52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 7 An Unusual Source – “Not all of our genealogy discoveries come in the “regular” sources like vital records and the census. What is a discovery that you’ve made using an unusual source?”
Now, I don’t like to say I have a favourite ancestor, but my favourite to research would certainly be Walter Wild. I have found a wealth of information about him through the “unusual” sources of newspaper articles and service records, far more than I could have known through vital records and censuses alone.
Walter Wild was my third great grandfather. He was born in Derby on 9th September 1864 to Ann Taylor and Daniel Wild. His father worked the railways in Derby as a porter. In total, Daniel and Ann had eight children, with Walter being the eldest.
Walter lived an interesting life. He worked for a baker in the early 1880s, as written in the 1881 census, then worked as a labourer until 25th November 1885 when he enlisted with the 12th Royal Lancers in Canterbury.
Through Walter’s service record, titled a “Short Service Attestation”, I learned that he was 21 years and 2 months upon enlisting. It seems he had received notice to join the “general service cavalry” from a sergeant in the 3rd Battalion Derby Regiment. His record reveals much about Walter’s appearance that reminds me of my own brother. He was 5′ 8 1/2″ tall, 149 lbs (10 st 9 lbs/67.7 kg), with fresh skin, brown hair, and brown eyes.
Only a few months after joining the 12th Royal Lancers, Walter’s father passed away. He died of heart disease at the age of 49 years.
Walter served twice at “Home” (England, Scotland, or Ireland) totaling 244 days, and once in India for 1 year and 266 days, near Bangalore. Following his return home from India, Walter married Mary Jane Slack in Derby on 21st May 1888.
At some time during his service, it seems that Walter was promoted from Private to Captain, but this promotion wasn’t dated. At his own request, he was discharged in 1889 having displayed very good conduct throughout this time.
After leaving the army, Walter and his wife, Mary, had their first and only child, Daniel Wild. He was born on 4th March 1889, and two days later Walter enlisted with the Derby Borough Police as a constable.
His employment as a police officer is where my most unusual source comes in: the Police Conduct Book Reports.
Through the conduct book, I found out some charming but consequential information about my 3rd Great Grandfather. On 17th December 1890, Walter was written up by Inspector Tinker for gossiping whilst on duty. I find this such an endearing fact that sometimes makes me tear up because I, too, am a terrible gossip and have been all my life. I can’t help it! It’s literally in my genes! The bitterness around this fact, though, is that his punishment was a fine of an entire days pay. This must have been a significant blow to him as he had his young family at home.
Thankfully, misconduct wasn’t something Walter engaged in often, and he was only written up one more time almost a year later to the day, and again by Inspector Tinker, when he absented himself from a parade. I think that’s fair for Inspector Tinker to have written him up for, but for spending 5 minutes gossiping? That’s a bit mean of him.
As a constable, it seemed that a large part of Walter’s duties involved arresting drunkards in the Derby streets and testifying about it later in court. He was good at his job, and maintained impeccable behaviour, rising to become a Sergeant in 1903, and an Inspector in 1910. Throughout his career he attended to fires, drownings, child abuse, and murders, to name just a fraction of his case-load. I found over 100 articles containing information about Walter through the British Newspaper Archive.
Walter was often in charge of the mounted police officers in Derby, and during the railway strikes of 1911, riots broke out at St Mary’s Goods Wharf and the officers attending the scene were showered in stones, bricks, and rivets. One of the rioters, Thomas Stone, took hold of the reigns of Walter’s horse, and threatened to beat their brains out and took a bottle from his pocket in an attempt to glass him. Walter was able to keep this man away with his staff, and the man escaped until later that week when he picked Thomas out of a line-up. The Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal acknowledged that the officers’ work of controlling the riots was unpleasant, but it had to be done due to the outbreak of violence by men not directly involved with the strikes.
Alongside his duties, Walter was the secretary of the Derby police cricket club, and he would give speeches and sing with piano accompaniment at the annual cricket club dinners.
Following his retirement from the police in 1920, Walter took on the Rose and Crown pub in Shardlow. I can only image the stories he’d have to tell as you sat there having a drink.
Walter died on 22nd November 1932, aged 68, following a short bought of bronchial pneumonia combined with diabetes mellitus. He was only six days from retiring as the landlord of the Rose and Crown, having planned to move into a house he’d built in Aston on Trent called Rose Villa. His funeral took place at Nottingham Road Cemetery on 25th November 1932. I am yet to find his grave.
This is only scratching the surface of Walter’s tremendous life. Hopefully if you take anything from this, it’s that there is a whole life behind your ancestor that’s waiting to be uncovered. Please consider searching for your ancestors through the British Newspaper Archive, and delving into their service records. You could be amazed at the findings you make through these unusual sources.