Killed on a trainline – John Scott (1860 – 1920)

For several minutes Maria watched as the wheelbarrow slowly appeared out of the gloom.

John had been very particular about the view when he built their “forever” home. Prospect House was well-named, offering clear sight as far as the railway at least it would have if the sun had been shining. Maria was still getting used to the quiet after Gertie’s wedding. Just Clarrie & Madge left; the soft giggling from upstairs gave them away as being not quite appropriate for respectable young woman of the time. It was giggling that was soon to be brought to an abrupt halt.

There was just something about the approaching group which left Maria with a sense of disquiet. They were slow in their approach without any apparent sense of animated conversation. Heads were bowed. As the clock continued with its soft ticking the bundle in the barrow gradually gained precision in Maria’s view.

Before they even rung the bell, Maria knew. She knew, just as she had known as she watched her darling Charles slowly dying from septicaemia after a simple scratch from a loose nail in his wooden playpen. She knew, just as she had known when she had flown to her sister Nellie’s home in Kirby Hill to hear her beloved Walter’s last words. At some point, she likely swore, in a way that good upper middle class Victorian women should never do. “What the blazes John, you were just posting a few dratted letters?”

Death certificate of John Scott.

John Scott was 59 years old when he was killed after being knocked down by a goods train just a few short minutes from his home in Pickhill on 12 April 1920. Grandma (John & Maria’s granddaughter through their daughter Hilda Mary) told me of his story when I was just a child, alongside those of his sons, Charles & Walter. The way she told it, he had stopped on the line to rescue a carriage of some kind, possibly, as it turned out, it was nothing grander than the wheelbarrow in which he was brought home. Of course I was fascinated, and these stories are a large part of why I became so obsessed with family history.

Unlike the time I researched the death of his son Walter, I’ve struggled to learn more about what happened. John’s death certificate records the details of “an engine of a goods train” and “on his way home from the post office” but despite my understanding that the Scotts were prominent members of their local society, I’ve been unable to find any newspaper articles or other documents that might provide more detail on what happened.

Embankment on road out of Pickhill in the direction of Prospect House which “may” have been where John’s accident happened. Own photo, June 2021

Yet there are always more places to look. A recent speculative letter to a Scott cousin revealed that the story had travelled down her line too. This time with details of foggy weather and of John being brought home in a wheelbarrow. She also had a copy of John Scott’s funeral card showing he was interred at Pickhill Church just after 2pm on 15 April 1920. Studying old maps, I was able to identify Prospect House as now called Highfield Farm. Whilst the train line no longer runs to Pickhill, a visit to the village revealed that it was possible to trace its route across an embankment on either side of the road that leads from the village proper to John & Maria’s home.  

Maria took over the farm after John’s death and lived another lifetime (30 years). Their six surviving children, thrived too, allowing John’s story, together with those of his sons, to reach down through the generations ready to be pieced together by his great, great granddaughter a century later.

With much gratitude to both Grandma for passing on this story, to Susie Pennock for sharing the extra details as well as to Natalie Pithers and the Curious Descendants Club for an inspirational workshop on writing about death. My thanks also go to Mike at the “Railway Work, Life & Death Project” for his encouragement on twitter and with hope that John Scott’s accident might pop as part of their project in the future!

Icelandic volcanoes, snow and poverty in eighteenth century Arncliffe

Snow on Greenhow Hill – March 2023. If this is your photo, please let me know so I can credit you!

We’ve been sharing snowy pictures on the family whatsapp this week – one of my sister’s even shared a picture of some drifts which had formed at Greenhow Hill – a sign that some element of these stories is being absorbed. There was a bit of grumbling about school closures and disrupted travel plans but mostly it was delight in the white wonderland outside the window.

We, however, have solid, insulated, centrally heated homes, warm clothes and, even if tomatoes are scare, a functioning food system. Our 18th century ancestors had none of these things. The poorest amongst them were living in shabbily built huts where the cold wind whistled through both open spaces for light and gaps in the walls, roofs and doors. Clothing was limited and threadbare, food dependent on what a daily wage would provide. Winters, a daily struggle to survive.

It might well have been snowing when Sarah (Dickinson) & John Windsor married at St Oswald’s in Arncliffe on 15 January 1771 but there would have been comfort in hearing the old bell, already 400 years old, pealing out loud and clear down Skirfare valley. In their first few years of married life Sarah & John made regular, happy, trips to the church to see their children christened. Mary (our 4x great grandmother) was the first to arrive, baptised on 23 February 1773. She was followed by Jane (ch. 24 July 1774), Issabella (ch. 7 July 1776), John (ch. 9 November 1777) and Sarah (ch. 7 May 1780). Sadly Sarah survived only a few weeks and was buried on 10 June 1780. Still four children out of five surviving infancy was pretty good odds in the late eighteen century.

St Oswald’s church, Arncliffe, courtesy of an ex-colleague Steve Roecliffe.

In the church baptism records John is listed as John Junior, recognising another, older, John Windsor who was also producing children at this time. However, it also tells us that John Junior did not have another distinguishing factor such as a trade or a farm tenancy. The family’s ability to survive would have depended on both John & Sarah working every day that work was available.

When baby William was baptised on 6 July 1783, news of the violent eruption of the Laki volcano in Iceland may not even have reached Arncliffe. Arncliffe was a bit of a backwater – it was still using the Gregorian calendar to record baptisms and burials thirty years after we officially adopted the Julian one. The sulphur dioxide gas smothered Europe, blocking ports and increasing deaths amongst outdoor workers. It was disastrous for Iceland, some 20 – 25% of the population were to die as a result of both the immediate explosions and the following famine.  But in Arncliffe, far from the sea and protected by hills? The understanding of a volcanic winter is a new one.

Temperatures dropped by an average of 1OC and the winter of 1783 – 1784 was especially severe. In the UK alone it is estimated to have caused an additional 8,000 deaths. Based on Sarah & John’s experience, and that of the parish of Arncliffe as a whole, it seems this number could be significantly understated.

Extract from “The Registers of the Ancient Parish of Arncliffe including those of Halton Gill and Hubberholme 1663 – 1812” transcribed and edited by William Arthur Shuffrey M. A. 1910 for 1783/4.

Burials in Arncliffe for the year 1783 (meaning 25 March 1783 to 24 March 1784) were approximately double those in the preceding five years. Amongst them were John (bu. 10 January 1783/4, aged six), William (bu. 16 January 1783/4, not yet one) and Jane (bu. 21 January 1783/4, aged eight), all children of John Windsor, now described as “a poor man.”

When families faced starvation in the eighteenth century, food for was prioritised for the workers to ensure they could keep earning. John, as the adult male, would have been first, Sarah, as an adult female, second. Mary, the eldest child, would have been eleven and she too, would have been contributing financially, and, presumably, fed. Assuming all three were out looking for any available work that would have left eight year old Sarah in charge of three shivering, starving children. Records don’t show whether it was starvation or sickness which killed the three children in just two weeks, but I am sure it was Laki.

After that long, cold winter life improved for the Windsors, at least as far as the next generation were concerned. Sarah & John had three more children: James (ch. 13 November 1784). Barnabas (ch. 23 July 1786) and finally Betty (ch. 21 October 1792) who was likely younger than her niece Jenny, Mary’s oldest child. Whilst I haven’t yet been able to trace what happened to Isabella & Betty, James & Barnabas both moved to Leeds, learnt trades, had families and lived long lives. Mary married Richard (2) Wellock and became part of my Wellock story. Together they re-established the Wellock family link to High Garnshaw and went on to have around fifty grandchildren including our own great great grandfather Richard Wellock. I am the legacy of the hard choices which Sarah & John faced during that bleak winter of 1783 and I am grateful for them.

Reflections on a month of writing

Tracking my writing progress over the course of November 2022.

And so my first attempt at #NaNoWriMo draws to a close.

