“I will lend you, for a little time,
A child of mine, He said.
For you to love the while he lives,
And mourn for when he’s dead.” Edgar Guest (1881-1959)
It is always difficult to comprehend the deaths of the youngest among us. All of us have come across sad family stories. When they involve the death of a baby or young child, we mourn a little with our ancestors. Such is the story of Isabel Bowes Bruce, my second great-grandmother. Isabel married John Bruce in 1864 in County Durham, England. Isabel was 19 and John was 21. They began their married life in the small mining village of Tudhoe where a new coal mine (Tudhoe Colliery) had opened in 1864. John began work there as a miner.
On 4 May 1866, Isabel gave birth to their first child, a baby girl they named Margaret. Between 1866 and 1876, Isabel and John had six children. Sadly, within that same time period, they buried four of their children, three of them were less than a year old. Isabel was often heavily pregnant at the time she was burying one of her babies.
Margaret Bruce, born 4 May 1866. She died 13 months later, aged 1 in 1867. Isabel was about 8 months pregnant with their second child.
Thomas Bruce, born 23 July 1867. He died 7 months later in February 1868.
Margaret Bruce, born 14 May 1869. (My great-grandmother, she died aged 80.)
John Thomas Bruce, born 3 Jan 1873. He died at 2 months old in March 1873. Isabel was pregnant again within a month or so of burying John.
William Bruce, born Oct. 1873. (My great grand-uncle, he died aged 85.)
John Bruce, born 1876. Died, aged 11 in 1887.
Isabel herself died before she was 40 years old, by 1884. Her husband John remarried in March 1884. The marriage certificate states he was a widower. I am quite sure that burying so many of her babies must have taken a toll on Isabel.
In what seems a sad coincidence, Margaret Bruce (born 1869), my great-grandmother, would have the same experience her mother had. She would bear 6 children between 1889 and 1899, four of which she would bury before their second birthdays.
In the coal mining districts of County Durham, England, in the 19th and 20th centuries, almost every colliery (coal mine) had a colliery band. Bands were sponsored by the local mining communities and were a source of great pride for the working men who played in the band and the community who attended their performances. These were brass bands with brass and percussion instruments. My father was about 15 years old when he joined the New Herrington Colliery Band in Houghton-le-Spring, County Durham in 1950.
Formed in the 1900s, the New Herrington Colliery Band became a military style band after the First World War.1 Financial support for the colliery bands came from the coal miners themselves. In 1934, the New Herrington Colliery Band was supported by subscription and a levy of a penny per fortnight from the Herrington Colliery miners.2
Although most of the pits in County Durham have now closed, there are some colliery bands in County Durham and other parts of England which still play on today. One of the most well-known is the Grimethorpe Colliery Band in South Yorkshire. Formed in 1917, the band is one of the most successful and long-lived brass bands. They were the focus of the 1996 British film, “Brassed Off”, which showcased the bands’ struggle to survive after the closure of their pit.
And if you feel like getting your toes tapping, just click below and hear the Grimethorpe Colliery Band playing the William Tell Overture.
Towards the end of 1945, Jean Mary Davis (my second cousin twice removed) married John Clement Rix at St. Mary’s, the parish church at Norton Cuckney in Nottinghamshire1. I recently came across this wonderful photograph of them stepping out of the front doors of the church just after they had been married2.
The war had ended in September of 1945 and perhaps feeling hope for the first time in many years, couples flocked to their local parish churches or registration offices to get married. The Office for National Statistics notes the uptick in marriages in England in 1945. Although the number of marriages dropped during World War 2, by 1945, with the end of the war in sight, the number of marriages began to rise.3
I wondered if the church John and Jean married in was still standing. I was pleased to see that it was. However, what struck me was the change visible in the later photograph I found. A September 2011 photograph (photo credit to Andrew Jackson, user contributed content on Google Maps) shows that the headstones visible in background of the 1945 wedding photograph no longer appear. The actual building itself has not changed but the churchyard definitely has. The blue box outlines the area which appears in the background of the photo of John and Jean.
The only reference I could find as to why the headstones no longer show on the 2011 photograph was from the Southwell and Nottingham Church History Project which stated that, “In 1948 a Faculty was granted to lay down the gravestones in the churchyard.”4 It is possible that the stones were laid flat and that in the intervening 70 years, they have sunk into the ground and grass has grown over them. This is just speculation at this point. If you have any insight into what may have happened, I’d love to hear it!
