Monday, 23 November 2015


Combining a business trip with family history research - earlier today I took a visit to St. Mary's church in Haughley, Suffolk. My great-grandfather (x6) was buried here on 11 December 1785.

Robert Layte (born 1708) married his wife of German descent, Sarah, in 1732 and seems to have lived in the small village for the majority of his life as most of his children were born there.

 St.Mary's church, Haughley

By the time I reached the village after driving down from Liverpool the sun had gone down and I had to have a quick look around the small graveyard assisted by the torch on my phone. I knew the chances of finding a grave with the family name on it would almost certainly be nil, but I couldn't help but have a look for one before I decided to leave. I was wearing jeans and a dark fleece and I soon spotted a couple of the blinds across the road starting to twitch. I suddenly realised the appearance of strange lights seen floating around a graveyard might be the type of thing which the Suffolk constabulary might be called out to investigate, so I got back in the car and made a swift getaway!

I can just imagine the email message my boss would need to send tomorrow morning...

'Dear customer - Graham unfortunately won't be onsite with you today. He was thrown into a Suffolk lockup overnight and they've lost the key!'

Great... just great!

Sunday, 5 July 2015


And another thing....!

Sitting at the desk in my hotel room, checking over various bits of research material I've gathered together, I had almost reached the point of deciding to head off to bed. But before I did I decided to make one final random search to finish off the night…

As the name of my Lait family was fresh in my mind I went for that one, typing just two words into the Yahoo search field of a new browser window - ‘Lait coachbuilder’. The search returned a few interesting references which I took a note of in my ‘things to do list’, but nothing I specifically recognised. In the browser there was the facility to search for images as well as text, and this I did next - amending the search string to read ‘Diss coachbuilder’. I watched in amusement for a few moments as the search returned a great many photographs of car bodies, carts, coaches and buses; all in various stages of disrepair - the majority looking as if they had all seen better days. I scrolled down the page and yawned, almost reaching the point where I needed to pack up the laptop for the night and get off to bed, when my eye spotted something on the page - a small image of an old postcard which had been for sale on eBay in 2012, a street scene… and one which I recognised well.

Mere Street, Diss postcard - 1880 approx.

The location was Mere Street, situated in the small Norfolk town of Diss. It was a photograph of a place I was familiar with, for I had walked ‘virtually’ down the street many times before while conducting my internet research, using Google street view. I had also physically walked there myself on one memorable occasion, taking a small diversion when on my way home from visiting a customer site in nearby Suffolk in my day-job role as an I.T. Consultant.
I’d learned about the location only that same afternoon following a visit I’d made to the small museum in the town. The museum was open but deserted at the time, save for a solitary gentleman who was acting as custodian… sitting quietly by the door, greeting any visitors, and thanking them if they offered any voluntary donations. Diss is a town primarily involved in agricultural pursuits, and so I spent around ten minutes soaking myself in the atmosphere of the place, finding a varied collection of artifacts and memorabilia of a country township which had long since gone. A great many photographs adorned the walls. Old possessions and ephemera formerly belonging to the townsfolk lay beneath dusty glass cases on the tabletops, potentially untouched by humankind for many years. I wandered slowly around the single long room, hardly daring to hope that I would find anything recognisable which would actually connect me to the town, until I spotted two old town directories in the far corner of the room. 

Diss - town directory entries

I opened the books in turn, seeking out any references to any of my forbears, and then I found it - ‘Lait Charles, coach builder, Mere Street’. To say I was overjoyed and excited at finding this information would be an understatement, and my pleasure was further multiplied after the custodian told me that Mere Street was where the town museum was located, and I was actually standing in it!

I followed his directions and left him to explore the location he indicated at the far end of the road. There I found the Mere, a small lake which the street had been named after, and I was amazed to find that the original workshop buildings were still there even to this day. They had now been converted for use as a bookshop, but the former coach-building premises could clearly be seen. I photographed it from many angles, making sure that I took in as much of the surroundings as possible in order to locate it easily in the future. It is therefore not surprising perhaps that I recognised the site from the postcard, as it had become etched in my memory from just that one visit.

Mere Street, Diss - August 2010

Before I left to make my way home I called into the bookshop to see if they had anything on the local history of the town which would help me in my research into my Lait family. There was a book available which gave the history of the town, and I did indeed find another couple of references to my family within it.

Present day bookshop - site of coachbuilding premises (right)

If this example does nothing else, I think it proves the value of going with your instincts when running searches of this kind on the Web, and if the mood takes you then certainly don’t be afraid to make one more attempt before your head hits the the pillow - but don’t get carried away or you just might be still be there in the morning! 