For those who are not familiar with concept, hundreds of thousands of people from across the globe commit all their free time and then some to sitting in front of their computers, typing, attempting to write 50,000 words of a new novel. Natalie Pithers of Curious Descendants had the bright idea of turning this into a family history writing challenge, encouraging us all to write more by sending daily prompts.

That’s a great idea I thought, it’ll encourage me to get more of my research off the tree and into a readable format. Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll count the words in any blog I publish this month plus any decent paragraphs I write in response to the daily prompts which might form a blog in future. 50,000 words doesn’t sound that hard.

The first few days went smoothly enough. Two shorter blogs were quickly rattled off and I’d also made progress on a few more. Then on the 8 November I joined a co-working session with fellow Curious Descendants. Two hours later, I’d written just 800 words. Admittedly there’s always a good catch up at the beginning and end of the session, but that meant I’d need to commit three hours a day, every day, just to write 50,000 words. Then there was the editing, sourcing of photos, additional research and finally uploading it all to my blog all of which could easily double or more the time taken. Natalie kindly suggested I develop a more realistic goal. But no, I was convinced that once I reduced my target once I’d be all too willing to reduce it again. I was only 9,000 words behind.

Initially I shared each blog I wrote with all my family & friends on facebook but I soon realised there was a limit to the number of words even my mother might be willing to read. Sharing would better be done over time.

Then came a week where I had no time for writing. I started to revise my goal. If I could reach 25,000 words published with another 5,000 words well written ready to integrate into other stories, I would be happy.

All thoughts of applying for new jobs went out the window, as did the garden which desperately needs some attention. I wore the same dress for days in a row. I started checking my phone for Natalie’s daily prompt as soon as I woke up so as to start mulling on what I would write as I showered. I drafted sentences in my head as I cooked and ate and reviewed what I knew of an ancestor just before I went to sleep in the desperate hope that I would dream up some inspiration.

The total slowly rose but ultimately 50,000 words is a lot for someone who nearly failed her economics A-level because she couldn’t write essays. The C-grade was almost entirely down to the multiple-choice section. I even thought about just publishing my Grandma’s memoirs as they stood. 34,000 words in one go. But that would have done my Grandma a disservice. I intend to annotate and illustrate before publishing, maybe that can be next November’s goal.

The word count dropped and motivation too, meaning the word count fell further behind until I reached out to my fellow curious descendants, one of whom advised me to “mind you don’t end up not worrying about the quality but feeling the width.” It was time for the final sprint. If I wasn’t going to reach 50,000 words, what was it that would make me proud of this month?

A couple of days later, Vu, the author of my favourite non-profit blog, shared his weekly missive entitled “18 tips to help you become a badass writer!” including two perfect pieces of advice for the last sprint: “Writing is a lot like cooking or water puppetry: the more you practice at it, the better you get” and “You can publish first and edit later.”

I set out to write up our family history to ensure it was both accessible and better preserved, but I also wanted to improve the quality and speed of my writing more generally. I had also set myself a goal about eighteen months ago to complete short biographies of each of our sixteen great great great Grandparent couples. There were seven left at the start of the month and just three left at this stage all involving a woman called Elizabeth, two of whom were married to a man called Thomas. They were also, invariably, ones where I had doubts or questions about the research. I realised I needed to stop prevaricating and find a way to write what I knew.

Now, as the clock counts down to midnight, it’s time to take stock.

First, advice to my future self, should I choose to do this again.

  • Have a goal beyond the words. When all else failed those great great great Grandparents biographies just had to be finished.
  • An extensive stock of research is a prerequisite. The quickest stories to write were those where I had already collated all available evidence, the slowest those where I to wait for various certificates to arrive.  Which basically means spending the month before writing looking for gaps.
  • As are ideas for stories with relevant links to content. I thought I had this, but most of the ideas needed a lot more research than I had time to devote to them. On the flip side, I was able to finish a number of stories which I had already explored in detail.
  • Consistency is key. On the days I wrote, I averaged over 2,000 words.
  • Find a cohort to provide ideas and motivation when both are slowing. Thank you, Curious Descendants!
  • And finally, wine is a mixed blessing, the words flow at night, the editing is harder the next day

Ultimately, I didn’t write fifty thousand words. In the month of November, I wrote 30,500 words including 25,792 which are now live online in twenty different blogs. 61% of the total, higher than I’ve been all month – that last sprint made such a difference. More importantly I’ve completed my goal of writing up the stories of all sixteen of my great great great grandparent couple biographies with half of them written this month. Two further blogs stand out. The first is the story behind an 1899 divorce of two Wellock cousins, an astonishing story of domestic cruelty and the courage Ellen needed to free herself from it. The second “the death of a farmer” is much more personal as although it is the tale of death of my great grandmother’s uncle, the circumstances so exactly mirror those of my father one hundred and one years later, it has taken me a while to get it right. And I’m not out of ideas yet. As well as my Grandma’s memoirs, I’m also mulling on a series of annotated maps linking the stories geographically.

So yes, it really was worth it and I am proud but with Christmas rapidly approaching, I may just down my pen for a while!

Cracking open the bubbly. Photo from 2018. As neither 2020 (lockdown) nor 2021 (poorly) family Christmasses happened I am looking forward to this one! Sharon’s photo.

What surnames can add to the knowledge of our beginnings

We begin our family history journey at the end. There are many logical reasons for this, for after all, what would be the beginning? The generationally oldest ancestors? I believe I know something about eighteen 12x great grandparents who lived in the 1500s but far from enough to make their life interesting and what about the other 8,174 of them (endogamy aside)? DNA? Mine simply supports what I already know – my ancestors are mostly from Yorkshire. However, there is one other angle, that of surnames which can provide an insight into ancestors much further back than we will ever be able to prove.

In this article, the numbers born refer to the period from the start of civil registration, currently transcribed on freebmd (1837 – 1992 approx). The counts for the first seven surnames were taken on 3 August 2022, for more distant ancestors on 29 November 2022.


Jesse Houseman (Grandma’s Dad)’s signature at the end of a letter to his landlord. 1920. Own collection.

Born a Houseman, like my Grandma, I plan to die as one. Although I’m resorting to changing my name back by deed poll whilst my Grandma just married a Houseman. As the subtitle to my website notes “it’s who I am.” It is, though, only my second favourite surname. Largely, I think, because it’s already been well-researched and I am forever grateful to Gary Houseman who proved the link between my two paternal grandparents.

Whilst this surname is believed to originate from an occupation, from someone working at or associated with the local “great” house, it is relatively uncommon and highly geographically concentrated. 43% of the 2,651 Housemans born in England & Wales between 1837 and 1992 (as counted on 3 August 2022) were born in Yorkshire counties and of these there is only one branch who are not directly related. I was delighted to find that the one family in Yorkshire who are not related by blood can still be connected into my tree as William Shaw Houseman (b. 1848) who’s father, Robert, was born in London, married Hannah Smith, who’s mother was a Houseman!


Grandpy’s entry in my autograph book. 1985. Own collection.

By contrast, I’ve never felt the same connection to my mother’s maiden name. It crops up too often for me to be sure I’ve found the right family. There’s even a shoe store which carries the name. Our Barretts had the audacity to originate from Gloucestershire and it’s Norman in origin. Sorry Grandpy, I love you, but it’s not a surname that holds my attention.


Nana’s Booth signature at the front of her own autograph book. c. 1939. Own collection.

Nana’s birth name.

Many years ago I spotted a beautiful seventeenth century wooden tray painted with the names of a Booth family. £400 was an awful lot of money but I was severely tempted, convinced the family would be related somehow. Whilst I still hold a slight sense of regret the chances that the tray family were in anyway related is slim to non-existent for there were nearly 50x as many Booths born as Housemans.

