Rutlish 1957 - the 50 Year Reunion
It took from November 2006 until July 2007, but on 4 July 2007 the last of the 118 people in the 1957 Rutlish Joining Year was found. Only seven of the 118 people on the painstakingly assembled list of names (see 1957 Joining Year) had died since leaving the school. This article describes how the remarkable feat of tracing everyone in our year was achieved.
The StartAlthough the 1953 and 1954 joining years had held successful 50 year reunions the trend was broken in 1955 and 1956. Trevor Musk had harboured the idea for a 1957 joining year reunion for some time and this was borne from the year 2000 when Dave Ealey contacted him in the USA after tracking him down on the web site of his long time employers. Dave and Trevor had been close friends at school and thereafter but had lost contact when Trevor was posted overseas with his company.
The effort was started in earnest by Trevor Musk in the autumn of 2006 and contact was made with the organisers of the '53 and '54 reunions and also the Secretary of the Old Rutlishians' Association, Ken Hough. The general consensus of advice was to start by building a list of joiners but this was not easy because after contacting the School Secretary, Trevor was informed that official school records were unavailable as they had been lodged with the Surrey Archives. Theoretically they could be viewed at the Surrey History Centre. However, following excessive interest in them when John Major became Prime Minister, a block had been placed on anyone reading them without special permission.
Ken Hough then suggested a meeting at the ORA Clubhouse to view a 1961 School photograph that was kept in the Memorial Lounge. This photograph has a silhouettes and a key with many names of the 1957 year recorded. The names had been provided by Steve Simpson (of the '58 year), Ken Hough and David Doerr, the silhouettes had been drawn by Ian McLeish. Ken Hough also provided the names of the 1957 year that had joined the Old Rutlishians' Association and so the search started.
Trevor already knew most of the existing members and some of those contacted knew of others. He also found a few people from the 1957 joining year on Friends Reunited although most of those contacted by that route failed to reply. A key development came at the beginning of November when Trevor made contact with another old friend, Ian Newton who was extremely keen to assist with the search. Ian knew of a copy of the 1961 school photograph which had been placed on the web by Mike Whittington (1958 entry year) together with a partial list of names. This photograph is still online (click here).
The List of NamesThe names list was now starting to take shape and a further meeting was arranged with Ken Hough on 19 November, Ian and Trevor had also arranged to meet with Roger Hearn, by chance Steve Simpson was also at the Club and they worked together on the 1961 school photograph getting as many full names as possible for the 1957 joining year. After their meeting at the Old Boys, Trevor and Ian carried on building a definitive list of names for the 1957 joining year from the base of the 1961 photograph. The effort had to focus on tapping memories with the prompt of a few photographs but mainly the 1961 school photograph. During late November, Ian broke a copy of a 1957 school photograph, scanned in by Nigel Close, down into sections and began a process of discussion and debate on faces and names. Ian numbered and then named the 1957 photograph with the help of Trevor, and those draft results were immediately posted onto Mike Whittington's website (click here) to sit alongside the 1961 photo.
Over the following months, in parallel with the ongoing search, the definitive list was gradually assembled, defined, expanded, refined and even slimmed as the names on it were confirmed. This earlier photo helped resolve some issues as did studies of various house and school sports team photos. It took a lot of time, debate, and hard work with many people contributing towards the common goal - the list of names which itself was but a means towards the end.
The penultimate step during March 2007 was the dropping of one name from the draft list when it was finally agreed that the person had not been in the 1957 joining year. But two people were added in June and early July when a search of files at the Surrey History Centre proved that two names which had been debated but dropped should have been on the list after all. The definitive list with 118 people on it was only finally agreed in early July. 115 of the 118 had been identified in one or other of the the 1957 and 1961 photographs. Just Rodney Grubb, Suhail Jafri, and Kenny Messenger appear in neither.
Cold CallingDuring November, Trevor had began to search for people in the current online BT Phone Book. Ian also began to look at some old BT Phone Books which are available online to genealogists (see below). But to search the online phone book you have to specify a geographical area as well as a name - so even a person with an unusual name could not easily be found if they had moved out of the local area. In any case Trevor was all too well aware that in recent years many people had gone ex-Directory.
