' family tree, presented with a true "This is Your Life" flourish. We've yet to prove that Mel's George and Fred's George are one and the same, but the odds look fairly promising. I think we all rue the fact that the connection wasn't made earlier, but when you are chasing back a myriad of lines it doesn't matter how well organised you are, connections can be missed. If it wasn't for the Sole Society, we may never have made the connection.
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