52 Weeks – Strong Women

Gravestone of Charlotte Blaker

The theme this week is Strong Women, timed to coincide with International Women’s Day.

To me, a strong woman is someone who shows grit and strength of character in the face of adversity. Someone who just keeps on keeping on. These are the sort of characteristics that are hard to tell over centuries based only official records. Those women I  knew personally who were strong I can’t describe here.  It is too personal to me and my relationship with them.

However, when I am working on my family tree there are women where I read through the record who I think “How did you manage that? That sounds terribly hard!” Those are the situations I shall describe here. I may even be able to find some names that go with the situations!


Before the days of modern medical practices, vaccines and antibiotics the death rate for infants was very high. There is family after family in my tree where multiple children die at just a few years old.

My 3x G grandmother Charlotte Eccott Blaker (1803-1877) had 15 children, 8 of whom died as infants.

Large Family

My Mum had a saying that “You lost a tooth for every child that you had”  While, luckily, this is no longer the case with modern nutrition it is a saying that showed how hard it was on a woman’s body having child after child.

There were some physically strong women in my family. Charlotte Eccott Blaker, that I mentioned previously had 15 children and lived to the age of 74. Agnes Mary Griggs Newall (1858-1943), the wife of my 2xG Uncle,  had 8 children and lived until she was 83.


Many women were widowed relatively early leaving them bringing up a young family. I see them year after the in the census eking out a living as boarding house owners or laundresses.  Hard physical work and low pay, but keeping a roof over the family’s head.


In the 1800’s transportation to Australia was a common punishment for a range of crimes. In 1839, my 19 year old  4x G Uncle Emanuel Cook was transported to Australia for burglary.  He served his sentence, married, had children and died there at the age of 59. He may have been a bad un’ but his mother, Elizabeth Abbott Cook my 4-G grandmother and his sisters never saw him again


Around the turn on the C19 emigration to America, Canada and Australia was at its height. The majority of the families in my tree at that time have at least one member that tried their luck in the ‘Land of Opportunity’. In today’s time of instant communication, it is hard to imagine what it was like to wave your family off and then not hear from them again for weeks. Maybe only seeing them every 10 years or so. That must have been a bereavement in itself.


Women’s stories are harder to track down than men’s. Their names are lost and their achievements are less likely to be recorded. It is a source of frustration to me that I can only track my direct female line back to my 4x G Grandmother in Freystrop, Wales.

My life is so much easier my life is than my ancestors’ lives were. I have experinced better healthcare, fewer deaths and less physical labour. I count myself lucky that I have not needed to be as strong as many of them.



52 Weeks – Heirloom

Wooden lasts

Many of the heirlooms I have are a bit of a mystery to me. I discovered a number of family items in the attic when I cleared the house after my Mum died. These included items belonging to my paternal Grandma, who lived with us for a number of years until she died. Identifying who heirlooms belonged to is a puzzle, largely based on which box I found the item in and what else was in the box!

These shoemakers’ lasts came from a box belonging to my Grandma. So, despite the fact I know there are shoemakers and cordwainers on my Mum’s side – mostly following the military around (who always need boots!), I must deduce they belong to her side of the family.

Who does my heirloom belong to?

Wandering back up Grandma’s family tree I can only find a couple of Shoemakers and Bootmakers in the census records. My 3x Great Grandfather Thomas Wood and his son Thomas. I guess they are his!

The elder Thomas Wood was born in Chevening, Kent in 1798 and after he married Sophia Bowles in 1822 he moved about 10 miles to Farningham, in Kent where he stayed for the rest of his life. It appears that Farningham was a thriving community with up to 6 stagecoaches passing through each day, so I guess there were enough people to provide a shoemaker with a living. His 4th child, Jane was my 2xGreat Grandmother.

The unanswered question this leaves me with is “Are these lasts actually old enough to be his?” There is very little wear on them and internet searching has not revealed much to help me date them.

So, what can I tell?

  • The lasts are small and narrow compared to modern shoes and are shaped, so you can tell the right foot from the left.
    • This shaping of lasts came in from the mid C19.
  • They have L & R stamped on them in a serif font that is consistent with the time.
  • If I look more closely at how they were made they do seem to straddle that boundary between machine manufacture and handmade items.
    • The screw mechanism is machined, the slot for the metal bar is hand chiselled. The handle for the screw was turned on a lathe.
    • This is consistent with the late C19 when industrialisation was on the rise.

