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  1. #1

    Default A brickwall broken too late...

    Subjects: Unclaimed estates/illegitimacy/pre-1911 adoption


    Secondary names: HILLARY TOWNS


    I just returned to looking into my family tree after around six or seven years, and earlier today finally broke through the biggest brick wall that had been plaguing me since I started in 2016.

    It starts with my paternal great-grandmother, Lenora (Len, Lenora Bird, Lenora Hillery, Lenora towns 6 Aug 1919 Saddleworth Durham- 5 Aug 1995 Durham). I know from family that she was born in 1919 and her mother, 'Dot', left/was thrown out of the house at a very young age. Len was raised by her grandmother, a Mrs Bird (Anne Elizabeth Bird nee Blake, 18 Jul 1865 Tunstead, Norfolk- Mar 1950 Durham), and stepfather John J Robinson. We know that JJ Robinson is not the father of Lenora. She went on to marry my great-grandfather Robert Hillery (1 Aug 1916 Bearpark Durham- 15 Jun 1989 Bearpark Durham), divorced and remarried Joseph Towns. 7 of her eight grandchildren are still living (my grandmother having passed away) so I will not write their names.

    My original goal was to trace Doris (who was known to her daughter as Dot, but she had very little memory of her) and figure out where she was from, and where she ended up.

    I tried in 2016, but back then I was a lot younger (a teenager) and didn't realise how easy it was to make mistakes doing online research, especially if looking at other people's trees. So when I came back to it this year, I realised I knew very little about Doris.

    I had ordered a copy of Lenora's birth certificate back then with some hopes of shedding more light on her parents. Her father I won't discuss in this thread, since that's a totally different story and will probably only be solved via DNA testing. Lenora's mother is listed as "Doris Victoria Bird, now the wife of John James Robinson", with no father given. Right- so now we have something to work with.

    I found Doris Victoria Bird on the 1921 census with Lenora, living with the Birds. Lenora is listed as Lenora Bird Robinson. She also appears on the 1911 census with the birds, and this is where things start to get interesting. Ann Elizabeth & her husband George Robert Bird have two children, Doris having a brother- Joseph Bird (1893-1985), born in Castleford, Yorkshire, whose birth and baptism certificates I have found linking him to the Birds. On the census it clearly states that the Birds have had two children born and only one child survives- and yet there is Doris and Joseph. This was when the penny dropped a few days ago, and I realised Doris must have been adopted. So, Doris Victoria Bird- consistently listed as being born in Knaresborough, Harrogate, now becomes a mystery.

    Finally, I came across a match. Doris Victoria CROSS on the 1901 census in Knaresborough; living with her aunt, Amy Emily CROSS, and grandmother Susannah CROSS. Yesterday I found two crucial pieces of information- the Birds 1901 census putting them as lodgers in Castleford, very close to Doris Victoria Cross's family- and a baptism for Doris Victoria CROSS with birth given as 3 Dec 1899, parents George and Ann Cross. Susannah CROSS's daughter George appears with their household in 1881 and 1891, but not in 1901. I am not yet sure what happened to the parents, but this seems like solid evidence that baptism is for the DV Cross on the census. Not only that, she seems to disappear from the Cross household in the 1911 census- and then Doris Victoria BIRD appears with the Birds. I wonder, given that they lost a child, if perhaps they lost a daughter and adopted Doris in her place. I think all of this combined was fairly overwhelming proof Doris was adopted by the Birds between 1901 and 1911.

    [Irrelevant, but how funny are the names Victoria Cross and George Cross? I'm surprised her mother wasn't called 'Burma Star' lol].

    After Doris left the Bird household, I don't believe her mother ever heard from her again. I am also aware that, due to an illness Doris suffered from, which affected Lenora in infancy, it is highly likely Lenora was her only child.

    So now, having worked out where Doris had came from- and crucially confirming her date of birth, which is very important later on- I wanted to see where she had gone. I found numerous red herrings in the 1939 census, but her DOB was able to narrow it down considerably. I found a positive match for a Doris Victoria GATES b. 3 Dec 1899 living in Newcastle with her husband, Alderson Tunstall GATES a WWI veteran. I found their marriage records and the marriage was between AT Gates and Doris Victoria CROSS. Presumably. after estrangement from the Birds, she reverted to her birth name. I have not been able to find out yet what happened to Mr Robinson but I think they did get a divorce.

    After the death of DV's second husband, she marries again- three months later- to a second individual in Newcastle- George William GREENWELL, and changes her name for the fifth and final time. Doris Victoria GREENWELL's death entry states she was born December 3rd 1899 in Knaresborough, Harrogate, and died in November 1989. This, to me, is incontravertible proof I have successfully traced Doris and her many lives. I find it a bit crazy to think that she died when my grandmother was still alive, aged 49, having never met her or any of her other grandchildren.

    It was very useful that I found almost yearly polling records for Doris in her Newcastle houses going up to the mid 70s. Because our family has never even seen a photograph of her, I put her last known address into google hoping I might be able to find some neighbours or relatives who knew her- I was rather astounded with what I found; an artice in the northern Echo from 2016 about unclaimed estates.

    Doris Victoria Greenwell, d 31/10/1989 Newcastle, b 03/12/1899 Knaresborough

    It was indeed our Doris, and it was a match- alas. It would have been seized by the state in 2019, having passed the 30 year mark. I hope it was not a lot, or else I am not sure my family will ever let it go since I gave up when I first tried in 2016.

    I am trying now to figure out if I can check what her estate was and how much it entailed, even though it seems unlikely we can do anything about it now. If anyone has any advice for this, I'd much appreciate it.

    Now that I have unmarked her real identity, I can also start working on her biological parents, which should be a fun ride...

  2. #2


    Marriages: DV BIRD Jan 1919 to John J ROBINSON, Lanchester, Durham.
    DV CROSS Jul 1936 to AT GATES, Newcastle.
    DV GATES Jan 1953 to GW GREENWELL, Newcastle.

  3. #3
    Super Moderator christanel's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Wairarapa New Zealand


    You could try asking the government department if it is possible to find out how much the estate was worth even though you can no longer claim from it.

    Contact the Bona Vacantia division which is part of the Government Legal Division

    Sometimes paranoia is just having all the facts.
    William Burroughs

  4. #4


    Hi Christina,

    Thanks very much, I'll do that. It would be nice to get some piece of mind at least...


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