Booth is considered to be a northern name (over a quarter of those registered births were in Yorkshire) originating from the old Danish word “bōth” meaning a temporary shelter such as a cattle-herdsman’s hut. We were cattle keepers, probably the most appropriate of our surnames throughout my paper history. It also accounts for the 2% of Swedish & Danish ancestry in my Mum’s DNA profile.

Booth is also one of the two surnames I planned to use if I was ever to write under a pen name, which leads me onto….


Ernest Moody (Nana’s grandfather)’s autograph from Nana’s book. 1939. Own collection.

Nana’s mother’s birth name and the other pen name I would choose.

From the Middle English mody meaning ‘proud, haughty, angry, fierce, bold, brave, or rash’ not grumpy as it is now.

I broke freebmd trying to work out what percentage of people had been born in Yorkshire, but in the 2021 census, Yorkshire was home to about 9% of the population of England & Wales so essentially anything over 10% represents a northern bias and Moody, at 14% is no exception.

But as for Moodys being proud & haughty? This was the most unassuming branch of our family tree. We’d obviously not inherited those genes.


Mary (Pollie) Wellock, Grandpy’s mother. From her date book. 1907. Own collection.

Grandpy’s mother’s birth name.

I love the Wellock surname. Most recently it’s enabled a wonderful Canadian adventure. Every Wellock alive today can be traced back to just two men. They are either descendants of Henry (born in the late 1500s in Kirby Malham) or of Robert (b. c. 1546 in Linton in Craven). The two are undoubtably related but I am always disappointed when a Wellock is descended from Henry.

Common thinking is that Wellock is a derivation of de Wheelock suggesting Norman ancestry, but given that the Wellock (or Walock) name is only held by those from Craven, Yorkshire, my interest stops there.


John Scott (Grandma’s grandfather) from his will dated 1920. Own collection.

Grandma’s mother’s birth name.

Ultimately it’s a man from Scotland. Which could mean anything. Weirdly, my Mum’s DNA contains a lot of unexplained Scottish DNA whilst my paternal Uncle’s contains none. It’s also the most common surname amongst my great grandparents. Combine it with John and you’ve got a genealogical nightmare. So I just feel grateful that I’ve been able to trace this line as far back as my 6x great grandfather, John Scott, born in the early to mid 1700s in Branton Green, North Yorkshire.


Martha (Handley) Clapham (Grandad’s grandmother)’s signature from the 1911 census. Own collection.

Grandad’s mother’s birth name.

The last of my great grandparents surnames is slowly gaining my attention. Growing up there were a lot of Claphams and I thought it must be a common name. But there were under 10,000 of them born between 1837 and 1992 and of those, over 40% were born in Yorkshire. Which explains why there were a lot of them about when I was growing up.

More interestingly (for me), I have Claphams on my maternal side too – my 5x great grandmother, Elizabeth Clapham was born in Lawkland about three miles from the village of Clapham.

Given that Clapham is believed to originate from the name of a village that could suggest a connection for whilst there are Clapham villages and (different) family branches originating as far away as Bedfordshire, Surrey, Sussex and even Devon, my Grandad’s mother’s family had been slowly tracking south and east away from the original Clapham village. 

Could this be the elusive connection between my Mum & my Dad’s family trees?

Earlier generations

Going back to my 3xG grandparents adds a further twenty-four surnames. It seems I’m unlikely to ever find a familial connection to my friends Sarah Walker & Helen Cooper (being the two most popular surnames in my tree with over 300,000 of each of them born). There were fullers and coopers in almost every village from which these surnames derive.

There are some though which will be worthy of further exploration.

  • Stansfield, Furniss and Hinchcliffe are all relatively rare. They are locational surnames recognising people from Stansfield (near Todmorden), Furness (Cumberland) and Hinchliff (near Holmfirth) so it is not surprising that around 50% of these births were in Yorkshire. Each one might give me a hint as to where the families originated from. Each also has a number of different variants and the exact spelling could be useful in tracing my line.
  • I grew up surrounded by Beecrofts and they pop up on both sides of my tree so was surprised to learn how uncommon the name was both generally and in Yorkshire. It’s a locational name based on an apparently “lost” village named “beo-croft” meaning bee farm. Tracing potential locations in the region could help me bring together the two sides of my family.
  • Down to those names with fewer than 5,000 children born. Teal has my favourite origin story, as it is thought to be a nickname, meaning like a water-bird. One of my distant ancestors must have been graceful in their deportment. The Teal variant of the name is also strongly associated with Yorkshire with over half those born being from Yorkshire.
  • There were fewer Reynards born than Housemans. Reynard does not in fact mean fox-like, but rather a popular medieval story book fox character was given this name and it stuck. It’s a surname with a number of variants, but 64% of the people born carrying the surname in this form were from Yorkshire meaning I stand a good chance of bringing them together in one tree.  
  • And finally, my favourite 3xG Grandmother, Hannah Demaine, keeps on giving. Surprisingly, given it means someone from the ancient French province of Maine, it’s a surname even more rare than Wellock and just as heavily concentrated in Yorkshire. The variant Demain, which I have also seen, only adds a few hundred births. This family of agricultural labourers are about as far from a Norman knight as it is possible to be and has whetted my appetite to research further.

There are a few more ancient names I should mention as being gateway surnames that have enabled me to reach back much further than I would otherwise have done: Wigglesworth, Hebden and Swale are all locational from Yorkshire. Pettyt leads me to a cousin, William, appointed Keeper of the Records in the Tower of London in 1689, who invented a wonderful family history claiming descent from King Arthur and might provide a connection to my oldest friend, Andrea (nee Petty). Finally, there’s Inglesant is a rare example of a surname derived from a woman demonstrating the strength of my female ancestry right back into the medieval ages.   

And so it is that my beginnings reflect the end. It’s an (almost) Yorkshire story.

With much gratitude to Natalie Pithers for her two prompts, beginnings & surnames, which led to this blog and to all my ancient ancestors for picking such wonderful surnames.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside!

Living almost halfway between the east and west coasts we had our pick of the best seaside resorts. To the west there was Blackpool with its illuminations and tacky souvenirs, Morecambe where the tide went out for miles and Lytham-St-Annes which I remember most for having a far smarter class of charity shops. To the east we had amusements in Scarborough, cliffs at Flamborough Head, eight miles of spotless sandy beach at Filey, the old school charm of Robin Hood’s Bay and of course Whitby where the best fish and chips in the world are to be had, together with a sprinkling of Dracula on the side. Each year we’d board the coach for the annual Sunday School seaside trip optimistically clad in shorts and t-shirts which would alternate visits between east & west.  

Certainly, my great grandparents, Marion (Moody) and Arthur Booth did and for them it was almost invariably the west coast.

At first glance I thought these two photos had been taken on the same seaside excursion. Arthur is wearing his greige raincoat, pinstriped suit and carefully knotted tie. Marion has a dark blue coat with a jaunty collar, on which she has pinned a cloth flower, and paired the smart coat with sensible brown shoes. But look more closely and you start to notice the differences. Arthur has switched his rather swish fedora for the ubiquitous flat cap, Marion has moved her flower and changed the colour of her handbag. Broadly, too, the couple have aged. Judging by Nana (their daughter), I would say the photo on the left was taken in the mid-1940s, which would make the one on the right could be as much as a decade earlier.

Whilst the outfits may have changed and I can’t quite envisage Marion astride a donkey, I am not so sure our great grandparents’ experience was that different. Candyfloss, icecream and fish & chips with a slice of white bread and butter and a mug of tea still taste very much the same. Amusement arcades, risqué postcards and holiday snaps still keep us entertained.

A trip to the seaside was a pleasure eagerly anticipated.

By the time we reach the end of the 1950s, Arthur & Marion are back travelling without their girls. The pinstripe suit has been replaced, but not the flat cap. Marion has a new coat, but she’s kept with the sensible brown shoes.

