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.

Mary Tuke’s story

Born in York in 1695, Mary came from a prominent Quaker family – her grandfather was one of 4,000 imprisoned for their beliefs in the 1660s.

The death of her father in 1704, followed by her mother in 1723, left Mary as the head of her family, undoubtedly with many mouths to feed. One option at this time, for women in this situation, might have been a quick marriage. However, as a Quaker Mary would not necessarily have adhered to the conventions of the time as readily as her peers, and this was not the path she chose.

As a 30-year-old spinster she opened her own grocery shop in Walmgate, York – towards the south-eastern end of the walled city – in 1725. Alongside the basic diet of the time, this shop sold tea, coffee and chocolate – all increasing in popularity as foodstuffs at the time – but also sugar, spices, tobacco and snuff.

However, the York of the time was not as widely accepting of women bucking conventions as the Quaker society that Mary came from. Permission to trade in the city of York was only granted if you were a member of the Society of Merchant Adventurers, and as a woman Mary was not permitted to join.

Despite the lack of a licence to trade, Mary’s business continued. She was faced with opposition from the Society of Merchant Adventurers, with many threats of fines and imprisonment that continued until around 1733. She was not cowed by this, and her business thrived. Eight years after the business was established Mary paid a small fine to the Society, and was allowed to carry on.

She took on her nephew William Tuke, the son of her younger brother Samuel, as an apprentice in 1746, and the business moved to a more prominent spot at the corner of Coppergate and Castlegate.

Mary died, childless, in 1752, and William inherited the extremely successful business that she had built. In turn, the business was taken over by the Quaker Rowntree Family, and became part of York’s chocolate history.

Mary’s founding of this business, and its involvement in the start of the chocolate business – which, at her time, was imported and sold in hard cakes to be boiled in milk or water to make a fashionable drink – has led her to be referred to as “The Mother of York’s Chocolate Industry”.

To find out more about the women in your family, contact Once Upon A Family Tree for female-oriented genealogy.

To find out more about Mary Tuke, visit:

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.

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

Sarah W’s story

Born at the tail end of the 18th century Sarah W was the daughter of a reverend, and made a good match with a metal merchant from Birmingham. His business was successful, and she might have expected to comfortably live out her life in the city, until they made the decision to emigrate to South Australia in 1840.

South Australia was never a penal colony, instead offering land and living to those willing to travel to take it. Many men who took up this offer later called themselves “gentlemen” as they now owned land.  She, her husband, and their four sons all underwent the months-long voyage to the other side of the world, and settled in Adelaide. They were among the first settlers there, as the city had been founded just three years earlier in 1837.

The family thrived in their new country, with one of her sons becoming the premier of South Australia on several occasions.

Sarah returned to the UK in the 1850s when her husband was seriously ill and advised to come home for an operation – medical care being sparse compared to that available in Britain during the earlier years of the settlement. He died in London, and she subsequently went to live out her final years in Scotland with her second son, who had also returned from Australia and settled in Edinburgh.

Her passion was collecting silver teapots. She bought them with the help of her sons, who she owed money for various vessels after her death.


To start on a journey to discover more information about the female relatives in your heritage, please visit Once Upon A Family Tree.

Annie K’s story

The eldest of 12 children born to English immigrants to South Africa in the 1860s, Annie K had a reputation in her family for “outrageous” behaviour.

This including loving dancing, soaking her dresses so that they clung to her figure, and flirting hard with a large number of men at once without any intention of pursuing a relationship.

A talented artist, she painted botanical florals in watercolours and in oils on crockery. Her parents sent her back to England for a season to help maintain her British accent – something that would have been felt to be vitally important in the higher echelons of society during the colonial era. However, she is known to have played truant from this idea, instead escaping to elsewhere in Europe to go painting and study art.


One day her father, a newspaper proprietor, called her into his study and told her that they had supported her for long enough, and that she must marry the next man who asked her. Unsurprisingly, family remember that she was not happy with this arrangement, but accepted it.

The next man who asked was a Welshman a few years older than Annie, a career railwayman who had taken a position in the management of South African railways, and eventually rose to become the chief traffic manager. Although it was not what she wanted, their marriage produced two daughters and two sons.

Later on, she was involved in nursing soldiers during the Boer War, which hit South Africa from 1899 to 1902, a period of extremely hard work at De Aar that was supposed to have ruined her health, as she died only a few years later, aged 45.


Shared by Helen, Penny, Marion and Finian. Thank you.

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

Priscilla H’s story

Against a background of lead mining in North Wales, Priscilla H fell for and married a widower with a young son. Together they had a daughter and three further sons.

They ran a grocery shop and bakery together, serving the local mining community in the mid 19th century, employing a nephew and then their children when they grew old enough to work.

Her husband left her the entire business in his will of the mid 1880s, and she ran the shop and bakery alone with the help of her children for a further twenty years.

When she died, the business was still successful enough to pass on to her son as a going concern.