AD’s story

A farm labourer’s daughter, AD had an illegitimate daughter at the age of 27, as the twentieth century began. Rather than being ostracised, her large family supported her and her child, and the illegitimate son that followed five years later.

Aged 36, she married a widower who had been working as a game keeper. He was much older than her, and does not appear to have been the father of either of her children. There had been five children of his first marriage, all of whom had grown up and left home, so AD brought her two children into this new family.

Her husband began a job working as a stockman on a farm, and together they had five further children, including two sets of twins. However, two of these children died at under a year old.

Eight years after her marriage, her husband died, leaving her with five children who still needed care. It is unknown what happened to AD at this time, but the three youngest did not continue in her care – two reached adulthood in Barnardos homes, and another was sent to Canada as part of the British Home Children scheme of child migration. It is likely that AD, who – from the fact that she made a mark instead of signing her name on her wedding certificate – was probably illiterate, and was unable to support her family after the death of her husband.

She lived on for several more years, however, possibly dying at the age of 55. It is unknown how she supported herself in her later years.


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Amy H’s story

Amy H was the youngest of seven children born to a Bristol-based currier – a leather working specialist – and his wife in the mid-19th century. She lost her mother around the age of five, and she and her siblings were brought up by relatives rather than her father, even after he remarried.

As a young woman she lived with her widowed aunt in the fashionable Clifton area of the city. Her aunt had no profession, and was instead an itinerant, and the household had one servant.

Her aunt died when she was 30, and Amy was the sole executor and heir of her will, inheriting a great deal of money. She never married, and with this money remained of independent means for the rest of her life.

Family legend holds that she was a suffragette in the early 20th century. There is no documentary evidence to support this – no prison or court records show her having been involved in civil action – but as an unmarried, independent woman of means in this period she would have been ideally placed to support this cause. She also had several different forms of her name, which may indicate that she was known by different groups of society in separate ways.

In the early part of the 20th century she lived with her widowed sister, supporting and helping her with her young family. Her sister registered no profession on the census records, perhaps an indication that Amy’s inherited money was helping to support the family.

As women gained the vote in 1918, Amy bought property on the outskirts of the city, thus enabling her to take her place on the first electoral roll that women were allowed to appear on. This action may also have labelled her as a suffragette – or at the very least a supporter of women’s rights – in the collective family memory.

She remained in that property until she died, a couple of years after the Second World War, leaving a still considerable amount of money to a builder’s merchant.

Elsie W’s story

Born in rural Devon, Elsie W was the eldest of three children born to a former bootmaker who had taken to agricultural labouring.

In the 1880s, in her early teens, she lost her mother and her father remarried twice, producing more siblings. She spent a little time as a domestic servant in Devon, working for a naval engineer. She then followed her father and newest stepmother to the Bristol area, where he had established a shoemaking business.

At the age of 25 she married a man nearly fifty years her senior, who had been widowed by his first wife only two years previously. He was a Chelsea pensioner, and had run coffee shops among other professions in Bristol throughout the 19th century, but with a wife to support and a new clutch of children appearing, he took to working in a ropemaking establishment to provide money for his family.

Elsie’s first child, a daughter, followed well over a year after their wedding. The next, a boy, died within six months of birth. And a third, a daughter, was born a couple of years later, when her husband had reached the age of 79.

She was widowed at 36, with two daughters to support, and took to running a pub in central Bristol – with a boarder in the house to make ends meet. Her daughters helped run the pub. This pub also operated as an off licence, and she ran it until 1931, when her youngest daughter took over the business.

She died in 1941, at the height of the Bristol Blitz, but was not a victim of any of the bombing raids that destroyed the city at that time.

Lillian G’s story

Although initially born into a loving relationship, Lillian G was supported by her absent father after her parents’ partnership broke down. After her mother gave birth to a child that was not her father’s, this support ended though and Lillian and her siblings were brought up on the poverty line. She spent part of her teens going in and out of the workhouse until she was old enough to go into domestic service and help support her family.

In the mid-1900s she entered a relationship with her cousin, which produced a daughter. When she was pregnant with their next child they finally decided to marry, but her husband left for Australia less than two years later to begin a new life for their family. Lillian was at that time pregnant with their third child, and followed her husband half way across the world about 18 months later, just before the outbreak of the First World War. Their three children went with her. One of these children died of a brain fever in their early years in Australia.

