When I was but a callow youth I started researching my family’s history. It was a natural extension of my interest in 19th century British history at the time (and may explain why I had no friends). When exams and coursework took over my life my Mum took up the search and 12 or so years later she’s now a fully paid-up member of the Ancestry brigade. She’s managed to trace one line back to 1684 – my 7th Great-Grandfather and is currently working on six other branches of the family simultaneously.
I love looking not only at the dates and names, but also the stories of my ancestors, especially the women. I’m going to focus on two particular female relatives in this post:
Annie Harriet Humphreys
Annie is my great-grandmother (my Mum’s Mum’s Mum) and she was born in 1887 in Aldgate, London into a working-class family. At the age of 15 she attended the School of Domestic Economy which was part of the Sir John Cass Technical Institute (now part of London Metropolitan University). After completing her cookery course she worked first as a kitchen maid and then as a cook for the Cement Marketing Company. She lived in Peabody Buildings in Whitechapel, which was a housing complex for the ‘aspiring’ working classes who had a respectable trade.
Annie worked as a cook until she married my Great Grandfather, William Hanson, in 1921. Annie was 34 when she married William. William was 21. However, to make the age gap slightly less obvious she knocked two years off her age and he added two years on so their marriage certificate records them as being 32 and 23 respectively.
Annie and William had five children (three boys, two girls), the eldest of whom is my grandmother. Annie outlived William by four years. He died in 1976 at the age of 77. Annie died in 1980 at the age of 92, a month after I was born.
I love Annie for three reasons:
- She got herself an education and a career
- She married a man 13 years her junior
- She lived into her 90s.
G’s middle name is Harriet to honour her (frankly awesome) Great-Great Grandmother.
Hannah is my 3rd Great Grandmother on my Dad’s side of the family. She was born in 1819 in Yorkshire and married by 3rd Great Grandfather, Francis Dry when she was 18. Francis was a Draper by trade and there is evidence that Hannah was also involved in the family drapers’ business, travelling with her husband to London and back to Yorkshire at regular intervals.
Francis and Hannah had 17 children (9 girls and 8 boys), starting their family with Margaret in 1838 and ending with Louisa in 1864. Seven of the children died before their 4th birthday, three of whom died when they were a year old. However, most of the others lived long lives: several lived into their nineties. Hannah had her first child when she was 19 and her last when she was 45. Bearing (and losing) so many children didn’t seem to adversely affect her health. Hannah died in 1911 at the age of 92.
Having large families was fairly typical of the time and so was losing children in infancy. Hannah and Francis started re-using names after a while. The first Charlotte Dry was born in 1843 and died in 1846. The second Charlotte was born in 1848 and died in 1851. The same fate befell two George’s and two John’s.
Hannah outlived Francis by 29 years and he left her and his two sons that followed him into the family business a significant sum of money in his will, which would have made them extremely comfortable.
Hannah’s life amazes me because:
- She popped out 17 children over a significant period of time
- She was involved in the family business
- She lived into her 90s
Hannah and Annie aren’t isolated cases either. My family is littered with strong, independent, feisty women and there are stories worth telling in every branch of every tree. We have always been extremely pro-girls in my family, helped in no small part by the fact that my parents had two daughters and I have in turn produced two girls. I think it is incredibly important to remember the amazing women that came before and paved the way for the life we enjoy now.
At some point in the future I’ll be telling R and G the stories of their ancestors and I hope that they are as proud of their family as I am.