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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

From ankle deep to knee deep

If I was hoping to find some easier surnames to research while wading through the Roberts quagmire (see, The Nightmare of the “too difficult” list) so far I’ve been disappointed. Of the six siblings of my great-grandmother, Eliza Roberts, three of them just added to my pain - Ann married a Griffiths, Sarah married a Jones and Jonathan married a Davies!


Thomas appears to have remained unmarried and George… ah, yes. Poor little George. He sadly died as a baby, buried in Pontesbury churchyard in August 1851 at the tender age of 8 months.


Infant mortality


George died of diarrhoea – not an uncommon cause of infant mortality. A report by Ruth Proctor, of Birmingham University puts infant deaths attributed to diarrhoea in the latter half of the nineteenth century at 15%. Health authorities of the time noted there was an increase in such deaths in hot dry summers, but nothing I’ve found out about the weather in Shropshire suggests that August in 1851 was anything out of the ordinary.


A fascinating website set up by Cambridge University called Populations Past has tracked infant mortality in the Victorian and Edwardian eras across the country on an interactive map. The rate in Pontesbury in 1851, the time of George’s death, was just over 95 per 1,000 births which was at the lower end of the scale. Pontesbury is in a rural area but in densely populated parts of central Birmingham in the same year it was as high as 216 per 1,000. The rate in the UK today (2018 figures) is 3.8.


Another sad story


While the rest of Eliza’s siblings appear to have thrived, I uncovered one sad story -something which hadn’t occurred to me before. Eliza’s mother, Sarah (nee Meredith) had died of bronchitis in April 1871, aged 56. What I hadn’t appreciated was that my great-grandmother would have been only 12 years old at the time, as she was born when her mother was 41.



I believe the photograph above is of Eliza standing beside her mother. If it is, it must have been taken shortly before Sarah’s death, as Eliza looks about the right age. This fabulous photograph would have been cherished by Eliza and perhaps explains why it was kept and passed down, and why I’m lucky enough to have it in my family history collection today.


 

Click on the image to find out more about the books in the Esme Quentin Mystery series


5 Comments


Heidi Beckley
Heidi Beckley
Feb 14, 2021

I, also, have pictures with no names of those photographed. I have two little books of daguerrotypes from around our U.S. Civil War era, so mid- to late-1800s, with the wider gowns. It kills me that we don't know who is in them, although I *think* I know which family line from which they come. My mom didn't know who they were either although they're definitely her side of the family. My sister had them originally and is of the opinion that if we don't know who is featured in a picture, to pitch it! sigh.... Luckily, I rescued them. Anyway, my cousin and I are the family picture keepers, and as such, make sure to write wh…

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Wendy Percival
Wendy Percival
Feb 05, 2021

UPDATE: Just checked my Ancestry tree. A bit of slippage in the age calculations on the timeline - it’s consistently a year out all the way down! Not noticed that before. Also, I added in Eliza’s exact birthdate recently - it may have been out even further, because I’m sure I got the “aged 12” from there, previously. So, she’d have been 13 when her mother died, as she died in the April and Eliza wouldn’t have been 14 until October. I think that’s right! Salutary lesson - do my own calculations and not rely on Ancestry’s! 🤭

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Carolyn Retallick
Carolyn Retallick
Feb 05, 2021

That was extremely fortunate, Wendy, but very rare! After I posted before I did think that maybe Google images might help. I seem to remember that you can upload your image to Google and they search to see if there are identical ones out there in the ether! Might give it a go :-)

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Wendy Percival
Wendy Percival
Feb 05, 2021

Mmm, Carolyn. You’re quite right. She’d be older than 12. Was that my maths or a wrong date on Ancestry’s timeline? 🤔 I’d better check... Still not a nice age to loose your mum, though. I’ve often queried whether the lady she’s with really was her mum or someone else. As you say, it’s impossible to know for sure. My husband has loads of photos which we can’t identify. Some of them are fabulous, too. It’s so frustrating. We did get lucky with one, though, when we saw an almost identical picture (a mother with two children) on Ancestry. We got in touch with the owner and said “snap”! He was able to tell us who the sitters were. That can’t…

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Carolyn Retallick
Carolyn Retallick
Feb 05, 2021

That is an amazing photo of Eliza with her mum! I could be wrong, but if she was born when her mother was 41, she would have been more like 14 or 15 when she died? It would be great if there was a way to confirm the identities, though. I have so many pictures of a great age that my father found somewhere along the way, but so few have names or any clues at all as to who they are of.

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