By Katie Bishop, Searchroom Assistant
Along with my colleague Imogen, I am undertaking the task of box listing church Facilities 1947-2002 (Ep 1/98).This means going through parish by parish and making a list of all the facilities we hold. Imogen discusses this work in more details and, crucially, explains what a faculty is in on her blog: An Intro to Faculties @WSRO. On a basic level a faculty has to be submitted every time a church wants to make a change. Whenever a grave space is reserved a faculty is needed, every time cremated remains are interred a faculty is needed, every time a memorial tablet is placed a faculty is needed…you get the idea.
Through this work I have been discovering that they can be a great resource for research and specifically for family history. Imogen briefly touched on this in her blog but I want to explore in more detail how family researches can use them.
While box listing these faculties I came across one from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. I have seen faculties for war memorials before but hadn’t come across one from the commission itself. It was in relation to St Margaret Church, Ifield, 13th March 1973. They were requesting that a privately placed headstone be removed in favour of a Commonwealth War Grave one, as well as 100 years exclusive right of burial for that soldier. The solider buried was C. E. M Thornton and reading through the faculty gave no more information about this man but it had intrigued me. The document mentioned that there were seven other WW1 soldiers buried at the churchyard, why focus on just one? I wondered if it was possible to find out more about the man, his life and service.
Because C. E. M Thornton was a WW1 burial, I assumed he had died in the war and so my first place to look for more information was the Commonwealth War Graves website. The website lists details of war memorials, cemeteries and has a casualty database of approx. 1.7 million men and women of the commonwealth forces who died during both World Wars. If there is a record for an individual, it will provide details of any grave or memorial. It often details battalion, regiment, service number and sometimes next of kin.
One result came up for a C. E. M Thornton! It told me that the soldiers full name was Private Crusier Eldred Moore Thornton, service number G/12997, died 19/03/1917, aged 41 and served in the 3rd Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment. He was born in Crawley, Sussex and was the son of Cruiser Thornton and Mary Ann Thornton and husband of Alice Thornton.
It also gave me details of where he was buried (although because of the faculty I already knew that) and links to information regarding the other soldiers buried in the churchyard.
This entry provided a wealth of information. Now knowing his date of death I could work out a date of birth. Also, knowing where he lived and parents’ names meant I could search censuses online and his service number would help in tracing him through military records, both online and at the Record Office.
Firstly I wanted to confirm his actual date of birth and so searched the genealogy site Ancestry.co.uk and found a registration entry which confirmed his birth being in Oct-Nov-Dec quarter of 1875. An entry also came up for his marriage in 1903.
Once I had confirmed this basic information I wanted to see if I could trace him through the censuses. Having such an unusual name and knowing other family members would be a big help in knowing I was tracing the right person.
Using his name, date of birth and area he was living, I managed to find him and his family on the 1881 when he was 5 years old living in West Hoathly; the 1891 census as 15 years olds at Stanstead; the 1901 census at 25 years old, housepainter in Ifield and in the 1911 census now 35 years, housepainter in Ifield and married with a 4 year old son, Eldred.
Now that I had found out his family and background, I focused on his military career; the reason for the faculty in the first place. The Records Office holds the Royal Sussex Regiment (RSR) archive although it is still in the process of being catalogued. Knowing he was in the 3rd battalion, I knew that potentially it could be quite difficult to trace him. The 3rd battalion was a reserve battalion and not one of the two regular ones (1st and 2nd). Doing a quick Google search revealed that the battalion had remained in the UK throughout the war. They were mobilised to Dover and in May 1915 moved to Newhaven for duty (which becomes significant later). I searched his name (and variations) on our online catalogue but nothing came up. In the searchroom we have a series of indexes and RSR soldiers but we have almost nothing for 3rd battalion and again I could find no record of him.
I then went back to Ancestry.co.uk and used the military database but even with his unique name I was struggling to find any record of his military career. I didn’t find a service record but I wasn’t expecting to as 60% of the records don’t survive after heavy bombing in WW2 destroyed the building they were stored in. I did, however find small snippets of information. After his death a register of his effects were taken and it gives a date and place of death as 19th March 1917 at a military hospital in Newhaven (where I knew the 3rd battalion was stationed). Also on Ancestry were entries for Cruiser’s pension record and his place of burial.
From not even knowing the man’s full name, only ‘C E M Thornton’ listed in the faculty, I had gone on to discover; his full name, date of birth, marriage, death, where he grew up, the name of his family and aspects of his military career. This single faculty is just one example of many hundreds that relate to specific individuals. Hopefully this highlights how Facilities can be used alongside other resources in aiding those researching their family.