Discover Your Ancestors

Discover Your Ancestors

Two critically acclaimed publications are available to family history researchers - the annual print magazine, Discover Your Ancestors, and the monthly online magazine, Discover Your Ancestors Periodical. Click here to subscribe.

Discover Your Ancestors Magazine - Nick Thorne - General Genealogy Reviews

‘Changes’, the 1971 song from the singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, painter and actor David Bowie – whom the world lost in January of this year – perhaps aptly sums up the constantly morphing persona of this highly accomplished star. Limitlessly changing how he presented himself to us, he had adopted the stage name of David Bowie in September 1965. Researching his family tree, however, reveals that he is not the first to have reinvented himself. David Robert Haywood Jones, alias David Bowie (8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016) was born at 40 Stansfield Road in the Brixton area of London. Fittingly, for such an unconventional character, his birth appears to have been submitted unusually late to the registrar – and not by a few weeks, or even a month or two.

From the Birth indexes, available on TheGenealogist.co.uk, we can see that, in Bowie’s case, it was 13 years before he was registered and the official records had to be changed! We can pick up this fact from the handwritten note on the image of the GRO index for his actual birth date in the first quarter of 1947. This has the revealing reference to “see” the June quarter of 1960. We can also discover David’s parents using marriage records on TheGenealogist, married in the third quarter of that same year in Lambeth – the district where the Brixton Registry Office is situated and which was the venue for their wedding. The couple had had to wait until after David’s father had obtained the decree absolute in the divorce from his first wife, Hilda, before tying the knot.

Marriage Certificate of Haywood Jones and Margaret ‘Peggy’ Burns

david bowie portrait

While not exactly adopting a new persona, like his famous son would, David’s father did change the name that he was known as to John. Born Haywood Stenton Jones at 41 St Sepulchre Gate on 21 November 1912 in the South Yorkshire town of Doncaster, he passed away in 1969. Haywood (John) was the son of Yorkshire couple Robert Haywood Jones 1882-1916 and Zillah Hannah Jones (née Blackburn) 1887-1917 and we are able to find, by searching the birth and baptism records, that David’s grandfather Robert had been born in Bramley, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. As an eight-year-old boy, Robert Jones appears with his family in the 1891 census, on TheGenealogist.co.uk, in the Town Street of Bramley where David’s grandfather was living at this time with his father Joseph Jones and family. Joseph’s occupation was recorded by the enumerator as a ‘cashier’ – also in the household were Joseph’s wife Anne and her mother Mary Ann Haywood, allowing us to discover the name of one of David’s great-great grandmothers and see that they were all born in Yorkshire.

census record 1911

From left, David’s great-grandfather Joseph Jones and his grandfather Robert Haywood Jones in the 1911 census, available at TheGenealogist.co.uk. Both worked in the boot-making trade

On the up

The story of the Jones family reveals a theme of changes in their social standing, which we can follow by tracing Joseph Jones in the census collection on TheGenealogist. The 1901 census records that David’s great-grandfather was a boot manufacturer’s cashier in Bramley and by the time of the 1911 count we can see that, aged 60, he had already retired. Joseph came from Wykeham in north east Yorkshire and in the 1871 census he is serving an apprenticeship under the roof of his shoemaker master, William Simpkin. It would appear from the earlier census of 1851, around the time of his birth, that Joseph’s father (David’s 2x-greatgrandfather) was Charles Jones, an agricultural labourer in Wykeham.

From these records we can see that David’s grandfather, Joseph, had climbed from being the son of an agricultural labourer and a shoemaker’s apprentice, to holding a clerical position in a boot manufacturer’s business in Bramley. Joseph’s son, Robert, moved to 41 St Sepulchre Gate in the South Yorkshire town of Doncaster and viewing the 1911 record of the census we can see that, although bootmaking was still running in the family, the 28-year-old Robert Jones had continued the rise of the Jones family by becoming a ‘bootmaker dealer’. Under the ‘Whether Employer, Worker, or Working on Own Account’ column of the return he had written that he was a ‘partner’ in the business. This address was where David’s father would be born in the very next year and it turns out to be, at one time, the Doncaster branch of the Public Benefit Boot Company. Although there was only Robert, his wife and their baby daughter present on that census night, they occupied nine rooms in the building.

The Public Benefit Boot Company had many outlets across the country and it seems that Robert Haywood Jones was, for a time, the Manager of the Doncaster branch. Further research in records (see below) points to him becoming the owner of the Jubilee Boot Company, which would seem to have then operated from the same address at St Sepulchre Gate. The early date of death for David’s grandfather, aged 32 in 1916, pointed to a World War One death. By searching the military records on TheGenealogist we can indeed find him listed in the Soldiers who Died in the Great War collection. There is also a record for his Campaign Medals and a great deal more is revealed about him in the De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour 1914-1918 records, that can again be accessed on TheGenealogist.This Roll of Honour record confirms various particulars, such as his parents’ names, and gives us more details of his career in boot dealing including the fact that he had become the proprietor of the Jubilee Boot Co in Doncaster. Robert Haywood Jones had enlisted in the King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry) on 5 July 1916; served with the Expeditionary Force in France from 27 September and was then reported as “wounded and missing” after the fighting at Beaumont Hamel on 18 November 1916. Robert was then assumed to have been killed in action on or about that date – meaning that his war was only a little over four months long. The roll of honour tantalisingly refers to his marriage to Zillah, in 1909, their two children, including David’s father, but adds that Zillah had since died. It turns out that she passed away on 12 February 1917, though no explanation is given. Robert’s wife and David’s paternal grandmother, Zillah Hannah, with her unusual Old Testament biblical names, was the daughter of a Doncaster millwright called Frederick Blackburn and his wife Frances. He had been born in the South Yorkshire town of Wath-upon-Dearne in 1851, before settling ten miles up the road in Doncaster.

