Christian Family History Introduction



Christian Family History Introduction


A biography of the Christian family written by Arnold's grandson. There appears to be a connection to France, perhaps to Italian and French royalty. Later research suggested a Swiss connection but after research the Italian and French links were confirmed.




Three printed sheets


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The idea to put together the ‘Christian’ family history first took shape around 1992 when Diana Pick, my stepmother-in-law on a visit home to the UK from New Zealand, made the suggestion that it could prove an interesting undertaking. I think her curiosity was piqued by my telling her the family story of possible French descent and, like many other people, her assumption that in some way we were connected to Fletcher Christian of Mutiny on the Bounty fame. A keen amateur genealogist herself, she offered to research through the Morman [sic]church records she used when she got back to New Zealand. No on-line research in those days.

The story of a possible French connection in the Christian family was first told to me by grannie. (As a point of reference, grannie is Catherine Allan Christian, and grandpa is her husband Arnold Louis Christian. I will mention them as grannie and grandpa throughout any narrative). Grannie told me that the handed down story suggested that the Christians had French blood through an ancestor who had been, it was believed, a second secretary at the British embassy in Paris sometime in the C19th, and had married a French women [sic] but no-one knew who, where or when. This was the explanation for why the name Francis and Frances often seemed to appear as Christian family names ie; grandpa’s sister Vera had the middle name Frances, their brother Norman, father Vincent and Uncle Victor had all had Francis as a middle name and, as it turned out, that was their grandfather’s anglicised name too.

Grannie also told how her mother-in-law, Gertrude Louisa Christian, (nee Barley), would claim that ‘we are descended from Italian and French royalty!’ Quite who she meant by ‘we’ wasn’t clear – was it we the Christians, (which wouldn’t apply to her), or was she referring to the Barley’s from she descended?

I first began to wonder if there was some validity to the tales when I stayed for a few days as an adult visitor with Gt. Aunt Vera whose home in North Wales stood on the farm owned by her daughter Audrey. On the dining room mantelpiece stood two brass ornaments. One of these was a small table bell but in the form of a women [sic] wearing a crinoline dress, (the bell), and around the base of which was the French inscription ‘Vive la empress’. The second ornament was the uniformed figure of a man with the inscription “Vive le Emperor’. (I later found out that these were of the French Emperor Napoleon III (the last French monarch – died 1873 and his wife the Empress Eugenie). I asked Aunt Vera where these had come from and she said her parents. She also mentioned French blood but wasn’t sure from where precisely. The ornaments were still there on subsequent visits I made during the time I was stationed in the RAF at Valley, Anglesey in the mid 1970’s.

Much of the family ‘knowledge’ that I have, such as it is, I have by word of mouth from grannie which also includes here own Cordner and Barrass families, as well as the Barleys who were grandpa’s maternal antecedents. The Povey’s – other than grandpa’s grandmother, Emma, who had this surname before her marriage to James Barley – did not enter the picture until much later in the research.

In addition to receiving much information from the endless questions I asked of grannie over the years, both as a child and as an adult, I had the opportunity on some occasions to gain information from others in the family. While at school I used to write quite regularly to my Great, Great Aunt Molly, (originally a Cordner), and as mentioned earlier visited Gt Aunt Vera & Cousin Audrey a number of times. Through Audrey I was able to write to grandpa’s younger brother Norman, who Gilly and I subsequently visited once at his home in Leeds. Second to grannie, Audrey was a big source of information, albeit sketchy, and of photographs. The wedding photographs here of grannie and grandpa’s wedding came from Aunt Vera’s album, (Audrey was the bridesmaid). Many years later grannie also put me in touch with her niece, Christine Molly, (nee Cordner), who was researching the Cordner & Barrass families. We have met a few times and now correspond quite regularly. It is Christine we have to thank for the Cordner and Barrass family trees. As part of my research, inspired by Diana Pick, Gilly and I spent a few days with Audrey in 1994. Here we were able to see a large album of postcards, sent to and from the family. The postcards mainly covered the first three decades of the C20th, and gave vital clues as to names, addresses and dates of residence – all by postmarks. Additionally, Audrey showed us around the local area – Ruthin & Birkenhead – where grandpa grew up. This included Ruthin school where he and brother Norman were educated, the public houses run by his mother Gertrude and possibly his father Vincent too, and

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the home in Birkenhead – 4 Devonshire Road – from where the family ran the Birkenhead Motor Works and later Bolton’s Grey Cabs.

As previously mentioned, the most informative source of information at the personal level was grannie. As children we often lived within an hour or two of her home in Oxford and, consequently, we saw quite a lot of grannie and auntie June. Later, and now in the RAF myself, I was fortunate to have two consecutive postings over an eight year period within two hours of grannie, and a further three year posting at only forty five minutes away and was able to make many visits to her.

As a young boy I had been fascinated by grandpa’s RAF story and, as usual, always wanting to hear it again. Grannie was bombarded with many questions but never resented them. I think she knew the interest was deep and genuine and she seemed happy to answer them. Later, when I was an older child, she went through the photographs she had of her and grandpa’s life and his RAF days – telling me of the stories and events that surrounded them.

As a fifteen year old schoolboy I spent a few days with grannie during a half-term and remember a long discussion we had. I asked her many questions, mainly about grandpa, the war years and life afterwards which may have brought back many memories for her, some of which may have been upsetting. However, she did not seem to be so and was happy, as always, to answer those questions.

