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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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.

Flora W’s story

Flora W lost her mother to puerperal fever – a complication of childbirth – at the age of 12, and subsequently took on domestic and caring duties for her father and clutch of brothers in rural Cambridgeshire.

She married at 20, to a machine worker for a sugar refinery, moved to London and had two sons. A great favourite with children, as she would always have time for games rather than chores, she took in washing to put her children through college.

Later, she served as a councillor for one of the London boroughs, eventually being made one of the first female mayors of a London borough in the mid-1950s.

After her term finished, she served as alderman for the same borough, and had a block of flats named after her in the 1960s.

Wynne’s story

A rather longer glimpse of a woman from the past – the collected diaries of Wynne, which cover her life from the late 1890s until the 1930s. I have a tenuous link to her, through a marriage in 1872, which is how I found this diary many years ago, and it’s a stunning document showing one woman’s experience of the early 20th century.

Wynne’s diary

Find out more about the women in your family, contact Once Upon A Family Tree.