Trevor tended to ring up if he found six or fewer candidates in the online BT Phone Book - and these speculative phone calls produced some quick results. A surprising number of people from the 1957 joining year were found to be living in the area stretching out from south-west London and into Surrey. But some names on the list produced too many candidates even in the local area for speculative phone calls to be made.
Chain ReactionsEach new person found at that time, by whatever means, was usually in contact with one or two others from the 1957 joining year. To illustrate how this process worked: on 11 December, Andy Whittingham was tracked down in south-west France by Trevor. Andy knew that Colin Hicks had been with him at the University of Bristol - he found his current contact details on a list of Bristol alumni and contacted him on 12 December. Colin Hicks in turn knew that Richard Cameron had died and that Peter Everett still lived in Worcester Park. So finding one person (Andy Whittingham) had quickly found a total of four, and this moved the total located by the middle of December to just over 40 people.
The RutlishianAlmost immediately he had been found, Colin Hicks brought a fresh impetus to the search in several ways. First, he made available a set of Rutlish documents he had in his attic - these included copies of The Rutlishian and of Speech Night programmes. Using these materials it was possible to firm up elements in the list of names. Despite mis-prints in the documents, the spelling of some of the less certain surnames was verified and middle initials were assigned to a number of people. This made it easier to locate them in public records including the phone books and birth and marriage records (see below).
These Rutlish documents also provided information about the academic and other interests of some of the 1957 joining year which then gave leads to help track them down. It also enabled the identification of possible brothers who belonged to other joining years. In some cases, for example, a brother proved to be easier to track down than the 1957 person.
An example of a useful lead from The Rutlishian was the description on page 27 of the 1960-61 edition of Paul Sargeant as "a keen musician of considerable promise". This was in a report of a Rutlish concert which mentioned that he had played a clarinet solo. This prompted a web search for a clarinetist of that name. A Paul Sargeant was found who belonged to the British Clarinet Ensemble. A quick email enquiry was sent to the British Clarinet Ensemble which was forwarded to him. It reached Paul Sargeant and the same day that Trevor Musk rang him up following a search of the online BT Phone Book.
Some other direct web searches also produced quick results for people who had left information about themselves on Friends Reunited, even if they were no longer contactable directly through that route.
More Cold CallsFor the last few weeks of the year, an average of two people were being located each day. The names list, now firmed up with most first names and initials (although a few points of debate continued), continued to be used to look up people with unusual surnames in the online BT Phone Book but now also in the current national Electoral Roll (see below). As before, if fewer than six people were found, they were phoned - and sometimes the caller struck lucky. Trevor Musk also wrote numerous letters to people for whom addresses were found but no phone number.
It was interesting that many of the people contacted seemed very happy to cooperate with the search once they understood that it was a serious effort (and not a scam!). People who had bought houses recently, offered to pass messages on to the people they had bought from. Some people of the right name, but who had not attended Rutlish School, seemed genuinely disappointed that they were not the right person. That kind of response grew in frequency towards the end of the search when it could be explained that the search was down to looking for the last ten (or fewer) of the 118 people in the 1957 joining year.
Genealogical DatabasesBy the beginning of January over 70 people had been found with 20 active leads being pursued. This left about 25 people for whom there were names (and usually a photograph) but no lead. But easy routes like simply looking people up in the online BT Phone Book and the national Electoral Roll had been exploited as far as they could. We were left with people with common surnames like Brown, Hill and Smith. Colin Hicks was now undertaking deeper and more involved searches using his family history experience to search a wide range of databases (many online) held on genealogy and related websites. These databases included:
Moving backwards and forward between these records sometimes enabled a consistent set of names for the target person and their parents to be identified. This was not always easy (or possible) as there were sometimes alternatives for the birth and alternatives for the marriage of the parents. But it also sometimes led to names for brothers and sisters and potentially details of their marriages as well.