Although her husband had worked as a foreign bank clerk to support his family in England, work of this scale was not forthcoming in Australia, and he instead took a job as a labourer. The area around Brisbane at that time was becoming a less rural environment, and there would have been no shortage of building projects for him. However, this meant that Lillian, who had been brought up in an urban area, was suddenly living in a developing economy.

A further three children had arrived before her husband – who had initially been refused conscription into the army – joined up and was sent back to Europe for the tail end of the First World War, leaving her alone for over a year with many small children. They went on to have a further five children, 11 in all, living in Queensland.

To investigate the women in your ancestry, why not contact Once Upon A Family Tree?

Rosetta R’s story

Rosetta R was a carpenter’s daughter, who grew up close to the Weald of Kent. In early adulthood, in the first decade of the 20th century, she worked as a servant to a paper manufacturer in London. While there, she met and married a boatman, and they had three sons in quick succession.

In the run up to the first world war, her husband got a job in the boilerwasher shop of a ship to Canada, and Rosetta and her sons went too, deciding to emigrate. This followed a path set by her brother just one year earlier. They left from Liverpool and landed in Quebec.

The family settled in Ontario, where Rosetta gave birth to a further son, and her husband gained a job in a shipyard.

A subsequent pregnancy, just shy of her 45th birthday, ended prematurely when she developed pneumonia. She and her un-named child died a day apart, and they were buried together.

To discover more information on the women’s stories in your ancestry, visit Once Upon A Family Tree.

Julia D’s story

Named after her mother, Julia D was the daughter of a survivor of the Birkenhead Disaster – which took place when she was very young. Born on the south coast of England, she was brought up in London when her father gave up his naval career, and then married a Yorkshire boatbuilder in the mid-1870s. Their marriage produced two sons, but one died at the age of one.

It was then that things started to unravel. Her husband disappeared – family legend says that he was lost at sea – and by 1881 she was back in London working as a housemaid in the Army and Navy Club in Pall Mall, under her maiden name.

She took up with the club’s house superintendent, and produced four further children who all bore his name. However, they never married, and on every relevant census record her second life partner claims to be single – perhaps an indication that Julia’s former husband may not have completely “disappeared”, although he remains elusive on census returns.

In 1899, around the time Julia’s mother died, something appears to have gone wrong in this newer relationship too, and she and three daughters are admitted to a London workhouse twice in a matter of months. She claimed to be a widow, but her erstwhile partner, however, continued to work at the club in which they met, and but did not appear to support the family. Julia made a basic living as a charwoman, supplemented by her elder daughter’s earnings from domestic service, and when he died in 1909 his inheritance went to his sister.

Somewhere along the line, her first husband re-appeared and again lived in Yorkshire. Family legend says that on the death of her second partner she discovered that he was alive, and they reaffirmed their marriage. Certainly, on the 1911 census, Julia had reverted to her first married name, and was living with him in Yorkshire, claiming to have been married to him for 35 years. Two of her daughters from her second relationship are living with them, but given as borders.

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Ellen S’s story

Ellen S performed the amazing feat of only aging eight years for every ten that passed, if you believe her census records. She shaves four years off her age in 1881, and then adds eight by 1891 and another eight in 1901. It is only when the question of how long she’s been married comes in on the 1911 census, and she realises that if she continues in this vein the length of her marriage (44 years) would have her as a child bride, that she admits her true age.

A shoe maker’s daughter, she would have been involved in his profession as a young child – alongside all her siblings – and probably learnt to stitch neatly.

  “Shoemaker, leather-cracker,
                Balls of wax and stinking water,
                Three rows of rotten leather,
                Who would have a shoemaker. “

(Traditional song from Northumberland, United Kingdom, describing the conditions of shoe making in the 19th century)

Shoe making was not a particularly lucrative profession, so she would have been expected to earn money early in life. She followed her older sister into nursery nursing, working in a large household for an attorney at law at the age of 14, and helping to look after four children after the age of seven. She married a coach maker, someone who would have been several social class positions above a shoe maker in terms of Victorian social structure.

After she married she had three children, rather than the usual nine or so that Victorian women typically produced. This gave her more time than most other women, and she put her sewing skills to good use by running a dress making business.

Later on, her eldest daughter died young, leaving two very young children. Ellen and her husband brought up their grandsons, caring for them until they reached adulthood.

To find out more about the women in your ancestry, contact Once Upon A Family Tree.