Mystery Ancestor: Is that You Mr Bennett? Uncovering the Origins of my Illegitimate Grandmother

UPDATED in MAY 2020 Following New Information

There has been one particularly intriguing, and long time mystery in my family, and that has been the identity of my Grandmother Mary BRINE nee MAPLESDEN’s father. She herself very sadly went to her grave in 1988 without ever finding out who he was, let alone ever getting to have a relationship with him. Now, with the advancements in DNA based genealogical research, and the greater ease with which documents and records can be accessed online, I have been able to discover his identity and solve a long standing family mystery! This is the story of how I discovered who my grandmother’s father actually was.

Solving the Family Mystery

The only clues we had about my Grandmother’s father, prior to my doing some DNA related investigations, was that my Grandmother always believed her father to have been a Jewish gentleman and for some reason she led members of the family to believe that he may have been named Mr Bennett. Or, rather, she jokingly referred to him in a manner akin to orphan Annie, as “Daddy Bennett”.

In addition to this clue, was the fact that she believed he had been the proprietor of a Glass Works business in Hull where she very briefly went to work when she was 14 having just left school. This was all we had to go on.

The first indication that there may have been some truth in this information came from my own DNA results. They told me that I am 76% English in origin, and 12% Jewish (with some small percentages of Norway and Sweden, and a rather random 1% from Senegal!). Given that I know quite a lot about all the other lines in my own ancestry, this did suggest that she had been correct on one point at least and that my Grandmother’s father had in fact been Jewish.

Mr Bennett the Glass Merchant

Next I searched the Newspaper Archives to see if I could find a Mr BENNETT with a Glass Works in Hull around the time of my Grandmother’s birth in 1911. What I found was a man named Harris BENNETT of Bennett’s Glass Works in Dock Street, who had placed an advertisement for a property he was making available to Let in the Hull Daily Mail Newspaper in 1910.

Initially I believed that this could actually be my Grandmother’s father. However, I then did some genealogical research and discovered more information about Harris BENNETT, including his age in 1911.

He would have been in his mid to late fifties, much much older than Rosa MAPLESDEN, my Granny’s mother. So I began to wonder whether her father could in fact have been one of his sons. I have since come to discover that Harris Bennett was in deed my Granny’s Grandfather, and hence my Great Great Grandfather. I even managed to find a photograph of him…

Harris BENNETT 1857-1940

Following some research on Ancestry, I found a number of people had also researched the Bennett family of Hull during this period and I sent out a number of messages asking for help and information anyone might have.

Very quickly I heard back from a descendant of Harris Bennett, who’s own family line resides in the United States. He told me that he was descended from one of Harris’s sons who had emigrated to the States but that he’d always heard they had family back in Kingston-Upon-Hull, in England. Around 15 years ago, he told me he had even made contact with some of them and, at that time, they sent him some wonderful photographs, which he was now, very kindly sharing with me!

He sent me the very clear photograph above of Harris Bennett and also a photo of a woman, who he told me had been Harris’ wife, Leah BENNETT (1857-1941). Of course this would mean that she had been my Granny’s Grandmother, and hence my Great Great Grandmother.

Leah BENNETT (1857-1941)

A Family Resemblance?

I immediately felt very excited when I received these photographs, especially the photograph of my possible Great Great Grandmother because I immediately considered that there was a strong family likeness between these two photos, and my own Grandmother when she had been young. What do you think? Do you think she looks like her possible Grandparents in these pictures?

The resemblance between my Grandmother Mary and, who I believe to be her Grandmother, Leah Bennett, is so striking I think, that it convinced me that it’s almost certain that Harris Bennett was actually her Grandfather, not her father. This is despite the fact that he’d been the proprietor of a Glass Works in Kingston-Upon-Hull which would fit with the family legend.

So I then looked again at the Newspaper archives and I found a very tiny clipping from 1927, referring to a Mr “P. Bennett” who also had a Glass Works in Hull by this time.

This made me think that one of his sons must have taken over the family business. And that led me to the conclusion, after discovering a number of other sons and daughters for Harris and Leah Bennett, that my Grandmother’s father must have been one of Harris and Leah’s sons.

This is when I turned to the DNA research. I could find no direct links through any descendants to one of the sons directly, although that may simply mean that none of my Grandmother’s father’s known descendants have taken a test and put their results on Ancestry.com. However, rather excitingly, the results DID suggest that there was a match between myself and some other descendants of Harris and Leah Bennett, so this immediately gave me some confidence that this couple was in someway related to my Grandmother at least!