Wednesday, 6 May 2015


Right in the middle of one of the most intensive German bombing campaigns to hit Liverpool, the ‘May Blitz’ as it became known - seven consecutive nights from the 1 to 7 May 1941 - took the lives of over 1700 people from the city and its surrounding areas, and injured more than 1100 more. During this time around 680 Luftwaffe bombers flew overhead during the nights, dropping almost 2500 high explosive bombs and incendiary weapons onto the city below.

Unexploded Land Mine - (Liverpool Museums)
Bomb Damage (Liverpool Echo)

My own family lived in Hughson Street in Toxteth, and my mother can still recall the night when the house next door was blown to bits by a German bomb - the occupants of the house escaped injury as they were sharing my grandparents air-raid shelter at the time. I can’t be sure of the exact date when this occurred, but I would imagine that there is a good chance that it happened during this particular bombing campaign. However, I can pinpoint another tragic family event which is directly connected to this period of the Blitz.

Lilian Erlis (b.1923 - d.1941)

Today is the 6th May 1941 - 74 years to the day when 18 year-old Lilian Erlis was tragically killed during a bombing raid which took out the family home at 12 Gaskell Street, Toxteth. As can be seen by the map section below, Gaskell Street was situated just a few streets away from where my own family were sheltering in Hughson, and the record shows that the general area was hit quite a number of times - potentially a consequence of the close proximity of the nearby docks.

Gaskell Street, Toxteth, Liverpool (Godfrey - 1908)

Lilian herself would have been sheltering at home with her family at the time of the air-raid, either inside the house itself or in a purpose built shelter nearby. As well as her mother and father, Lilian had three sisters and four brothers - at least two of the brothers would probably have been away fighting for the British forces - the rest may well have been alongside her at the time the bomb fell. It is also likely that her mother, Frances Midwood Erlis, was also injured during the same raid… my mother remembers well that Mrs Erlis Snr (as she knew her), lost both of her legs during the war and ended up in a wheelchair.
Lilian has been remembered and listed within the lists of civilian war dead by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It is eye-opening indeed to look through even just a few pages of these documents, for it soon becomes clear that on occasion entire families had been wiped out during the raids - and the location of death involved everything from private homes to shops, mills, warehouses and dockland. Perhaps in hindsight, the remaining Erlis family (and certainly my own mother’s family in nearby Hughson Street), were very lucky to survive indeed.
But today - 74 years after the event - I’ll think about the little girl with the tennis racquet, and all those others who perished and were torn from their loved ones in such a tragic way.
As the lady once said... 'Bless 'em all'.

Commemoration (CWGC)

Sunday, 1 March 2015


This is a short segment of converted movie film showing some of our family in Hughson Street, Toxteth, Liverpool. As well as seeing a few of the family themselves, there are also glimpses of the area around my gran and grandad's house, with Northumberland Street at one end, after passing Prophet Street just seen on the right. Toxteth Street is at the other end, across Park Street which led up toward our school.

The film was shot around 1965 / 1966 and you can clearly see the 'bommies' - those empty spaces where houses once stood before they were blasted by the German bombs which fell during the war. One of them lies alongside our own house, the bomb falling as my Mum and parents sheltered in their bomb shelter, which stood in the yard just to the left of where my grandma was standing in the above photograph. My very existence being saved by a mixture of pure chance as to where the bomb fell, and also a few layers of sturdy brick. 

 Finally there are some shots of the cobbled streets, new housing being built and also our own back-yard - whitewashed to make it look as sparkling as the washing Gran used to hang on the line.  

Mr brother Gary playing my plastic 'Beatles' guitar, and also myself - on the same toy drum-kit I played on March 1st 1966 while sitting in front of their black and white TV, watching a broadcast of the Beatles live from Shea Stadium.

This is just a short glimpse of our lives back then... I only wish I had more. 

I hope you enjoy it...

Thursday, 19 February 2015


Before the days of ‘instant news’, ‘in-your-face’ data and the Internet, things happened at a more leisurely pace. Methods of keeping in touch with loved ones, even those who lived only a relatively short distance away in the next town, would include either a telephone call (if you had one), or more likely a card or handwritten letter to be sent by post. It was a lovely surprise when you heard the letter be pushed through the letter-box by the postman, and then even more so when you recognized the handwriting on the envelope or opened the letter to read the content. In those days people would take time out and sit quietly and take in all the latest news - absorbing all the details… who was engaged to who, such-and-such now had a baby girl, our someone-or-other had recently started a new job. This information would immediately transport the reader into the sender’s world, and in an instant they were once again reminded that they had not been forgotten and that their friends or family were thinking about them. But of course, things would eventually move on from this seemingly ancient form of communication.
Reel of quarter-inch tape sent from the USA to our family over in Toxteth. The date on it is 'Christmas 1962'.

