MEMORY LANE: Family secrets of a Hartlepool foundling

Wilf and Linda Alderton talk about their family tree which traces back to William the conquerer
Wilf and Linda Alderton talk about their family tree which traces back to William the conquerer

HARTLEPOOL man Wilf Alderton, like every other member of his family, held the same belief in their hearts for decades.

Wilf, now 78, always believed his grandad John William was a “foundling” - the name given to an abandoned child.

He was wrong.

The truth about his granddad John William Alderton, who was born in 1879 and lived until 1948, was very different.

It was uncovered when Wilf’s wife Lynda, 65, began researching Wilf’s ancestry.

She talked to a relative of the family in Malton who was making up her own family tree. She confirmed that John William’s mother was on the record books and she was called Mary Jane Alderton.

But Mary Jane had given birth to John William when she was a mere girl of 14. It was a shocking state of affairs in the society of 1879.

Lynda said: “We think that, because there would have been a scandal, it was all hushed up. People would not have wanted anyone to know.”

To distance Mary Jane from the scandal, 14-year-old Mary Jane was whisked off by her parents a week after giving birth.

They emigrated to the USA, leaving John William behind to be brought up in Kirbymoorside by a relative.

Lynda was determined to know more.

She told Family Roots: “I found out that the family went to Northfield in Michigan. I got in touch with the library in Northfield to see if they had any records.

“They said it was very limited because of a fire which had destroyed all the records, but we still found the family.

“We found out that they moved to a farm in Northfield and then left there to go to Illinois and all over.”

Lynda’s painstaking research also revealed that Mary Jane Alderton’s mother - a woman called Mary Jane Woodall - died in 1902.

And Lynda’s excellent investigative skills went even further.

She discovered that John William’s mother Mary Jane Alderton married a man called Fred Bell. They had one son. He was a patriotic man who joined the US Army and fought in the First World War.

A sad twist of fate saw him survive the war years, only to be killed in an automobile accident soon after.

Mary Jane Alderton later married again, this time to an Irishman called William Dunleavy. They had five children and Lynda discovered the family had moved to a place called Ypsilanti in Michigan.

She also found out that Mary Jane changed her name to Jenny when she married Mr Dunleavy.

All this was an astonishing amount of new information and Lynda said: “It has been two years of fascinating research.”

But that’s not the end of this incredible story.

Further research by Lynda would soon reveal even more of a dramatic line in history.

But that’s a story for next week.