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Englishman searching for descendants of letters’ authors

Jeff Coleman hopes to reunited letters dating from the First World War with the authors’ descendents. - Photo Contributed
Jeff Coleman hopes to reunited letters dating from the First World War with the authors’ descendents.
— image credit: Photo Contributed

A man in England hopes the Information Age will help him unite First World War era letters with the descendants of the woman who wrote them.

Jeff Coleman, of Watford, Britain, has been storing some family history in his attic for the last 30 years or so. The problem is, the history is of someone else’s family, which he has been trying to track down.

In 1918 a small, locked suitcase was left with the Midland Bank – now HSBC – in Watford, located just north of London, for safekeeping.

More than 60 years passed and the case was never claimed. It came to the bank staff’s attention in the 1980s during an audit when staff discovered they couldn’t trace the case’s depositor Florence Kilburn.

The case was opened to see if it contained anything of value and information that might help locate its owner.

What bank staff found were bundles of letters from Kilburn, who was born in 1896, to Stanley Victor Isaacson, born 1898, Kilburn’s boyfriend serving with the British Expeditionary Forces in France during the latter part of the war.

Since the letters had no monetary value and the bank was unable to track down Kilburn, they would have been destroyed, but Coleman took it upon himself try and find the couple.

In the ’80s Coleman had extra time on his hands to do a little investigative work.

He read some of the letters, which mostly contained day-to-day news about friends and family and even took it upon himself to visit some of the addresses on the envelopes, but knocking on doors turned up raised eyebrows from people who, for the most part, had only moved into the homes recently or had simply never heard of the Isaacsons or Kilburns.

Ultimately, Coleman’s initial investigation came to a dead end, but it was before the Internet.

“It just seemed such a shame just to throw these things away,” Coleman said. “We didn’t have all the Ancestry’s and the Find My Past’s and all the things that we’ve got today.”

Time passed until a family friend with a flair for genealogy decided to help out and discovered Kilburn and Isaacson emigrated to Canada.

Isaacson resumed employment at the Midland Bank after the war in 1919, but left again in February 1920.

Kilburn and Isaacson travelled from Liverpool, Britain, to Montreal in 1920 where they married on June 27, 1921 at St. John Evangelist Church.

They eventually moved to Nanaimo and lived at 255 Stewart Ave. Stanley died in 1985 and Florence died in 1988.

Florence’s last known address was 118 Wakesiah Ave. in 1986, said Sid Norman, a member of the Nanaimo Family History Society, who helped Coleman gather Nanaimo-related information about the family.

Norman discovered the couple had a son, Richard, in 1923 whose name surfaced on a 1974 voters list that showed him living in Nanaimo with his wife Mary and daughter Patricia at 2973 Hammond Bay Rd.

But that trail soon turned cold too and Norman was unable to find further links to possible relatives in either the Nanaimo area or in England.

Coleman still hasn’t given up on his quest to have a family reclaim part of its history.

“I never had the heart to throw them away,” Coleman said. “I don’t think there’s anything of any real genuine historical interest in there, but it was just this lady – I mean all those letters – she must have written him every day.”

Anyone with any information about the Isaacsons and their descendants is asked to e-mail Coleman at j431coleman@btinternet.com.

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