Discovering the story of an early “Hello girl”

Discovering the story of an early “Hello girl”

Trace the story of Clara Leeming from the information we found on an interesting old photograph.

Nick Thorne, Writer at TheGenealogist

Nick Thorne

Writer at TheGenealogist


From the information we found on this interesting old photograph we thought we could trace her story. The details on the back gave her name Clara Leeming and that she worked at the Manchester Telephone Exchange. The first step was to feed this into TheGenealogist’s Master Search using the keywords “Telephone” and that soon provided her address, her family, her age in 1891 and from there the location of her house. In a few more steps we discovered her family and more.

The photo that started our investigation
The photo that started our investigation

To see how that can be done with ease, read the article and discover the full story of Clara’s fascinating life.

The Family Story of our Early Manchester Telephone Operator

To begin our research let us search for Clara within the census collection on TheGenealogist. Looking firstly at the 1891 census we are quickly able to find her living at 20, South Ann Street, Salford in Lancashire. At this time she is recorded by the enumerator as a 17-year-old telephone operator.

This census also fills in some of her family details for us as we could see that she has two sisters Louisa (21) and Rachel (19). Interestingly they are also telephone operators. Turning to her parents: the census showed us that her father is called Henry and he was employed as an Iron Moulder at this time having been born in Halifax, Yorkshire in 1826. Her mother, Hannah, was also from the county of Yorkshire and her place of birth was Salterhebble.

The images of census pages on TheGenealogist are often clearer to read than those on other sites as they have been re-scanned to high resolution. But there is another benefit of using TheGenealogist to search for your ancestors in the census collection and that is that many census results are linked to maps that can show you where your ancestors lived. In the case of the Leemings in 1891 we are able to see the location of South Ann Street on a historic map. Clicking through to view this location on TheGenealogist’s powerful Map Explorer™ allows us to make use of the tool’s georeferenced maps and so to view the locale on a modern map. Doing this reveals that South Ann Street has been lost completely under modern buildings whose development have erased the road from the map. The new buildings’ footprints cover over the previous thoroughfares, such as South Ann Street, that had once existed between Eccles New Road and Montford Street.

1891 Census
1891 Census
South Ann Street
South Ann Street

Next, we could look for the family ten years earlier by searching for them in the 1881 census. This record reveals to us that they were living at 31 Parker Street, Chorlton at this time.

1881 Census
1881 Census

From our look at the two census records, we can see that our telephonist had been born in Garston in Lancashire. Her age in both records point to her being born in 1873/74 but a simple search of the Civil birth record indexes on TheGenealogist now shows us that she was actually born at the end of 1873. The records reveal that her birth was registered in the last quarter of that year and in the West Derby district of Lancashire.

Births registered in the last quarter of 1873
Births registered in the last quarter of 1873

Name:Clara Leeming

District: West Derby… County: Lancashire… Year: 1873… Quarter: 4… Volume: 8b… Page: 546…

Did she marry?

The information that we have gathered so far will now allow us to go on to then do a check of the marriage records on TheGenealogist. We are interested to discover if she had ever become a bride; and if so, whom did she marry? The answer is quickly found using TheGenealogist as we see that our telephone operator did indeed get married when she was 24 years old. The Civil Marriage Indexes on TheGenealogist divulges that she and Charles Manchester Mills wed in the April to June quarter of 1898. As a married woman, it would be normal at that time for her to have given up her job and so we can assume that her position at the telephone exchange would have come to an end then. This points to the photograph that had started this research to have been taken when she was still a spinster and so before she and Charles Manchester Mills had walked down the aisle.

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Marriage Record for Clara Leeming in the District of Salford
Marriage Record for Clara Leeming in the District of Salford

Clara begins a family

Moving forward with our research, into the 20th century, we can then use the 1901 census to see that she and her 29-year-old husband are now living at 3 Seedley Road, Pendleton, Salford. Charles, we note, is recorded as the Managing Director of a Steam Laundry and by that time they now had a young son called George, who was under one year of age.

Lancashire 1901 Census
Lancashire 1901 Census
Seedley Road
Seedley Road

The 1911 Census and the family has grown

Another ten years on and we are now looking for her in 1911. The census for that year tells us that Clara had, by then, become the mother of four children – but sadly one child had died before 1911. The three surviving children are her sons aged 10, 7 and 5. Other information to be gleaned from this record is that Clara occasionally assisted in her husband’s laundry business. This we see from details that they themselves have written on the census return. The family, we can read in this record, had moved to live at 34, Fitzwarren Street, Pendleton by this year.

Lancashire 1911 Census
Lancashire 1911 Census

1939 War beckons – Clara helps in the evacuation effort

As Britain declared war on Germany in 1939 and rationing as well as Identity Cards were issued, we then can turn to the 1939 Register on TheGenealogist to discover where our one time telephonist had been living at this time. This resource reveals to us the address as 20, Victoria Street, Haslingden and she is in the house of a Solicitor, Oswald C Evans. The 1939 Register on TheGenealogist is also linked to its clever Map Explorer™ which provides us with a more detailed map than alternative versions of this record set.

In the 1939 Register Clara Mills, who was by that time 65 years old, is identified as a “Helper in evacuation”. Also at this address we see listed a young married woman teacher by the name of Mrs Eileen Hindle (24). This record, however, shows no sign of Clara’s husband in the household.

Clara 1939 Register Transcription
Clara 1939 Register Transcription

Wondering where he might be, our next search is going to be for Charles Manchester Mills and we can discover him as well as one of their sons living together approximately 18 miles away at 1 Danesway, Swinton. Clara’s husband’s occupation in 1939 is now recorded as a Secretary of a Radio Company, while George, their 38 year old eldest son is listed as a Radio Engineer.

Charles and George in the 1939 Register Transcription
Charles and George in the 1939 Register Transcription

Newly married daughter

Being somewhat curious to know If Clara had any family relationship to the other occupants listed in the 1939 Register at Victoria Street, we can then take a look at some of the other records that are available to us at TheGenealogist for family research. The Civil Marriage Indexes furnishes us with the discovery that the 24 year old teacher, Eileen Hindle, appears to be Clara and Charles Manchester Mill’s daughter! This we can work out from the fact that the records show us that Eileen Mills married James H Hindle in 1939, the same year as the 1939 Register was taken and so pointing us towards mother and daughter being away from home on the night the survey was done. Eillen’s new husband, a Colour Chemist at a Wallpaper manufacturer, is recorded at his parent’s home at the time of the 1939 Register.

Marriage record for Clara's daughter
Marriage record for Clara's daughter
James Hindle in the 1939 Register Transcription
James Hindle in the 1939 Register Transcription

From this 1939 recordset we are also able to see that Eileen’s birthday has been recorded as 5 July 1915. With this information our next search is to look for her birth, and it is easy to find that this was registered in the 3rd quarter of 1915.

Eileen's Birth Record
Eileen's Birth Record

The suite of records available on TheGenealogist together with its georeferenced mapping tool, Map Explorer™, makes swift work of gathering fascinating details to flesh out a family research story as we have done so here starting from little more than an old photograph with a name written on the back.




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