Tracing the life of Jessie Elizabeth Coker, the daughter William Frederick Coker and Elizabeth Jane Mead, highlights for me the essence of doing genealogy.

Jessie Coker wasn’t a difficult person to identify in the records but it was the records of those with whom she lived that helped to confirm much about her despite the absence of some vital information.

She is first found in the England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index born in the first quarter 1884 in Lambeth, London. Then we find her at school in 1896 near to where the family lived at Newington/Walworth, London, and born 15 January 1884.

School record

Jessie Coker School Entry

Entry for Jessie Elizabeth Coker in register of St Paul’s School, Walworth, London, a short walk from where Coker family lived at Heiron Street at the time. Gives her birth date (14 Jan 1884), address (8 Heiron St) and the fact she left school 25 Sep 1896 due to ill health.

That is confirmed on the 1901 census where the Coker family is indeed found at Heiron St, Newington, London. Jessie’s father had passed away in 1899.

1901 census

Jessie Coker on 1901 census

Jessie Coker on 1901 census at Heiron St, Newington, London. Transcript reads: Elizabeth Coker, head, widow, aged 42, charwoman, own account, born Kennington, deaf; Edith Coker, dau, single, aged 19, machinist, worker, born Lambeth; Jessie E. Coker, dau, single, aged 17, leather stitcher, worker, born Lambeth; Kate A. Coker, dau, aged 7, born Newington; Frank A. Coker, son, aged 2, born Newington; James Meade, boarder, widow, aged 40, public house painter, born Kennington. Given Elizabeth Coker’s maiden name was Mead, this James Meade may have some family connection.

Ten years later, Jessie is found with sister Edith on the 1911 census at 23 Cumberland Rd, Walthamstow, an address that remains vital to tracking family members thereafter.

In 1911, Jessie’s married name is Duggan and a 1908 marriage entry is found between Jessie and John Thomas Duggan at Southwark. However, John Duggan’s whereabouts in 1911 is a mystery. We can’t know for certain but there is a possible death for him in 1912 in Lambeth, London.

1911 census

Jessie Coker, now Duggan, on 1911 census

Jessie Coker, now Duggan, on 1911 census with sister Edith (who died in 1914) and her family at 23 Cumberland Road, Walthamstow. Seemingly lived the rest of her life at this address. Census transcript: Walter CAUSER,  Head Married M 30 born about 1881 Fitter Constructional Iron Work In Connection With Building Bermondsey London;  Edith Florence CAUSER, Wife Married 6 years F aged 29 born 1882 Lambeth London;  Walter William CAUSER, Son M aged 5 born 1906 Deptford London;  Frank Alfred CAUSER, Son M aged 3 born 1908 Deptford London;  Jessie Louisa CAUSER, Daughter F aged 1 born 1910 Walthamstow Essex;  Jessie Elizabeth DUGGAN, Sister In Law Married F aged 27 born 1884 Lagner confectionery industry (no explanation on occupation but obviously something to do with the production of confectionery) Lambeth London.

1921 census

Now we have another twist. In 1921, Jessie is with husband Fred Forster and reputed children Fred junior and Florence. However, these children were born to Fred Forster and Daisy Peck.

Jessie Elizabeth Coker on 1921 census

Frederick John Forster Head Male 1884 36 years 10 months St Pancras, London, England Telephone Lineman G P O Engrs Dpt
Jessie Elizabeth Forster Wife Female 1884 37 years 6 months Lambeth, London, England – Private
Frederick William Forster Son Male 1905 16 years 7 months Islington, London, England – Spillers & Sons Out Of Work Cab Millers
Florence Emma Forster Daughter Female 1908 13 years 9 months Islington, London, England – –

1939 register

What we do find next in 1939 is that Jessie is still at 23 Cumberland Road, Walthamstow. She is found under the name Jessie Elizabeth Forster, widow, but the surname Duggan is written above the Forster surname, a common practise where officials later added married surnames in the 1939 register. That usually denotes a later marriage. In this case, it would be the reverse.

Jessie on 1939 register

Jessie Coker (now Forster) on 1939 register with nephew William Causer as well as a Frederick William Forster who is most likely the son of her reputed second husband Frederick Forster senior.

Also found in the same house with her is her nephew William Causer, who is her sister Edith’s son with Walter Henry Causer. W.H. Causer also later married Jessie’s sister Kate after Edith passed away. That seems to confirm that Jessie had a marriage or some connection to a man with the surname FORSTER but no entry for that has been found.

The possible answer is found by following the parentage of Frederick W (William) Forster, born 18 Nov 1904, who is found on the 1939 register with Jessie Elizabeth Forster (nee Coker) and who is described as an ex-Navy man.

Navy record

Frederick Forster Junior Navy Record

Navy record for Frederick Forster junior that confirms him to be same person on 1939 register.

By following his service details he was born at Barnsbury, London, which is in the Islington area.

On the 1911 census, a Frederick William Forster is found with his father Frederick John Forster. His age is given as 7 born at Islington. That basically fits with the Navy record.

Foster in 1911

Frederick Forster 1911 Census

Frederick Forster senior with Frederick jnr on 1911 census. He is described as a wireman both on his 1904 marriage as well as the 1911 census, confirming this to be the same person.

However, Frederick John Forster is not with his wife on 1911 census. He married Daisy Peck in 1904 and they had four children, only two of which were alive in 1911.

The assumption is that they separated and Frederick John Forster married (or co-habited) with Jessie Elizabeth Coker at some point after John Duggan died. Remember there is a probable 1912 death for John Duggan.

Marriage entry


Frederick John Forster married Daisy Florence Peck in 1904 but is not with her on 1911 census. Seems to have either married or co-habited with Jessie Elizabeth Coker at some time after this and died in 1934 leaving his estate to her.

Probate entry

Based on Fred Forster’s probate entry, it seems possible that he didn’t marry Jessie.

Fred Forster probate

Fred Forster probate.

The entry reads: FORSTER Frederick John of 23 Cumberland-road Higham Hill Walthamstow Essex died 25 December 1934 at the Connaught Hospital Walthamstow Probate London 8 March to Jessie Elizabeth Duggan widow. Effects £276 12. 6d.

Jessie’s probate

Jessie Elizabeth Coker Duggan Foster Probate

Jessie Coker (Duggan/Forster) probate entry

Then there is another twist to Jessie’s life found in the details of her probate entry in 1964. She is still living at Cumberland Road, and the beneficiary of her estate is her nephew William Henry Causer whom she may have raised as her own child given his mother died within weeks of his birth. Perhaps she died as a result of complications from the birth.

Given William Causer is found with Jessie in 1939 and is named on her probate record, it is a fair assumption that their relationship was more likely to have been more like mother and son rather than aunt and nephew. And it is not an unusual situation even today for a close family member to raise a sister’s child.

As an example, my paternal grandfather John Alexis Dobbs Coker, who was Jessie Coker’s second cousin, was raised by his mother’s sister.