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  • Wendy Percival

Sad deaths and a new life

In the process of finding out more about my great-aunt and great-uncles's brief stay in the workhouse in 1886 (see posts, A Brush With the Workhouse and Escape from the Workhouse), I discovered that my great-grandparents, Frances and Edward Colley, had had two children who'd died as babies.


Coincidentally on Twitter's #AncestryHour this week (7-8pm on Tuesday evenings), one of the topics under discussion concerned keeping paper records of something that hadn't made sense, or its significance not recognised, at the time it was received. Only later, when the notes are revisited, does the penny drop that this is new and valuable information. It was a similar scenario which led me to the discovery of these poor infants.


Family letters

I had dug out some letters written to my aunt and my mum from my great uncle Ernest and one from the daughter of my great aunt Maud. (Ernest and Maud were two of the children admitted to the workhouse.) As I read through them, I found a reference by Ernest to a brother and a sister who had died. Although his recollection of the names weren't quite correct (understandably, as they'd died many years before he was born), it gave me enough to find their details on the birth and death indexes.


My great-grandparents, Frances and Edward Colley were married on 3rd November 1867. Frances was only 16 years old and Edward 17. Their first child, a girl, Rosina, was born 5 months after the wedding, in April 1868. Tragically, Rosina lived only 3 months and died in July of that same year. Cause of death was "Diarrhoea 14 days".


The couple's next child, Herbert Henry (my grandfather) was born in October 1869 and two years later, in 1871, another son was born, Arthur Edward. He lived only 7 months, sadly succumbing to whooping cough. The additional cause of death was recorded as "convulsions 14 days."


Growing family


Over the next 7 years, Frances gave birth to the three children who would find themselves in the workhouse, the youngest being Ernest, whose letters I have.


After the traumatic events of 1886, the children were reunited with their mother and eldest brother, Herbert. According to Ernest, his mother was an accomplished piano player, and earned money giving lessons, though on the 1891 census, she's recorded as being a waitress at an inn.


Herbert worked, as had his father, as a machinist at The Times newspaper in London. By 1891 Maud was employed as an artificial flower maker, and Allen was a hairdresser's assistant. Ernest was still at school. When he was old enough, he would follow his big brother into the printing trade.


A major decision

Although Ernest doesn't give their reasons in his letters, the family made the decision to emigrate to the United States. In 1901, Maud, now married, made the journey with her husband and family, and Frances accompanied them. They settled in Los Angeles.


Ernest was still completing his apprenticeship and so he wasn't able to leave England until it was complete in 1903. Lastly, Allen followed in 1904 with his new wife who he'd married in London. The photo above is of Ernest and his wife outside their Californian home.


Herbert remained in England to pursue his theatrical career. According to Maud's daughter, the family dearly hoped that he'd join them one day but he never did. If he had, I'd not be here writing this blog post today!




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