Arthur Booth & Marion Moody. Photo coloured with myheritage. Own collection.

This was such an annual tradition that even after Marion died, Arthur took a final trip to Morecambe on his own sending separate postcards to his daughter and grandson which I found in Nana’s box of joy.

Nana’s parents, my great grandparents were modest hard-working people. They had both died before Mum reached her teens and I have far fewer documents and photos through which to reconstruct their lives. These three seaside photos represent such a small snippet and yet create a thread directly between their lives and mine.  

How accurate is Ancestry’s DNA ethnicity percentages for English ancestry?

I want to start by this blog by stating that whilst I am proud of my deep Yorkshire heritage I in no way associate with English nationalism. England has much to be positive about, but we have also, as a nation and as individual humans, wreaked havoc on peoples across the world and it cannot be right that to continue in the same xenophobic vein. I have not, as yet, discovered any ancestors who were directly involved with any historic atrocities, but I, and they, have still benefited from the privilege such acts have accorded us. We all need to recognise our own and our ancestors’ role in the system as was and more importantly strive to change it.

That being said, I’m now about to write about how Ancestry’s newest tool, the DNA sidebar, doesn’t work well for people with deep, known, English ancestry. I think this matters more broadly. One thing the English have been good at is record keeping. For over four hundred years parish churches have recorded births, deaths and marriages, plus parish poor law guardians took particular care to identify the fathers of any illegitimate children. Ancestry can’t be short of people to include within their sample groups, which should mean they can be more accurate than telling me I originate from “England and North Western Europe”. I only hope that Ancestry have instead focused their resources in adding to sample groups which can help those with more complex ancestry. Those with enslaved ancestors for example for whom so few records exist.

Each year I like to count the ancestors I have “identified”. It’s far from a perfect barometer of progress, making no reference to the depth of research. Sometimes all I know is a first name, generally Mary or Elizabeth. Nonetheless last time I counted (January 2022) I could identify 567 ancestors and I am also aware of other’s (quality) research that could help me extend this further.

Broadly the paper evidence leads me to believe I am 90% Yorkshire, 75% from 3 river valleys originating in the Dales – the Wharfe, the Nidd & the Washburn. Another 6.25% covers Wales and the Gloucestershire or the Welsh/English border. The remaining 3 – 4% is unknown but given where the babies were conceived there’s a high probability their fathers were from Yorkshire or surrounding counties.

In working this out I generally start with my 4xG Grandparents. This generation was born in the late 1700s/early 1800s when ordinary folks moved around less, and I’ve not found any evidence of earlier ancestors moving far. Indeed, they rarely even move beyond a neighbouring parish. One is unknown due to illegitimacy, one is questionable for the same reasons (both on my Mum’s side), four were from Gloucestershire & Pembrokeshire (equally split, again my Mum’s side). One, on my Dad’s side, carried the surname Scott, so some small part of him was possibly Scottish. That leaves me with fifty-seven (90%) from Yorkshire.

My DNA matches support the paper trail. I have found no unexpected parental events. I am a descendant of the left-behinds, of those who didn’t stray from home either geographically and sexually speaking. It makes me a somewhat inbred and my family history a little dull.

With background, let’s move to what Ancestry’s ethnicity data shows.

My DNA analysis

Ancestry DNA ethnicity estimate – October 2022

On the face of it my England & Northwestern Europe heritage has increased from 67% to 71% and indeed the range suggests that it could be as much as 99%. The regional identification is sound, but why not provide an estimate for this? Looking at it in more detail:

  1. England & Northwestern Europe? That is a huge area and quite honestly belittles cross fertilisation within the Isles. Why are Scotland & Wales considered separate units and England not?
  2. The range now runs from 63 – 99%. I could be just 2/3rds from Yorkshire, or equally, totally inbred. Ancestry’s best guess (71%) is considerably lower than it should be.
  3. Sweden, Denmark, Norway – on first glance it could be as much as a sixth of my ancestry. The range runs from nought to a quarter. Yorkshire was, of course, Viking controlled, but that was over a thousand years ago when they controlled or invaded much of Northwestern Europe. This is where my doubts about the usefulness of this tool really started to creep in.

I turned to the parental splits being fortunate to have access to both my Mum’s and my paternal Uncle’s DNA which takes me back a further generation.

My Mum’s DNA

Mum’s DNA – ancestry October 2022

The Welsh ancestry made it easy for me to identify which of Mum’s two parents was Grandpy and hence which was Nana.

Diving into Mum’s ethnicity split it seems that Mum could be somewhere between 2/3rds and 99% England & Northwestern Europe with Ancestry’s best guess being 72%, fractionally higher than my own. Odd, as it is from Mum that I inherit both my known Welsh ancestry and that part of my DNA which could come from anywhere.

But then it tells me that Mum is also, apparently, 19% Scottish. Split 11% maternal and 8% paternal,

That would make my Nana nearly a quarter Scottish. Possible as she has two illegitimate great grandparents, but there is evidence to suggest who one of the fathers was and he has Yorkshire ancestry. Which would make the other a full-blooded Scot. The North Yorkshire/Lancashire border is not that far from Scotland. It is certainly possible. But I’ve also got to factor in my apparent Irish heritage of course making up about 4% of Nana’s DNA.

Grandpy on the other hand? The only reason he is not highest in my ancestor count is because I got a bit bored of adding others (quality) research to my tree. 10% Welsh, absolutely, if you count the Barretts from Gloucestershire, everything else is pure Yorkshire. I have no idea how he’s turned out to be 16% Scottish. Hence why I think the English/Scottish split is unhelpful. I am sure Northumbrians & Cumbrians would agree.

My paternal Uncle’s DNA

Paternal uncle DNA – ancestry 2022

My paternal Uncle’s DNA is the best substitute I have for my Dad’s. I based his parental split on shared matches but given how odd his own DNA ethnicity breakdown seems to be I don’t think the split adds any value. What’s interesting is that there’s no Scottish ancestry. Clearly the surname Scott doesn’t necessarily mean Scottish heritage. My Uncle is a Viking at heart so perhaps he’ll be pleased with Swedish, Danish & Norwegian genes.

I, on the other hand, am not, for both my paternal grandparents’ trees are fully documented for over 200 years. All 32 of my paternal 4xg grandparents were born in Yorkshire as were all of their ancestors whom I have so far identified (275 at the last count). It helps that they are (twice) descended from the same ancestors and rarely married outside of the parish.

Clicking in, the detail becomes increasingly lazy as whilst the ranges allow for my Uncle being 99% England & Northwestern Europe they also allow for him being 21% Swedish and Danish and up to an astonishing 29% Germanic European. Imagine if you were starting without a decent paper trail. These ranges would leave you criss-crossing the whole of western Europe.

In conclusion

It would be unfair for me to end this blog without referring to all that is positive about DNA testing. Through DNA testing I have been able to confirm the paper trail and have also corresponded with and even met some wonderful DNA cousins. It’s also helped an adopted friend who was delighted just to know that he was as biologically Irish as his adopted family helped him feel (although even in this example, it’s the specific matches which have helped us prove this). It’s just that, at best, the ethnicity splits, promise an accuracy which they don’t deliver. At worst, without a paper trail to fall back on, you could end up believing something which isn’t true.  

What the 1921 census told me that I didn’t know

I’ve been cautious about the 1921 census. £3.50 for each page. Half the price of a GRO certificate, double that of a will. And unlike both of those I know that it will be available within a standard subscription at some point in the future. (I am still considering taking out a premium subscription for findmypast – had they made this clear a couple of years ago I was ready to transfer my allegiance from ancestry, but since then I’ve invested even more in building my family tree on that platform, so it’ll be even more of an effort to transfer over).

