Dear Hellie…A Postcard Mystery

Dear Hellie - Front

I have been rummaging through a wonderful treasure trove of family photos and documents that I recently collected from my mother. Quite a few of these provided some fun mysteries to pursue. I thought I would share a couple of my finds…

Exhibit A: The postcard

To keep things simple, I’m going to start by examining just the one item in this post…a postcard. The front of the postcard is at the top of the post. Here is the back:

Dear Hellie - Back

Dear Hellie – Back

Starting with the basics, the Postcard reads:

Dear Hellie
Got your letter alright will see you on Sunday next all being well. We are thinking of going to [unreadable] What do you think of the card will tell you about it when I see you.
Your loving sister, Cissy.

And it is addressed to:

Miss Parr
Mrs Dilworth
31 Highgate Terrace
Garstaug Rd

PARR is the maiden name of my paternal great-grandmother, so I can narrow down the search immediately. But, I do not know who “Dear Hellie” and “Your loving sister, Cissy” are. And Mrs Dilworth? Wouldn’t have the foggiest. The adventure begins!

A Closer Look

Before I start heading off blindly searching the records for Mrs Dilworth and Cissy, lets see what clues can be gleaned from the postcard.

Stamp: A blue green halfpenny Edward VII stamp.
Postmark: The card is post marked in Liverpool at 9am, 30 March 1904.
Postcard: Marked “Paget Prize Gravura” with dimensions: 5 1/2 inches x 3 1/2 inches

A scout around the internet helped me to glean a few facts. It appears that from about 1899, the standard postcard dimensions match exactly those of my postcard and the standard postage rate was a halfpenny. “Paget Prize” is the name of a photographic company and the term “Gravura” refers to a type of gaslight paper. Gaslight paper is apparently a “printing paper sufficiently insensitive that it can be used in weak artificial light, without the need for a darkroom”.1

From this time up until WWI, sending postcards became a bit of a craze with many hundreds and thousands of postcards whizzing around the postal system carrying everyday, ordinary messages – just like my postcard.

So, there really isn’t anything unusual about it. Rather, it is a typical example of how people communicated with each other at the time about little everyday things. Kind of like how we send an SMS to each other now to make sure someone picks up some bread and milk on the way home from work.

Therefore, the most useful information is the postmark, giving it a place in time and space that I can use to focus my search.

First Step – Who is “Hellie”?

Given I have a name, address and a date, it seems the most obvious thing to do is to check out the 1901 UK census since it is the closest in time to the postcard.

In the 1901 Census, I couldn’t find any PARRs or DILWORTHs at the Highgate Terrace address. However, I did find Esther Ellen PARR, 33 years of age, born in Ormskirk Lancashire and a domestic servant to John Jackson DILWORTH, a civil engineer, and his wife, Mary. They were living at the time at 4 Cliff Street Preston, Lancashire.2

Esther Ellen PARR is the eldest sister of my great-grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth PARR.

But, Hellie? Hellie is a nickname for Ellen.

One mystery solved.

By the way, interesting how it was addressed via the mistress of the house. I wonder if this was the normal practice?

Next – Who is “Cissy”?

The nickname “Cissy” can have many origins. The more obvious is that it is a shortened name for names like Cecilia, Frances, Millicent etc. I have also seen it used where there is only one daughter amongst a family of sons. Another alternative is when it is used for the oldest or the youngest sister.

Hmmm. Lots of scope there. Let’s look at the family.

There were five siblings:

  • Esther Ellen PARR (baptised MOSS)
  • Margaret Ann PARR
  • Elizabeth PARR
  • James PARR
  • Sarah Elizabeth PARR

Esther has been identified as “Hellie” and I think we can safely take James off the list. Elizabeth unfortunately died at the age of 2 in 1874. So that leaves two sisters.

In the 1901 UK Census, Margaret was living in Ormskirk.3 However, her sister, Sarah Elizabeth, had married John KIRBY, and was living in Liverpool.4

Since the postcard was posted from Liverpool, I therefore believe that my great grandmother, Sarah Elizabeth KIRBY (PARR) was most likely to be “Cissy”.

Final mystery – Who is the Baby?

I have absolutely no idea.

As far as I can determine, Sarah only had two children: Margaret Ellen (born 1900) and Edith (born 1903). So maybe it is a picture of one of them. Or maybe it is some other random child. I really don’t have any way of knowing as I have no other photos to compare against.

And, of course, Sarah writing, “What do you think of the card will tell you about it when I see you”, is clearly designed to taunt, tease and drive the family historian mad with frustration!

At least I have an example of my great grandmother’s handwriting and I now know her family nickname – not just the name she has in official records. And a tiny glimpse into her everyday life.



2 “1901 England Census,” database and image, ( accessed 5 June 2015), entry for John Jackson Dilworth household , Preston, Avenham, Lancashire; citing PRO RG13/3954, folio 121, p. 32; Preston registration district, household 151.

3 “1901 England Census,” database and image, ( accessed 5 June 2015), entry for John Baxendale household , Ormskirk, Aughton, Lancashire; citing PRO RG13/3544, folio 110, p. 25; Ormskirk registration district, household 115.

4 “1901 England Census,” database and image, ( : accessed 25 August 2013), entry for Sarah Parr household, Ormskirk, Ormskirk, Lancashire; citing PRO RG 13/3544, folio 76, p. 1; Ormskirk registration district, Ormskirk subdistrict, ED 5, household 3.

This entry was posted in Genealogy, Mystery, Photograph, Postcard and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dear Hellie…A Postcard Mystery

  1. Jenny Coates says:

    I have just started a Facebook support and networking page for Australian local and family history bloggers. We would love it if you would like to join us.
    Kind regards,
    Jenny Coates


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