Who Do You Think You Are?

It’s time to have another look at my Great Grandfather, Harry Crook. He’s been mentioned throughout the blogs I’ve written about the family, including wife Mary, and their sons Harry, Sidney, Walter, Herbert, and my grandfather Frank.

Harry Crook

Their stories center on their military exploits and their heritage based in the villages of East Harling and Eccles; but what of Harry? Are we sure we really understand who he was, and what do we make of the clues?

If you look at the family tree, Harry would appear to be the seventh and youngest child of James and Elizabeth Crook; a family long seated in and around West Harling and apparently of farm labourer stock. Harry would have been aged less than one year old when the 1861 census came around, and he appears in the family listed as ‘Son.’ All well so far, until you look at the other clue and note that something is amiss.

1861 Census

As you’ll see, Harry is listed aged 1, but whereas his siblings are all recorded as being born in or near Harling, Harry is recorded as being born in London.

Now there’s no family record of how that may be the case, and mum had always said he was from London, but here he is as a tiny child listed as the son of James and Elizabeth Crook. So far, so good.

Maybe they took a staycation to London and Harry arrived unexpectedly, however unlikely that may have been for a lowly farm labourer and his wife. When we move forward to the 1871 census, the alarm bell rings slightly louder however.

1871 Census

Here again is Harry, now aged 11 and a scholar, but this time he’s recorded as ‘nephew’ and born in Harling. Are James and Elizabeth suffering from guilt or has the story changed? I’ve no idea how much care the census takers took, or how serious families were about telling the truth, but as you’ll see, something fishy is going on.

Duly, the 1881 census arrives and we get to see how the mystery of Harry Crook moves forward. Twenty one year old Harry is now an agricultural labourer lodging at Fen Road in East Harling, and is recorded as born at ‘London West’ – and obviously this is his own account rather than that of his ‘parents’.

1881 Census

Up to this point we’ve seen a variation on place of birth and relationship to James and Elizabeth Crook, but very soon, other clues arrive.

In January 1882 Harry enlisted in the army and joined the Royal Artillery. We’ll discuss his service in due course, but first we should look at his Short Service Attestation papers which survive.

The service file is relatively simple to follow, showing Harry’s enlistment at Garboldisham on January 3rd 1882 when his claimed age was 20 years and 10 months (giving his birthdate as some time around March 1861), albeit he now gives his place of birth as East Harling. I guess by now we’re used to Harry having a relaxed approach to personal details, but on page 4 we see new facts that really have me scratching my head. Under ‘Next of Kin’ he lists his mother as ‘Ann – London, Middlesex’ and ‘Brother – Henry.’

Up until finding this document I’d got suspicions about his parentage, but here we have two completely new names to add to the mix. At this point I’ve no clues about Ann or Henry, or their relationship to James or Elizabeth, or how they came to be living in London, but it seems that Harry is happy to tell the army a version of his truth that is different from the version recorded for him in the census.

Harry went on to serve for 12 years in total as a Driver with the Royal Artillery, including 262 days in Egypt between August 1882 and April 1883 with C Battery 3 Brigade during which time he picked up the Egypt Medal with the Tel el Kebir clasp and the Khedive’s Bronze Star. In April 1887 he transferred to the 1st class reserve, and left the service on January 2nd 1894. He’d initially held the service number 5717 with 5 Brigade, then 5265 as 5 became 3 Brigade. Once transferred to the reserve in 1887 he carried the service number 10392. His conduct and character were described as ‘very good’ throughout.

Egypt Medal Roll for C Battery 3 Brigade Royal Artillery
Khedive’s Bronze Star Roll for C Battery 3 Brigade Royal Artillery

Having returned to Norfolk from the regular army he’d become farm bailiff at Church Farm Shropham, and the 1891 census records him there with his wife Mary and young sons Edward and Harry jr. Harry on this occasion gives his place of birth as ‘London Marylebone.’

1891 Census

To complete the set, Harry continued his decennial game by informing the 1901 census that he was born in East Harling, but in 1911 decided again to claim he was born in Holborn, London. I wonder if he kept a tally of what he’d said a decade earlier?

1901 Census
1911 Census

The rest of Harry’s family story is recorded in detail in the other blogs I’ve written. He went on to work at Overa Farm, Eccles in the service of Quidenham Estate under Lord Albemarle and Viscount Bury, before his death in 1933. As you can see from the newspaper obituary below he received a soldiers send off.

In any case, although I’ve recorded the Crook family in a wide range of stories, and Harry seems to be clear in the public records, I’m still at a point where I don’t really know what the truth is about him. Of course, that’s the beauty of family history; the facts are what gets written on forms at a given moment in time, but not necessarily the truth. Truth is in the gaps between the forms and archives and the tales that live on in the memory of people like mum who says Harry was a ‘Londoner’ – and looking at the record, I’m in no position to disagree with her. I can only speculate on whether Harry was a waif given up by a family member because of hard times or some other tragedy, but the truth is we don’t know.

Now all I can do is wonder who Ann and Henry were, because this means I’ve got a different genetic tree to bark up, and I wonder again who I am. The search goes on….

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