Mary Wilkins.

mary-wilkins

In the days before online genealogy research was so easy, we researchers had to leave our homes and travel – by horse and carriage – to local (and not so local) archives and trawl through reels and reels of microfilm for little snippets of information to add to our family and other trees.

You had to scribble everything down in pencil, if you were lucky you could photocopy a page from the microfilm reader to save time. No laptops, tablets or cameras allowed then. And I’m not talking decades ago either.

My mum and I visited archives all over London and the southeast of England to track down baptisms and burials, and sometimes we got lucky and found them and sometimes we didn’t (yes Francis Shearley I’m talking about you! Again!)

As a consequence of all that scribbling I have quite a few bits of paper covered in partially illegible writing. Well it was probably 5 minutes to closing time and I would have been frantically getting as much information down as I could. It would have been weeks until my next visit!

So… I was browsing through one of my old notebooks recently and found an odd burial that I had made a note of, alongside a burial I had been looking for (and managed to find!). The burial was for a little girl, no forename had been added and it had obviously intrigued me at the time.

The entry in the burial register reads…

The daughter of Hubert and MaryAnn Wilkins. 8 hours. Buried 31st March 1899. Uckfield, East Sussex.

It mentions that the burial was certified under the Burial Laws amendment Act 1880. We’ll look at that in more detail later.

With a little bit of research using freebmd.uk.org I found that the most likely child was Mary Wilkins whose birth and death were registered in Uckfield during the first quarter (January to March) of 1899. So now we have a name for this little girl.

MaryAnn was born in Uckfield and was the daughter of local coal merchant Arthur Jeffrey. Before her marriage she had been a live-in domestic servant to a family living close to the Palace in Brighton.

Hubert had been born some distance away in Westbourne, West Sussex. After Hubert left school he worked as a carter, transporting goods.

I checked the 1901 census for Hubert and his wife MaryAnn and found them living in Uckfield. The couple had married in early in 1897, shortly after Hubert had taken up the post of luggage porter at Uckfield railway station, he obviously liked working with wheels. They had a house close to Hubert’s work and were parents to 10 month old Hubert Jr.

At this point I thought it would be nice to go and visit Marys grave in Uckfield, so I made contact with the civic centre who hold the cemetery records and located the grave. I also learnt that Hubert and MaryAnn had already lost a child before their daughter Mary.

Edith Annie was buried on the 12th of September 1898 aged just 19 days. She was probably named after MaryAnn’s sister Edith. Now by my reckoning that means that daughter Mary must have been a couple of months premature. How sad for the couple to have lost their first children. MaryAnn would have been just 21.

Childbirth could be a dangerous time, and a perfectly healthy mother could suddenly become ill and die leaving a husband to cope with older children and perhaps a new baby. There was of course no way of knowing how healthy the growing bump was or any real way of foreseeing any difficulties during labour until the moment arrived. A child born days or weeks early had very little, if any, chance of survival.

This was the reality of the life our ancestors lived.

However happier times lay ahead, three healthy babies born in quick succession, followed by another death – a son this time who died aged 6 weeks. Finally a last daughter for the couple in 1906.

The baby girls were buried together and their tiny brother was laid to rest beside them in 1906. None of the graves are marked.

When I checked the 1911 census I noticed that Hubert had written that he and MaryAnn had only 6 children, with 4 of them surviving. I wonder which one he had forgotten.

Lets go back to the Burial Laws amendment Act of 1880. I’ll be honest this made my head hurt. I think I have it right…

This law was added to allow ‘dissenter’ burials to lawfully take place in a Church of England churchyard. This meant that people practicing other religions (Baptists and Methodists for example) were able to be buried in their parish church with a service performed by the leader of their own religion, or a few words said over the grave by a family member. A certificate had to be presented to the Vicar stating that such a burial was going to take place, and the ceremony was performed at the graveside.

Shortly after the law was implemented there were all kinds of demonstrations at funerals by parishioners who were horrified by it. Meetings were held at the graveside about who was allowed to do what while mourners stood by waiting to bury a loved one.

In Marys case we don’t know why she didn’t have a Church of England ceremony. It may have been because of her parents beliefs or it may have been because she had died unbaptised. She was only 8 hours old so perhaps the family were unable to have a christening performed at such short notice.

One last thought, these children would not have appeared on a census and would have remained unknown except by chance – which reminds us to search for the births and deaths of other offspring a couple of years either side of known children when researching our family trees. Just in case.