Where Are They Now?But once a consistent set of names had been established, it was then time to search for anyone in that set with an unusual name. The search was conducted in a variety of ways starting with public databases which can be used to track down people often right to their current addresses and telephone numbers:
Preferably this search would be for the person themself. But in some cases the parents were still living in the same or a nearby house and were easily found. Sometimes it was easier to find a brother or sister because their name was unusual. Sometimes a person had married someone with an unusual first name. Sometimes the combination of a person's name with their wife's name was unique and the combination could be found in the current Electoral Roll.
If our target person had married a woman with an unusual surname, then one of her siblings might be found marrying someone else and this married couple might then be found in the current Electoral Roll. As the search went on, the relationship of someone who was found to our target person sometimes became very remote. We made speculative phone calls and sent speculative messages via Genes Reunited to possible relatives (e.g. sisters-in-law, cousins and nieces) sometimes related only by marriage to our target person with completely different surnames. Even if a person acknowledged their relationship to our target person, they often enquired "What led you to contact me?". Consequently Colin usually made these approaches because he could best explain the chain of evidence obtained from public databases which underpinned the enquiry.
House sale data from HousePrices.co.uk was surprisingly useful. It became routine to check older candidate addresses using HousePrices.co.uk to see whether the house itself had been sold since 1 January 2000. Comparing the results with several possible addresses for someone from more recent records, it was sometimes possible to see which was the most probable address by relating dates of sale and purchase of the various houses.
A candidate address also enabled a search for more specific details of people - perhaps securing their contact details even if they were ex-directory, for example, through finding their membership of the committee of a local sports club, through their employment, or through a planning application (or objection).
The Brains TrustBy now we were discovering the power of the "The Brain's Trust" - that is how pooling memories of all the people found so far could produce information and locate people in ways which could not have been imagined before we began.
For example, Alan Brown was found in the middle of January because John Ogden and Richard Cherry collaborated in providing the memory that "his father ran a sweet shop or newsagents in Mitcham" facing the green. Searching the old BT Phone Books online showed that an "F Brown" had indeed run a newsagents facing onto Mitcham Green. This scrap of information enabled Alan's parents' marriage to be identified from all the possible ones even though the "F" was his father's middle rather than first initial. In turn this gave his mother's maiden name which identified Alan's birth (there was only one birth with that mother's maiden name in the relevant period) and that gave Alan's middle initial - which was confirmed by checking back with people's memories. A search of the various databases for people called Alan N Brown living today in the London and Surrey area produced only three candidates - the right person was among those three and was the first tried because he was only one for whom we found a phone number. This whole process from the statement that "his father ran a sweet shop or newsagents in Mitcham" to Alan Brown being found took less than week.
By the end of January with over 90 of the people then on the list had been located. But again the pace of locating people began to slow as available information had been thoroughly mined. It was decided to use February to test the power of The Brains Trust. Trevor Musk circulated a request for information about the 25 "missing" people and the results were recirculated - producing corrections and fresh information. An especially useful result from this exercise was a set of approximate addresses where the "missing" people had lived while attending Rutlish - in some cases the list had on it precise road names or even specific addresses.
Press ReleaseIn late January John Morgans suggested putting a story into the local press. He then prepared a press release which was issued in early March when about 25 people were still "missing". The press release resulted in stories appearing in local papers and excited a lot of interest with some people immediately contacting Trevor Musk with helpful information. See some press reports (pdf documents): Surrey Comet online (which became one of the most viewed items for that week on the Surrey Comet website), the Local Guardian online, the printed version of the Local Guardian, and the Sutton Guardian.
These press reports helped establish the credibility of the search when new people were contacted. It also produced results - several people had relatives living locally who sent them copies. Terry Clary, Phil Lowther, Dave Smith, and John Vincent were among those who read or went sent copies of these local newspaper stories by their relatives, although some of those were also contacted about the same time through other routes. By 14 March, 100 people had been found and the search was able to dig deeper because now only 16 people were "missing".
Old Electoral RollsBernard Elliott had demonstrated earlier in the year the usefulness of the old Electoral Rolls from the period 1957-1975 if we knew where someone had lived while attending Rutlish. At the address he remembered for John Cargill, he not only found John's parents, but also John's older sister living there with her husband in her married name. Using the current Electoral Roll, she was quickly tracked down at her current address.
