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  • Wendy Percival

Friends like Family

In this current crisis, it’s often friends and neighbours who become a vital life-line for those self-isolating, if family members don’t live nearby. It set me thinking about the friends in our ancestors’ lives who may have been extremely important to them but, of course, don’t show up the the family tree and of whom we may be largely unaware, although we do sometimes get clues from the witnesses at weddings.


My great aunt, Hannah Diggory, (wearing a headscarf in the photograph above - I'm the one in the pink cardigan) never married and so had no family of her own.


I remember her being a small timid lady, but perhaps that was because she was a little overwhelmed by my grandmother, her younger sister Edith (sitting far left), who had quite a strong personality!

I have this photograph of Hannah (right) standing beside a lady identified as Kate Hemming, probably taken around 1908, when Hannah was 16.


I recall being told about Hannah’s friend Kate, though I never met her, as she died before I was born. I wondered how the two had become friends and decided to see if I could find out.


Hannah and Katie were both dressmakers and someone once told me that they ran a haberdashery shop together. (That’s one I've still yet to check out!)


Hannah and Kate shared a house in Tettenhall, Wolverhampton - 40, High Street - round the corner (literally) from where my great-grandparents lived during the 1920s.


Hannah and Kate appear on the 1939 register at this address, their occupations recorded as unpaid domestic duties. At that time, Hannah would have been 47 and Kate, 53.


When Kate died in 1954, Hannah was her sole beneficiary. Hannah continued to live at number 40 High Street, and I remember visiting there as a child.


Searching back a bit further, I established that Kate was born in 1886 in The Wergs, a short distance from Tettenhall. The Wergs was where my great-grandparents were living in 1911. I checked the 1911 census and discovered that not only did Kate's parents also live in The Wergs, but that my great grandparents were their next-door neighbours! So, it seems, that Kate and Hannah had probably known one another since childhood.


Now I need to investigate the story of the haberdashery shop and see if there's any grain of truth in it!


Have you discovered any ancestors' "friends like family" during your research?




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