John Clement Rix and Jean Mary Davis had a very interesting life together. They traveled the world from Hong Kong to South Africa and Northern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). I’m still digging into their story so stop back soon for an update.
This post was written for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Week 23 prompt: Going to the Chapel.
“England & Wales, Marriage Index: 1916-2005,” database, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 4 March 2015), entry for John C. Rix to Davis; citing Worksop district, December [quarter] 1945, vol. 7b: 134. ↩
John C. Rix and Jean M. Davis wedding photograph, 1945; digital copy in Sue McNelly collection, Phoenix, Arizona. ↩
Charlotte Lillie Davis never married and probably would have been known as the maiden aunt of the family. However, that doesn’t mean she never loved nor led a fulfilling and interesting life. She was my second great grand-aunt; a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a niece, and a fiancée.
Very little is known about Charlotte’s fiancé, not even his full name. Official records refer to him only as R.L. Harrison. In 1901 he was with the British Army Post Office Corps, serving in South Africa at the time of the Second Boer War.1 It’s unclear when R.L. Harrison and Charlotte met, but likely Charlotte was already in her late 30s. Charlotte, aged 39, was working as a nurse at Beckett Hospital in Barnsley, Yorkshire in 1901. 2
Their long distance love story is encapsulated in the seven envelopes that are framed, hanging on the wall of my cousin’s home in England. Addressed to Miss L. (Lillie) Davis, they were sent from South Africa by R.L. Harrison, complete with incredibly detailed hand drawn sketches on the front. As befits Private Harrison’s job with the Army Post Office Corps, the franking is very thorough on each envelope. Below are 3 of the 7 envelopes.
Sadly, their love story was short and sweet. R.L. Harrison never returned from South Africa. His exact death date is unknown but in the Roll of Individuals entitled to the South African War Medal he is noted as ‘Deceased’ as of 9th July 1901. 3
Also in my cousin’s possession are Corporal Harrison’s medals. The Queen’s South Africa Medal was presented to British, Imperial and Colonial troops serving in the Boer War. It has bars representing individual campaigns fought in. Corporal Harrison’s medal contains bars for service in the Cape Colony between 11 October 1899 and 31 May 1902, service in the Transvaal between 24 May 1900 and 31 May 1902 and a third bar for service at Wittebergen 1 July 1900.
There is also a British War Medal for Charlotte Lillie with her name, C.L. Davis and S.(Staff) Nurse, 1914-1918 written on it. Charlotte Lillie served in France as a member of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (QAIMNSR), which was the nursing branch of the British Army. 4
Charlotte Lillie fit all the requirements for entry into the QAIMNSR which stated that members were to be over the age of 25, single, educated, of impeccable social standing, and must have completed a three-year course of nurse training in a hospital approved by the War Office. 5
During the time that she served as a Staff Nurse, Charlotte kept a small autograph album which some of the men she was nursing, wrote in. One of the pages is shown in the photocopy below. The large black square is a plaster (bandage) stuck to the page. A transcription of the page follows.
“This court plaster is warranted Not to heal “unkind cuts” “wounded feelings” “injured innocence” “cracked heads” & “broken hearts” ___________
If you should carve the Xmas goose This plaster you may find of use For you’re so kind upon my word You’ll cut yourself and spoil the bird.”
A.W. Narrel. The E/Surreys Ward 22 Sep ’17
To Sister Davis”
Charlotte Lillie Davis never did marry. Perhaps I am being fanciful but I wonder if her heart ever recovered after learning of Corporal Harrison’s death.
After her service in the war, she lived for some time with her older brother, William Davis in Doncaster, Yorkshire. Later, she moved to a Nurse’s Home in Wentworth, West Yorkshire. From 1931 until her death in 1940, Charlotte Lillie lived at 14 Woodland Road, Wath-Upon-Dearne, near Rotherham, Yorkshire.6
14 Woodland Road, Wath-Upon-Dearne, as it appears today.
The maiden aunt of the family perhaps, but so much more. I would have liked to meet her and hear her tell her love story in her own words, and listen as she described her care of the ‘boys’ fighting in France during the Great War.
