April 2023

Gloucestershire Heritage Hub

Unexpected Discoveries

Investigating an individual or family can lead to the most unexpected discoveries.  For many of us in GFHS it doesn’t matter whether or not we’re researching our own family - it is the ‘thrill of the chase’ and the satisfaction of making sense of any information unearthed that we enjoy.

Surprising stories can emerge from the most unlikely of starting points.  Here we have a small letter opener probably made around 1900 to promote T S Hodgson, chemist & photographic dealer, in Waterloo, between Liverpool and Southport.  On the surface, this is a pretty ordinary piece of memorabilia with no hint of anything unusual about Mr Hodgson or his family. 


However once we started to dig a bit, things took an unsuspected turn.  We discovered that Thomas Samuel Hodgson was born in Jamaica.  He appears for the first time in the UK in the 1871 census returns when he and his two brothers are listed as boarders at a school in North Yorkshire.  What a culture shock that must have been! 

Further research revealed that their parents were British-born Methodist missionaries who left England in the 1850s, probably never to return from the West Indies.  They were instrumental in building one of the main chapels in Jamaica.  We’ve found no evidence that Thomas Hodgson or his brothers ever returned to Jamaica either so perhaps this suggests a complete break with their family.  Thomas was apprenticed to a chemist based in Harrogate, then set up his own business around 1890 in Waterloo.  Rather surprisingly his son didn’t work with him.  Instead Thomas sold out to Jesse Boot (Boots the Chemist) around 1910, and he retired to Morecambe with his wife and daughter where he died in 1915.

His only son, Frank, is an even more enigmatic character.  In his mid-teens he worked for Camel Laird in Birkenhead and went to sea as an apprentice engineer.  Around 1908, in his early 20s, he moved to Detroit with his wife and young daughter to work for General Motors.  This was just the start of an eventful life and colourful career, involving divorce, a catastrophic explosion in a WW1 munitions factory and a connection to the early days of Hollywood before he too ended up in Morecambe in the 1920s - but that is another story.

You’ll see that although none of these people have any Gloucestershire connections we’ve been able to unravel their stories using the online sources available in the Family History Research Centre in the Hub run by GFHS volunteers.  Everyone is welcome to visit the Centre and we’ll see what we can help you find.  Just check our website for more information and details of our opening hours gfhs.org.uk 


Alongside the Centre we also offer a programme of online and ‘in person’ talks and events - details of these are also available on our website.  The easiest way to keep up-to-date with the latest information is to subscribe to our regular newsletter and look on Facebook- use the link on our website gfhs.org.uk 



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