I also had to manage my own expectations about what I would find. It wasn’t a helpful year for our family. Grandpy was a few months old, but none of my other grandparents had been born. Grandad arrived just five days later and Grandma the following month. Nana’s parents were not yet even married. All my great grandparents were around, but I knew where they were. Four of my great great grandparents would be missing, being four of the least well researched. I am grateful that the general strike which postponed this census did not affect the possibility of seeing the last of my great, great, great grandparents in the census as Martha (Handley) Clapham died on 29 March 1921. In other words, this census, unlike previous censuses, only really covered three generations about whom I already knew quite a lot.

I narrowed my purchases down to just the ten relating to direct ancestors alive at the time. One grandparent, eight great grandparents and twelve great great grandparents. Twenty one in total which is kind of apt.

Richard Walker, Mary (Wellock) & George Thomas Barrett

1921 census from findmypast including Richard Walker, Mary (Wellock) & George Thomas Barrett

Grandpy (Richard Walker Barrett) was always going to be the first person I searched for. And yes, it was super cute to see him recorded for posterity aged just three months. It also allowed me to tick off his parents Mary (Wellock) and George Thomas Barrett. But I already knew they had lived at Scalebar Farm in Gargrave when Grandpy was born and it wasn’t either Toft Gate, Greenhow Hill nor Upper West End Farm, Stainburn the two farms with which this family is most closely associated. I didn’t know that Uncle Henry had been born at Greenhow Hill which gives me a possible date for when they might have taken on the tenancy of Scalebar, but the rest of the data on this page is all well documented elsewhere.

Mary (Walker) & Richard Wellock

1921 census from findmypast including Mary (Walker) & Richard Wellock

Possibly the least interesting was that relating to my Wellock great great grandparents. I could have filled in this entire form myself.

Jane (Brooks) & Henry Barrett

1921 census from findmypast including Jane (Brooks) & Henry Barrett

Whilst there was nothing new to be learnt about Grandpy’s Barrett grandparents, Jane (Brooks) & Henry Barrett, it was lovely to see a reference to William Henry Barrett. William served his country during WW1. It was only a couple of years ago that I learnt of his existence for he died from tuberculosis in 1924 and may have disappeared were it not for census records.

Then there are visitors. Amy, a niece of Henry’s went on to marry her fellow visitor, Henry M Chambers, thirty-four years her senior, but not until 1930, by which time, Henry was 74 and Amy had been his domestic help for at least twenty years. Amy suddenly made it onto my list of sibling & cousin stories to explore.

Marion, Annie (Bentley) & Ernest Moody

1921 census from findmypast including Marion, Annie (Bentley) & Ernest William Moody.

Unlike our other grandparents, Nana wasn’t even a twinkle in 1921. Her parents weren’t even to marry for another four years.

The Moody family (Nana’s maternal side) was the second census I looked for, mainly to check out the lodger. There’s a family rumour that the youngest son, George, may not have been Ernest’s and whilst I have a different interpretation it was rather satisfying to find the same Tom Atkinson, who was with the family in 1911, still living with the family on Lodge Terrace. George was born in between the two censuses so if a lodger was the father, then this was certainly he.

Edith Moody at work. Colourised using myheritage. Own collection.

More excitingly still (and that which I consider to be “the” finding of the 1921 census) was the listing of Aunty Edie’s occupation and workplace as blanket weaver for Clayton Brothers, Coxley, Netherton. Finally, I was able to put some context to the photo I had inherited. These were factory girls.

Arthur, Sarah (Cooper) & Thomas (Butterworth) Booth

1921 census from findmypast including Arthur, Sarah (Cooper) & Thomas (Butterworth) Booth

On to Nana’s father’s family, the Booths. Whilst there is very little here which I didn’t know, it was good to have further confirmation of certain details such as Sarah’s birthplace where I had previously considered different options. However, Arthur’s workplace on a nearby farm is new and something worth doing further work around. Scales Farm clearly couldn’t support the whole family. I have an intriguing photo of Arthur as a young man together with a group of men of varying ages. As much as I would love this to be of Arthur, Thomas & other relatives, it is just as likely to relate to his 1921 employer.

Mary Abigail (Clapham) & George Houseman, Mary Ann (Wilkinson) & Samuel Clapham

Figure 52: 1921 census from findmypast including Mary Abigail (Clapham) & George Houseman

Switching sides to my Dad’s parents.

I perhaps shouldn’t have such low expectations of Grandad’s family given that it is through Grandad that I have found both a proven link to women’s suffrage through Martha Clapham (aka Maria Greevz) and a rather more spurious link to royalty but the 1921 census did nothing to help change my opinion. If only Grandad had been born five days earlier.

Mary Abigail (Clapham) & George Houseman (Grandad’s parents) are to be found at Fairfield Farm with their children. George was the oldest of my great grandparents by some fifteen years, so it is no surprise that both his parents had died more than a decade earlier. Mary Abigail was the next youngest and her parents Mary Ann (Wilkinson) and Samuel Clapham are both to be found farming at North Rigton.

1921 census from findmypast including Mary Ann (Wilkinson) & Samuel Clapham

Hilda Mary (Scott) & Jesse Houseman

1921 census from findmypast including Hilda Mary (Scott) & Jesse Houseman

Grandma was born just over a month after the census was taken. I do rather smile at her mother, the rather smart Hilda Mary, being caught on paper at eight months pregnant – I feel certain she would never have allowed herself to be photographed at this stage. But rather more importantly are the birthplaces of Grandma’s older sisters, Muriel (born in Thirsk, home of Hilda’s parents) & Jessie (born in Birstwith) plus the actual recorded address (Park Head, Norwood). There’s potentially more movement in Hilda & Jesse’s early married years than Grandma either knew or properly recorded.

Maria (Reynard) Scott

Figure 55: 1921 census from findmypast including Maria (Reynard) Scott

Of all my great, great grandparents, Maria (Reynard) & John Scott were the only pair who came close to being upper middle class. Remember this was the generation who were born twenty years into Queen Victoria’s reign, class mattered, and Maria epitomised this age. It is from her I have inherited the classic middle-class Victorian photo album (for which I am very grateful!). Hilda, her daughter, though always smart, was also quoted, by my Grandma, to have “married down”. Here, in 1921, we see Maria in her element. She’s my only female ancestor to head a household in this census, proudly describing herself as “head” and “farmer” and her son as only “farm manager” working for “Mrs Scott.” Her husband, John, had been dead for a year and there was no sense of handing over control here.   

This census also neatly links in the Housemans. Whilst I already know that Maria’s daughter, Laura, married her sister’s husband’s uncle, future generations may not and the 1921 neatly demonstrates a sister who is also an aunt.

Amelia (Bradbury) Houseman

1921 census from findmypast including Amelia (Bradbury) Houseman

I am pretty certain that Grandma inherited her matriarchal tendencies from both her Grandmothers but Amelia (Bradbury) Houseman’s appearance in the 1921 census completely cloaks this.

I end this tour with the most unfairly represented of all my ancestors in the 1921 census. Amelia was rightly recorded as retired and living with her daughter and son-in-law, at Lime Street in Harrogate, where she was to live for the remainder of her life. The census says nothing of the thirty years following her husband’s death during which she continued to run the family farm both alone and in partnership with one or more of her sons. It is also silent of her fight against the 1920 rent increases which ultimately forced her to retire and left her, as a woman, disenfranchised in the 1922 election, the first in which women could vote.  

Are the 1921 censuses worth the money? I can only speak to someone who knew a lot about her twenty-one ancestors who were living at the time.  Two (Maria (Reynard) Scott & Amelia (Bradbury) Houseman) reinforced the impression I have held, that the women in our family have always been matriarchs. Two (Hilda Mary (Scott) & Jesse Houseman and Arthur Booth) will lead me to better map the places my ancestors lived and worked). One (that of Jane (Brooks) & Henry Barrett containing Amy Barrett) leads me to an intriguing story, albeit of a cousin, and one (that of the Moodys) was pure gold – helping both confirm the lodger of family legend and explain an intriguing photo.  