“Natal & South African Forces Death, 1899 To 1902, Army Post Office Corps”. Database with images, Findmypast.com (www.findmypast.com : accessed April 3, 2018), Roll of Individuals entitled to the South Africa Medal, entry for R.L. Harrison. ↩
“1901 Census for England and Wales,” database, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 February 2004); entry for Charlotte Lillie Davis, Barnsley, Yorkshire West Riding; citing the National Archives, RG 13, piece 4314, Folio 79, p. 1. ↩
“Natal & South African Forces Death, 1899 To 1902, Army Post Office Corps”. Database with images, Findmypast.com (www.findmypast.com : accessed April 3, 2018), Roll of Individuals entitled to the South Africa Medal, entry for R.L. Harrison. ↩
The National Archives (U.K.), “Service Medal and Award Rolls Index, First World War,” database, Discover Our Collections (http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ : accessed 6 April 2018), “Medal Card of Davis, Charlotte Lillie”; citing catalog reference WO 372/23/10656. ↩
West Yorkshire, England, Electoral Registers, 1840-1962, Township of Wath-Upon-Dearne, p. 36 for Davis, Charlotte Lily, 1940, residence 14 Woodland Rd; image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 February 2012). ↩
The family bible is one of the most precious heirlooms a genealogist can have. A few years ago, my father was visiting his brother in England, and the subject of the family bible came up. My uncle was kind enough to pass the bible on to me, knowing of my passion for genealogy. It is a beautiful, large, and heavy bible, about 14 inches x 10 inches and almost 5 inches wide.
Our biggest hurdle was getting the bible from England to the U.S. where I lived. I did not want to send it via the mail. Fortunately, my father was staying at a guest house with a couple from the U.S. who had brought their daughter over to York to begin university. These strangers very kindly offered to bring the bible back with them to the U.S. and send it on to me.
The bible is titled, ‘Brown’s Self Interpreting Bible’ and the cover is embossed leather with metal on each edge and beautifully engraved metal clasps (one of which is missing). The Self Interpreting Bible was Rev. John Brown’s (1722-1787) most successful work. It contained the scriptures with marginal references and explanations for the ordinary person.
The inside of the bible contains beautiful pictures of various bible scenes, in vivid color.
In the middle of the bible are the pages that every genealogist hopes to see. Those that contain handwritten names and dates of birth, marriage and death. I can see from the handwriting that most of the names and dates were written by one person at one time, not at the time of each event. And the names are of only one family, the James Thomas and Margaret Bruce family. They are my great grandparents, who lived in County Durham, England. 1
James Thomas was born in 18622 in Medomsley, Durham, and Margaret Bruce was born in 18663 in Sherburn, Durham. They married in 1888 at Bethany Church 4, a Christian Lay Church in Sunderland, Durham.
James and Margaret Thomas went on to have six children with only two surviving infancy. Those names are written in their bible. How sad it must have been to write down the death dates of their precious little ones.
The Thomas family bible is a valuable resource but it is more than that. To me it is the precious feeling of being able to hold in my hands something that I know my great grandparents once treasured.
Thomas Family Bible, The Holy Bible (Newcastle Upon Tyne: Adam & Co. Lmt), “Births, Deaths”; privately held by Sue McNelly, [address for private use,] Arizona, 2010. ↩
England, birth certificate for James Thomas, born 29 January 1862; registered March quarter 1862, Durham District 10a/265, Lanchester Sub-district, Durham; General Registry Office, Southport. ↩
England, birth certificate for Margaret Bruce, born 4 May 1866; registered June quarter 1866, Durham District 10a/365, Saint Nicholas Sub-district, Durham; General Registry Office, Southport. ↩
England, marriage certificate for James Thomas and Margaret Bruce, married 3 March 1888, registered March quarter 1888, Sunderland District 10a/715, Bethany Church, Durham; General Registry Office, Southport. ↩
Longevity (or in my coal mining ancestors, the lack thereof)
Coal mining was not an occupation that promoted longevity in those who worked from before daybreak to after dark, six out of seven days a week, month after month and year after year. Most miners began work down the mines as young as age 8. Back breaking, dangerous and physically exhausting labor, accidents and disease, most often meant that many miners never reached old age. While David Bellis, a Welsh coal miner, and my 2nd great grandfather, lived to the age of 81 and his son, John Bellas (the name is spelled both Bellis and Bellas in the records), my great grandfather, lived to age 78, the majority of their sons and extended family died fairly young. All of them spent their entire working lives in the mine.
