It is very hard to stop pushing to see if you can get any further with puzzles like Frank Frail. As I said at the outset of this little family cruise, I like to find descendants, not ancestors – because descendants have tales to tell. Is there any chance that I will stumble on Frank’s?
Well, maybe. To my astonishment (family researchers live on a diet of astonishment), I have found the manifests of two ships on which Frank travelled, in each case from Bombay, firstly to Plymouth, in 1931, and then again to Liverpool in 1940. The first contains a terrific new piece of information. Frank has married a woman called Norah – from London, in India – a decade or so younger than him, and he has two very young children, Dennis and Enid. Is this a journey home to his roots? Has he brought them back to England for safe-keeping? The second journey, undertaken during the war, gives me a Newcastle address as well.
It is not at all hard to find people, unless their name is Lucan or Bin Laden, of course, because they leave a paper trail behind them. And I have already found a possible marriage for Frank’s son, and even a possible address for him, current within the last five years. He would be 80 years old. Is it conceivable that I’ll find him, and that I’ll manage to discover what became of Frank? Is it possible that he will say Yes, if it is him, to my intruding on his life? Sometimes it isn’t. Two or three times I have been turned away, and who can blame them. I could be some nutter – I am some nutter – with an outsize bee in a garish bonnet.
The lucky break will be if he – and his sister – are alive, and have photos they will let me copy, and tales they will be able and willing to tell. The unlucky break will be if they were there, but are no longer with us. Or – and of course, any family historian will tell you this – it will transpire that I have completely the wrong man. There is nothing like a set of tenterhooks. If someone came to you and said, ‘You know what, I have a photo of the grandfather who abandoned your father, and even a picture he painted?’, what would you do? Slam the door?
There are many worse things to do than to track down relatives. I don’t know why, staring at this screen, I suddenly feel like a criminal…
Almost certainly taken by my grandfather, and probably taken in 1913, the year Dick Frail copied ‘The Last Match’, this picture features, from left to right (back row), my great-grandfather, James Buskin Frail jr.; my grandmother Annie Frail (nee Maxwell); Dick – Richard Broom – Frail, Frank’s father; Ena (‘Jamesena’ – guess what name they’d hoped to give her if a boy) Frail, my grandfather’s sister and left to right (front row), Emma Frail, Dick’s second wife, and finally, looking utterly fed up, Eleanor (Whayman) Frail, my great-grandmother. There are no other photos of which I know with James or Dick Frail in them.