Who is Harry Cassell?

31 January 2023

On the face of it, Harry Cassell looked like a straightforward heir-tracing case. However, further research led to uncovering a tragic story of his early days and a family gaining a new member they never knew of before.

Harry was born in Leeds in 1944. He lived there his whole life and died there in 2020. He never married or had children, and seemed to be an only child. There was just one question – who were Harry’s parents? There was no marriage entry to be found in the UK between a Cassell and a Thatcher (his mother’s maiden name according to his birth index entry). The search was on.

Locating Harry’s mother turned out to be the more straightforward of the two parts of the estate. Five years before he was born, on the 1939 Register, a lady named Lily Thatcher appeared, living on her own in Leeds and working as a tailor’s machinist, with a change of her surname to Cassell being recorded. This lady was clearly Harry’s mother, as proved to be the case. Even knowing this, though, didn’t help us to find Harry’s father.

The birth certificate would of course have answered the question – but in the world of heir tracing the wait might have been too long. Instead, we turned to searching for other Cassells in Leeds. Although there were a few, none of them seemed likely to be Harry’s father. It looked like the trail might be running cold, until we turned our attention to the newspaper archives.


Old newspapers


Some six months after Harry’s birth, an article regarding a railway accident in Norfolk was published in a local newspaper in Lincolnshire. It concerned the untimely death of another Harry Cassell, originally from Boston, in his late 20s. There were two crucial aspects of this article that led us to believe there may be deeper clues in there. The first was the fact that amongst the mourners was listed a ‘Miss Thatcher (friend).’ The second was that, amongst the text revealing details of his family in Boston and his work at the station in Norfolk, was that his address was given as being in Leeds.

The combination of these two aspects strongly suggested that the two Harry Cassells were father and son. As Lily had died in 1949, this would have left Harry Jr. an orphan at five years old. Who raised him is uncertain – perhaps a relation through his mother, or maybe the local authority. But there was a remaining niggle – why had Harry Sr. and Lily not married?


Leeds: City Square. 1950s. | Leeds city, Leeds, City


The answer to this lay some ten years before Harry Sr.’s death when, aged only eighteen, he had married for the first time in his home town. Adding to Harry’s migratory nature, it transpired that Harry and his first wife had two children together, born in Kent in the 1930s. The relationship clearly broke down at some point thereafter, Harry moved to Leeds and would eventually meet his untimely end, but there was no divorce. Harry’s wife remarried shortly after his death. Although both of Harry’s sons from his wife had also died by the time we were searching for the family, their children were surprised to learn of another uncle, of whom they had never heard and whose existence was indeed, to them, totally unknown.

Written by Senior Case Manager, James Green.

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