Year of Birth
Year of Death
Age at death
John Bellis (3rd great grandfather)
John Bellis (2nd great granduncle)
Hugh Bellis (2nd great granduncle)
David Bellis (2nd great grandfather)
John Bellas (Great grandfather)
John W. Bellis (1st Cousin 3R)
Thomas Bellas (Great granduncle)
William Bellas (Great granduncle)
Tom Bellas (granduncle)
John William Bellis died while working in Etherley Colliery near Escomb, County Durham, England in 1883. John was an Incline Man which was someone who “attended to work on an incline plane”. The Mine Inspectors Report described the accident as “died from the effects of a sprain received on 22nd January last while lifting a tub on the way.” Sadly, John was only 23 years old.
Read any of the historical data on mining deaths in England in the 1800s and you will come across lives lost far too young. The risk of accidental death or disease was high but for many families of Northeast England it was the only occupation open to them.
“The little trapper of eight years of ages lies quiet in bed…It is now between two and three in the morning, and his mother shakes him, and desires him to rise, and tells him that his father has an hour ago gone off to the pit. He turns on his side, rubs his eyes, and gets up, and comes to the blazing fire, and puts on his clothes. His coffee, such as it is, stands by the side of the fire, and bread is laid down for him…He then fills his tin bottle with coffee, and takes a lump of bread, and sets out for the pit, into which he goes down in the cage, and walking along the horseway for upwards of a mile…He knows his place of work. It is inside one of the doors called trap-doors, for the purpose of forcing the stream of air, which passes in its long, many miled course from the down shaft to the up-shaft of the pit; but which door must be opened whenever men or boys, with or without carriages, may wish to pass through. He seats himself in a little hole, about the size of a common fire-place, and with the string in his hand: and all his work is to pull that string when he has to open the door, and when man or boy has passed through, then to allow the door to shut itself…He may not stir above a dozen steps with safety from his charge, lest he should be found neglecting his duty, and suffer for the same. He sits solitary by himself, and has no one to talk to him; …. For he himself has no light. His hours, except at such times, are passed in total darkness. For the first week of his service in the pit his father had allowed him candles to light one after another, but the expense of three halfpence a-day was so extravagant expenditure out of ten pence, the boy’s daily wages, that his father, of course, withdrew that allowance the second week, all except one or two candles in the morning, and the week after the allowance was altogether taken away; and now, except a neighbour kinder than his father now and then drop him a candle, as he passes, the boy has no light of his own.” Dr. Mitchell’s report of the Collieries of South Wales, Children in Mines and Collieries, 1839, p38-39. “The History of Mining in Durham & Northumberland”, Newcastle University, (http://www.ncl.ac.uk/library/services/education-outreach/outreach/mining/children.php : accessed 17 January 2018).
Many years ago I received the birth certificate for my great-grandfather James Thomas, born in Medomsley, County Durham, England in 1862. I knew his parents to be William and Susan Thomas, but I had not been able to find Susan’s maiden name. I eagerly opened the envelope anticipating the beautifully written maiden name of my great great grandmother. It was not to be. The handwriting, while not the worst I have ever seen, was not that easily read:
From James’ birth record I was able to make out that Susan was formerly BASH-something. It looked like it could be BASHLON, BASHLOW, or BASHTON. I noticed too that Susan was not able to sign her name and instead had added her mark (x).
Using James as a starting point I was able to find the family on the 1871 U.K. census. This gave me the names of some of James’ siblings, specifically of his older brother, William Henry Thomas. I sent off for William Henry’s birth certificate, hoping for better handwriting that would confirm his mother Susan’s maiden name.
While waiting for the birth certificate to arrive from London I began a search to see if I could locate a marriage record between William Thomas and Susan BASH-(something). I was fairly confident that the maiden name began with ‘Bash’ as those were the 4 letters I could easily read. No luck!
Six weeks later I had my hands on William Henry Thomas’ birth certificate. The handwriting was better and there was Susan’s maiden name …. BASTON. Not what I was expecting to find.