Bernard, Colin and Trevor now collaborated in a search of the old Electoral Rolls at local libraries and the Surrey History Centre for the 12 people for whom The Brains Trust had given addresses (we had them for 12 of the "missing" 16 people). Where it worked, this search confirmed the right address and gave the full names of parents. Comparison with candidate birth and marriage records then often helped identify the right marriage for the parents and the right birth record. This then verified the person's name - particularly the spelling of their first name and whether or not they had a middle initial. But as noted above it sometimes gave additional information about a person's family which proved to be of value in tracking them down.
Memory LaneEach new person found sometimes delivered new knowledge which led to fresh discoveries. John Vincent, for example, was found because Alan Gay remembered that John had wanted to become a BBC cameraman. Alan said that he had seen the name "John Vincent" on BBC programme credits. A web search verified this and found a "John Vincent" with cameraman and camera Supervisor credits on BBC TV programmes like Absolutely Fabulous. Emails asking for information about John Vincent were sent to the BBC and to the trade union representing tv cameramen. At least one of these was forwarded to John Vincent and he replied by email. As with Paul Sargeant, though, John was approached simultaneously through two routes when a relative drew his attention to the stories in the local press about the search for those in the 1957 joining year.
Every case was different but persistence helped track people down using such memories. In three cases it was known that someone still "missing" had gone to a particular University. A direct approach to the alumni associations resulted in an email eventually being forwarded to one of them - but in the other two cases the alumni associations also had them on their "missing" list. In another case, it turned out that someone had a mother who was still in touch with someone else's mother! Success bred success because who people heard about the search, were intrigued by the high level of success now being reached and were encouraged to come forward even with vague memories which sometimes proved to be useful leads.
Knocking on Doors!In the second half of March, emboldened by the response to the newspaper reports, Trevor began to visit the specific addresses looking for information about the "missing" people. In one case he found the person living at an address which we had been phoning without response since mid-December. In other cases he chatted to people in the surrounding houses or flats, picking up various scraps of information and even finding someone who knew where the brother of one of our "missing" people garaged his car.
Another 6 people had been found by the end of March with some leads were still being pursued. These late finds came both from late responses to approaches which had been made by letters of enquiry sent several months earlier but also from this focus on visiting the addresses where people were now known to have lived. But clearly we were scraping away at the most difficult cases. Yet we had the occasional surprise. One person who had seemed extremely difficult to find had been born in Scotland - hence the problem finding their birth - but they had belonged to the Old Rutlishians Association until ten years ago so should have been found quite easily back in November 2006.
The Last of the ManyOn 6 April the total number of people found reached 110 when Colin tracked down and phoned David Clarke's sister, only to find that David had died in January 2007. This meant that of the 110 people located, seven were now known to have died since leaving Rutlish School:
After David Clarke's death had been recorded, the search only had 6 people to look for. Even deeper searches were undertaken - searches for the marriages of the siblings of parents, searches for marriages of siblings, searches for the births of children or the births of nephews and nieces. Eventually searches were being made for the marriages of people with the same surname as a "missing" person's possible spouse. But the possibilities and permutations were multiplying - which of six births might he be? Which of six marriages might he have been involved in (if any)? We were now deep into the Law of Diminishing Returns! At times Colin resorted (without success) to making speculative phone calls to people of the same surname as a person's possible spouse's maiden surname in the town where our target might have been married.
Then suddenly, at the end of April, David Smith contacted Trevor Musk, having been alerted to our search both as the result of the press reports forwarded to him by family members in the area and by Trevor's visit to the house in which he had once lived.
Then in June after what seemed like a long fallow period, we had a sudden spurt in finding people. First at the beginning of the month we finally caught up with Dudley Brown who we had to trace through a series of house moves but he was balanced by Barry Moore who suddenly became more elusive than we had thought, slipping back from "presumed found" to "missing".
Then in the middle of June we finally located Michael Bishop when he was discovered on Friends Reunited by Geoff Dearn who looked at his prep school listing and found him there (Michael had not mentioned Rutlish in his personal entry which is why he had not been found there previously).
