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I am hoping that you will be able to give me some advice on two of my ancestors who have mysteriously disappeared.

            The first is my great-great-grandmother, Emma DALE (née MADELEY), who was born c1836 in Codsall, Staffordshire. She married Joseph DALE in 1853 and they had eight children: William, Mary, Joseph, James, George, Maria, Richard and Martha. 

            I have traced her as far as the 1881 census, where she is recorded as a widow living at 18 Derry Street, Wolverhampton, with her five youngest children. However, in the 1891 census she disappears, as does George. By this point William, Mary and Joseph are all married and Maria is a servant. James and Richard are living with William in London and Martha is living with Joseph, also in London. Since the youngest two children are living with their elder siblings I have assumed that Emma has died by 1891 and not remarried or emigrated, but I cannot find any death record.

            My second vanishing relative is my great-great-grandfather who vanished after the 1901 census. His first name has been variously recorded as John Adam or Adam John and his surname as either DIELING or DEILING.

            He was born in 1860 in Germany and is first recorded on the 1881 census as a servant in Islington. He married Emily KEELING in the same year and I have traced the family right through to 1901. Emily died in 1926 and her occupation is listed as wife of John Adam DIELING, a ‘baker journeyman’. I have searched either side of this date under both names but cannot find a death record for John.

            I am out of ideas and would be grateful for any suggestions on how I can find out what happened to these people.

Simon Dale


As you rightly suggest, the most probable reason why Emma DALE cannot be found in the 1891 census is that she had died, but why could she not have remarried? Similarly, George may also have died. However, there is the possibility that for some reason they were not recorded in the 1891 census, or have been incorrectly indexed. Using the FamilyRelatives website ( there are 101 deaths registered for Emma DALE in the period 1881 to 1920, and 126 marriages in the same period.

            As, I note, the family were living in Wolverhampton in 1881, you could limit your searches to south Staffordshire (Wolverhampton, Walsall, West Bromwich and Dudley Registration Districts). If you do that you find there are four marriages (three in Wolverhampton and one in West Bromwich) and one death (in Wolverhampton in 1919, but aged 72) that fulfil the search criteria.

            Of course, Emma may have lived beyond 1920. If Emma didn’t remarry, possibly she did live with someone else and took his name – perhaps he was married to someone else, separated but not divorced. This is entirely speculative, of course, but there could be other reasons why Emma can not be located apart from marriage or death. You could therefore search the census indexes for any Emma (without surname) born on Codsall c1836 and see if there any possible entries.

            I note from the 1881 census that George DALE was born in about 1868 in Wolverhampton. There is a possible entry for him in the 1891 census as a lodger in Wolverhampton, a ‘tool maker’, aged 23 and born in Wolverhampton (RG 12/2228 f67 p6).

            Your second query, regarding what happened to John Adam, or Adam John, DIELING/DEILING is perhaps more problematic. You haven’t said how far you searched each way from 1926 for his death. Probably, in 1926, Emily was his wife rather than his widow – but as you rightly imply, this could have been a error and he died any time after 1901. Who was the informant on Emily’s death certificate? There is no knowing how long he may have lived but – if you have not done so – you do need to search the death indexes to at least 1960: people did live to reach their century (and beyond) in the 1960s so never assume that ‘three score and ten’ is the maximum.

            You will have an address for Emily in 1926, so you could search the electoral registers for that address for that year to see who the voters were, and if John Adam / Adam John is one of them, then carry on the search until he disappears from that address. This may not take you to his death but it may help a little. You haven’t said where Emily died, but if it is in the London area, then historic copies of the electoral registers should be found in the local record office of the relevant borough.


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