When beginning the research into the Christian family the first decision was where to start. The obvious place was with grandpa’s father, Vincent Francis, (known as Pom-Pom within the family although the reason remains a mystery), but even here there was little to go on. No-one seemed to know who is [sic] parents had been or where they had lived, or their occupation. It appears that from the 1930’s onwards, and once his children had reached adulthood, Vincent lived apart – although in occasional contact – from his family. From this point knowledge of his movements and employments is particularly sparse. Grannie told me that from the time she married grandpa in 1932 until Vincent’s death in 1964, she had only met him on about four occasions. She did say that he was always a smartly dressed, well-spoken and upright gentleman, but one not much given to talking. By 1994 he, his wife Gertrude and two of his children, Vera and grandpa, were dead. Norman’s whereabouts, or if even alive were not known by grannie although she did know that Vincent had been cared for, towards and at the end of his life, by his daughter Vera, and although she too was now dead her daughter Audrey was the most likely source for any further information. This was when Gilly & went to see Audrey and were able to see & make notes from the postcards she held and previously mentioned. Many of these – the major form of short communication in the early C20th – were written by Vincent when on his travels as a commercial traveler. [sic] However, even Audrey was unable to throw much light onto Vincent’s life or earlier family, but she knew that his son Norman was still alive and living in Leeds. It was from Audrey that we received his address and was subsequently able to write and visit him. In compiling this ‘history’, I have constantly been amazed at how little closely related individuals knew of each other, but then I am judging it from the perspective of a modern world with many varied and instant communication methods. In fairness, in the more deferential, perhaps respectful and less connected world that existed before WW2, privacy was expected and less exposed. Aunty June readily admits that I have more information about her father, grandpa Arnold, than she does herself, and this was also true of my father Brian, and yet the source of my information was their mother, grannie! We were still no further forward with where Vincent came from and a search at the National Records Office yielded nothing further. In 1995 I corresponded with Gt. Uncle Norman but little of substance came of these letters, (in this archive). I followed this up with a visit to Norman, the first and last time I ever met him, but his knowledge of Vincent was as sketchy as the rest and so nothing new was revealed.

In the meantime, Diana Pick in New Zealand was plodding away on my behalf with searches where possible and every so often would write with information which she felt could be a ‘lead’. Usually though, while one or two names might fit, the dates and locations wouldn’t, or vice versa, and the lead would have to be discarded. In 2004 Diana telephone to say that she thought she had finally found Vincent’s family, and that they came from Switzerland. My father Brian was quite taken with the idea of being of Swiss descent, but had said previously that he would rather not be of French or Italian extraction. Needless to say, the Swiss connection when the papers finally arrived proved to be another blind alley. In 2006 not long after Brian’s death, Diana again telephoned to say that this time she really had found Vincent’s parents & siblings, and that the evidence was incontrovertible. And so, upon arrival, it proved to be. There was Vincent’s birth & marriage certificates, and those for each of his siblings bar one. The dates, locations and names all matched the known but patchy information already held. The documentation itself gave two further steps forward the first of which was more information that could be explored – previously unknown names, addresses, occupations etc from birth or

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marriage certificates, but the second was the proof that there was French ancestry – Vincent’s mother was French, (Eualalia Bons), Vincent was half French! More than that, his father was Italian, (Francesco Cristini). There it was on the paper, Brian’s jesting dread, he was of both French and Italian descent, and relatively closely so too. The claims of Gertrude proved to be founded, in fact. Something I have learned, at that point and since, is that usually family stories have some basis in truth – it’s just that with the passing between generations they become distorted.

It is interesting to note from the documents available that the names Cristini and Christian were interchanged before they finally settled into the anglicised version of Christian. As the family of Francesco and Eulalia became more integrated into British life and had their children it will have become more necessary that the name reflected the English version, particularly perhaps for Vincent and his older brother Victor, who would have to enter the wider society of employment after school and would therefore probably find it much easier to be a Christian than a Cristini. Interestingly, their sister Beatrice seems to have retained Cristini right through to her marriage and maybe that was the standard of the time – it would have been less important for a girl to have an anglicised name since she was far more likely to go from the home of her parents to her new husband’s home. First names too became anglicised, Francesco becoming Francis – another mystery solved – why so many holders of the name Francis or Frances in the family!

Having ‘found’ Vincent in verifiable documentation, we also found his father so what of Francesco or Francis? It is believed from the documentation held that he and Eulalia probably arrived in England around 1868/69. In the 1881 census, both he and Eulalia were shown as being born in C1845 which would put them in their early twenties. From the death certificate of their second child, Alfred, Francis’ profession was ‘book-keeper.’ As we follow him through subsequent births and marriages we see that he progresses to ‘teacher of languages’ and ‘professor of languages’. Italy, at the time of Francis’ birth was not a state as Britain was, but comprised of small principalities and dukedoms which had a huge agricultural peasant base. One therefore wonders at his education and societal level. He must have been numerate to be able to book keep, and literate too. He could obviously speak, (and teach), more than one language. He obviously also travelled from Italy, through France at least, to England and married along the way. To do this, and to have the level of education he appeared to have, assumes that he came from a reasonably affluent family. Francis died sometime between the marriage of his daughter in 1902 and of his eldest son, Victor, in 1906. Where he was living at the time is, as yet, un-researched. Of his wife, Eulalia, nothing beyond the probable year of birth, her nationality and her maiden name of Bons, is known or researched. She had the ability though to make the registration in 1872 of the death of her son Alfred.

The real ‘Christian’ family history therefore begins, most significantly, with the children of Francis and Eulalia and for me, my siblings and cousins, with their fourth child and second son, our Great Grandfather, Vincent Francis Christian – born Cristini.


“Christian Family History Introduction,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 20, 2024,

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