Family Histories

We’ve responded to requests for help from two people looking to complete their family trees. One looking for help with Aldridge connections, the other Walsall.

Looking for information on Sgt Thomas Wilkes

Hilary Wilkes is looking for information about her grandfather – can you help?

Family History
Sgt Thomas Wilkes

Sergeant Thomas Wilkes, who served in the Staffordshire Regiment, was killed in the Battle of the Somme.

Hilary knows little about him, other than he lived in Bloxwich Road, in Walsall, and was married to Helen Pearman. Before he enlisted, she believes he worked in a brass foundry and served in the Territorials.

During the First World War, Thomas’s battalion held out for two days at Delville Wood, after being shelled from three directions, but he was killed on 29 July, 1916. She understands his body was not discovered until 1931.

“According to the Staffordshire Regiment archivist, he was mentioned twice in the ‘Walsall Pioneer’ of the time,” she said.

“The references I have been given are:  27 Date 3/6/1916 and 93 or 43 date 15/9/1917. These may refer to him being in hospital and/or being gazetted with the Military Medal, which was announced in the London Gazette on 19 February, 1917.

“Unfortunately, his record card at The National Archives was destroyed in the Second World War, so I’d be thrilled if you could shed some light. To see a photograph of him would be amazing!”

Anyone who thinks they have any family information about him can contact Hilary at:

Are you related to the Harvey family?

Family Tree Aldridge
Sam Harvey

Could you be related to Sam Harvey? Sam, who lives in Kilnhurst, near Rotherham in South Yorkshire, has traced her family tree back to the 1830s, where the Harvey family lived in Aldridge.

Now she’s appealing to readers of The Pioneer to see if she has any relatives still living in the area.

She said: “I’ve been doing my family tree on and off for about 30 years, but when I was furloughed earlier this year, I had time to get back to it. Some of the family I’ve traced back to the 1500s in Alton in Staffordshire but I found quite a bit of information about the Harveys who lived in Aldridge.

“When all the restrictions are lifted, I’d love to come down and have a look round and visit the archives to find more birth, marriage and death certificates relating to my family, but in the meantime, I wondered if there are still any family in the area.”

So far, 51-year-old Sam has found Joseph Harvey, who was born in 1835 in Aldridge to John and Sarah Jane Harvey, and was followed by brother William in 1838. They had three sisters, Diana, born 1841, and Hannah, born 1843, and Emma, born in 1852.

In 1869, William, who is Sam’s great, great grandfather, married in Spalding, Lincolnshire, before settling in Kilnhurst, where family remains today.

Her searches have also found that Joseph moved to Lancashire before emigrating to Canada, where he died in 1922.

However, Sam believes that either William or Sam left behind three children – John (born 1858), William (1860) and Sarah (1864) – because these children were living with their grandparents in the 1861 and 1871 censuses.

Other searches show that William and Joseph’s sister Diana married a William Edwards in 1841 and she lived in the Pool Green area of Aldridge, while Hannah married James Meeks in 1843. Emma married Thomas Connolly in 1852 and lived in Keepers’ Cottage in Barr Lane West before moving to Handsworth, Birmingham.

The younger William, who stayed in Aldridge also lived in Dumblederry Lane, according to the 1871 census.

Sam also discovered that her great-grandfather Joseph, son of William senior, died in November 1916, in the battle of the Somme, while he served in the medical corps. A few months later, in April 1917, Charles Herbert, who was the Canadian son of Joseph senior, died in Vimy Ridge while serving in the Canadian Army.

If anyone believes they are related to Sam – or have more information about the Harvey family – please contact the editor at and the information will be forwarded.

Tracing Family Histories

tracing family history
Sgt Thomas Wilkes

Tracing family histories is a fun hobby but for some people it becomes a passion. Maybe its because learning about our family helps us understand our place in the world. In the digital age there has never been so much information available to the public. This has resulted in the birth of a new industry devoted to helping us find the old records we need.  I’m sure you will have seen the ads on TV. But rather than get lost in data, why not just ask people.  Whether that’s family members or local history groups. For example, talk to older relatives. They will know family names and previous addresses. They will also know family stories, which will give you the first clues in your  search.

Sam Harvey posted on the Aldridge History Group Facebook page because she needed local information. She lives in South Yorkshire and had found that her family was living in Aldridge in the 1830s.  Following a phone call we featured her in our magazines.  Hilary Wilkes was also looking for information on her family history. Regarding her grandfather Sgt Thomas Wikes (pictured) who had lived in Walsall. We also featured her story in our January magazines.

How We Help Trace Family Histories

We will be having a regular feature in our printed magazines to help people tracing family histories. So if you would like to tell your story and get some local help, email Please let us have your phone number and a brief overview of who you are looking to trace. We can also share your Facebook posts.