From Yorkshire to Kent

With a move to the south of England, David’s father John had been working as a public relations officer for Dr Barnardo’s in Stepney Causeway at the time that he met David’s mother. The venue for the encounter had been the Ritz Cinema in Tunbridge Wells where Peggy was employed at the time as a waitress in the cinema’s restaurant. Margaret Mary ‘Peggy’(née Burns) was a Maid of Kent, having been born in the Elham district of east Kent in 1913. Her parents, James Burns and Margaret Burns (née Heaton) had married the year before in Thanet, Kent. Peggy already had a ten-year-old son, Terry Burns, from a previous relationship with Jack Isaac Rosenberg, the son of a furrier. When she married David’s father it was under the condition that he would raise Terry – whose biological father had abandoned him and his mother before he was born – as his own. David also has two half sisters, Annette who was born in 1941 and Myra Ann born in 1843. They are his father’s children by previous relationships, though he and his first wife Hilda could not have children. Annette married an Egyptian and converting to Islam changed her name, by coincidence, to Iman - which is also the name of David’s second wife. Myra Ann was adopted by a couple in Tunbridge Wells. As he was growing up, David’s family made their home at 40 Stansfield Road, near the border of the south London areas of Brixton and Stockwell, and in 1953 Bowie moved with his family to the suburb of Bromley and went to school there. It was here that Bowie married his first wife Mary Angela ‘Angie’ Barnett on 19 March 1970 at Bromley Register Office. Angie was not from the area – she was an American model who had been born in Cyprus where her American father, Col George M Barnett, had become a mining engineer after service in the United on States Army. Angie and David soon had a son together, whom they named Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones Born in Bromley on 30 May 1971 we can find his birth in the indexes on TheGenealogist.

In the spirit of the ‘changes’ thread that runs strongly in this family, although he was known as Zowie until around the age of 12, Duncan decided that he preferred to be called ‘Joey’, and used this nickname for some time until shortening it to ‘Joe’ in his later teen years. As a young adult, however, he went back to using the name Duncan and this is how he is now known. David and Angie divorced on 8 February 1980 in Switzerland, after almost ten years of marriage, and David gained custody of Duncan with mother and son remaining estranged to this day. Duncan Jones did not follow his father into the music industry but he has made a name for himself by becoming a BAFTA award-winning screenwriter, film director and producer. He is best known for directing the 2009 science fiction film Moon and is the director of the upcoming 2016 film adaption of Warcraft.

David Bowie and son Duncan Jones

Duncan Jones and his father David Bowie at the premiere of Duncan’s film Moon in 2009. Inset: Duncan’s birth index record

Iman Bowie

Iman, Bowie’s second wife

On 24 April 1992 David Jones, aka David Bowie, then married Iman, a Somali-American model. The 21- year-old Duncan acted as his father’s best man in the private ceremony that took place in Lausanne, with the wedding later solemnised on 6 June in Florence. David and Iman tried for children for some time, eventually having one daughter together in August 2000 whom they called Alexandria ‘Lexi’ Zahra Jones. Born in New york, Lexi is a half-sister to Duncan and to Zulekha Haywood, Iman’s daughter from her previous marriage to American basketball player Spencer Haywood. The couple lived principally in New York City and it was there that David sadly passed away of cancer on 10 January 2016, with his family on hand. Continuing with the theme of changes; Iman was named Zara Mohamed Abdulmajid when she was born in the Somali capital city of Mogadishu on 25 July 1955. She was renamed Iman (arabic for ‘Faith’) at her grandfather’s urging. The daughter of Marian and Mohamed Abdulmajid, her father was a diplomat and a former Somalia ambassador to Saudi Arabia, while her mother was a gynaecologist. In an interview Iman once said that, while for David it was love at first sight, she had grown to fall in love with David Jones, and not David Bowie. The latter, she made plain, was simply a persona. “He’s a singer, an entertainer. David Jones is a man I met,” she said. Most of us only knew the persona of David Bowie as he morphed from one character to another. Whether it was Major Tom, or Ziggy Stardust, or the Thin White Duke, David was a master of reinvention. We have seen that he was the son of a children’s charity PR officer – who changed his first name to John – and a waitress in a Kent Cinema restaurant. Researching back in time we discovered that his paternal line were from Yorkshire where they success-fully changed their social standing by moving up from apprentice craftsman, to clerical and then proprietorial occupations in the boot-making industry. But whether any of them displayed a musical, or a creative bent we do not know for certain. It is a matter of record, however, that their talented descendant certainly made his mark on our times helping to change attitudes along the way. David left a staggering legacy in the huge contribution that he has made to music and to the arts in our time and he continued to do so right up to the end when he released his final album on his 69th birthday, just two days before his death.