I will continue to search for more information about shoemaking at the end of the C19 but, for the moment, I am satisfied that these lasts belonged to GGG Grandad Thomas Wood!


52 Weeks – Favourite Name

And of course, I’m going to cheat and do two! They are both women and I love these names because they are different from the from the unremitting list of Elizabeths, Marys and Anns that most people in my tree named their daughters.


Wilmot Phillipa Honey,  my 4x G Grandmother, was born in  1764 in Buckland Monachorum, Devon. The family, so far as I can tell, were agricultural labourers. Stubbs’ painting of haymakers dates from about the time that Wilmot was 20.


Haymakers 1785 by George Stubbs
Haymakers 1785 George Stubbs

Honey is such a lovely word isn’t it? It conjures up the feelings of something sweet, golden and soothing. I imagined my ancestor would be golden-haired, until I realised that, coming from Devon, she was likely to have been Celtic and have had dark hair.

Wilmot is apparently a diminutive version of William. It is an uncommon girl’s name and may have been a family name. Sadly none of her children have equally  interesting names


Rosetta Elizabeth Ford was born in Bethnal Green, Middlesex in 1831.

Effie Grey by Millais
Effie Grey by Millais

Rosetta was not a name I had found before and, as two of her daughters have Rosetta included in their name, I was getting quite excited about this being a way to trace the family line through the generations.

A short trawl through the census made me realise that it wasn’t an uncommon name at all! Lots of girls in London at that time had Rosetta somewhere in their name.

The Rosetta Stone reached the British Museum at the beginning of the 19th C and it seems an awful lot of girls were named after it! I realised that it was probably the equivalent of the ways we name children after celebrities these days. Another bright idea hits the dust….

52 Weeks – In the Census

There have been 8 censuses released in the UK.  These show the population every 10 years from the earliest in 1841 to the most recent release in 1911.

It is fascinating to see how the amount of information gathered by the enumerator has grown over the decades.

Basic at First

The earliest one, in 1841, was the simplest. It contained a person’s address,  name, gender, age, occupation and whether they were born in the locality.  As the years progressed the government realised the opportunity to gather more information and started to gather the relationships between people in a household and where they were born.

This information is a treasure trove for people looking for their family history. (Like me!)  The combination and age, place of birth, relationship to others in the household and occupation helps us confirm that we are identifying the same people census to census. It’s not foolproof of course. People forget how old they are, or where they were born. Or lie….. But you can track households down the years with a fair amount of confidence.

And the Children?

One piece of information that we love to pick up from the census is the children in the family. But one of the things that you are never quite sure of is whether you have them all. If a child was born and died between censuses then they don’t show up and you don’t know if you need to try and track anyone down.

The 1911 census added significantly more information to the form, including the number of years a couple had been married, the number of children born to a couple, and the number still living. This is so helpful when trying to identify the number of children in a family, but does highlight the high infant mortality rate, even at the beginning the 20th century.

This snippet here from the 1911 record of my 3x great Uncle John Mercer shows that he and his wife Emma had had 9 children in their 44 years of marriage, but only 5 were still living. 4 of their sons died before the age of 4. I cannot imagine how hard that was for them.

52 Weeks – Longevity

Max age, cleaned up

Most people are aware that hereditary impacts longevity. One question I get asked in a number of roundabout ways by family members is “Will I live a long life?”

Data – I have data!

Manipulating a Gedcom is a pain in the derriere, but Mac Family Tree does some simple reports so what can I see from that?

My family tree is quite broad.  For each of my ancestors, I like to identify their siblings and their siblings’ partners and children in order to get as full a view as possible of their lives. My family goes back 10 generations and contains over 1100 people – small by some people’s I know. But quite a lot of work none the less! Most of the people in my tree date from post-1837, as that is when the Registration Act required everyone to register births, marriages and deaths, and this data is easily available online along with subsequent censuses.

MAx age of full tree

Maybe this is a bit too raw. Not all of those people are related to me, never mind direct ancestors.

OK, so I’ll prune out all the spouses of cousins, and their parents, siblings, nephews and nieces that I have.  That leaves me with how many people? Just over 900. And how good is the quality of the data I have? Not as good as I thought. One branch of the family, that I thought I had covered is no more than a series of name placeholders really. Drat.

Let me go and sort them out!

Oooh – what’s that I’ve found? A man that married his wife’s sister when his first wife died? No – leave it alone, you are getting distracted……

So, How are we doing for Longevity?

Max age, cleaned up

As an analysis it is crude but my conclusion is – not badly, but not brilliantly. The curve peaks at 70/75 for both men and women, and there is not a centenarian in sight! Women do quite well at getting into their 90’s though…..