The onset of technology brought about new possibilities, and the advent of the home tape-recorder becoming available worldwide ultimately brought with it a new phrase to the English language - everybody began to tapespond.

Tapesponding was simply a method of using the new home tape machines to communicate with your friends and family, as well as to continue to use the written word. Reel-to-reel tape was becoming more widely available and cheaper, so it was perhaps natural that someone should develop the idea of recording messages on it and then sending the tapes themselves in an envelope through the post. As well as recording messages themselves using the standard microphones which were provided with the machines, the sender might also record their favourite songs from either the radio or from record, and compile their own ‘playlist’ to let their friends or family hear. Each manufacturer had adopted the industry standard of using quarter-inch recording tape; also building the machines so that they could record and play at different tape speeds (19, 9.5, 4.8 cm’s per second), therefore there was little chance that the tape would not be compatible with another machine until stereo 4-track machines started to be introduced later and started to complicate things. Another big advantage of this method was that the tapes themselves could be recorded over and re-used, so the recipient could record their own message and send it back!

Later on we all did exactly the same thing but using cassette tapes instead of recording tape on open reels. This made it easier as the cassettes were more easily played and were generally more robust than the quarter inch tape reels which went before them.

The audio link below contains a clip of Nora and Pat Caputo of New York State, USA. They were related to a friend of my aunt who lived locally in Liverpool, and she visited them while over in the US whilst Nora visited us at my grandma’s house when she came to holiday over here.
From left - my Grandad Jack Welsh, my brother Gary, Nora Caputo, myself, Nora's cousin Kitty - front room 25 Hughson Street, Liverpool 8.
In 1962 our family received a tape from them containing music and messages spoken by them both. The spine of the box reads ‘Christmas greetings from U.S.A. 1962’ written in pencil, and on the back ‘A Christmas Message from Nora + Pat In America’. Underneath this, written in blue biro ‘To Betty + Mr + Mrs Welch, Charles, Joan + Boys’.

In between songs contained on the tape, Nora and Pat simply spoke about everyday events from their daily lives in the U.S., and I can vaguely recall playing on the floor in the front room while our family gathered around my Dad’s tape machine as he played the tape back in Toxteth.

My Dad recorded a short message from each of our family on a similar tape to send back to America. It involved my Gran and Grandad speaking; my Mum, Dad and Aunt; and also myself and my brother Gary… just six and three years old respectively. How I wish that tape still existed and I had a copy of it… at one time it would have been relatively ordinary and mundane, but now it would be priceless to someone like myself.

In reality, I count myself lucky that I have even this one.

Thursday, 5 February 2015


I'm just so pleased!

I've found him! 

There was just this one priceless sound-clip, just a couple of minutes long which I'd mislaid in all my reel to reel tapes. 

My Dad, 1969 or so... the only recording I've been able to find of him singing and playing his guitar. 

Now I've got him back again and digitised him for posterity... but its got to be said, his guitar needs a tune though! ;-) 


Friday, 30 January 2015


The above photograph was taken in approximately 1954/55 and features my mother, Joan Seaman, when she worked in the sweet kiosk of the Gaumont cinema, Princes Park, Liverpool.

Mum was an usherette and worked alongside a team of other girls, and they all shared duties and took turns serving the cinema customers from the sweet kiosk. In those days apart from selling ice-creams, chocolate bars and drinks, you could also buy cigarettes to smoke while cuddling up to your loved one on the back row!

The short audio clip below describes my Mum’s memories of working in the kiosk, together with some of the more unwelcome visitors she used to have to deal with……

Thursday, 15 January 2015


MAURICE LAIT – Killed in Action (WW1)

Toward the middle of last year, when the 100 year commemorations into the start of World War 1 took place, I started running searches on the internet to see how many of my relatives I could find who had served during the conflict. I ran individual surname searches, beginning with the UK Medal card index which was available on Following my search of the surname ‘LAIT’ (my paternal grandmother's side of the family), the name Maurice Lait was returned, and I realised that he could be a match with my own family connections.

Maurice Lait – medal card - (source: National Archives)

I had only scant information about Maurice at the time – an approximate date of birth and his death given as 1916. However the more I began to search and dig into the archives, all the more information was revealed to me.

Maurice Lait was my second cousin, 3 times removed. He was born in Blaby in Leicestershire, a small village to the south of the city of Leicester, in approx. 1888 to his parents, Alfred and Emily Ann (nee Morris) Lait. Maurice was the middle child of at least three in the family - he had two sisters, Ann (born in 1885) and Ivy (born in 1891).  

I found the family on the 1891 census, and Maurice’s age was given as 2 years old. The family were living at number 12 Portland Road, Knighton in Leicestershire. Like Blaby had been previously, Knighton was a suburb of Leicester at the time. I searched for Portland Road on Google maps and found that is still in existence today, but the property mentioned above has now been replaced by offices / flats.