With much gratitude to Natalie Pithers who runs the Curious Descendants for setting twenty-one as today’s challenge.

A Wellock divorce in 1899

Reader warning: what follows is a story of domestic cruelty and may be upsetting to some people. Domestic abuse still happens today. Any woman (or man) who experiences this deserves all our support. The citizens advice bureau provides an excellent list of those who you can contact for help whether you are male, female, straight, gay, young or old. Please reach out.

This story has also been published on A Few Forgotten Women.

The first page of the court minutes pertaining to the divorce of Ellen & George Wellock. All court records have been taken from an collection.

This is the story of how a young woman from Yorkshire, Ellen Richmond, succeeded in divorcing her violent, abusive, adulterous husband, George Wellock, in 1900.

George Wellock was guilty of habitual cruelty…through his continued cruelty your Petitioner had a miscarriage on two occasions….seized your Petitioner by her neck, knocked her against the wall and threatened to jump on her and deprive her of her life and at the same time he struck her violently on the face and arms several times…apprehended…on a charge of committing indecent assault upon a young girl named Pollard

Thus reads the 1899 petition for divorce by Ellen (Richmond) Wellock. Yet these horrific descriptions of domestic abuse were insufficient support on their own for Ellen to obtain a divorce without also providing evidence of the husband’s adultery, proof that George was to inadvertently provide through his own defence in the trial for the “indecent assault upon a young girl named Pollard”.

A brief history of divorce

First a brief canter through the history of divorce. Prior to the Matrimonial Clauses Act of 1857 divorce could only be granted by way of an Act of Parliament, passed by both houses. Unsurprisingly it was both rare and hugely scandalous. It was also almost always brought about by the man. Just four of the 324 cases of divorce granted prior to 1857 were requested by women, none of which resulted in a happy outcome. (It’s well worth reading this piece by Amanda Foreman).

Post 1857, women gained the right to petition for divorce through to do so, unlike men, they needed to prove not only adultery but some other fault such as cruelty, rape or incest. They also had to have the necessary resources to travel to London to attend court, stood an extremely high likelihood of losing custody of any children and of course, as women were deemed to be chattels, left the marriage without any assets. The annual number of divorces stood at something under 300 at this point.

The Married Women’s Property Acts of 1870 & 1882 were important staging posts. Proving divorce was still as arduous, but at least the woman stood a chance of obtaining custody of children and holding onto some of the assets she may have brought to the marriage. By the late 1890s the annual number of divorces had crept above 500, 40% of them brought by women.

According to the office of national statistics, 512 divorces were granted in 1900 of which 209 were brought before to court by women. One of these courageous, ground-breaking, women, Ellen Richmond, was somehow connected to our Wellock family, not once, but twice.

The cousins

Diagram showing the relationship between Ellen Richmond, George Wellock and our own Wellock branch. Own picture produced on miro.

The story starts with three cousins. The role of my own great, great grandfather, Richard Wellock, is simply to provide a connection to the other two cousins through his father, Thomas, the ninth child of my 4x great grandparents, Richard Wellock (1765 – 1849) and Mary Windsor (1772 – 1844). Richard & Mary had eleven children over a twenty-eight-year period (as an aside Mary really deserves a medal). Benjamin (1802 – 1867), the sixth, was father to the above-named George Wellock, Robert (1817 – 1902), the youngest child, was father to Richard, stepfather (and possible biological father) to one Ellen Richmond.

My 4x great grandparents, Richard & Mary, faced a bit of an embarrassment of riches. Of their seven sons, at least six survived to adulthood and had children of their own (as did two of their daughters). Blame the healthy Craven air. In this instance it seems that the family farm at High Garnshaw passed from Richard to his youngest son, Robert, and then onto Robert’s youngest son by his second wife, Jenkinson Wellock. Benjamin & Thomas had to make their own way, as did their nephew Richard (Ellen’s stepfather) but whilst Thomas found a farm high up in the dales, Benjamin made his way closer to Bradford via Calverley, setting the scene for what followed.

Benjamin married late, aged 38, to Margaret Calvert, a woman seventeen years younger than he. George was the baby of the family, born in 1860, when his father was already 58. Whilst he had sisters closer in age, his youngest brother was eleven years older than he which I expect made him a coddled baby. That was until his father died in 1867. Whilst Margaret kept the farm running through the 1871 & 1881 censuses (no doubt with the help of George) life would have undoubtedly become harder. I can speak from my own experience of the impact losing a father before you are ten can have although thankfully none of us has chosen violence as an outlet.

Let’s get back to Ellen. She’s not without her own “family history.” Born on 28 February 1866 in Ramsgill, it wasn’t until several months later that her mother, Jane Richmond, married Richard Wellock (the cousin). Whilst Richard always treated Ellen as his own daughter (she is described as such in the 1871 & 1881 censuses) the gap between birth and marriage would suggest he wasn’t the biological father as does the lack of any further children. (Childless marriages in the 1800s always intrigue me and Jane herself had already proved fertile leading me to presume the infertility was down to Richard). Ellen was a special only child.

Ellen & George would have met at a family gathering. She, the protected, impressionable (and possibly spoilt) woman charmed by an elder cousin who had a way with women & already knew the ways of the impossibly metropolitan city of Bradford. Was it years of dancing at family parties or a short whirlwind romance? Who knows. Whatever the circumstances, Ellen was smitten, and they married at the beautiful ancient St Andrews of Kildwick on 12 November 1889.

The copy of Ellen & George’s 1889 marriage certificate included within the divorce papers.

Which, according to Ellen’s petition, was the day on which her life as the only beautiful, protected daughter came to a violent, abrupt halt.

The couple’s first baby, Edith Ellen Richmond Wellock, arrived safely on 17 January 1891 and was duly baptised on 27 January 1891 at Laisterdyke in Bradford, her parents living at 31 Thornhill Terrace, George working as butcher. Ellen then suffered two miscarriages as a result of George’s violence, before the arrival of Mabel Jane on 7 February 1894. Mabel Jane is baptised at Eccleshill on 28 March, the baptism record noting the family’s place of residence as 99 Killinghall Road a few minutes’ walk from Thornhill Terrace.

The cycle of violence, pregnancy, violence and miscarriage may well have continued had George not also been a serial adulterer.

Late in 1894, George flirted with a young woman called Clarissa Crossland in his butchers shop, followed her home and didn’t return for a week. Next George met a woman called Pollard with whom he frequently cohabited between the end of 1895 & 1896.

By July 1896 the violence was escalating. Ellen had been forced to flee from the house to the relative safety of a neighbour and on 30 July, George threatened to kill her with a carving knife.

The following day George left, perhaps realising he had gone too far. He moved to Colne, changed his name to George Calvert (using his mother’s maiden name) and took up with a woman named Lizzie Stansfield. Ellen took her two daughters back to the safety of her parents’ home at Cragg Top Farm in Silsden.

This might have been the end of the matter had George not assaulted a young woman called Mary Elizabeth Pollard in February 1899. Mary was the daughter of the woman George had previously cohabited with. This time he was arrested (at the house of Lizzie Stansfield) and charged with indecent assault. He was eventually convicted of “just” common assault (of an underaged girl) and sentenced to six weeks imprisonment, the judge noting that he was “not strong enough to put to hard labour.”

Bradford Daily Telegraph – 23 February 1899. From the British Newspaper archive.

During the trial George had chosen to defend himself. I had thought this was down to money, but Anna Maxwell Martin’s recent WDYTA show suggested that a man might choose to do this simply to continue his cruelty – forcing the woman to submit to angry, manipulative questioning. George claimed the charge was a “put up job” because he had been cohabiting with Mrs Pollard. Suddenly Ellen had the evidence she needed to demonstrate adultery.