Top Tips For Tracing Your Family Tree

  1. Ask Family Members
  2. There are online tools, census and registers
  3. Use other people’s research
  4. Use the free online Births, Marriages & Deaths directories
  5. Search parish records and visit churchyards
  6. Ask for information on social media
  7. Get in touch with Pioneer Magazines & Great Barr Gazette

Below we have listed some websites and social media groups to get you started. We would love to hear from you if we can help you trace your family tree.

Useful Websites/Social Media Groups

Aldridge History Group

Walsall Places, People, Pictures and History

Yours locally

Editor Great Barr Gazette


Great Barr Comp – The Largest In The Country, The Fondest Memories …

Great Barr CompGreat Barr Comp was, until 2009, the largest single-site comprehensive school in the country with over 2,400 pupils on roll. We spoke with John Slatford, a pupil at the Comp (now an academy) in its early days, and here he shares his memories. His time there helped him forge an exciting science-based career that took him all over the world so, now aged 74 and still living locally, he recalls why it was ‘such a great school’.

“My first knowledge of the existence of Great Barr Comprehensive School was in 1957. I’d passed part one of the 11-plus at my junior school in Turfpits Lane. That brought with it a choice for my Secondary education.

“I dismissed the idea of Grammar school with what I considered its narrow arts-based curriculum as my interest was the sciences. Luckily a teacher at my junior school was aware of a ‘new type of school’ that had just been built locally. He thought it would be ‘ideal for me’

“So I sat and passed part two of the 11-plus at Great Barr Comp itself – a school which was otherwise just outside my ‘catchment area’. Prior to sitting the exam, we were given a tour of the school which was mind-blowing as I’d never seen anything like it before!

“I started in September 1958 in class 1.2 with Pat Tullet as my Form Teacher. All the pupils were assigned a House. Mine was Priestly. The other Houses were Boulton, Fry and Nightingale. The curriculum was varied, and for the first time I had to listen to the teacher and write down what she said or copy it from the blackboard.

“Once I moved to the second year we were put in a form and a ‘set’ for various subjects. Internal exams in all subjects were taken three times a year. This meant every pupil had a bespoke timetable of lessons depending on ability. My interest was science which was so well catered for – eleven specialist laboratories!

“Very special about the school was the after-school activities.  I joined the Photographic Club, Film Club, History Society, Rambling Club and Visual Aids Society. This meant staying on at school until about 9:30 every evening. We were allowed two hours to do our homework in one of the science laboratories, which suited me. I was also in the Cross Country Running Team and ran for the school at weekends. Luckily there was a disused quarry across the road from the Comp used for cross country running practice. The Rambling Club took place each month on a Sunday and we were only allowed to ramble if we had the proper equipment.

“As one of three pupils recruited for the Visual Aids Society I was taught how to use and maintain the school’s projectors and to show films to the various clubs. We had an active Drama Department and we’d put on Gilbert and Sullivan Operas – giving me a lifelong love of their music and comedy.

“During the six-week holiday a group of boys would be taken Youth Hostelling in Britain and Switzerland. I was lucky enough to go on holidays to the Lake District, Devon and Cornwall.

“Two of the pupils at Great Barr Comp during my time are now world famous. Steve Winwood the musician and Martin Shaw the actor. All in all, it was a fantastic school. I hope today’s pupils appreciate what it offers and that it is still as good as when I was a pupil, back in the 1950s.”

** Great Barr Academy say they will be ‘welcoming students to its brand-new 6th Form Centre in September’.

Read the article in our online edition of Great Barr Gazette here.

Heritage Project: The Americans Are Here

Advertise PheaseyIf the residents of Pheasey in Walsall could step back seven decades in time to take a stroll around their estate, they wouldn’t believe their eyes.

What would they see? Smart young soldiers peering from the windows of the estate’s newly-built houses. Armed sentry posts and gate houses guarding access to the streets. The sound of marching boots might fill the air. And outside the Collingwood Centre, which served as a military HQ, stood a flagpole – flying the stars and stripes of the US flag.

Few people who live in this quiet suburb know that during World War Two it was requisitioned by the Government and handed to the American army.

Now a 12-month project, called The Americans Are Here, and backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, aims to help local people find out how their homes were once occupied by GIs, and their streets were filled with jeeps and army trucks.

“We want the project to raise awareness of Pheasey’s past during the second World War,” said organiser Lee Mitchell, “because it’s something that people simply don’t know about.

“Many of the people who lived here at the time are sadly no longer with us, so we can’t rely on their memories to keep the story alive. Newer residents are gobsmacked to find out what went on here, sometimes in their own homes, when war was raging.”

The project aims to get local people to engage with local history and find out for themselves about how the American Army made Pheasey its home.

“We really want to use Pheasey’s wartime history to create community spirit, by getting local people involved,” said Lee, who is organising the project with colleague Dave Crathorne.

“It’s also about reaching out to socially-isolated people and getting local schoolchildren involved. It’s a great story that’s right here on our doorstep.”

