Case Study: Searching for the records of James William Sudder

From the Family Tree Forum Reference Library

Family legend, told to me by my mother, was that James, an accomplished sailor, had been killed in the First World War when his ship had been hit by enemy fire. I was interested in him as he was the father of my Great Grandfather who had to leave school to support his mother and sisters and it changed the course of my family’s history forever.

James Sudder and family submitted by Pippa Doll

  • As I don’t live in the same part of the country that my ancestors came from, I knew that I would have to do all my research on the internet.

  • I knew that my Great Grandfather had died in Nottinghamshire in approximately 1985. I logged onto the Ancestry Ukand searched their Death records for England 1984-2004.

  • I found my Great Grandfather’s death registration which gave me his date of birth, as given at the date of the registration of his death.


  • Using the approximate year of birth of 1909 I searched FreeBMD, a site transcribed by volunteers that is not complete but free to search. This gave me the reference to order his birth certificate.


James William Sudder and Esther Ewles.


  • This gave me the reference for the marriage and confirmed it as correct as James William Sudder was on the same page as Esther Ewles, neither of which are very common names.


  • The marriage certificate gave me the ages of the Bride and Groom, their occupations, address, names of their fathers and their fathers’ occupations. It also gave me their ages. This then gave me an approximate year of birth for James William Sudder senior.

  • I checked the 1901 census at 1901 Census Online which showed him aged 16 (which matched with the approximate year from the marriage certificate) born in Great Yarmouth in the Navy. However as he wasn’t listed with his family it wasn’t very helpful.

  • I checked the 1891 census at Ancestry Uk however I couldn’t find them using different search criteria so I asked for some help on the Research Advice Forum on Family Tree Forum Another member had credits for Find my past and checked their transcription on 1891 census as different sites use different transcriptions and was able to give me the reference so that I could use my Ancestry Subscription to view the page. The 1891 census gave me the details of his mother and siblings that were living in the household. It did not however list his father who from the marriage certificate I knew was a sailor so although I did a search for him I knew that he could have been at sea. The 1891 also confirmed that James William Sudder was born in Great Yarmouth and his mother was Alice.

  • Having found his birth and marriage my next step was to confirm the family legend that he had died during the First World War. I searched Commonwealth War Graves Commission and found that he had died on 15th August 1918, service number, rank and which memorial he was listed on. Luckily a member of Family Tree Forum offered to take a picture for me as I knew that I would never get to see it otherwise. By finding his date of death I was able to find the reference for his death certificate on Find my past overseas death section.

James W. Sudder Memorial

  • I logged onto The Times Digital Archives at Times Digital Archives and found that James Sudder had been mentioned in dispatches. I also downloaded his Naval Record by going to The National Archives which gave details such as the ships that he had served on – the last one listed was HMS Scott. I used Google and found out that HMS Scott had been torpedoed on 15th August 1918 in the North Sea off the Danish coast. I also found a website where volunteers have transcribed gravestones Internment.Net and found the details for his gravestone in Great Yarmouth shared with his wife Esther and daughter Beatrice.

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