Albert Victor Hammond was an influential solicitor in Bradford, the founding partner of the law firm Hammond Suddards (now part of the international firm Squire Patton Boggs) against whom, co-incidentally, my sister & I used to play football in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Together with Wynne Baxter & Keeble of 9 Laurence Pountney Hill, London, they took Ellen’s case to court.

Yet even the trial was to test Ellen’s courage as in 1899 divorce cases were all held at what is now the Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand in London.

First Ellen faced a trip to London. By 1900 London was home to 5 million people, the capital of an empire. Even today I often provide a bit of advice for rural friends daunted by their first visit to the capital on where to stay, what to eat and how to get around. Ellen was unlikely to have known anyone.

Second there’s the court itself. Again, I know from personal experience how intimidating this place can feel with it’s grand entrance packed full of barristers dashing through with arms full of papers. Even with current signage it took me a while to find the room where the appeal in relation to my husband’s death was being held. I was glad not to be on my own.

John Gorrell Barnes, 1st Baron Gorell (‘Judges. No. 39’) by Sir Leslie Ward. Chromolithograph, published in Vanity Fair, 18 February 1893. NPG D44634 (c) National Portrait Gallery, London

Finally, there was the judge, Sir John Gorrell Barnes, who presided over the case. In his wig and gown, peering down from the judge’s chair, he would have terrified all but the most worldly and privileged of petitioners.

Yet the thought of gaining her freedom from a violent, abusive husband, must have sustained Ellen throughout.

George chose not to turn up and so the decree nisi was granted on 20 July 1899.

Of course, this was not the end of the ordeal for Ellen. Divorces were rare and still made the papers. Not just one paper, in Ellen’s case, but four, ensuring full coverage across both Yorkshire & Lancashire with the news being published even before Ellen had returned to Yorkshire. What’s more the papers mentioned only desertion and adultery as if the violence Ellen had suffered was unimportant. Such were the views of the time that many people would have thought Ellen to blame for not being able to keep her husband satisfied.

Newspaper article concerning the divorce published in the Yorkshire Evening Post on 20 July 1899 and repeated in the Burnley Express, Bradford Daily Telegraph and Lancashire Evening Post. From

The following year, on 5 February 1900, the decree absolute was granted and Ellen was finally free.

The other woman

George too, was free, and just six weeks later on 19 March 1900, he married the aforementioned Elizabeth Stansfield, calling himself a bachelor and not a divorcee.

Lizzie Stansfield has her own back story. An illegitimate child, her mother went on to a childless marriage to a Martin Stuttard, then travelled to America, had another illegitimate child Lewis Pratt, before returning to England to live with her daughter. George & Elizabeth had one son together and also appear to have raised Lewis who worked as a butcher’s assistant and died in WW1.  I hope Lizzie fared better than Ellen for, unlike Ellen, she did not have a family to support her.

Ellen’s remaining story

Ellen became a housekeeper before marrying a younger man from Scotland, James Neish Nielsen, in 1903.

The two daughters too fared well. Edith, the elder, married locally and had two sons and whilst the second of these died as an infant in 1932, the first went onto to have a family of his own. Mabel became a schoolteacher and a renowned educationalist, travelling the world to learn and to speak, eventually dying, unmarried, at the age of 81 in London.

Ellen’s gravestone with the description “dear wife.” Photo from findagrave.

Whilst the second half of Ellen’s life was not without further tragedy (James & Ellen’s second son, Richard, born in 1906, died in infancy and their first son died in 1937 aged 33) the relationship at least seemed a much happier one captured in the description “dear wife” on her memorial stone when she died aged 86 in 1952.

I think Ellen deserves more appreciation for the courage she showed over the course of her first marriage and divorce in part paving the way for others to hold abusive partners to account. I hope this blog goes some way to recognising this. With much gratitude to Ellen & her parents.

Whilst this is a story of Ellen’s courage, as much as it is of George’s violence, I understand that the content could be disturbing for living descendants. From online research I believe that both Ellen & George have living great grandchildren, but none who carry the Wellock surname and I have not used any of those newer surnames to avoid anyone making the connection. However, if you are a descendant and wish me to redact any part of this story, please do get in touch.

Nancy Serjeanston (1839 – 1891)

Rural Yorkshire is anything but silent. The birds arrive first, singing out as dawn approaches, then the cattle join in lowing gently ready to be milked. In winter the wind howls down the moors and if living on a village street there would be the creak of waggon wheels and welcoming words when passing a neighbour. For Nancy, though, there was only silence.

Extract from the 1861 census for Rilston showing the Wellock household including Nancy Serjeanston.

Nancy piqued my interest. I was rounding out the census details for Thomas and Isabella (nee Preston) Wellock by adding in all household members even the supposedly unrelated ones in case there was a connection I had missed. In these parts of Yorkshire, the so-called servants were often nieces, nephews or cousins. I wondered what “kept by subscription” meant?

Then I realised that the Nancy with the illegible name in the 1871 and 1881 Wellock family censuses was the same person and right at the end of the forms was the gold. “Deaf and dumb from birth.”

It appears that Nancy was “adopted” by my 3x great grandparents Thomas and Isabella Wellock and continued to live with the Wellocks for the remainder of her adult life. To begin with she was supported through parish contributions, but I can only presume from later records that she came to be considered part of the family.

I imagined that Nancy’s parents must have died when she was a child, but that was not to prove the case. Nancy (born in 1838) was the first of five girls both to Alice Litton and William Serjeanston of Skeld Gate, an area on the edge of Rylstone. Whilst Alice had died in 1854, William lived into his 80s. The feeling I had that these weren’t good parents was compounded by the 1851 and 1861 censuses. In 1851, eleven-year-old sister Mary was living with her uncle Silvester and in 1861 (by which time Nancy was living with the Wellocks) sister Alice was living with a different Uncle (and went on to marry his son, her cousin), sister Ann had died, and now it was sister Grace was working for Silvester’s son, William. But when faced with nothing but unrelenting rural poverty and a daughter who was deaf and dumb it is not fair to judge.

Nancy was in fact fortunate to be born when she was, for attitudes towards deaf children were changing. The first public school for deaf children had been established in Bermondsey in 1792 and in 1809, the first book of sign language for hearing children “Invited Alphabet: Or, an address of A to B” had been published by RR.

the school “mission” taken from The History of The Yorkshire Residential School for the Deaf 1829 – 1979 by Anthony J Boyce sourced from

The Yorkshire Residential School for the Deaf, Doncaster, became the sixth such school in existence when it was founded by the Rev. William Carr Fenton 1829. The first headmaster, Charles Baker, was to lead the school for 45 years and became hugely influential in the development of education for deaf children. This included, in 1834, persuading the Earl of Harewood to endeavour to include provision for the education of deaf children in the 1834 “Poor Law Amendment Act.” The Earl was not fully successful but did manage to get a clause included to allow Boards of Guardians to contribute towards the maintenance of the blind and the deaf.

This was Nancy Serjeanston came to be one of Charles Baker’s many pupils for a period including the 1851 census.

The school focused primarily on teaching the children to read and write, supplemented by signing. There was much less effort expending teaching deaf children to speak. Whilst Nancy’s whole world must have opened up at this point in her life the lack of speech would have remained an impediment for many people at that time could not read (including Thomas Wellock at the time of his marriage).

It appears that Nancy was not as successful as other pupils in finding independent employment after school as she was kept by subscription on her return. The only document to list her as having an occupation was the 1881 census where she was noted as being a domestic servant. But what is written about women is never the full story. As part of the Wellock farming household, Nancy would have had to work as hard as the rest of the family.

The 1880s weren’t a happy time for the Wellock family. Benjamin Preston, son of Thomas & Isabella died aged just 32 in a tragic accident in 1883 leaving a widow (Mary) and five children under the age of ten. Benjamin’s widow, Mary, moved to back to Wilsill near her own family and by 1891 Nancy had joined her. This may have been immediately after Benjamin died but I like to think it was after Nancy had nursed the elderly Thomas & Isabella who died in 1885 & 1886 respectively returning the love and support, the couple had given her. Nancy continued to live with Mary until her death from chronic pneumonia on 27 December 1891.

