The Sole Society, a Family History Society researching Sole, Saul, Sewell, Solley and similar names

Surprise! Surprise!

or First Steps in Family History

By Jenny Daniel

This article was originally published in the December 2000 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.

My mother’s maiden name was SAULL. She died in her fifties in 1966. All we knew about her family was that she had two brothers. One had been in bomb disposal and had been killed towards the end of the war. The other had done something she would never talk about, not even to my father, and had left the country for the Colonies never to be seen or spoken of again. So, as far as we knew, my sisters and I had no cousins, no uncles or aunts. She told us that her father, John Clare Saull, was an inventor and had blown himself up; his side of the family originated, she said, from County Clare in Ireland.

My father died in 1996. Around that time, and increasingly afterwards, I began to be interested in the family history. There happened to be a chance of my going to Ireland and I thought I might be able to fossick around there. So one day I idly trawled the internet, as everyone does, looking for the name SAULL. Up came the CV of a young man called James Saull. I sent him an email, he replied, then his sister got in touch. She had been doing some research herself, and, in particular, had come across – again on the internet – a family tree of the Saulls going back to William and his wife Ann in the late eighteenth century.

A year later, this is the gist of what I now know:

James and his sister are the grandchildren of my mother’s brother Bryan. So Bryan is my first cousin – the first of many, as it turned out. My mother in fact was one of nine. She did indeed have a younger brother who was killed doing bomb disposal – he actually won the George Medal posthumously in 1945. She had three other brothers, as well as a baby who died soon after birth. She also had three sisters. Her father was a motor cycle maker and mechanic – but he did invent some kind of chain drive for motor cycles. He fell from one of his merchandise, broke his back, was severely crippled and lived a few more painful years before dying sometime about 1915. His business went broke and the family was split up. My mother and the youngest brother went to live with cousins. The older children were old enough to fend for themselves. One or both of the middle brothers, however, went to Barnardos and, the story goes, it was only by chance that one of the older boys came to visit and prevented the younger one from being shipped off to Australia.

The family came originally from Gayton in Northamptonshire – no Irish connections at all as far as I can tell.

My mother’s father, John Clare Saull, was the youngest of seven children. The youngest three, Clara, Rose and Elizabeth, were born in Winslow Buckinghamshire in 1871, 1868 and 1864 respectively. The next sister, Sarah, was born in 1862 – I don’t yet know where. The two oldest were boys; Arthur was born in 1859 and Saul in 1861. In the 1881 census the two young men were living in lodgings in Kensington. Arthur’s occupation was ‘fly coachman’ but Saul, going the way of many Saul males, is listed as a ‘mechanic’.

Arthur married Emily Anstee Algar, born 1860. They had three children one of whom, Leonard James Saull, married Annie Sillitoe. They had five children. One of those children, James Saull, born in 1913, lives in Ontario Canada and is a sculptor. I have been in touch with him through a friend who uses the internet and he has been able to give me quite a lot of information about his branch of the family.

Leonard James Saull’s sister, Mabel, married a William Hall and it is her son, another William Hall, who has compiled the seven generation family tree that we now have and I am trying to add detail to.

One serendipitous occurrence: My grandmother and her family lived in Southgate. Her maiden name was Skeats. I went to Palmer’s Green Library, were there is an excellent, helpful and enthusiastic local librarian called Graham Culling. We went through the local census and had some useful results. Then he gave me some little books of local interest to look at, anecdotes and pictures of past Southgate. As I browsed, I spotted the name Skeats. There was a picture of football players, all in fancy dress, at a charity match on Boxing Day 1901. In the middle: Sidney Skeats, my grandmother’s younger brother, wearing a large false beard and a big smile!

One last piece of evidence to show that one cannot trust even one’s nearest and dearest: when I found my parents’ marriage certificate and compared it with my mother’s birth certificate, I discovered that she had given her age as three years younger than she really was! One can only guess why she did all this, but it all goes to show that family history can be not only interesting and fun, it can be surprising too.

Postscript: I would very much like to learn more about my grandfather John Clare SAULL and his brothers and sisters: Arthur, Saul, Sarah, Elizabeth, Rose and Clara. Also about his mother Elizabeth Clare, born in 1835 in Grandborough Buckinghamshire, and his father Saul Saull born in 1833 in Gayton Northamptonshire, and his brothers and sisters Ann (born 1821), Mercy (1823), William (1824), Sophia (1826), James (1828), Rose (1830) and George (1839) – all born in Gayton. Can anyone help?

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