Every so often, you come across a tale of tragedy in your own family tree.
My great-great grandmother Emily Medhurst was one of these tragic tales with her premature death aged just 25.
Emily was born on 26th September 1868 in Shoreditch, London to Edward Charles Medhurst and Elizabeth Ann Penn. She was baptized 11 weeks later on 13th December at St Mattias Church, Bethnal Green. At the time of her baptism, the family was living at 6 New Inn Street, Shoreditch.
The family remained at 6 New Inn Street throughout the 1870s & 1880s and her father continued his work as a Book Binder.
By 1891, a now 22 year old Emily was living with her family at 12 Scratton Street, Shoreditch and she was working as a Shirt Collar Seamstress.
A year later, on 5th June 1892, Emily married William Torrance, a Yorkshire man, at St Holy Trinity Church, Islington.
After their marriage, they moved to 44 Harwar Street, Haggerston. Unfortunately, their happiness was not to last. Emily became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl – Emily Edith on 29th March 1893. The baby was born with a withered arm, but was otherwise healthy. Emily died a week afterwards on 5th May 1893 from Erysipelas Exhaustion (a infection caused by streptoccus bacteria that can cause sepsis and death if it enters the bloodstream).
The baby, Emily Edith, was adopted by family friends, the Chantlers and lived a long happy life.
Around the outbreak of World War II, thousands of children were evacuated from London to the countryside. One evacuee was my Grandad who wrote about his experience:
“On the 1st of September 1939, two days before the outbreak of World War 2, together with my older brother George, I was evacuated to Hastings on the coast of East Sussex. We left from the local train station in South East London wearing our name labels and carrying our gas masks and with something for the journey. Our stay in Hastings was ended in June 1940 when the situation became dangerous in that area (post Dunkirk) and we were to be transferred to Wales, however our parents objected and we returned to London.
London was devastated because of the effects of the Blitz, there was constant danger and our lives and education were disrupted. Many schools were either completely destroyed or damaged and so it was decided we would have to be evacuated again.
Together with other children from the same area, we were sent to Launceston in North Cornwall and on arrival were sent to Boyton, a small village midway between Launceston and the coastal town of Bude. Once there, authorities assigned us to a local farmer Mr Davey and his family, who warmly welcomed us.
On arrival at the farm, Mr Davey took us around the farm buildings that housed the horses, cows, pigs and sheep. This for me was unbelievable, a little boy who had come from London’s docklands where there were no fields, to this amazing countryside with all the animals.
We quickly settled in and became integrated into the village school with the local children. Also we helped with the farm chores. My tasks were to collect eggs, clean the cowsheds and pig stys, and eventually helping to milk the cows by hand. A busy time was helping with the hay and corn harvest.
I believe I was very fortunate to be with the Davey family. Mr Davey was a lay preacher t the local Methodist Chapel and happy times were had, especially at the festivals in whihc everyone took part. Mrs Davey (who we called Auntie) treated us as her own. Our parents visited occasionally and told us news of London, our only source of news was the radio.
In 1943, German POWs began working on the farm (under guard). One of these prisoners had a son who was a similar age to me (10 years old) and he whittled me a toy plane out of wood.
In 1944, the American solider arrived in large numbers, storing their ammunition in the fields around the farm. They were very friendly giving us candy and sometimes a ride to school in their trucks. It was sad to see them leave in June 1944, they were missed.
Mrs Davey’s health began to deteriorate during this period and they needed help with the farm, and so my brother (now 15 years old) left school to be employed by Mr Davey.
Soon after, in the Autumn of 1944, I became ill and as Mrs Davey was unable to cope, I was returned to my parents in London. Unfortunately, this was a bad time for the V1 & V2 Rocket attacks.
I consider my time on the farm as a very happy period of my life in spite of the circumstances and at the end of the war years, I returned there for my holidays.”
Many of our ancestors led fairly straight forward lives – got married, worked, had children etc. However, there are some of those ancestors who stand out for other reasons.