At the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, the new Pheasey Estate was still being built. When America entered the conflict in 1942, US troops started to flood into Britain. In Walsall, the War Office requisitioned unfinished properties on the estate, creating a Replacement Depot there, as a staging post for soldiers arriving to replace those killed or wounded in the fighting. American soldiers would sail into the UK via ports like Liverpool, before trains brought them to what was then Great Barr railway station in Hampstead. The GIs would then march up the Queslett Road to Pheasey.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused some disruption for The Americans Are Here, which originally hoped to hold regularly meetings and talks, as well as practical face-to-face sessions to help people discover their area’s history. Lockdown meant that all that had to be cancelled.

But by drawing on true wartime spirit, the project has carried on.

“We launched our The Americans Are Here Facebook page to allow people to still get involved throughout the lockdown,” Lee explained. “In fact, what everyone has been going through with coronavirus has a lot of parallels with what British people experienced during the war.

“There’s an argument that in some ways it has been worse because at least during World War Two you were allowed out of your house. And the pubs were open!”

Some of today’s local pubs were regular haunts of the American soldiers who lived on the Pheasey estate, and have formed part of the project’s photographic work, which aims to bring local history alive.

“We have pictures of what the area looked like at the time, so one of the things we have been doing is tracking down the locations in those images and taking a new picture from the same perspective. It provides a ‘now and then’ version of these fascinating old pictures and really helps to bring home the fact that this happened here,” Lee said.

“We’re also trying to build links with American families whose relatives served here, and track down the families of local women who went back to the US, as ‘GI brides’, when the Americans left in 1945. There is so much to uncover.”

Beneath the surface of today’s Pheasey Estate, evidence can still be found of the area’s wartime past.

“There are lots of stories of local people decorating their homes and finding graffiti on the walls beneath their wallpaper, left by American troops,” Lee said. “One person found the tread marks from a jeep.

All of this history is just under the surface, waiting to be found”. The idea of The Americans Are Here is to make local people aware of their heritage, and help them discover it for themselves.

“It’s so important that this kind of history isn’t forgotten. It helps people better understand the area they live in, and how it played a part in world events.”

We need you!

Are you a Pheasey resident, school or business?

Would you like to find out more about the area in which you live, work or play?

We are looking for people of all ages to join us in discovering Pheasey’s fascinating past during World War Two, when it was home to American soldiers.

To get involved in The Americans Are Here:


T:  Dave 07702 082331 or Lee 07583 076495

Facebook: WW2 Pheasey Estate – The Americans are Here group

2020 Vision Of The Past

Walsall MagazineBy Dick Scarlett, regular contributor to The Pioneer Magazine

Whilst throwing together ideas for my latest music video I thought it might be nice to have a few background images of some local landmarks from in and around Walsall & Birmingham.  So I jumped on to the internet right away there were a few easy wins – some lovely photos of the War Memorial at the top of Barr Beacon, a few black & white shots of Walsall back in the day, including some highly nostalgic shots of the old ABC cinema and one in particular of the foyer there that brought back memories I thought had long since been consigned to the neural scrapheap. That feeling of trudging back out through the foyer, past the long closed snack bar, talking ten to the dozen with your mates about the film you had just seen and then all of you blinking and staggering almost drunkenly for a few moments as you step outside and your brain fights manically to adjust to the full on daylight after you’ve been sitting in near total darkness for two hours. Ah yes, electric shock therapy to your circadian rhythms – funny what you remember.

And that single shot of the foyer unlocking a whole flood of recollections did get me to thinking – what other memories of my early years in Walsall had I, if not completely forgotten about, certainly not recalled in years? In no particular order the following slowly percolated to the surface of my admittedly jam-packed little mind. I remember daring to venture into the deepest darkest corners of Grice’s bookshop to pull out huge books on astronomy or science. Admiring with envious delight the latest advances in pen and propelling pencil design at Millington York, doubly silly as not only couldn’t I afford them, but I have always been truly atrocious at art!

I have fond memories of the pick & mix in Woolworths and the small but always interesting toy section upstairs. The old Co-Op superstore in Bridge St. was seemingly endless – it seemed to have a dozen floors and all of them went on forever. Side note; was the layout of the Co-Op based on human anatomy? I seem to remember the shoes were in the basement and the hats were on the top floor? And there was flipping through the posters in Gadsby’s until we were thrown out and trying on school uniforms in Buxton & Bonnett. And then trudging all the way back up the market hill, going underneath an old building that was held up by huge diagonal timber joists that were sunken into the pavement, to retrieve the car from a weird split level car park that was the definition of a wasteland; modern four wheel SUV’s would struggle with it but my Dad’s old Cortina shooting brake made light work of it! And sitting in the backseat of the same car as it made its way up that stupidly steep road that used to be there going over the top of the town. They weren’t perfect but they were happy days.

Now of course every moment of everyone’s lives is recorded, photographed & posted online. We won’t need memories as we’ll have the Facebook Archives – they can be housed in disused libraries. And even the cinemas now have a fifty-yard walk-in gradually increasing light from the screen to the foyer. How times change!

The video for Still, containing the background images mentioned, can be found on YouTube!