Email unlocks treasure trove of family history for Alan

Alan Locke with his montage of five generations of 'G.A. Lockes'.
Alan Locke with his montage of five generations of 'G.A. Lockes'.

An email from Illinois, America, has unlocked a veritable treasure trove of ancestry for former Craigavon Mayor and Portadown businessman Alan (G.A.) Locke.

It comes from Dr Brian Locke, who holds a PhD in Musicology and is the Associate Professor at Western Illinois University, having grown up in Toronto, Canada.

Brian’s email found its way to the Portadown Times. He sought to fill a wide gap in the family history, dating back to the mid-19th century, the clue being that just one of seven Locke siblings remained behind in Portadown while the others emigrated to Canada.

And a stark reality of the emigration is that so many people, who could have contributed so much to the local area instead made their mark, and often their fortune, in far-off lands. The father of the emigrant siblings was William Locke (1802-1886) and he is the common ancestor with the Portadown Lockes.

Brian is one of three brothers, Kenneth being a professor at the University of Toronto Medical School and Stephen a bond trader in the financial district of Ontario city.

He knows that the original G.A. Locke (George Alexander, 1848-1918) was the one who stayed in Portadown, and the G.A.s who followed over the generations showed much community service (and suffered much heartache) in the pursuing years.

For George Alexander the Second (Mayor Alan’s father) was tragically killed in 1942 when he fell off a ladder while working at his business in Woodhouse Street. A former chairman of Portadown Urban District Council, he left a family of four – June Allister (died 2002), Alan, Victor (died in Hong Kong 2013 having been a distinguished teacher) and Lester who has been unwell for some years.

They all served their community faithfully and well. When second generation George Alexander died in the accident, his wife (later Rachel Brownlee) ran the family travel and machinery businesses in Woodhouse Street virtually single-handed until the family grew up and took over – Lester and wife Connie in the travel trade and Alan the machinery (later in West Street).

Daughter June was deeply involved in women’s groups, and Victor (educated at Portadown College) made real name for himself in Hong Kong in the teaching and sailing fraternity.

Indeed, it was through Victor’s obituary in the Portadown Times website that the North American connection was able to initially re-connect with their ‘roots’ and it looks as though many hands are going to be linked across the Atlantic.

The G.A. sequence was changed to ‘George Alan’, the name which the former Mayor bears (the Mayoress was the late Mrs May Locke) and it was passed on to their son, and sadly there was another family tragedy. For he died in June 2013 having been diagnosed with cancer. He worked in Belfast in the giant Rank Xerox organisation and – like his father and grandfather – was deeply involved in the Ulster Unionist Party.

Alan has a daughter Hilary Doyle (wife of Edenderry Primary School principle Stephen) and they are all thrilled at the news that the North American connection is contacting them.

Dr Brian writes – “Another connection that we share is that, in the 1960s, one of my father’s aunts, Dell (Locke) Stephenson, travelled to Portadown and spent considerable time going over family records.

“I believe that she may even have stayed in touch with Alan senior, since his name is mentioned repeatedly in her notes regarding Portadown and the various farms in the region. Dell may also have been in contact with Alan’s mother (Mrs Rachel Brownlee). She kept copious notes and typed them into charts and verbal histories - we still have them. Some 50 years on, I am picking up her threads. Occasionally, I do a web search for a distinctive name, which is how I came upon the obituary for Victor.”

Alan remembers Dell coming over. He said, “She was married to one of the Eaton Stores connection in Toronto and she spent a lot of her time in Ballymena where the Eatons originated. She was a well-spoken, cultured lady. But I have to say, we didn’t follow up the Locke connection.

“I’d never heard of Dr Brian until the Portadown Times got in touch, and I really look forward to making the contacts. Hilary is much more computer literate than I am, so I’ll leave it up to her to get the ball rolling with the Canadian-United States branch of the family.”

There is a G.A. Locke the Fifth, son of the late Alan who died from cancer. He is 17-year-old Alan, a student at Belfast Inst., and who has undergone an interview with hopes of being accepted to Oxford University to study law.

“Obviously we are hoping he makes it,” said his granddad. “He has worked so hard and was doing his GCSEs when he father passed away.”

Dr Brian contacted the Portadown Times about the five generations of ‘G.A.s’ on Monday morning and we emailed him back within half-an-hour to tell him we had struck ancestral ‘gold’. He responded, “This is great - thank you so much for helping connect to Alan. Please send him my regards and encourage him or any other family to get in touch with me directly as they wish. I have been involved with history my whole life: the musical history of Europe has been my life-long obsession.

“Although I teach the whole historical narrative of European music, my research specialisation is on the music of the Czech Republic, especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In fall (autumn) 2015 I will be traveling to Prague for the eighth time to finish research on my second book. I hope all of this helps Alan. I have more information with regard to the other generations of Toronto Lockes that we can get into later.”

Said Alan, “It’s terrific. I thank the Portadown Times. The whole family is delighted to have found our Canadian cousins.”

The Times will be doing a follow-up when the contacts are confirmed.