When researching some of my extended family, I stumbled across this record for my paternal 1st Cousin 3x Removed, James Bennett Prescott (his grandparents are my 3x great-grandparents).
His name was listed on the UK Lunacy Patients Admission Register. He was admitted to the Wells Lunatic Asylum on 24 March 1911. Interestingly, it also includes his military number and rank: Private H-3-30. This record also includes his date of death – 19th April 1911.
The 1911 England census was taken on the night of 2nd April 1911. James was listed as a patient at the Somerset and Bath Lunatic Asylum (also known as the Mendip Hospital). It lists his occupation as Ex-Sailor. His condition, like most of his fellow patients, was listed as ‘lunatic’.
He was only at the asylum for less than 4 weeks. Unfortunately, the register record does not note the reason for his admission. However, his death certificate appears to give an answer.
According to his death certificate (seen below), he died from Tuberculous Meningitis. It appears he suffered with the condition for six weeks, which may explain his admission into the asylum, as his battle with the disease would have began around two weeks before he entered the asylum.
Although we traditionally think of ‘lunatics’ as mentally ill, many of these patients suffered from common physical ailments such as the menopause and epilepsy. In the case of James, Tuberculous Meningitis can cause confusion and agitation, which may be why he was sent to the Lunatic Asylum and not a workhouse hospital for treatment.
In the spirit of St Patrick’s Day, meet my Irish connection: my maternal 3x Great-Grandfather John Donoghue.
The birth and early life of John is still somewhat of a mystery, not helped by record losses, but it is thought he hailed from the Cork area of Ireland.
The 1861 census is the first English record in which John appears. Although the record is fairly illegible, John was listed as being born in 1839 in Cork, Ireland. He was a lodger with Dennis Donoghue and his family. As Dennis is listed as being from Cork, it is possible that he is a relative of Johns.
On 27th January 1869, John married Sarah Marsden at St Mary’s Chapel Moorfield. It is interesting to note that his father is listed as a farmer named Cornelius Donoghue.
In the 1871 census, John and his wife Sarah were living at 7 Saville Buildings, Aldgate, London. Their son Frederick Cornelius (my 2x great grandfather) was 6 months old. The 30-year-old John was working as a laborer at the time, which was often a very low paying job.
In the 1881 census, John had moved to 23 Palmers Folly, St George in the East, London. The family now had three children – Frederick, Sarah and Benjamin. John was working as a Railway Porter.
In the 1891 census, John and his family was now living at 29 Wellclose Square, Wapping. They had another daughter, Mary by this time. The family was sharing the home with the Solomons family. Three of the family were now working to support the household – John was a general laborer, Sarah was a charwoman (cleaner) and Fred was a printer.
In 1892, John was still living at 29 Wellclose Square. It was revealed in London Electoral records that Solomon Solomans was in fact John’s landlord.
Sadly, John died on 14th December 1900 in the Poplar and Stepney Sick Aslyum (part of the workhouse system). He was 63 years old when he died of Sudden Phthisis (Tuberculosis). He was survived by his wife Sarah (who died 7 years later). It is unknown where he was buried.
For those of us who have tested on Ancestry DNA, there are some new Beta Tools available to help with your DNA research.
One of the two beta tools launched today are “MyTreeTags” which enable you to add tags to people in your tree with tags such as “Currently Researching, Completed, Unverified, Brick Wall”. Not only does this help you keep track of your own research, but informs people who are viewing your tree the status of each ancestor.
The other tool is the one I am most excited about! There is now the option to sort DNA matches into specific custom groups, as well as more ways to filter your matches (unlinked/no trees, public trees, new matches etc).
To access and enable these tools, the Ancestry Lab can be found under the Extras tab at the top of the Ancestry webpage.
In this latest Ancestor Spotlight, we meet my maternal Great-Great-Grandmother Mary Louise Bolton on the 140th anniversary of her birth.