Also in the middle of June we found Peter Watts. This was triggered by finding in school records that his name was "Peter L Watts" rather than the "Peter J Watts" we had in our existing notes based on people's memories. Combined with earlier information from his old cycling club (Festival Road Club) that he was last heard of in Jersey, a quick check of the online Jersey Phone Book produced a phone number for a "P L Watts" - and it was indeed the man himself.
On 24 June, Trevor Musk managed to make contact with Barry Moore's brother, Colin, by sending a letter to the flat in Edinburgh Court where Barry and Colin's mother had lived until her death a few years ago. The flat was still occasionally visited by Colin (Moore). Eventually he found the letter and called Trevor to give him contact details for Barry who now lives in the Australian outback about 20 miles from a town called Dorrigo in New South Wales.
Then on 25 June we were given an email address for Rodney L Grubb, who now lives in Canada, by his sister (Janice). She had been contacted through Genes Reunited. We already suspected that Rodney had moved to Canada because we had found an online obituary for his father who died there early in January 2006. We ticked Rodney off as "found" having sent him emails via Janice and directly. But when, after nearly two weeks, we still no response to those emails, Colin searched the Canadian telephone directories and gave a set of possibilities to Doug Cole. He rang down the list until, on 10 July, Doug finally spoke to Rodney Grubb on the phone at his home in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.
The End of the TrailAt this stage we thought there were only two people left to be found who were Howard M Hill and Peter Norman. Their cases seemed at times to be impossible to solve. For months, every angle tried failed. One person called "Howard M Hill" was approached three times at the end of three different false trails. In all three different Howard M Hill people living in the UK were contacted but each denied that they were the person sought. Meanwhile "Peter Norman" proved to be a very common name with too many possible candidates to approach anyone until a real positive lead was established. False trails were followed all over the place for the two of them - some of which pointed to emigration to New Zealand as a plausible explanation for how they both were so difficult to find. We resorted to issuing another press relase, prepared by John Morgans, which resulted in a story which appeared in the Wimbledon Guardian on 5 July.
However, in the end both Howard M Hill and Peter Norman were found here in the UK - indeed in southern England - using the same technique - find their parents' names (not in itself an easy task), search for deaths of people with those names taking place in the same registration district (even if they are years apart), check the will index to see if there is a commonality of address for where the deceased lived, search the online BT Phone Book for the area around that address and, if that fails, get a copy of the will to see if it gives a clue to an address for the son.
Detailed work had to be done to find the right names and the right deaths for Howard's parents but once that had been done a copy of his father's will and grant of probate were ordered from the Principal Probate Registry. At mid-day on 28 June the documents arrived in the post. The grant of probate showed that when his father died in 1988 Howard Michael Hill had been living in Charlbury, Oxfordshire. Unfortunately he did not appear in any current source (online BT Phone Book or Electoral Roll) as still living in that village. But a few telephone enquiries of people living in Charlbury revealed that a Howard M Hill who had lived at the address given in the will had married the village postmistress in 1996. We got a message through to him and he confirmed that he was indeed our Rutlishian classmate.
Then a check of deaths on 30 June and 1 July followed by a check of the will index (at the Principal Probate Registry) on 2 July showed that Peter Norman's parents had died in the Southend/S District - in fact in an Essex village called Hockley. A search of the online BT Phone Book for Hockley produced two "P Norman" people, one of whom was identified by the 2007 Electoral Roll as being "Peter Norman". An immediate phone call lead to rapid confirmation that it was indeed the right Peter Norman.
But there was still one more. At the Surrey History Centre, Colin found an extra name - Suhail (Sonny) Jafri who had joined us at the beginning of the Fifth Form and stayed with us through to A-levels. His name had come up before and Peter Watts had mentioned him in the middle of June. But we had thought he was a member of the year above us. But the Headmaster's Mark Book proved he belonged to our year. Finally on 4 July (Independence Day for Colin), Sonny Jafri was found through his brother (who lives in Epsom) and The Search was complete. 118 people sought, 118 people found (7 of them having died since leaving school).