The Hildred Family

12 April 2024

Please note: some names and details have been changed to protect the privacy of the family.

When the name of Stephen Simon Hildred appeared on the Bona Vacantia list in early 2020, shortly after his death, by all appearances it was a perfectly normal case. His birth, in Leeds during the Second World War, was easily found. From there, however, things took a turn for the unusual…

The first point of interest in this case was the fact that Stephen’s parents were not married. It was easy enough to establish this, as he appeared in the birth indexes under both his father’s surname of Hildred and his mother’s maiden surname, Tucker. In civil registration indexes for births, this is normally a surefire sign that there is something fishy going on. At this point, normally, we would order the birth certificate to identify the parents. But, given how unusual the surname of Hildred was, we decided to see how far we could get without it.

The Answer

The answer, it turned out, was quite far! Hildred was such an unusual surname that we decided to make a general search of the British Newspaper Archive for anyone with this surname resident in Leeds. As it turned out, there was a very likely looking candidate.

In an article in the Lincolnshire Standard from later in the year that Stephen was born, an obituary was recorded for Simon Hildred, with an address given in Leeds (it would later turn out that this was the same address Stephen was born at). Further research showed that Simon was indeed Stephen’s father. Why though was it in the Lincolnshire Standard? Because, of course, this was where Simon Hildred was from.

Tragic Findings

Unfortunately, the rest of the article did not make such pleasant reading, as the headline below shows.

Nasty stuff. Of high interest, though, was the list of mourners at the end of the obituary. Amongst the mother, brother, sister and aunt was a “Miss Tucker (friend).” Well, Stephen’s birth record suggested that they might have been rather more than just friends…

In any case, we began the process of searching for Simon’s family. He had a number of brothers and sisters, and we contacted several of his nieces and nephews – Stephen’s cousins. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they had never heard of their uncle’s son, born out of wedlock, in the wrong county during the Second World War. But, there was a further twist.

The Twist

Simon Hildred worked on the railways, and like a lot of railway workers was very mobile. Not only had he lived in Boston, Leeds, and Suffolk (where he died), one of his nieces mentioned that she was sure Simon had been married and had two sons. Well, his obituary mentioned no wife, and no children, so at first we thought this couldn’t be right – but then, he definitely had one son, Stephen, at the time of his untimely passing. Back to the drawing board we went.

Eventually, we found the reason Simon hadn’t married the mysterious Miss Tucker – he was already married, to somebody else. He had married, aged only 18, and went to work on the railways in Sussex where he had two sons with his wife. Although both those sons had died, Simon’s grandchildren through them were the beneficiaries to Stephen’s estate – and yes, they had no idea about Stephen.

All’s well that ends well

So, from a perfectly ordinary-seeming name, we were led on a hunt through four counties in the space of only a decade. Helped by an unusual name, we were able to uncover a hitherto unknown family story and share it with the Hildreds, together with passing them an estate which otherwise would have gone to the Crown.

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