Mary Louise Bolton was born on 19th February 1879 in Islington, London to James Bolton and Louisa Jane Markwick. She was baptized on 7th August 1881 at St Mary Magdalene Church, Islington.
By 1883,the family had moved to Mile End Old Town where Mary’s younger sister Ellen Elizabeth was born. However, they did not remain here long. By 1888, they had moved to Hackney where Mary’s youngest sibling Frederick was born.
The Bolton family lived in poverty and on 31 October 1888, Mary and two of her brothers entered into the Hackney Workhouse, although it is not known how long they ended up staying there.
The family appears to be living apart in different areas at the time of the 1891 census (the circumstances of this are still a mystery). Mary and her older brother James William were living at 10 South Grove, Mile End Old Town, a relatively poor area.
On 31 July 1898, at the age of 19, Mary married Henry John Donald in Mile End Old Town. In 1901, the happily married couple were living at 105 Fairfoot Road, Bow with the Ives family. Henry was working as a General Carman and Mary was a Shoe Finisher.
Over the next seven years, the couple would have three children: Henry Arthur (1903-1988), Leonard Frederick (1905-1979) and Ernest Christopher (1908-1975).
In 1911, the family had moved back to Mile End Old Town and were living at 12 Joseph Street. Henry was now working as a Dock Labourer at the Port of London Authority.
On 21st September 1917, tragedy struck the family when Mary’s husband Henry died. He died in the Poplar & Stepney Sick Aslyum of Pulmonary Tuberculosis.
Five years after losing Henry, Mary remarried. She married Thomas Watts in March 1922 in Poplar. One by one, her children left the home. In 1925, Leonard emigrated to Australia where his descendants remain today. In 1933, Henry married Agnes Thorogood, shortly followed by Ernest marrying Isabel Donoghue in 1935.
In 1939, the couple were living at 165 Fairfoot Road, Poplar where Thomas was working as a General Labourer.
In September 1962 , Mary died in Surrey. She was survived by her three children, and many of her descendants still live in the London area.
In this week’s Ancestor Spotlight, we meet my maternal 3x Great- Grandmother Jane Hussey.
Jane was born on 17th February 1850 in Shoreditch, London to Thomas Hussey and Elizabeth Porter. Three weeks later, she was baptized on 10th March at Hoxton St John church.
In 1851, a young Jane was living with her parents and older sister Elizabeth at 52 Mansfield Street, Shoreditch.
In 1861, 11-year-old Jane was living at 10 Upper Bemerton Street, Islington. She lived with her parents and two younger siblings, Harriet and Thomas.
On 25th December 1868, Jane married James Donald, a Warehouseman, at St Stephens Church, Spitalfields.
By 1871, the couple had moved to 29 Back Church Lane, Whitechapel with their baby daughter Jane Mary-Ann. They shared their house with another family – The Coopers.
In 1881, Jane and James had moved to 39 Ernest Street, Mile End Old Town. Jane was working as a Dress Maker to help provide for their four children – Jane, James, Henry and Margaret.
By 1891, the Donald family had moved again. Jane now lived at 117 Grove Buildings in Mile End Old Town with James and their six children – James, Henry, Caroline, Phoebe, Christopher and Lavinia.
In 1901, Jane was not listed with her family in the census. This was because she was serving a 6 month prison sentence at Wormwood Scrubs Prison. She was found guilty of feloniously receiving stolen property – a gold watch from the London and North Western Railway Company. It is interesting to note that her son Christopher was also in prison in the 1901 census. He was 16 years old and was being held at the prison in Bedford. This may have been from the same crime his mother was convicted of.
In 1911, Jane was now a widow, as her husband James died in 1902. She was living at 12 Guerin Street, Bow with her daughters Caroline and Lavinia.
Jane was 90 years old when she is died in April 1937. She was buried on 9 April 1937 at Romford Cemetery, Havering, London.