Since I don’t know how long, I have been interested in my Grandmothers lives, probably because my own Mum was brought up mainly by her Gran (my Great Gran) and always spoke of her with love and longing.
My Auntie Sylvia got Mum interested in our family genealogy about thirty years ago and together they painstakingly tracked down many of our antecedents without the help of computers or the internet. Auntie Sylvia did eventually get a pc and loaded all the data onto a CD and posted it out to me so I could share in the journey of discovery they were so engrossed in. When the disc arrived I popped it into my imac and discovered to my Mum’s dismay that it wouldn’t open on my system. I didn’t think much about it and stuck it out of the way in my desk drawer, until about 2 years ago when I got a new imac and decided to give it another go and voila! there it all was. I was at first overwhelmed at the depth and breadth of my Aunt’s research, she had created an amazing record that spread back hundreds of years.
Today I have found a new enthusiasm for this research in part because of the results of a DNA test that family members, a good friend and myself completed. The results were astounding, we discovered that Mum, myself and my son were all distantly related to my very good friend who had been adopted in London in the 1950’s and had absolutely no clue about her birth family!
The good news for her was that the DNA also threw up some second cousin clues and eventually she discovered who her birth mother was and where her family had all come from. The very interesting part for me was that we are not related to her cousin on that side and so we possibly hold some clues to the origin of her birth father.
So started my renewed enthusiasm to find out something/anything I could that might lead to the identity of her Father. Hah! how naive could I be? Our relatedness is distant and points to us sharing 4th or 5th great grandparents.
At times I get overwhelmed with the enormity of this search, tracking down siblings, partners and the offspring of our ancestors can be difficult and at times impossible as they spread out around the globe. I am really grateful to my cousin Lynn who had done lots of research and sourced birth, marriage and death certificates to verify many of our family connections and also to those un-met distant cousin who are researching their part of our shared ancestry.
However the reason I am writing this today is to express my gratitude to all the Grandmothers who came before me and my sadness that there is so little known about their (sometimes very short) lives. The grandfathers retain their names, and their occupations are noted in census’, military records, maritime records, miners lists, newspapers, probate and parish records. There are many stories that surround the lives of our fairly well documented Grandfathers. The grandmothers are noted only as ‘wife’, ‘widow’ and ‘spouse’ and often even their maiden names are absent from the records.
Many of my grandmothers had up to 18 babies with too many dying before their 2nd birthdays, those babies that survived were often given the name of their deceased predecessors, perhaps it helped with the grieving to rename them in this way. Some of the Grandmothers died in childbirth or within a few weeks of it, leaving widowers who married very quickly, probably out of need for a mother for their children. Many of the grandmothers were under the age of 16 when they married and then inevitably had a child every year until they or their husband died or for the lucky few they became too old to have any more. In the few cases where a grandmothers signature was required (on a marriage certificate for instance) she would leave her ‘mark’ as very few of my grandmothers could read or write.
I am also curious about whether these amazing courageous women even wanted to marry, it’s only recently in the last 100 years or so that women had any choice in who or if they married, how many of my grandmothers were ‘given’ by fathers to husbands they neither knew, liked or wanted.
So as I work in my studio, from the secure knowledge and privilege of a tertiary education, knowing I will not die of hunger or one day have no home, that I don’t ever have to travel to unknown lands to give my children a chance at a better life, with the support of husband and community and the sheer luck of living past childbirth (I had puerperal fever), I am grateful to each and every one of my Grandmothers as without their determination to survive and keep their children alive I would not be here today.
My new print work is made with them in mind. I see them in my minds eye standing at the entrance to the copper mines, or pacing the shores of Cornwall gazing out to sea for the glimpse of a sail, and also in their modest homes wondering always “will he come home tonight?, will I be able to feed my children? or, will we end up in the workhouse?” I acknowledge the courage they must have had to keep going on after the deaths of their babies, the famines, and to board sailing ships and travel for months to strange and hostile new worlds, to endure the workhouses that some of them died in. I am awed that these (sometimes nameless) grandmothers endured through all those hundreds of years and I still carry their DNA today. These are my ‘marks’ left for my Grandmothers.
You are not forgotten and I dedicate my work to you all whether named or un-named, Elizabeth A. Edwards 1902-1983, Florence H. Sumners 1898-1977, Mary Speake 1875-1974, Mary Ellis 1855-?, Elizabeth Shutt 1867-1938, Catherine Tellum 1864-1946, Mary Kempster 1827-1901, Frances ? 1837, Hannah Davidge 1831-1906, Catherine J. Nicholls 1843-1922, Mary Anne ? 1804-1880, Mary Henshaw 1811-1833, Hannah ? 1765-1799, Jane ? 1801, Hannah Broad 1793-1837, Mary ? 1714-1748, Elizabeth Greenfield 1730, Sarah Philips 1714 and her mother in law Elizabeth, Sarah Shoulder 1693, Margaret Lidgitter 1703, Esther Rogers, Mary Webster 1800-1874, Elizabeth Noble 1785-1865, Grace Hocken 1773, Elizabeth Bennatts, Sarah Pooley 1753-1818, Elizabeth Keast 1753-1856, Elizabeth Thomas 1718, Elizabeth Paull 1731-1781, Sarah Knight 1729-1809, Elizabeth Oliver 1704-1763, Martha Lord 1727-1767, Elizabeth Mathews 1802-1893, Mary Remfry 1695-1741, Grace Lydgy 1655-1695, Elizabeth ? 1673, Elizabeth Anne Barbary 1624, Mary Pelleowe 1634-1723, Mary Hill 1707-1774, Zenobia Woon 1700-1743, Suzanne ?, Martha Lane 1690-1777 and Elizabeth Selashaw Shashatt 1580.