Nancy’s death certificate. Her death was registered by Mary (Bell) Wellock with whom she was living at the time.

Nancy has not been easy to research. Within the censuses her surname is variously recorded as Sergeanston, Serjeanston, Sangeson, Sorgson and Scrpanlton and only in the first, in 1841, is she living with her own family. Without direct descendants of her own, no-one is really looking that hard for her. It is only thanks to her long association with my own ancestors, Isabella & Thomas, who took her into their household, that I found and pulled on the tiny thread “kept by subscription.” Those with physical disabilities often feel invisible and it is a pleasure to write this short blog in the hope that it helps bring Nancy out of silence.

Nana’s box of joy

I have four decades of my own memorabilia stuffed haphazardly into three large plastic boxes. Every so often I pull out a pile of stuff and discard just enough of my random keepsakes (such as tickets to events I don’t remember and birthday cards without special meaning) to squeeze in what I’ve saved over from recent months. Despite their chaotic nature I still find myself delving into these boxes to find something that is relevant to my life right now. The night Queenie died I tipped all three boxes onto the floor of my living room to hunt for royal souvenirs and that’s when I realised it was time to bring the same order to my own archive as I was with those of my ancestors. Well, almost, the papers are now at least divided into “eras.” More excitingly I found a whole pile of family history treasures I’d inherited & forgotten about over the years including an unassuming box labelled “Elton Bond.”

Nana’s box of joy. Own photo.

Unassuming as my Nana (Mary Booth) was perhaps it’s appropriate. For this small dusty box turned out to be, like Nana, full of joy, memories of all those people she held dear during special periods of her & their lives. It covers a period of approximately thirty years from 1942 to 1973 and includes a few pieces that have left me wanting to know more. This blog is broadly in the order in which I unearthed its contents rather than being chronological. I make no apologies for its length as it’s just so full of gems.

Join me as we explore its contents.

A dummy. Own photo.

I’m guessing this dummy belonged to Uncle Richard, Nana’s first born. This is how I knew this was a box of happy memories for Richard was a young man of promise who died before his time, aged just 22, and there is nothing in the box to remind Nana of his end.  

These three items from 1942/3 are the most intriguing in the box. First is a letter written to Mary about a skirt in February 1942. Was it C Babbs, or the skirt, or a reference to having left school which led Nana to keep this letter? Then there was a ticket for “Romany” to which school children were admitted for 6d on 25 April 1942. Was the event itself special or something that happened there? Finally an invite from the Ilkley Youth council to a Social Evening & Dance addressed Miss M Booth, Netherwood, Ilkley in 1943. I wondered who the fifteen-year-old Mary was living with at the time as this was not her parents’ address. And who it was she met there that might have caused her to keep the letter. I’m pretty sure that Grandpy wasn’t yet on the scene.

There’s one more letter from the pre-marriage period. A newsy piece from Maureen of 3 Kimberley Street, Ilkley dated 7 February 1946 with some wonderful snippets. “How is the old engaged couple getting on? I hope Hilda won’t welt me one when she see’s me” and “You’d better behave yourself all these boy friends of yours Walker will be telling you off.” An ex-work colleague who I hope might one day help me identify exactly which establishment in Ilkley helped my Nana learn her trade.

Two cards arrived at Upper West End Farm, Stainburn in September 1962 from Nana’s father, Arthur Booth. It was both the year after his wife, Nana’s Mum, had died and the year before he, too, passed away. One last holiday very different from the rest. One card was addressed to his daughter and son-in-law, the other to his grandson, Richard. It’s not difficult to guess which is which!

I’m not quite sure how Mum’s invite to Dad’s 21st ended up in Nana’s box of joy but it led me to learning a lot more about their engagement which was formally shared with the world at the YFC County Rally in the summer of 1972 being the anniversary of when they first became a couple. Young Farmers has a lot to answer for.

Which is why follows a postcard from Mum & Dad’s honeymoon in June 1973. Apparently, it’s a good job the left the accommodation in Dockray early as they’d only just enough cash to pay for the nights they had stayed. Mum elaborated “We were going to see Cassie as she was meant to be my bridesmaid (and go to her first wedding) but got the ‘kissing’ disease (glandular fever) and was too ill to come.

It is to my Mum’s paternal cousin, Jennifer “Jenny” Barrett, that I owe half of the credit for my first name (the other half of that credit belonging to my Mum’s maternal cousin Jennifer “Jenn” nee Nelson). Jenny Barrett has also sent me so much amazing family history paraphernalia so I was delighted she appeared in this collection. Was this a special holiday?

A wedding gift tag. Own collection.

Talking of Jennifers – it doesn’t surprise me which gift tag Nana kept in this box of joy, one from the, not yet one year old, twin daughters of her beloved sister Hilda, Joan & Jenn.

There is also only one wedding card in the box. Aunty Edie became as close to a grandmother as a great aunt could be to my Mum after Nana’s own mother, Edie’s sister, Marion, died in 1961.

Staying with a wedding theme, next up are the wedding mementos. There’s a blog to be written comparing the cost of my Nana & Grandpy and Grandma & Grandad’s weddings with my own and far more joyful than that of funeral receipts I have inherited (although that, too, might make it to a blog in future….).

My favourite items amongst the receipts and charms are these two. A pouch, which I assume contained Nana’s wedding ring and a tattered receipt for teas and coffees on 5 June 1948 at the Bowes Moor Hotel. This had me scratching my head, why did Nana have a receipt for four teas and coffees from a hotel near Barnard Castle on the day of her wedding? Until I realised this must be in fact four shillings not four drinks and they were on honeymoon!

Card from Grandpy to Nana. Own collection.

I couldn’t decide whether Nana kept this 1959 postcard from Grandpy because he’d had “a grand day”, because it was the first night they’d spent time apart since marrying or because she’d been forced to pay a 1d charge to receive it!

What’s left is an interesting collection.

First there’s a letter from “Aunty Mary” aka Mary Ramsden, wife of Nana’s uncle, Johnny Booth. Mary had a special way with words recognised locally through the publication of her poems in the Wharfedale & Airedale Observer.

Within her book of “Selected Poems” published in 1990 are two which hold a special place in my heart. The first celebrated my Uncle Richard after his early death. The second, “Your Empty Chair” was written following the death of Uncle Jonny and I found considerable solace in after my own husband died.

I still wonder though if this letter only made the cut because of the recipe for Melting Moments captured on the back 😉

Then there is a postcard to Grandpy from his prospective in-laws just two weeks before the wedding. What were they trying to say?

Continuing on the theme of cheeky postcards, I have by now I’ve started to get a sense of my great grandfather, Arthur’s, handwriting and sense of humour. Arthur married Marion in 1925. Marion’s sister, Edith was not to marry Charles Hardy for another decade. I’ve speculated before that Edith may have been kept at home to help, free to marry only after her mother died. Dating this card might well provide a clue. Either way I can see that Grandpy may well have shared a joke with his father-in-law……

Finally, there’s the handkerchief. Mum & I have debated this one. Nana’s WI trips were to The Netherlands and Norway rather than Belgium and as Mum put it “Aunty Hilda helped Mum choose between Dad and Richard Greenwood – no Belgians!” so we didn’t think it was a sweetheart. Was it a gift from a female friend? Nana’s big sister Hilda is conspicuously absent from this box. She was also the more adventurous of the two sisters, so whatever the story behind it I’m going to associate with Aunty Hilda from now.

A painted hanky. Own photo.

I hope you enjoyed this brief peek into Nana’s life, I know I did even if it’s left me with more questions than answers! With much love & gratitude for my Nana who created such a wonderful collection.