An incomplete family history of the Dent and Donaldson families




This story is principally dedicated to my four brothers and sisters, Ann, Shirley, Michael and Anthony, who share exactly the same forebears as I.


It has been stitched together from many and various sources, and it is far from complete.


The principal official sources I have used are the ten-yearly England and Wales census surveys from 1841 to 1901, the Irish 1901 and 1911 census records held at the Irish National Archives in Dublin, the England and Wales Birth, Marriages and Deaths Index 1837-1983, US census records for 1890 and 1900 and the First World War records held in the National Archive at Richmond, Surrey.


However, as the story of our family gradually unfolded in all sorts of unexpected directions I have also had cause to delve into the history of Ireland and Irish republicanism, canal construction in  Birmingham and Warwickshire, Victorian photographic studios in Birmingham and Warwickshire, Birmingham Breweries, nineteenth century railway lines and stations, the early years of the Warwickshire constabulary, the economic and social history of nineteenth century Birmingham and Warwickshire, military uniforms, the early history of the town of Richford in the state of Vermont in the USA, regiments, battles and medals of the First World War, rationing and internment during the Second World War in Northern Ireland, the bombing of Belfast and Birmingham by the Luftwaffe and various church records. I must also confess to having spent more time in graveyards than is strictly healthy.


Beyond these official sources, my research has relied heavily on the  personal recollections of my late father, Tony Dent, my mother Teresa Napier, my uncle John Donaldson, my late aunt and uncle, Sheila and Dennis Preston and my cousin Malcolm Preston. I am grateful to them all for their invaluable help and patience when I have telephoned or e-mailed them repeatedly to ask them questions about those parts of the family history that might still reside in their memories. Their recollections  often helped point me in the right direction just as I was feeling that I had reached a dead end. I have also had some helpful recollections from my uncles Jim and Kevin Donaldson and my aunts Barbara Donaldson and Bernadette Evans.


During the course of my research I was extremely fortunate to make contact with May O'Toole, daughter of Jimmy McGivern, my great uncle and one of the most compelling and charismatic characters in this family history. May has been researching her family tree for a number of years and has been able to give me a wealth of valuable, and often astonishing, information about the McGivern and Cronin families for which I am deeply indebted to her. She has also shared with me some of her personal memories. May and I arranged to meet at the National Archive in Dublin a few years back and we spent an enjoyable afternoon trying to trace the place where of one of our common Dublin-born ancestors, Theresa Mullalley, was born and raised. I am indebted, too, to May's brother Brian McGivern who has also kindly provided me with  invaluable information from his many years of family research into the McGiverns.


There are strict rules about the release of official census information. The 1901 England and 1911 Irish census records are the most recent ones currently accessible to the general public. This means that it is actually our family's relatively recent history in England - i.e. the history of my parents' and their parents' generations - that has proved the hardest to track down through official sources. It is this part of our family history which has relied so much on the recollections of Sheila, Dennis, Tony, Malcolm, John, Teresa, Bernadette, May, Brian, Jim, Kevin and Barbara.


I have quoted in this history from my uncle John's written account of the bombing of Belfast by the Germans in 1941 as seen through the eyes of a young boy. John also loaned to me "The Blitz: Belfast in the War Years" by Brian Barton, an account of the cataclysmic events in Belfast in 1941 that hugely disrupted the lives of my mother and her family. In addition May O'Toole kindly gave me a copy of "Glenard, Surviving Fear" by Michael Liggett, a fascinating book about the 1937 Glenard rent strike in Belfast, a strike in which her father Jimmy McGivern featured so prominently, and in which my maternal grandparents also played a part.


On my father's side I have been privileged to have had access to the "Family Bible", a collection of very old photographs owned by my aunt Sheila Preston that has existed in the Dent family for many decades, so long in fact that its precise origins had become lost in the mists of time. I am grateful to my daughter Emily for the many hours she put in with me as we gradually and painstakingly solved some of the secrets of the "Family Bible". Between us we managed to identify a substantial number of the ancestors whose photographs it holds. Emily also accompanied me on trips to Yardley Wood and Lapworth (Warwickshire) in search of more clues about the Dent and Moseley families' past. My cousin Malcolm Preston has also kindly supplied my brother Anthony and I with other old family photographs, some of which are reproduced in this brief history.

My mother, uncle John and aunt Bernadette have also generously shared their treasured old photographs with me, and some of these are included in the text. The ever-resourceful May O'Toole has helped me to identify the individuals in some of these photographs.

I have found it very difficult to draw a line under what I have done to date - I know that the project is unfinished, and in one sense it always will be. Despite the lines of enquiry still waiting to be explored, I am sharing what I have found out so far in the hope that it might jog a few more memories or inspire others to want to help find the missing pieces of this wonderful jigsaw. 

If anyone can add further to the information that I have presented here, or if anyone can point out errors I may have made I would be delighted to hear from them.  A number of individuals are mentioned throughout the text, many of them direct relatives. Others mentioned are not direct relatives but are people who are of interest or relevance in the history of the Dent family. To help differentiate between the two I have used bold type to identify direct ancestors. 

Steve Dent

October 2006


Update. At last I have got round to publishing this on the internet. In the interim period my father Tony Dent and my uncle Dennis Preston both died in 2007, and my aunt Sheila in 2008. I am so glad that I spoke to them about this project while they were alive. It is amazing how much value the slightest spark of memory can give to the task of researching the family tree, and it is equally amazing to realise how much knowledge can be lost with the passing of the generations. Research can only pull out the bare, cold facts. It is these personal recollections, the anecdotes and half-remembered stories that really help to make the past come to life.


Steve Dent

March 2009


Further update. I have now updated some of the content of this website following publication of the 1911 England and Wales census. I am also indebted to Peter Hill of the Lapworth Local History Group who has provided me with some very useful information about the village of Lapworth and the Moseley family.

Since publishing this website I have had several contacts from distant branches of the family tree with suggested additions to this record, some of which I have included in this update. I am very grateful for all the feedback received to date.

I am particularly indebted to Peter Lane. who has not only revealed to me that my great great grandmother Hannah Moseley's maiden name was Lane, but has also been generous enough to share with me his meticulous and detailed history of the Lane familiy and its offshoots, a previously hidden branch of our family tree. Peter's remarkable research has taken him all the way back to the fifteenth century.

Sadly Brian McGivern passed away in August 2010. His work on the McGivern family history was a huge help to me when I first began this project.


Steve Dent

August 2011