I have often wondered where my surname came from. I always assumed it was from two people marrying and joining their names together. In 2002, when the 1901 census became available, I decided to try and find out.

My grandfather died when I was a young child and I do not remember him. The only information I had is what my father and his sister could remember. My grandfather went by the name of Harry Carr-Brion and said he was born on 8th July 1888 in Boston, Massachusetts and was educated at Hele's School in Exeter, Devon. He said his father's name was William Francis Carr-Brion and his mother's Minnie Strickland. He also mentioned the names of his brothers and sisters. My father produced the following list: Francis, Eric Winston, Kenneth Garfield, Hugh Page, Dorothy, Gladys and Ethel. The other clue we had came to light when my grandfather retired. He had no birth certificate and had to swear before someone to give his date of birth. One of the letters that came back from the social services of the time had a mysterious middle name that my father remembered as Dulai or Dulay.

There first thing I found was a complete absence of anyone with the surname Carr-Brion. I also searched the GRO indexes for a marriage of Minnie Strickland and found nothing that looked plausible. There was also no record of any Carr-Brions ever living in the United States. The earliest record of my grandfather that we could find was his marriage to his first wife in 1914.

As the were no Carr-Brions anywhere I decided to look for the family under a different surname. Searching the 1901 census index without a surname was difficult. A search was only allowed with the first two characters of the surname followed by a wildcard. Luckily, there where some unusual first names to look for. I picked Kenneth and Hugh as the least common. They are also the names of my father and his brother. I limited my search to the Exeter area of Devon. I search for every possible two letter combination at the beginning of the surname until I found a family with a Kenneth and a Hugh. This led me to the following family:

William F Kingwell head 54
Mary E Kingwell wife 46
Kenneth F Kingwell son 20
Gladys B Kingwell daughter 18
Eric G Kingwell son 17
Dorothy A Kingwell daughter 15
Cedric D Kingwell son 12
Hugh P Kingwell son 10

This looked very close to my father's list of names and had to be right. Later investigations showed there was also an Ethel who had left home. Eric's middle name was Garfield, the same as my father's. Cedric's middle name was Duley and presumably he was my grandfather. The mother's maiden name was Stickland which is why I could not find Strickland.

I later got additional confirmation from members of the Kingwell family. They said Cedric disappeared during the first world war and no one knew what had happened to him despite attempts to find him. He never did have a birth certificate. His birth was not registered to avoid vaccination. I also received a photo of the painting of Cedric as a child showing his red hair. DNA testing has also shown that the Kingwell family was correct.

I still do not know what made him change his name and abandon his family. It appears to have happened about the time he got married so the two events may well be connected.