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The Search for James Donbavand


One of my great grandmothers was Eliza Ann Donbavand. The name is unusual and interesting. The story in the various branches of the family is that it is Spanish, but in earlier times, it seems to have been written as "Dunbabin".

Eliza's father was James Johnson Donbavand, a paper maker when he married in Bolton in 1879. Though he was born there in 1855, I can not find him, or his mother and sister, in the intervening censuses.

His father was also named James Johnson Donbavand, and he married in Bolton in 1852. His father in turn was Joseph, a Driller, but I had trouble finding him on censuses. The only likely candidate family was in Hulme, Manchester in 1841, but other researchers had this particular James dying in 1849. The 1851 census was water damaged, so until very recently I had no sight of the fate of this Joseph either.

So I dug away in censuses and other records, trying to locate my James Johnson Donbavand, or any other Joseph who could be his father. I accumulated loads of information, but none of it allowed me to match things up.

So I sent for the death certificate from 1849, and the birth certificates of JJD junior and his sister Esther.

The 1849 death certificate clearly stated that this James was the son of William Donbavand. The other researchers were wrong, and that chap in Hulme was the only one who could be my great great great grandfather. Later, when the water-damaged pages of the 1851 census were made available online by Ancestry, there was my James, with his parents in Todd Street, not far from Victoria Station.

My great great grandfather's birth certificate gave me another breakthrough. No longer a maker of Jacquard looms, the father's occupation was "Soldier in the 80th Regiment of Foot".

At the National Archives in Kew, there are few records relating to the doings of enlisted men. But the army did keep records of what men were paid, and where they were when they got the money. Over a couple of Christmas breaks, I followed my great great great grandfather through his army career. The Pay Books are in good condition, the records are well written, and they are organised in alphabetical order. You can search through them quite quickly, photographing the relevant pages for later analysis.

He enlisted at Manchester on 21st March 1855 - a month before the birth of his son. I don't know if he needed the money - there was a bounty of £7.0.0. for joining up - or he just couldn't stand the prospect of a baby crying at nights. Either way he took the Queen's Shilling, and was sent round the country. First to Portsmouth, then Aldershot. A short spell at Bury may have allowed him to see his family. Colchester was his home for over six months, and Pembroke Dock for a year.

The middle of 1858 saw the regiment at Buttevant, County Cork, base to the depot battallion of the 80th Regiment. On the 4th of August, he was posted to India, where a serious insurrection was taking place - the Indian Mutiny.

His last pay day in the United Kingdom was on 30th September at Buttevant. On the 12th of the month his two children had been baptised at St. Peter's in Bolton. The army records I've seen do not mention them, but Ann, Esther and James junior then disappear from the censuses. They may have travelled to India too, but it was a dangerous place. It's more probable they went to Ireland.

James was sent to several locations in the northern part of India. Several of them are mentioned in histories of the Indian Mutiny, Having spent two years based in Saugur, James Johnson Donbavand died at Nowgong, in the province of Madhya Pradesh, on 13th October 1862.

I already had quite a lot of information about the family of Joseph Donbavand. He was born in Warrington in 1807. His parents were James Donbavand and Frances Johnson, whose maiden name was given to numerous descendants, down to my great grandmother.

With all this informaton, it seemed a shame not to make it available online, so I have started a One-Name Study on the name and its numerous variants, which include Dunbavand, Dunbabin and even Dundavan.

UPDATE - August 2014

Another tranche of the British Library's India Office records have just appeared on FindMyPast. There are Donbavands mentioned! Two children of James and Ann Donbavand were baptised in Madhya Pradesh.

That means that Ann and the children must have travelled to India, probably with James. It takes real guts to head half way round the world with two small children when your destination is a war zone.

UPDATE - September 2016

More records are now online. It turns out that following the death of James at Nowgong, his widow Ann remarried, to William Frederick White, who was also in the 80th Regiment, and they had at least one other child, Robert, who died in infancy.

The regiment eventually went to Singapore, where Esther, born 1853, married William James Allen, a corporal in the same regiment. There are five children mentioned in the records, and at least two of them ended up in the Leicester area, where William Allen had been born.

UPDATE - March 2017

More digging around the Leicester records reveals that William and Esther moved back to the UK around 1882. The couple appear in the 1891 census, though the writing is awful, and their ages seem to have been have been transposed, which made the search a bit harder. They had a total of 10 children, 5 of whom died in childhood. The rest married in Leicester, and their descendants are mostly still in the area.