Many thanks to Linda for her help in finding the Wilkins burials.

A stitch in time

sampler

I recently spent a lovely afternoon (yes, of course it rained) at Michelham Priory near Eastbourne in Sussex.  It really is a lovely tranquil place, sitting in the middle of seven acres of land. In fact I would almost go as far as saying rain only adds to its loveliness. Almost.

After wandering round the gardens, the playground and feeding the ducks (3 times, my daughter thought they were the best bit of the day..)  we explored the house. Its a fantastic old building, full of wooden panels and leaded windows. And there are even costumes to dress up in! (somewhat unsuccessfully if you get the wrong size and your mum takes a photo..)

The priory began life in 1229 as a monastery, but was disbanded as part of the dissolution during the reign of King Henry VIII. It then  took on a new life as a country home passing through several families over the following centuries. Over the years some of the buildings and the church itself were destroyed, but as you walk around you still get a sense of its previous life.

So, in one of the rooms upstairs I noticed a couple of old samplers and some sepia photographs on one of the walls. I particularly liked the one above and, well obviously, that was it for me. I couldn’t wait to get home and start researching.

Samplers were just that, samples of sewing. They could be examples of patterns and colours to be shown to prospective customers, Domestically they were used to practice stitches, try out small sections of embroidery before attempting much bigger projects and, later on, girls would sew them at home or school perhaps with a poem, or long biblical verses on or like the one picture above the alphabet.

Catharine Child was eight years old when she completed her sampler.

Eight years old!

I couldn’t believe it either. She had in fact celebrated her 8th birthday just over a week before, hopefully not by sewing though.

Catharine was born on the 4th of March 1837, the seventh child of Thomas and Elizabeth. There would be a further three siblings born after her.

Three months after Catharine was born Victoria became Queen, and a month after that on the 1st of July (a date burnt into the memory of all genealogists) the General Register Office began to record  births, marriages and deaths in England and Wales. Yay!

By the time Thomas and his growing family lived at Michelham it was a working farm with a watermill to grind flour. Thomas would have probably grown his own wheat to mill but would also have milled other peoples grain for a fee.

Thomas was also proud to have a huge herd of Sussex Bred cows and calves all descended from one particular cow called ‘Lilley’ since 1804. He frequently won prizes for his cows. Thomas regularly visited the big cattle market at Lewes to sell his surplus cattle, and in 1818 he was one of many farmers who signed a petition to change market day from a Saturday to a more convenient Tuesday.

Thomas passed away in 1854 at the relatively young age of 61. It seems that some effort was made to continue farming at Michelham but in September 1861 a great auction with no reserve was set up on the premises as the family were ‘wholly disinclined to farming’.

Travellers from far and wide were met by carriages at the local railway station to complete their journey to the farm and by the end of the day horses, ewes, cows and calves were all gone along with all the farm equipment.

Maybe the Child family knew what was to come, because in 1865 ‘cattle plague’ wiped out a great deal of cattle at Michelham Farm, much to the distress of the new farmer there.

The widowed Elizabeth (now of independent means) moved to Lewes with a handful of her adult children although her eldest son, Francis remained close to his childhood home and moved to another farm. He was also the local registrar of births, deaths and marriages as well as being a relieving officer.

It would have been his job to record hatches, matches and dispatches as well as visiting the homes of people in need of financial assistance due to illness, infirmity or unemployment and then report back his findings to the local board of guardians who would have decided whether or not to help. Some families would have received ‘out-relief’ a weekly sum of money to help with rent and food for a few weeks, some would have been sent to the workhouse and the rest would have had no help. At all.

I was surprised to learn that of the 6 Child daughters, despite all living beyond a marriageable age, only one married. Eldest daughter Susannah left the family in 1865, marrying Benjamin Morris and remaining in Lewes close to her mother.

But what about Catharine?  Around about the time the family moved to Lewes, she found work as a housekeeper to the Hollis family. Her mother died in 1873 and some of the sisters stayed living together (again with a private income) until gradually they diminished in number.  By 1881 Catharine had become the Hollis children’s governess and was living in London with the family. She stayed with them until the mid 1880s when death was to change her future again.

In 1884 brother Francis (who we had left farming up there ↑↑↑ ) lost his wife, Jane. She left behind three young children in want of a mother. So Catherine left her charges in London and returned to her family and in effect became a now unpaid housekeeper receiving board and lodging in exchange for running the household. Hopefully she enjoyed her new life.

