Interesting puzzle in the National Probate Calendar

18 Aug

During my rather haphazard searches of the National Probate Calendar last week I came across an interesting pair of entries that I felt warranted further investigation. Unfortunately the people concerned are pretty distant relations, but at least they are related.

The first entry I discovered was for Dorothy GASSON:

GASSON Dorothy of 3 North-road Haywards Heath Sussex widow who was last seen alive on 13 October 1940 and whose dead body was found on 15 October 1940 Administration (limited) Lewes 31 December to Robert George Richards public assistance officer. Effects £143 1s. 11d.

This seemed rather unusual, but presumably no-one knew the exact date that she had died, and I assumed that the “public assistance officer” was acting as executor in the absence of any other appointed executor or next of kin.

Further down the page was an entry for another GASSON also living at the same address:

GASSON William Edward of 3 North-road Haywards Heath Sussex died 15 October 1940 Probate Lewes 6 January to Percy William Woodland postman and Jessie Mary Woodland (wife of the said Percy William Woodland). Effects £280 16s. 8d.

The mystery deepens, my first thought was “why was the postman acting as executor?” but I guess there is probably some family connection. William died on the same day as Dorothy’s body was discovered, had someone seen William the day before so they knew he had died on the 15th October, but couldn’t be certain about Dorothy.

Several other questions came to mind, what was the relationship between Dorothy and William? How did they both die? Why was the postman not acting as executor for Dorothy as well as William?

The first question is probably the easiest to answer, according to the GRO Marriage Index William Edward GASSON married Dorothy BACKSHALL in Q2 1939 in the Cuckfield Registration District. This has got to be them, so they must be husband and wife, but had only been married for about a year when they died. Given the date, the most likely cause of death is probably as a result of their house being bombed during the Second World War

I checked the GRO Death Indexes for both Dorothy and William, and that just made matters worse, perhaps they weren’t husband and wife after all. Dorothy’s age was given as 41 years and William’s as 71 years. Perhaps Dorothy was a daughter from an earlier marriage or a niece, but for a 40 year old woman to marry a 70 year old man in 1939 seems unusual.

Now I have the question of whether to follow up the story further. Like I said earlier they are pretty distant relations, but I just can’t resist a mystery like this. I need to know what was going on. The problem is that I can’t afford two death certificates, probably a marriage certificate, a copy of a will and a grant of administration. Although it is an interesting puzzle I have more important things to spend my genealogy budget on. Instead I will add another item to my to-do list, to check the local newspapers for the time to see if any mention is made of their deaths.

The National Probate Calendar is certainly proving to be a very rich source of information, every time I find one of my relations it always seems to lead to new information and more research, without even going as far as ordering a copy of the will.

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4 Responses to “Interesting puzzle in the National Probate Calendar”

  1. purplehifi August 22, 2010 at 8:17 pm #

    Hi John, this pair of deaths also fascinated me, & when I turned to google for help, yours was the first hit – also the 2nd & 3rd, in fact the only hits!
    From what else I’ve read today, it seems that this area of Sussex suffered more than its fair share of bombs as pilots lightened their load for the journey back across the Channel to Germany – in fact Cuckfield was the recipient of only the 2nd doodlebug to fall on England; so my guess is also that it was a bomb.

    • John Gasson September 3, 2010 at 7:21 am #

      I never knew that about Cuckfield, how interesting. I am sure their deaths must have been as a result of bombing, I need to find time to look at the local newspapers and see what was reported, if anything.

  2. shelley360 April 20, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    I am related to Dorothy. . It was a very sad story which I found through probate calendar. I then went to British newspaper library in Colindale and found the newspaper report as I too thought it was probably a bomb. They were quite recently married and they died of carbon monoxide poisoning in their air-raid shelter.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Making the News: “An extraordinary double tragedy” « The Wandering Genealogist - November 26, 2010

    […] Heath, Sussex. I wrote about my discovery and a few thoughts about what might have happened here. I suggested that their deaths might have been as a result of enemy bombing during the Second World […]

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