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My family tree in 1000 words – Oswald Cattley

I subscribe to Family Tree Magazine (FTM) and in the July 2019 issue they set a challenge “my family tree in 1000 words”. FTM said “Distill their lives into a short tale perhaps of 100, 300 or 500 words”

I thought this is a great idea for a blog post and I could include some tips within it so here’s how I did it.


I am very lucky in that I have lots of information on lots of interesting people within my family tree.

This has led to one basic question – who to focus on?

Several options available:

  • Living people
  • One branch (surnames include Cox, Bennett, Edwards, Blatch, Upcott, Cattley, Law, Christian, Simpson, Dey, Hosie, de Fonblanque, de Grenier and others)
  • Specific individuals or one name (Christian name or surname) (lots of William and Charles within my tree)
  • Maternal or paternal history
  • One profession e.g. the law or the clergy
  • Royal ancestry/connections
  • One time period (1700s etc)
  • A country e.g. England, Scotland or France
  • One county e.g. Somerset or Dorset
  • One place e.g. the Isle of Man, Taunton, London
  • Brick walls (two of my great great (?) grandmothers)
  • Something slightly controversial (a link to a sugar plantation in Antigua or illegitimate births in Scotland)
  • Famous people
  • Or a combination of some of the above

So, lots to choose from and I have enough information to do a series of articles on different people.

So who to choose?

I’d like to introduce you to my great great grandfather:

Oswald James Cattley

Oswald was born on 23 January 1850 in St Petersburg, Russia. The son of James Richard Cattley and Mary Elizabeth Law, he was baptised in the British Chaplaincy in St Petersburg on 19 March 1850 by his grandfather, the chaplain, Dr Edward Law. The Cattleys were an influential family in St Petersburg in the 1800s.

Oswald Cattley in 1915 in Petrograd

He attended Sherbourne School in Dorset, England in the 1860s.

He returned to Russia and worked as a Merchant and Mine manager in Siberia and Caucasus, Russia. He was a F.R.G.S. (Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society), an Engineer, and a Siberian explorer.

Lived at Novo-Nicolaevsk (now known as Novosibirsk) the capital city of Siberia.

During his time in Russia he explored and recorded geographical and weather information. He sent one of his sons on a winter expedition with Samuel Turner around 1904 whose quotes are shown below.

“The climatic conditions of the various parts of Siberia vary more than those of Europe. On the authority of a member of the Royal Geographical Society the coldest place in the world is in Central Siberia, where the temperature has been registered at 83° Fahr. below zero. This is 30 degrees colder than Mr. Harry de Windt’s coldest place in the world, north of Yakutsk. These figures are the result of observations made over a considerable period during the winter months by Mr. Cattley, F.R.G.S”

 “In this expedition, Mr. Cattley’s father was on board the ship which was instrumental in re-opening the passage of the Kara Sea in 1874.”

He married Margaret Sophia Handyside in St Petersburg on 11 August 1874 and they went on to have 8 children and the majority them were born out there including my great grandmother Dorothy Isabel Cattley (standing wearing a white dress on the right of this photograph).

Oswald Cattley with his wife Margaret and their children
Oswald and Margaret Cattley and their children


In the 1881 census (3 April) he was the head of household at 21 Thwaite Street, Cottingham, Yorkshire. Aged 31 and “Russian Merchant FRGS” with wife Margaret, two sons, Bernard and Patrick and 2 month old (un-named) daughter plus 2 servants and an elderly nurse who was born in Russia. The daughter, Evelyn, was born in England. The two older sons were born in St Petersburg as were the younger children.

On retirement lived in Repton, Derbyshire where he was a Justice of the Peace, & in London.

Oswald Cattley's house in Repton, Derbyshire
Repton in Derbyshire

There is no entry on the English 1891 census, so they were still in Russia at this time. His daughter Elsie was born in 1892 in St Petersburg.

In 1898 and 1900 he is living in Ealing, London.

He is a member of the Freemasons (Clarendon Lodge) in 1898 and resigned in 1901. His wife Margaret died in 1908 in Notting Hill, London.

He is on the electoral role in Elgin Crescent, Kensington, London in 1918 however travelling is still in his blood and he continued exploring when he retired.

The Canadian Passenger Lists for the Empress of Asia show him as passing through Vancover in British Columbia in 1920 aged 70.

The record shows he spoke 4 languages – English, French, German and Russian. His nearest relative is in Shanghai. Record completed and signed by him.

Oswald Cattley passenger information 1920
Empress of Asia Passenger Information for Oswald Cattley

Then another trip via Quebec on 16 May 1922 where he had to complete a medical certificate (a US Record of Aliens Pre-Examined in Canada). In this he is 5’10 ½ high and 15 stone with a fair/ruddy complexion, blue eyes and grey hair. This certificate was not signed by the examiner. His onward destination is Ogdensburg in New York.

Oswald Cattley medical examination record 1922


He died on 28 Nov 1922 whilst visiting his son Stephen, a doctor in Ogdensburg, New York State (this caused a bit of confusion before I worked out what he was doing there). He is buried with his son Stephen in Ogdensburg Cemetery.


Oswald James Cattley – of 35. Cambridge Gardens, North Kensington, Middx died 28th November 1922 at Ogdensburg, New York State, USA. Probate 1st February 1923 to Arthur Croxall Whitehead Esq and Norah Isobel Cattley spinster. Effects £1,560 – 9 – 4d

So that’s Oswald. I like to think I may have inherited some of his love of travel and exploring.

I hope this has inspired you to put together a story or two about your ancestors. If you do please share them in the comments below. And if you’d like help compiling your stories please get in touch.

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