Finding Frank Frail (3)

July 11, 2009

(continued from yesterday)

Two motherless children, then: Richard and Francis Frail, both under two years old. For their grandfather, Francis Bernardi, the blow of losing his only daughter and a grandson was to be compounded by the death of his wife, only four years later. By 1891, a year after her death, he was working as a church caretaker, and living with Tom, his surviving son, who had at least a promising career as a draughtsman. (Francis Bernardi eventually died in 1901.) Richard and Francis are to be found, like my grandfather ten years earlier, with their Frail grandparents, with whom they may have lived in the interim in any case. For Dick Frail, who may have wanted to put some distance between himself and his double-tragedy, the option was to seek work as an engineer. In 1891, he is a second engineer on the S.S. ‘Connemara’ in Liverpool (where he was to settle for the rest of his life).

At some point in the 1890s, the time for new decisions must have occurred. In early 1894, Dick Frail married again, in Liverpool. His new wife was called Emma Duncan. The prospect must therefore have opened up of his sons joining him. But at this point, the sons went their separate ways. Richard joined his father; Francis – or Frank, as he was almost certainly known by now, stayed with his uncle Tom, by now married, and father to three children by the turn of the century. His wife (1896) was Elizabeth Coreni, herself the daughter of an Italian, Augustin Coreni, a moulder like Francis Bernardi, only from Genoa (how he had come to Sunderland is also a mystery: his wife was from Belfast, but had had a child by an already-dead first husband in Dublin, not long before they married). It was to be Elizabeth [Coreni] Bernardi to whom Frank would refer to as his next of kin.

Did my grandfather know all this? Of course he did. Did he ever mention it to his three children? No – although my uncle, who died last year, was conscious that ‘Uncle Dick’, whom he knew of but could not have remembered personally, had a son (Richard). About Frank, no-one in my family knew anything after my grandfather’s generation. The waves close up around his memory. It’s the way it was.

Frank, having opted for the Bernardi side of the family, took up an apprenticeship as a glass beveller. His grandfather had worked with glass. There would have been openings. What is clear, however, is that it did not suit him. And, at this point, the internet comes into its own, and starts to tell us something more about him: because, in 1905, plainly frustrated and certainly rootless, he joined the army, specifically, the Durham Light Infantry. And the army records, and it is still astonishing to me, only fifteen years after starting these kinds of trails, are available, digitised, online. There are fifty pages on Frank (I should just say that his brother Richard is nowhere to be found after 1911, although I haven’t looked very hard).

More tomorrow.