Site of 12 Portland Road – (source: Google Maps)

On the date when the 1891 census was taken, Maurice’s father Alfred was aged 36 and was stated to be a commercial traveller. Alfred’s birthplace was said to be Diss in Norfolk, the small market town where my Lait family had their original coach-building businesses.

Maurice’s mother Emily Ann was given as 40 years old, and her birthplace was given as Wellington Street, West London. Both of his sisters, Ann (written as ‘Ana’ in the census), and Ivy respectively were 6 years and 1 month old. Also in the property were Annie Isabel Chapman, a 13 year old domestic servant, and Harriet Shaw, a 58 year old widow who was a nurse.

1891 census – (source: National Archives)

Ten years later, when the 1901 census was taken the family were living at Scarbow Villa's, Fairfield Road, Buxton. Alfred was still employed as a commercial traveller aged 46... Maurice's mother was now aged 50. In 1901 his sister Ann was now 16 years old, and was training as a pupil school teacher. Maurice himself was 12 years old (his given name had been written ‘Morris’ by the enumerator), and his younger sister Ivy was 10 years old. There was also a new domestic general servant in the property, a lady called Judith Broomhead, and she was 60 years old.
1901 census – (source: National Archives)

Maurice Lait – Military Service

In 1914 it was recorded that Maurice joined the York and Lancaster Regiment (12th Battalion), and his short service attestation papers were located on His regiment number was 12/430.

Maurice was 25 when he first joined the regiment. He joined in Sheffield as a Private on 15th September 1914. In his service record Maurice was described as being 5 feet 6 inches tall, and weighed 140lbs. His complexion was fair, his eyes grey and his hair brown. The examining medical officer stated that he had no distinguishing marks (tattoos, birthmarks etc). His religious persuasion was stated to be Church of England.

Between 15 Sept 1914 and 19 December 1915 it was not clear in his service record where he was originally located. However, I subsequently found an excellent resource ‘The Long, Long Trail – the British Army in the Great War of 1914 / 1918’ (see link at ) which gave me further information.

The 12th Battalion (often known as the Sheffield City Battalion) was formed in Sheffield on 5th September 1914. In May 1915 the men were based firstly at Penkridge Camp in the midlands, and then went to Ripon in July and finally Salisbury Plain in October that same year. During this period the men would have undergone intensive battle training of various kinds in order to prepare them for what they would face on the battlefield. Finally, on 20th December 1915, the battalion was moved to Egypt to serve as part of an expeditionary force until 9th March 1916, before it was finally relocated to Flanders in France from the 10th March of 1916.

Maurice was only in France for a little over 3 months before he was unfortunately killed in action in Flanders on the 1st July 1916. He had been just 26 years old. Following his death, his service papers gave his home address as 64 Starcourt Road, but as yet I have been unable to find out where this might have been. The records also confirmed his father Alfred Lait as his next-of-kin who was living at ‘Oakfield’, Sylvan Cliff, Buxton. This road still exists at the time of researching this data (2015), but the actual property itself has not been identified.

There is evidence in his service papers that Maurice's personal effects were sent back to his father to the address in Buxton on 15th August 1917. Furthermore, in 1920 the UK WW1 Medal rolls recorded that Maurice was eligible for the Victory Medal and also the British War Medal for his services to his country. 

Medal roll records – (source: National Archives)

Maurice’s death and burial was recorded in the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). His name features on the Thiepval Cemetary memorial in the Somme. A commemorative plaque in PDF format was found to be available on the website (see below).

Memorial record – (source: CWGC)

Thiepval Memorial, Somme – (source: CWGC)

Graham Seaman (15/1/2015)

Monday, 12 January 2015



Capturing the moment when I first realised that I had proven the identity of at least one of my family members, who had recorded a list of names and dates into our family bible.

Prior to finding the book hidden away at the bottom of a wardrobe in my mother's house, I had previously very little information about my connections to the Lait family, save for an unconnected list of names compiled from the internet. On the inside pages of the book a list of names and dates had been written - both of birth and of death - and it is thought that at least three different members of my family compiled these lists. The identity of these people was not known and could only be guessed at, that is until the other day when the photo above was taken.

The left hand image shows a section of the 1911 census return from Liverpool, while the right-hand image shows a section of the page from the bible.

Comparison of both images clearly shows that the section highlighted was written by the same hand which had completed the census form... the signature on the form being Charles Graham Lait... my great-grandfather.

The discovery of this information was a revelation for me personally, and proves to underline the often repeated advice for the family researcher to 'keep on digging.' It is true that the varied tales from our family history are many, and this seems to prove that there are always new discoveries to be made, laying just beyond sight around the corner!

#familyhistory #genealogy #familybible