What I had thought was BASH-(something) was now BASTON. The 1871 U.K. census had shown that William Henry Thomas had been born in Cardiganshire, Wales but that he had an older sister, Mary Ann Thomas who had been born in St. Agnes, Cornwall circa 1857. Hoping that Mary Ann Thomas was their first child, I began a new search for a marriage record for William Thomas and Susan BASTON, in Cornwall in the years before 1857. The search was negative again. Using FreeBMD I was able to search for all marriages between 1850 and 1857 (when Mary Ann was born), with William Thomas and Susan (leaving out any last name) as parents, and across all districts and all counties in the U.K. I received 44 results. I searched through each one looking at the maiden name of the bride. The only record which came close was a marriage between William Thomas and a Susan BOSTON, in Aberystwyth, Wales in 1854. Could they have met and married in Wales, moved back to Cornwall and had Mary Ann Thomas there in 1857, and returned to Wales where William Henry Thomas was born in 1859?
Working backwards from the 1871 census to the 1861 and 1851 U.K.censuses I was able to track the family’s movements and noted that in 1851 William Thomas, aged 17, was living with his parents in the village of Goginan, Melindwr, Cardiganshire, Wales which is within the Aberystwyth registration district. The FreeBMD marriage index I had previously found seemed to be the right one.
So far my search for Susan’s maiden name had resulted in:
1854: Marriage of William Thomas and Susan BOSTON
1859: Birth of son William Henry Thomas – mother’s maiden name BASTON
1862: Birth of son James Thomas – mother’s maiden name BASH-(lon, ton, low, tow)
The recent launch of birth, marriage and death indexes at the General Register Office in England has given genealogists the opportunity to search for births with a maiden name, which was not possible before (only available now for births before 1911). I began to search for each of William and Susan’s children with the following results:
1857: Birth of Mary Ann Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BACTIAN)
1859: Birth of William Henry Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BASTON)
1862: Birth of James Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BASHTON)
1864: Birth of Emma Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BASHTON)
1867: Birth of Matilda Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BASHTON)
1869: Birth of Elizabeth Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BUSHTON)
1879: Birth of Joseph Thomas (mother’s maiden name is BASHTON)
This is certainly a great way to get a first look at information before ordering a certificate.
You would think that with BASHTON being the most commonly occurring name in all the records so far that I would be fairly confident in thinking that to be Susan’s maiden name. The other variations of the name can be ascribed to the fact that it’s probable neither Susan or her husband William were able to write their names (they always used their mark ‘x’ in place of a signature) and BASHTON can easily sound like BASTON or BOSTON or BUSHTON to the person they were reporting the birth to. Right?
Wrong! Using her ages given on the various census to come up with an approximate birth year, my searches for a birth record for a Susan BASHTON born about 1837 in Chacewater, Cornwall were all negative. However, an 1851 Welsh census record for a family with a daughter named Susannah, born about 1837 in ‘Chesswater, Cornwall’ caught my eye. This family was living in Melindwr, Cardiganshire, putting them in the same place as William Thomas and his family, at the same time. And the last name of the family was BASTIAN.
A quick look back at the birth of Mary Ann Thomas (first child of William and Susan Thomas) revealed that the maiden name of the mother was BACTIAN, only a slight variation from BASTIAN. Unfortunately, despite searching through parish records, page by page, and surrounding parishes to Chacewater, Cornwall, I have not been able to find Susan BASTIAN’s birth or christening record.
My confidence in Susan’s maiden name as BASTIAN comes from:
Susan’s parents and siblings are recorded as BASTIAN on the 1841 and 1851 census.
In 1841 Susan and her family are living in Kerley Downs, Kea, Cornwall. Kerley Downs is described as a very small moorland to the southeast of Chacewater. There are 7 very large BASTIAN families living there.
The christening records for all of Susan’s younger siblings show BASTIAN as the last name.
The marriage record for Susan’s parents, John and Susanna Evans, shows the last name as BASTIAN.
Susan’s father, John was christened in 1805 as ‘John, son of Henry BASTIAN’
It is an interesting lesson in not always believing the first record you find. Had I not gone any further than the first 2 birth certificates ordered I would today have in my records a great great grandmother with the incorrect maiden name of Bashton. And while the General Register Office search facility is extremely helpful in being able to provide results coupled with a maiden name, those results must always be corroborated with further proof. This is the emphasis of the third point of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) – all information, sources, and evidence must be analyzed and conflicting evidence resolved, resulting in a credible conclusion. And of course, all of this rests on the first point of the GPS, reasonably exhaustive research. My search therefore continues to find Susan’s birth record and confirm that Susan’s maiden name was in fact BASTIAN.