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DNA solves the hundred-year-old mystery of a missing grandfather

Whenever Sally Lund (above with her daughters Eileen and Joyce) came home from a pilgrimage she would bring back a holy medal to add to her tinkling collection. As her son Charlie (left) put it ‘My mother’s got more bloody gongs than Goering and the same size chest to pin ‘em on.’



Sally brought back watches as presents for the family, though these didn’t tinkle because she pinned them inside her corsets to fool the Customs men. ‘I know it’s a sin,’ she said, ‘but I’ll go to confession in the morning.’


Sally started life as a Primitive Methodist in Platt Bridge near Wigan, which is where her story, and Tom's, begins.

Methodist Procession
Platt Bridge 1900

Sally was the founder of the well-known Wigan retail firm of SA Lund and Son. The Son was my wife Val’s dad Tom. He and his widowed mother had built up the business from scratch, starting with a barrow on Wigan market and ending up with three profitable outlets in the town centre. According to my mother Beatrice Lunds could supply anything you needed, from a tin tray to a trousseau, all of the best quality and at the best price. Sally was a born saleswoman. When a lady admired the dress she was wearing in the shop she stripped off then and there and sold it to the astonished customer.

Tom and Ethel fell in love on the Wigan tram on their way to school. She was not Catholic, which didn't please Sally.

Tom and Ethel about to board a flight to the Isle of Man in the late 1930s


Val practising to be a Pears baby.

Val and Margaret with their grandfather Will Fairhurst JP and the Mayor of Wigan

Val in Convent uniform.

Butter wouldn't melt.

Tom, Val and Margaret went riding together. Margaret says 'Dad fell off at least once and I sometimes went over the jumps without the bloody horse, but with Val the horse always knew who was boss.'

Tom was the driving force at SA Lund and when he died suddenly in 1970 at the age of only fifty-five the life seemed to ebb out of the business. Years later, sorting through a box of documents, I came across the will of Sally’s husband Arthur Lund. It said: ‘I leave the remainder of my property in equal shares to my children, including my adopted son Thomas’.


This was news to Val and her sister Margaret who had naturally thought Arthur had been their grandfather. Tom’s birth certificate showed that he had been registered as Thomas William Williams, born in Platt Bridge on the 23rd May 1915 to nineteen-year-old Sarah Ann Williams. The space for the father’s name was blank so we called him Roger the Lodger.

Tom and Ethel at our wedding

Tom’s birth entry showed that he had not been born in the Williams home but at the house of a neighbouring family. I looked them up in the Census.


'Does the name Dale ring any bells?’ I asked Val.


‘Yes, when Margaret and I were children we were told we were special because we had three grannies. Granny Dale wasn’t related to us by blood but Dad thought the world of her.’


‘The Dales had a daughter, Florence, who was four years older than Sally. I think she may have been your Granny Dale.’

Sally, pregnant at eighteen and thrown out by her irate father, had been rescued by twenty-three-year-old Florence Dale who had been a true friend. Then it occurred to me that she might have been something more. Could her brother Robert have been Tom’s missing father?


I spent weeks constructing an experimental family tree on Ancestry UK with Robert in the role of Roger the Lodger. I hoped it would show connections with other Dale trees on Ancestry. It didn’t.

Val and I had our DNA tested by Ancestry and Val’s strongest DNA match by far was with Andrew Davenport. Andrew's grandfather, also Andrew, had been killed in a night raid on a German trench at Arras in 1918.


I had found Roger the Lodger


Young Andrew had enlisted in September 1915, four months after Tom’s birth, so I had to discount any romantic notion that he had been longing rush home from France and make an honest woman of Sally. Had he done so he would have been too late, for she had already married Arthur Lund, a good man eleven years her senior, who had not hesitated to raise another man’s child.

War Memorial at Platt Bridge

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