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.
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.