Genealogical research is frustrating, isn’t it?
You come across an individual whose life story sounds fascinating.
You want to know more. So you dig and dig and dig.for documents and records that help you fill in the blanks.
At first it all goes swimmingly.
But then you come to a dead end. And then another. And another.
And no matter where you look or how hard you try, you just can’t get beyond that dead end.
That’s what’s happened with my research into Daniel Heenan, one of 15 men called Heenan from Commonwealth countries who died while serving in the armed forces during World War 2.
Who was Daniel Heenan?
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records simply that he was a Corporal in the Pioneer Corps who died on 21 November 1945. He was 40 years old at the time. He was buried in Killingbeck Roman Catholic Cemetery in Leeds.
The only clue about his family is that his wife was called Margaret (nee Wake).
With the help of census records and civil registration documents, I’ve discovered that he was working as a tailor on the eve of the outbreak of World War 2. He was a widower, his wife having died in 1937.
The couple had married in 1928 and had three children: James in 1929, Margaret in 1930 and Mary Valerie in July 1936.
It seems that his wife’s death caused the family to be split up. Mary, who was then just six months old, went to live with her maternal grandparents. I suspect that the two eldest children went to live with one of Daniel’s siblings.
Dead End 1
I wondered about the circumstances of Daniel’s death.
The date given of November 21 is after the end of hostilities. Was he involved somehow in clean up operations – perhaps in an unfortunate encounter with an unexploded device? Or did he die as a result of a condition like pneumonia? Finding the answers is going to be very tricky because the files of WW2 servicemen are closed to all but direct relatives.
I tried other avenues like newspaper reports and the history of the Pioneer Corps but without success.
Dead End 2
What happened to Daniel’s children after his death left them without either father or mother.
Mary Valerie was recorded in the National Register of 1939 as a three year old child in the home of her mother’s parents, Thomas Wake and Catherine/
I suspect her brother and sister went to live with Alice and Sydney Hewitt, a tailor, in Leeds. Letters of administration for Daniel’s affairs were granted to Alice Hewitt and to Catherine Wake in 1947, indicating a close relationship between Daniel and Alice Hewitt. It turns out that her maiden name was Heenan.
She could well have been Daniel’s sister, a natural person for him to entrust the care of his children.
But I cannot find any records that confirm a relationship between these two individuals.
Can you help?
I’d love to hear from anyone who might have information about this family and can help break through those dead ends.
If you can help, please leave a comment below or use the contact form found here
For further information
To learn more about Daniel Heenan take a look at the article I’ve written based on what I know so far.