Family history and genealogy researchers often compare their work to detectives. They follow a trail of clues that lead them to a particular individual. And they evaluate evidence to prove or disprove they have the right person.
Often times we have to do a fair amount of unravelling and untangling to solve a particularly knotty problem.
Here’s a case in point from my own Heenan surname research. It concerns a man called Albert Heenan who was a coal miner in the Derbyshire region of England in the 1930s.
The Trail Begins
I first came across Albert Heenan via a report in the Derby Evening Telegraph published on Thursday, 11 January 1940.
I’ve included a transcript because the quality of the clipping might be difficult for you to read.
PINXTON MINER SENTENCED
CHOCOLATE CLUB – NO CHOCOLATE
Albert Heenan (25) a miner of 8 Widmerpool Street, Pinxton, was sentenced at Alfreston Police Court yesterday to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour for stealing 4s 2d, the money of Mrs Mary Palmer, between August 4 and November 19.
Superintendent A Campbell said that Heenan formed a chocolate club and collected 4s 2d from Mrs Palmer who did not receive any chocolate.
Police constable Parsons said Heenan told him that he had spent the money and asked for time to refund it.
Heenan pleaded “guilty’ and asked for nine similar cases involving a sum. of £2 10s to be taken into consideration.
No Stranger To Police Court
This was not Albert Heenan’s first appearance in court. On 3 November the previous year he appeared on several charges of theft. The case was postponed because he was said to be ill at the time. When the case came before the court on 17 November, he was jointly charged with a man from Skegby.
PINXTON AND SKEGBY MEN FINED
At Alfreton on Wednesday, Albert Heenan (24) 8, Widmerpool Street, Pinxton miner and Leonard Warren (24) 14 Ashfield Street, Skegby were charged with stealing 23 iron girders value £2 17s 6d, the property of Hy George Steele of South Normanton between August 15th and October 14th . Heenan was further charged with stealing a dresser and screen, value £1, the property of Stele, between June 18th and October 17th. Both pleaded guilty, Both men made voluntary statements to Pc Parsons and P cWlker.
Heenan said that at the time he was short on work and that he was going to work without any “snap” *in his pocket. He had no food in the house and his wife could not feed the baby because of the shortage.
Waren declared he did not take the quantity with which he was charged.
Heenan was fined a total of £4 15s and Warren £3 10s
*snap is the term miners used to describe food taken to eat part way through their shift. It was often carried in a snap tin.
Who was Albert Heenan?
This was the start of the knotty problem.
The newspaper articles gave me his age and an address which were a great help in trying to trace Albert.
There is just one Albert Heenan in Derbyshire in the 1939 National Register. He was born on 2 Dec 1914, making him 24 years old. He is resident at 3 Carter Lane House, which is in the village of South Normanton in Blackwell Rural District, Derbyshire. He’s married and occupied as a coal hewer (underground). Also living in the same property is Annie Heenan, a married woman born on 21 October 1914, and a baby called Rose M who was born in June 1939. There is also one closed record. I think its a reasonable assumption that this a family group of husband, wife and daughter.
What makes me think this is the right guy is that: his age equates roughly to that given in the newspaper report, both men are coal miners, married and with a baby. Although the residence is not in Pinxton, these two villages are very close neighbours.
Digging further I find that this Albert Heenan married Annie M Cunningham in Derbyshire in 1934 and they had two children. One is the Rose M recorded in the National Register and the other is Gloria J Heenan born in 1936 (I presume this is the individual of the “closed record” .
The Mystery Deepens
This is where I hit a brick wall. I could find no record of an Albert Heenan born in England or Wales in 1914.
Some other researchers have built trees which indicate that Albert was actually born as Albert Plenty. Now if this is the case he was the result of an adulterous relationship that resulted in a petition for divorce in 1919. I wrote about this last year and it’s a very tangled story indeed.
In simple terms we have Isaac William Heenan born in Grimsby who married Sarah Ann Sadler in 1903. They had a son born the following year but he died before his first birthday. What happened to Sarah Ann I don’t know but there is no sign of her in the same house as Isaac in 1911. He still describes himself as married. Living in the same house in Pinxton , Derbyshire is a married woman called Annie Maud Plenty.
This pair are the subject of a divorce petition heard in the High Court in 1920 in which Frederick Plenty accused his wife of having had an adulterous relationship with Isaac and having born him a child. After the divorce is granted Annie and Isaac are married in 1922. They go on to have one child – a son called George who was born in 1922. But there are other children associated with the couple. They were registered at birth with the surname of Plenty – their births happened while Annie Maud was officially married to Frederick Plenty but living in the same house as Isaac.
William Heenan Plenty – born 1912
Bernard Edward Plenty – born 1913
May Heenan – born 1916 (she is named in the divorce petition as evidence of the adultery). At birth she was registered both as Heenan and Plenty
Walter Heenan – born 1918
Kenneth Heenan – born 1920
I have a strong suspicion that our Albert Heenan/Plenty is part of this tangled family relationship. If only I could prove this but right now that’s a knot I can’t untangle.
Want to learn more?
Albert Heenan’s family group is numbered 931 and can be viewed here
Isaac William’s family is numbered 209 and can be viewed here
At present I am keeping these as separate family groups until I can be absolutely certain they are connected.