You can see that sad spike at the beginning showing just how many children died under the age of 5 before the days of modern medicine. What doesn’t show in this view, is that longevity has steadily increased in my family over the C20.

OK then family, you’ll probably make your 3 score years and 10 but after that, your genetics aren’t much help.

Maybe this means I should squander my pension on travel and fine living, but in the meantime, I’m just off down to the gym……

52 Weeks – Favourite Photo

Grandparents and map

Oh, what a dilemma! Out of all of the photos I have which one is my favourite?

OK, I know which one it is!

And now I’ve decided, where is it??

<Comes back two days later having finally found the correct box. I really must organise these photos somehow…>

Here is it! Well, it’s not one photo, it’s two photos, but they are a matching pair. And it’s left me with a quandary.

Should I even share this?

Favourite Photo of Grandparents


That’s quite shocking these days, isn’t it? Could someone take it seriously?

But, it is what it is, a window into the past. Let me tell you about it.

It is of my grandparents, Mick and Babs Mercer in about 1934. Not a studio picture, but a couple of snaps that they took themselves. It is my favourite as it shows both my Grandma’s wry and dry sense of humour and the fun she and Grandad had together when they were young and courting.

This pair of photos is them in their cycling gear and Grandma labelled it “Heil Hitler”.  The title is in mockery, not admiration and refers to the similarity of what they are wearing to the uniform of the Hitler Youth Movement. It is before the start of WWII and the later atrocities.

As a photo of its time, it is interesting to me that the rise of Fascism in Germany was newsworthy enough for it to be part of popular culture. It gives an insight into what mattered to them in their world.

When they were courting, and after they were married they used to have days out and holidays by tandem – hence the cycling gear. Here is a corner of a cloth map of the S.W. London Area that they used to plan their trips. The red lines show footpaths. I wonder how many still exist.

Map of S W London 1934



52 Weeks – Start

Engraving of shipwright

I recently found Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” challenge. The premise of it is that every week she sends a prompt as a basis for a story about an ancestor and then you write whatever comes to mind based on that prompt. So here we go!

This week’s prompt is “Start”. A good question – where do I start? Well, I suppose I can go back to why I started.

Once upon a time….

My Dad’s mother lived with us while I was growing up, she was from a large, extended family and was always telling tales of family events and family jokes and rituals.  As a result, my ancestors and distant cousins have always been very real to me, even though I never met many of them. Through her stories I know their names, their habits and foibles.

Grandma was interested in family history and had a family tree written by one of her cousins. This is now a prized possession of mine as it was written decades before the internet, solely from personal knowledge. It describes the family they knew, with the names that people were actually known by, not just the ones they were christened with.

My first forays into building a family tree were based on conversations with family members and looking at old family birth certificates that I found. I focussed on names and dates for many years as that was all I had available to me.

Happily ever after!

My interest in family history took a huge step forward when information previously kept in archives around the country was digitised and available on the internet.  I can now build the tree further back in time and love to verify family stories from my youth. “What was the name of the pub that G-G- Grandad used to run?”. “Who did go to America?”.

Sadly, of course, by the time it occurred to me to ask “Why” most of my older relatives had died.

The questions that interest me these days are those about the lives my ancestors lived. What did their job entail? Which political events did they live through? What did their home look like? How could they have met their partner? The 52 Ancestors challenge will push me to dig further and learn more about how people lived in past centuries.

Ancestor Story : Alexander Ford 1789 – 1851

Alexander Ford was born in 1789 in Isleworth, Middlesex,  a small community consisting mainly of market gardens and orchards. George III was on the throne and William Pitt the Younger was the Prime Minister.

Marriage and Family

He and Elizabeth Jones married on 11th July 1808 at St John, Hackney, the parish where they both lived. Both of them were literate and able to sign their names in the register. Elizabeth was about 18 at the time of the marriage and Alexander about 19.

They are my 5x G Grandparents and their first son, Alexander William Ford and my 4xG Grandad was born 22nd February 1809.

He was christened in the Parish of St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch.