More DNA investigation and genealogical research would be needed.

Family Treasures All the Way From the United States

The gentleman I made contact with in America, who had already been so very helpful, did have a couple of other little gems for me, for which I am so grateful! First of all, and quite unbelievably, he told me that I was actually the SECOND person to have contacted him with a very similar query about there having possibly been a baby born out of wedlock to one of the Bennett sons. So it seems that my Grandmother may not have been the only illegitimate child of someone from the Bennett family and perhaps there may be other genetic matches out there researching the family!

Second of all, he sent me three more, WONDERFUL photographs! The first showed the actual Glass Works premises that the Bennett family owned in Dock Street with some children standing outside, one of whom may well have been her father as a young child/man.

I found this photo particularly fascinating since my Grandmother said that she briefly worked at Bennett’s Glass Works when she was 14 years old. Some members of our family believed this to have been some way of providing back-door child support but we don’t have much information on this at all.

H BENNETT Glass Warehouse c1895-1900

The second photograph is a real gem because it is a photo of Harris Bennett’s own father! Hence my Great Great Great Grandfather! His name, I have discovered, was Eliezer Berel PRZEMISLOWSKI and he was the man responsible for this branch of the family line migrating over to England having originate in the Jewish community in Kalvarija, Lithuania.

I guessed that he changed his name to BENNETT when he became an immigrant and I believe after arriving in the UK, he went by the name Louis Baer Bennett. I was so thrilled with this picture because when I set out to resolve the mystery of my Grandmother’s paternity, I only hoped that I might be able to find out about my her father had been. I never imagined for a moment that I would actually be given photos of both her grandparents, and also one of her Great Grandparents too! To be able to look at the faces of my Great Great, and Great Great Great Grandparents on her side of the family, just seems completely beyond my wildest expectations!

The third and final photo that this kind stranger and fellow genealogy fan sent me, shows Harris Bennett and Leah Bennett at a wedding. And it appears to be the wedding of one of their sons! Again, to me there appears to be something of a facial resemblance here. So perhaps this is a photograph of my Grandmother’s father himself? If it is, then this could be the never-before-seen face that my Grandmother would spend her whole life only being able to wonder about!

I would like to think that, if she were still here today, my ‘Granny’ would have loved to have been able make these discoveries, and would have loved to have been able to finally look into the faces of her grandparents at least. I only wish we’d had the abilities we have today, when she was still alive. But then, perhaps I wouldn’t be telling you this intriguing tale now if we had? And by my doing so, in a way, their memories can remain alive forever.

BENNETT Family Wedding c 1927. Showing Harris and Leah Bennett on the left and one of their sons, third from left.
Could this be my Grandmother’s Unknown Father?

An Exciting Update

Following the writing of this post and doing the research above, I rediscovered a significant passage in my Grandmother’s autobiography which I had missed, and which suggests the identity of her father may have been the subject of a legal case! If this is true, then perhaps further clues are available as to who he actually was. Though a tale that she tells of her biological father’s wife coming to confront her mother throws up just as many questions as it may lead to answers, you can read more and hear the account in my Grandmother’s own words HERE.

Another Exciting Update!

First of all, a very kind reader has worked some impressive magic on a couple of the photos above, and has sent me these colour versions below! I think they’re wonderful! (Thanks again reader!)

Secondly, I have some BRAND NEW information which suggests that I may be much closer to discovering which of the Bennett sons was in fact my Grandmother’s father. I have received some lovely messages from another descendant of Harris and Leah Bennett, named Elaine Bennett. She has given me all sorts of helpful information, for which I am deeply grateful, and she has told me that she believes my Grandmother’s father was indeed, one of Harris and Leah’s sons… in fact, her own Grandfather! Not only that, but now I have shown her a photo of my own Grandmother, she says she thinks she herself actually resembles her!!

We are currently doing some fact swapping and checking, and I’m going to go back over the DNA data again, but I am pretty sure we have found him! For the next instalment in the solving of this mystery, read “Mystery Ancestors: In My Grandmother’s Own Words”.

A magically colourised version of the Bennett family wedding. Now confirmed by their Great Granddaughter to be a photo of Harris and Leah Bennett on the left, and one of their sons, third from the left.
A lovely colourised photo of Mr Harris Bennett, who I am now sure was my Great Great Grandfather!

Please Let Me Know You’ve Visited

If you have enjoyed reading this post, please leave me a comment below, even if it’s just to say ‘Hello’. Family history hunting can be fascinating, but often no one else is interested except the person doing the research, so it’s always lovely to find out someone is reading it! 🙂

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