The "Norasearch" Diary - by Andrew Conway

Saturday, 1 May, 1999

Spend Friday night at Danny's new flat in Kings Norton, and wake up on his living room floor to a superb sunny day. Get the train into Birmingham city centre bright and early, heading straight for the Central Library and the sixth floor. Kim told me what I needed to do, so I ask for the register of births for 1909, book a microfiche reader, and start looking through the list of names. It turns out to be a record of births for the whole of the UK and not just Birmingham as I'd expected.

Unfortunately, there's no record of any Honora Parker born throughout the whole of 1909 in any part of the UK. I also check under Mary Parker in case (like 'Yvonne') she'd become known by her middle name, but there were no Mary Honora Parkers either.

So, I go back to the desk and ask for the years 1907, 1908, 1910 and 1911, and prepare myself for a long trawl. But, joy of joys, there she is, on the first 'fiche I consult.

So, the records show that she was born in the first quarter of 1908, in Kings Norton, coincidentally enough. It doesn't give the exact date of birth, but through this reference I can obtain a copy of the birth certificate from the Birmingham Register Office. They tell me there's a possibility that the certificate might be lodged at Smethwick Register Office (this is an area on the outskirts of Birmingham, which has its own local council) as all Kings Norton records are divided between the two, I presume, depending on the precise area.

The city of Birmingham has grown rapidly over the last 110 years (it was granted city status in 1889). It is the second largest city in the UK and is officially England's 'second city', with a population of approx. 1.6 million. At the moment, Kings Norton is a fairly leafy suburb five miles from the centre of Birmingham, quite peaceful, definitely more upmarket than the central Birmingham conurbation.

The suburb immediately preceding Kings Norton from the city centre's radius is Bournville, a Quaker stronghold that remains the only alcohol-free zone of Birmingham and is home to the famous Cadbury family and their chocolate factory. Kings Norton is still sometimes referred to as 'Kings Norton Village' even though it became industrialised at the turn of the century. It has always very much had its own identity and only became part of Birmingham with the Great Birmingham Act of 1911.

There's been a significant flowering of local history publications here in the last ten years, so there's no shortage of reference material in the shape of memoirs of life as it was 'in the old days' for 'ordinary Brummies' (this is the slang word for natives of Birmingham), photographic histories, studies by local historians and even novels. I hope to consult these to try and get an impression of the area as it was in 1908. There is also a Kings Norton Historical Society which meets every month and may be prepared to help.

It is, indeed, fortunate that the records say 'Kings Norton' rather than 'Birmingham' because, if the birth certificate doesn't contain the address of the parents, it will be easier to find the family on Electoral Registers by making a street by street search. Kings Norton is tiny; Birmingham is huge.

I had intended to consult the 1911 Census, but have just discovered that there is a 100-year privacy rule, which means that I can find nothing through that route until 2011! The Census is carried out every ten years in Britain, so 1911 is the first available one after Honora's birth. It would contain a snapshot of Britain as it was in 1910 (to be published the following year) so Honora would only be two years old when her parents, Robert and Amy Parker, filled out their Census form. Of course, I could always have a look at the 1891 Census for earlier references to Robert and Amy, but it doesn't really get us anywhere with Honora. The Census would give us the address and names of everyone resident, their ages, professions, birthplaces, marital status and relationship to head of household.

Kim tells me that two other sources of information might be the International Genealogical Index and Trade Directories for Kings Norton. And, of course, I could always have a look to see if Robert William Parker (Honora's father) is buried in Kings Norton cemetary, presuming Amy and Honora emigrated after his death.

On the subject of the year of birth, I wonder why Herbert Rieper gave the wrong age for his wife at the inquest (I seem to remember this being the source for Honora's age, but can't now find the reference to it in the FAQ). Was it indicative of his 'hands off' attitude to his family and, perhaps, an easy mistake to make in light of the stress he was under, or did Honora, for some reason, pretend she was a year younger than she was? This seems highly unlikely, because we can now see that Honora was 21-years old when she started living with Herbert Rieper as his common-law wife. To Herbert and Honora it would be of great significance that she was 'of age' and needed no permission from her mother, Amy ('Nana Parker' in the film).

I can now go and get the birth certificate as soon as the Register Office opens again on Monday.

Copyright © 1999 Andrew Conway. All Rights Reserved.