Alexander and Elizabeth went on to have a further 9 children,

Name Birth Death Where Born
Alexander William 1809 1852 Georges Yard
Elisabeth 1811 May Bush Court
William Henry 1812 May Bush Court
Amelia Middleton 1814 1885
Maria 1816 1874 May Bush Court
Emma 1818 May Bush Court
Frances 1820 Ann Street
Matilda 1823 Pollard Street, Bethnal Green
Robert 1825 Pollard Street, Bethnal Green
Louisa Duesbury 1826 1870 Pollard Street, Bethnal Green


Alexander started his working life as an oil-cloth painter. Before the invention of plastic, and modern waterproofing materials the only way to make cloth waterproof was to impregnate it with linseed oil. Oil cloth was a hard wearing, practical fabric used for everything from luggage bindings and waterproof coats, to tablecloths and floor coverings. It was popular because it was much cheaper than leather, the main alternative.

Alexander’s progression in business can be seen through his children’s baptism and marriage records and the censuses.

In records from 1814- 1823 he is described as an oil-cloth painter. From 1825, when his son Robert was baptised has is described as an oil-cloth manufacturer.  The will that  Alexander made in 1836, shows this was a family business. In the will leaves his business holdings in the firm of  George Ford, Alexander Ford, and Daniel Ford to his wife Elizabeth. Censuses and electoral rolls indicate that  Daniel and George are both of an age to be his brothers

His standing was obviously quite high in later life. His youngest daughter, Louisa, married a Gentleman- a man of independent means.

1841 Census

The family was living at 3 Cambridge Place, Shoreditch. This is no longer standing. A comparison of old and modern maps indicates this house was probably swallowed up when the railway was built.

1851 Census

By 1851 the only child left at home was Maria, who was unmarried. The family was living around the corner from Cambridge Place at  25 The Oval, where Alexander remained for the rest of his life. Again, this building is no longer standing.


Alexander died in 1851. His goods and chattels at that time were recorded as being worth less than £450.

Transcript of Will

In the name of God Amen

I Alexander Ford in the Parish of Saint Leonard Shoreditch in the County of Middlesex Table Cover Manufacturer being of sound mind memory and understanding but knowing that it is appointed for all men to die do make this my last will and Testament. I give and bequeath all my Property invested in the Firm of George Ford Alexander Ford and  Daniel Ford  and all my money Household goods and Chattels and effects of what nature or kind soever and where soever the same shall be at the time of my decease I give the same and every part thereof to my wife Elizabeth Ford for her sole use and benefit and I do nominate constitute and appoint my said wife Elizabeth Ford my Sole Executrix of this my last Will and Testament in witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and Seal  this Twenty Seventh day of February in the year of Our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty Six.

Alexander Ford

Signed sealed and published by the above named Alexander Ford in the presence of us who at his request and in his presence have subscribed our names as Witness there to

Amos Boorman

James Amos Boorman”

Ancestor Story – William Blaker 1805 -1874

William Blaker, my 3x G Grandfather,  was born in 1805 in Southampton, Hampshire. The Napoleonic Wars started in 1803 and the town was prospering as a consequence of the soldiers passing through the port. New dockyards were built along the river Itchen in the first half on the 19C  and William trained as a shipwright, a trade that required an apprenticeship of seven years.

The Shipwright

Shipwrights built the external structure of ships and most of the internal fittings. They were also responsible for repairs when the ships returned to port.

The main tools of the working shipwright were

  • the adze, to trim the timber
  • the auger to bore holes in timber and planks. Wooden treenails were driven into these to join them together.
  • A large hammer called a mall, to drive treenails in.
  • Two-man cross-cut saws and single handsaws. Good sawing meant less work with the adze.
  • Heavy axes and hatchets for hewing
  • Hacksaws and cold chisels to cut bolts to length.

Iron nails were used to fasten the deck planks. Up until the mid-late 19C ships were built of oak, but as the century wore on ships began to be made of steel and the skills of the shipwright needed to expand.

The Blaker Family

William married Charlotte Eccott on March 17 1831 when he was 26 and she was 28.

They had 15 children together, but only 7  survived to adulthood.

Name Degree of Kinship Born Died
James Blaker Son abt 1832 1901
William Henry Blaker Son 1833 1835
George William Blaker Son 1835 1903
Emily Mary Blaker Daughter 1837 1881
Charlotte Elizabeth Blaker Daughter 27 Sep 1838 1909
Eliza Ann Blaker Daughter abt 1840  aft 1860
Fanny Escott Blaker Daughter abt 1842 1917
Eleanor Blaker Daughter September 1842 1842
Matilda Jane Blaker Daughter 1843 1844
Amelia Blaker Daughter abt 1845 1851
Maurice Blaker Son August 1846 1846
Kate Blaker Daughter January 1848 1848
Harry Edward Blaker Son 1849 1849
Alice Clara Blaker Daughter July 1850  aft 1881
Henry Blaker Son April 1852 1852

Census Entries


In 1841 the family were living in Bevois Street in the Chapel area of Southampton (the census return did not record the house number). The houses were built in 1830 so were quite new. A map of the time,  shows the houses have gardens. His eldest son James was 9, George was 5, Emily was 4, Charlotte was 2 and the youngest Eliza was 1. They had already lost a son, William (1833 – 1835). There was also 15 year old Elizabeth Blake living with them as a female servant.


