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Manchester writer finds hidden family history in charity shop book

What began with the purchase of a well-preserved book intended for research purposes unfolded into a journey of discovery, connecting the present with the past in a remarkable way.

Emma Hornby, who discovered the book ‘Manchester Streets and Manchester Men’ is a historical saga writer from Bolton and wanted to find out more about the inscriptions in the book and the family it belonged to.

Nestled on the flyleaf were the inked imprints of an original owner’s name and address, dating back to 1906.

To add to the intrigue, a second inscription from 1990 was found, unmistakably penned by someone from the same family.

Driven by curiosity, Emma did some online research and put together a jigsaw of information to piece together a fragmented family tree.

Emma’s interest in genealogy began years ago when she embarked on the exploration of her family tree.

The seed was planted by her great-grandfather, who had served in the war.

Robert Albert Boddan

Intrigued by her family’s history, Emma delved deeper, tracing her lineage back to the 1600s.

She said: “As my novels are set in Bolton and Manchester, I’m always on the lookout for historical reference books relating to these areas for research purposes.

“Naturally, I was delighted to discover the inscriptions inside and, as I have a passion for genealogy, I was keen to try to find out more info.

“The family were relatively easy to trace – within around twenty minutes I’d built up an adequate tree, stretching several generations, and had come across another tree match on the website.

“The Boddan family name was inscribed, and it’s quite an unusual name so I got to work tracing the family tree.”

After some painstaking research, Emily traced Martin Boddan, the latest in the family line and reached out to let him know what she had found.

Emma continued: “I sent a message, to the family about what I had found. and they were over the moon to accept the book. It just seemed the right thing to do to gift it to them.

“I’ve received throughout the years an enormous amount of help from others with regards to my own family tree – it’s nice to be nice and give something back.”

Like a modern-day detective, she reconstructed the lives of the Boddan family, guided only by scarce clues.

And here’s what she found:

The Boddan family journey began in Eccles, Lancashire, where Robert Albert Boddan, son of Robert Boddan and Isabella Norris, was born in 1854.

The 1871 census revealed that his parents were shopkeepers, and young Robert Albert worked dutifully as their assistant.

At the tender age of 23, Robert married Mary Alice Howarth.

Edith Keaveny nee Boddan (right) with father John and sister Isobel

Transitioning into a career as a railwayman, Robert Albert would faithfully serve in this role for the remainder of his days, ensuring the safe passage of trains by meticulously setting points.

Their family grew steadily, as their first child, John, entered the world a year after their marriage.

Two years later, son Thomas joined them.

In the spirit of unity, the family welcomed lodgers into their home, a testament to their resilience during challenging times.

Moving from one address to another over the ensuing decades, their journey eventually led them to 16 Francis Street, in either 1902 or 1903, a home that would cradle generations of the Boddan family for seventy years.

Numbers 16 & 14 Francis Street today

In 1911, John, now 33, tied the knot with Edith Croft.

Tragedy struck Thomas, who had already experienced the pain of losing a spouse and two children, leaving him with a sole remaining child living with his parents in Monton.

Thomas resided in Cheshire, where he eventually succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 35.

Poignantly, his passing occurred at 14 Francis Street, the very house his parents called home.

In the wake of these events, Robert Albert and Mary Alice moved into the neighbouring property upon John’s marriage, transferring the torch of familial love to the newlyweds who now occupied number 16.

Following in his father’s footsteps, John dedicated himself to the railways, raising two children, Edith and Isobel, alongside his devoted wife.

In the twilight of his years, Robert Albert died at the age of 73 while residing at 14 Francis Street, his beloved wife having preceded him by five years.

In 1959, John passed away, leaving a void in the hearts of those who cherished him.

The following month, his wife assumed the role of Mayor of Eccles, and their daughter Isobel proudly embraced the title of Mayoress.

Years passed, and the sands of time swept gently over the memories and stories of the Boddan family.

However, fate had a way of rekindling the embers of history in the most unexpected of places.

How this cherished relic of family heritage found its way to a charity shop ten miles away, nearly thirty years later, remains a mystery.

Yet, for Emma, it was a stroke of luck, for it allowed her to uncover the hidden tapestry of the Boddan family.

When Emma went to give Martin the book, he showed her a trove of family photographs that breathed life into the stories behind the Boddan’s.

It was only fitting to give the book back to Martin, said Emma.

“He was absolutely over the moon, and that for me, is the reward of doing this research. It’s a real Joy” said Emma.

As the book was handed over, an exchange of smiles between the giver and the receiver conveyed a profound sense of gratitude.

You can find Emmas’ new book, which comes out in two weeks, called The Chimney Sweep’s Sister by clicking here.

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