Francis died in 1902 and Catharine became redundant, her nieces were in their 20’s and had moved away to pursue their own careers. Catharine needed to find new employment and a new home. She may have lived for a while with her last remaining sister, Caroline, but by 1911 she was living with a poorly cousin, Mary Lambe, and employed once again as a live-in housekeeper. She was 74 years old.

Mary died in December 1916 from complications of influenza and I can’t find Catharine again until her death in 1921.

After a life time of caring for others Catharine passed away aged 84.

Thank you to Michelham Priory for allowing me to photograph the sampler.

A Blank Space.

WP_20140421_005Occasionally on my travels I stumble across (sometimes quite literally) a headstone like this one belonging to Caroline Young.  Caroline has died in  the prime of life and her husband has  purchased a memorial for her and rather thoughtfully left a nice blank space on it for his own name to be added to it when he joins her.

Except his name hasn’t been added to the stone .

The usual reason for this is the surviving spouse has married again and is buried with their second spouse.  I have found a man who married three times,  his first two wives are buried together and he is buried with his third wife.  Not quite sure how those first two dearly departed wives would have felt about that!

Caroline and James were both just 22 when they married in 1843. James seems to have moved into the quiet village with his parents and siblings a couple of years before this.  He worked on the surrounding farmland but in later years he became a Sawyer.  They had five children and if Caroline had lived just a month longer they would have been married for 20 years.

By the time of the 1861 census James and his three youngest children are living alone, the two eldest children have left home and are working away.  Caroline has gone AWOL but I think I may have found her mistranscribed in an infirmary in a nearby Kent town as Catherine instead of Caroline.

If this is our Caroline,  I think she must have been fairly unwell to have been admitted into the hospital. Nowadays if we are ill enough to go into hospital we are fortunate to know the standard of care provided and the progress of medicine is such that we will have the best possible treatment, but back in early to mid Victorian England things would have been very different. Usually a patient had to be recommended to the hospital by someone who donated money towards the upkeep of it.  Another way of being admitted was to be sent by the local Parish Clark. There were no antibiotics, not much in the way of pain relief and too much in the way of infection. A good outcome to a stay in hospital wasn’t always likely at that time. Patients may also have been required to pay something towards their keep, this may have prevented some people going until they absolutely had to.

Doctors may have been young and inexperienced, they would quite possibly have taken on private paid work to survive as  positions at voluntary hospitals were sometimes unpaid. The matron at the hospital Caroline may have been in worked there for almost 30 years and I noticed that after she had left the hospital and returned to her native Devon she was given the occupation of ‘Spinster’ in the 1891 census. Nothing mentioned about a whole working life devoted to caring for the sick and dying.

We know Caroline died in 1862, and I have ordered her death certificate so I can find out what happened to her and where. I will share that information with you when the certificate arrives hopefully next week.

Second marriages could be fairly rapid, sometimes just months after the loss of a spouse. It was most likely necessity –  a working man left with several dependent children needed a wife to care for his family. A widow with small children needed a steady income and of course both would want companionship. There was little official help available for bereaved families and the workhouse was a grim prospect.  Sometimes potential partners were neighbours or friends.

Another reason for a quick marriage could be where the new wife was a servant already in the household and tongues had begun wagging, especially after the arrival of a new child.

But James didn’t rush into another marriage, he waited 2 years before he married new wife Ann who  was a widow. Her husband had died shortly after Caroline in May 1862 and is buried close to her.  Ann brought to the marriage her own three children making a new household of 6 children.  And a father-in-law as Ann’s elderly father moved in with them. It must have been true love!

James, Ann, some children, a couple of nieces, a grandchild or 2 and a father-in-law moved into town where James opened a Beer Shop. He was fined a shilling for selling beer after hours (maybe he needed the money to support his extended family!)

Ann passed away in August 1888 and James followed her in 1908.  He lived with his widowed daughter Esther and her children  for the rest of his life. He passed away peacefully at home and was buried 4 days after his death.

Ann and James Young

 

I’ve managed to track down Ann and James’ last resting place, they are buried together in a quiet spot in  a cemetery on the outskirts of the town they lived in. Funnily enough if you stand at the edge of the churchyard Caroline is buried in you can see the cemetery where James is in the distance, only trees and fields separating the two.