By 1851 the family had moved to the Northam area of the town and were living at 67 Northam Road. His sons James (19) and George (15) were both shipwrights apprentices. As they lived at home it is a reasonable assumption that William was their apprentice master. Apprentice masters got the majority of the wages of the apprentice and this enhanced the family income. The family group at this time also included Emily Mary (14). Charlotte (12), Ann Eliza (or Eliza Ann!) (11), Fanny (9),  Amelia (6) and Clara (8 mo).

5 other children had been born and died in the intervening 10 years, Eleanor, Matilda Jane, Maurice, Kate and Harry Edward.  Amelia would die later that year.

Between 1842 and 1849 William and Charlotte lost 6 of their children. There were waves of cholera epidemics in Southampton at this time and some of these children may have succumbed in those.


By 1861 the family had moved closer to the docks at 133 Northam Road. Although this part of the town has largely been rebuilt since then and house numbers are hard to identify, we can tell from the census that the family was living near Union Street, as this was the preceding page in the census. The only part of this streetscape left in modern times is the Prince of Wales pub. I expect that my GGG Grandfather drank here!

A map of the area in 1870 can be found on the Southampton City Council site.

It can be seen from the map that they lived close to the Linseed Mills and Artificial Manure works, the Soap and Candle Works, and the Northam Iron works which was next to the actual dockyard, and the river. The smell around there must have been quite dreadful!

The children living at home in 1861 were George (26) who was now a trained shipwright, Charlotte (22) and Fanny (19) – both working as dressmakers, and Alice (11). Also living with them is Charlotte’s 3-year-old daughter Amelia J Blaker, born in Lambeth, Surrey.  Charlotte had married Henry Greatourex in January 1860 but it appears was neither living with him, nor had taken his name at this point.

William and Charlotte had also lost another child, Henry, who was born and died in 1852.


In 1871 I can find no record of William Blaker’s family, although there are records for some of the married children.

William died on the 15th November 1874 aged 70. He is buried in the Old Southampton Churchyard. His wife Charlotte and son George William were later buried with him.


Why I’m a fan of FAN clubs

Bowling Trophy 1939

FAN is an acronym for Family/Friends Associates & Neighbours and is a concept I came across when I signed up for Amy Johnson Crow’s 31 days to Better Genealogy. The genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills is famous for promoting this technique.

What is a FAN club?

The basic principle of a FAN club is that our ancestors were all part of communities. Just like us today, they worked and socialised with the same groups of people over a period of months and years.  These were their friends and family, their associates and their neighbours. So FAN clubs are the groups of people that your ancestors knew, interacted with on a regular basis, did business with and even married.

I love this as an approach as, while some people’s goal is to trace their family tree back as far as they can go, mine has always been to find out as much about each family grouping as I can. This means I already have a good set of information to mine.

How do you use it?

I used this technique just yesterday while trying to find information about the death of a relative, Mavis.

An internet search brought up a 2 line death notice from  Warwickshire giving a date of death and the church where the memorial service was held. This looked promising. Her name was right, the year was credible, the memorial service was held at a Methodist church and she was a regular churchgoer. However, I had no record of her living in Warwickshire so I could not be certain if this was her, or another person of the same name.  It was good information, but not good enough.

A longer internet search found me a mention of her name in a Church newsletter dated a month or two later.  The church was also Methodist but was close to the last address I had for her in Essex.  It mentioned her death as a previous member of that church and, Oh look! There was the name of her husband too.  That was good enough for me.

The FAB club information was what made the information complete enough for to me. The congregation were not part of her family, but were her regular associates. The fact that Mavis was a regular churchgoer in the Methodist church clinched it. Tying the newsletter together with the death notice meant that my Mavis and their Mavis were the same person.

Why use a FAN club?

It’s like doing a jigsaw. Fill in the pieces around the one you are looking for and you get a much better understanding of the shape of the missing information. Sometimes you will find what you are looking for as part of searching the FAN club.  If not, you then will have a much better idea of what to look for next.