Sunday, 8 April 2018

#52Ancestors, Week 14, The Maiden Aunt

Tricky subject this one. I can only think of three. One who I met, but don’t know too much about, and two who I heard about; but only one who I have researched.

She was a mythical relation when we first began researching, but actually turned out to be the key to so many more discoveries. When we finally solved HER puzzle.

Elizabeth James, born 1 May 1846 at Broadward Bridge near Clungunford was the eldest child of Henry James and his wife Ann Thomas. They had married in Brimfield in 1843. Henry was a gardener or green grocer most of his life from church records and census’. Henry was born in Bucknall, Herefordshire, Ann in Wales. On the 1851 United Kingdom census, her birthplace was transcribed as “Slangyowitch” – what ? A bit of deciphering and map searching, it turns out this must have been the enumerator recording the Welsh place name LLanymynech as phonetically as he could, and the Ancestry transcriber trying to make sense of his writing. Anyway, I digress.

By the time the 1851 census came around, the small family, now including Elizabeth’s younger sister Mary, were living in Dudley, staying with a Duffill family. The significance of this family would become apparent much later.

Elizabeth was my grandmother’s grand-aunt; the sister of her grandmother. Nana didn’t share a lot about her family. Just little tidbits to keep you interested. She spoke about this Aunt (Lizzie) fondly; admiring her “pluck”. Aunt Lizzie, Nana told us, was a pretty remarkable lady. She had gone to America on her own when she was seventy years old.

Two of Nana’s uncles had gone to America too, and it appeared that Aunt Lizzie had gone to join them. But things are never quite as they seem.

After the death of her sister Mary – also known as Polly – Elizabeth and her father took in Mary’s two young children at least until their father remarried eight years later. On the census’ her occupation is recorded as Dressmaker, in later years when her niece and nephew were no longer staying with her, she was living with her father. From the way Nana spoke about Elizabeth, I always felt she had known her, and that she had left for America while Nana was young.

A note left for his children by my 3rd cousins grandfather, my grandmother’s cousin, he wrote of how his family had left England to live in America when he was seven. Where they had lived in England, relatives in England or at least his memory of where they lived; who they stayed with on arrival in Boston and how they travelled to Seattle.

A Duffill family lived in Boston. Nana’s aunt and uncles had stayed with them after arriving in Boston, before travelling to Seattle. What was the connection we wondered. It transpired that the wife of Thomas Duffill on the 1851 census, where the James family had been recorded as lodging, was actually the younger sister of Ann (nee Thomas) James. She was an aunt of THIS Elizabeth. 

So some more research was done, and the same Duffill family, or parts of it were found living in Boston on United States census’ and other records. So, we thought, Elizabeth must have kept in touch with her cousins after they emigrated and facilitated a meeting with her nephews when they emigrated. Wrong again.

My American 3rd cousin was not aware of this aunt at all, she was also not aware of the 2nd uncle travelling to America – but that is another story. We searched and searched for passenger lists for Elizabeth James aged about 70 travelling to America. A needle in a haystack.

Perseverance though, and much research in to the wee small hours came through in the end. She wasn’t Aunt Lizzie at all, she was Aunt Bessie ! Furthermore she had emigrated earlier than we had thought. 1906. Nana wasn’t even born then ! This aunt who she had spoken of with such admiration was not someone she actually knew. But wait, there’s more. Her intended address on arrival in Boston ? The home of her brother-in-law Mr Duffill. What ? How could she have a brother-in-law when her only sister had married someone else and died almost 30 years earlier.

Well, this is how. Turns out she had an older half sister who had married into the Duffill family. Not marrying a cousin though, but a half cousin. Mr Duffill senior had at least five wives and children from each marriage bar the last. More research ensued and a letter was found by a descendant in a Bible, written by Elizabeth to her sister after the death of Elizabeth’s father in May 1905. This mentioned his burial “with mother” and inferred that he had assumed the role of father to her half sister. These half relationships get a bit tricky to keep track of, so apologies if you are lost.

So, when Nana’s aunt and uncles had emigrated a year later and stayed with the Duffill family in Boston, they will have been reconnecting with Aunt Elizabeth/Lizzie/Bessie, not just with distant cousins they did not know.

The connection that Nana, her brother and sisters had with their grand aunt must only have been by post. Most likely embellished by the memories of their own mother about her, during their very early years before she was taken from them.

Elizabeth James died in 1921 in New Hampshire having spent her last years living with the family of her half sister.

One of these remarkable ladies is Elizabeth James and one her half sister Ellen, exploring the sights of New Hampshire or Massachusetts in a magnificent car

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