Out of the Sky She came

February 28, 2010

Paternal great-grandparents Lois and Charles

In comparison to my maternal family tree, tracing my paternal ancestors has been more difficult and at this stage, neither myself or my paternal cousin have been able to push the branches aside past 1776.  Nor have we been able to track the side-branches; the siblings of our direct ancestors and their families. 

Slowly I have been pushing aside the veil of my father’s enigmatic ancestors and putting together a narrative.  I know a great deal about the life and times of one of my maternal great-grandmothers, I know even less about the life and times of one of my paternal great-grandmothers, other than she had a “very hard life”, as my cousin told me.  Didn’t everybody in those days?

The only bit of information I had to work with was that this paternal great-grandmother, Lois, had been a servant before marrying. Not an uncommon occupation for the young women of working-class and rural families and I wondered if she had done service in one of those grand homes and got to empty the chamberpots of the British hoi-polloi.

The truth is less romantic(?) and more interesting, from my point of view, as Lois was the only General Domestic Servant for a well-to-do Chemist’s Assistant, with a wife and three daughters. 

The British Census of 1881 tells that Lois was aged 18, employed and living in this household, and that the three daughters were between the ages of 13-21, with the eldest daughter employed as a School Teacher and the younger two listed as ‘scholars’. 

By the time of the 1911 British Census, the records show that Lois had married a man 13 years her elder in 1890 and was raising two young sons; one whom would grow up to become my father’s father.

In the above photo, Lois looks very ‘Emily Pankhurst-like’ and Lois was a mature adult woman in the era of the British suffragette movement.  Indeed, Lois’ life and times says much about the status of women in Britain and on the surface it seems that the household she was in service to, was enlightened – in that the daughters were being educated.

Whether Lois was viewed and treated as a valued servant in an ‘almost-one-of-the family’ spirit, or treated as a slave and badgered and bullied like Cinderella is what really has intrigued me about this fairy great-grandmother of mine. 

Lois lived in very interesting Victorian times. Jack the Ripper was running amok in London, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” was published in 1886 and, my great-grannie was a domestic servant for a Chemist’s Assistant who gives all the appearances of being an upstanding member of society and devoted husband and father.



One comment

  1. If only we could meet them for an afternoon or evening and ask all our questions!

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