I’ve been staying with my Mum for a few days and our conversations have often drifted to family and past generations. We come from a line of strong women.

A few years ago I enjoyed months of studying genealogy and spent hours tracing my family online, getting copies of birth, marriage and death certificates, searching census documents.

My Mum is A
She was 27 years when I was born, but was soon divorced so she never had the other children that she’d hoped for. She raised me as a single parent in the 1960’s, working four days a week. She remarried aged 38 but was widowed fourteen years later. She is now in her early 80’s living independently, driving, involved in local church and choirs, with a strong network of friends.

Her mother was Ella.
She had two daughters when she was 26 and 30 years old. At the beginning of World War II she lived in London suburbs with girls aged 6 and 2. Her husband was in the print trade and was exempt from military service partly on age and partly on family medical grounds but he was an ARP warden. They had street bomb shelters and later, an Anderson shelter in their front garden. During the war, their three bedroom mid terrace house was home to the four of them, Ella’s parents and her youngest sister, five adults and two children. How did she cope with those war years, through the Blitz, with stray bombs landing in allotments across the road? Her children were not evacuated, but kids who lived on the other side of the “main road” were evacuated, with the school. My father was one of those kids, which is another story. How did those mothers cope with their kids sent away, with no choice, to the unknown, with no household telephones, none of todays communications?

Ella’s mother was Alice.
She was a domestic servant at the age of 14, working away from her parents home. She married a widower who was twenty years her senior and who already had 8 children. His trade was painter and decorator. Alice took on the two younger step daughters and had four daughters of own, when she was aged between 27 and 37. (Ella was second eldest of the four girls). Alice and her family lived in a top floor flat in Chelsea, London. They had three rooms, a toilet and sink on the landing. At the beginning of World War I, Alice’s daughters were aged 9 down, with a baby on the way. What was her life like raising a family during these war years?

A decade ago, my Mum, C~M and I wandered around the streets of Chelsea. We actually rung the door bell of the house where Alice had lived. Fortunately the owner was not shocked by our strange visit and was willing to show us the upstairs of his house. I saw the current decor, but my Mum saw the rooms as they had been during her childhood. She saw the room that had been the kitchen, pointing out where the range had stood, but with cold water only plumbed to the landing. She saw the front room where there were arm chairs, but was also where her grandparents slept in a big brass bed. The small third room was where Ella and her sisters would have slept. It was a fascinating visit to the past.

Alice’s mother was Sarah
She had 9 children, when she was aged between 26 and 46. Two died in childhood, one as a baby and one daughter aged 8. (Alice was sixth in line and was ten years old when her eight year old sister died.) Sarah and her family lived in a cottage in rural Essex. Her husband was an agricultural labourer, as were several of her sons. The youngest son was working as a market gardener at the age of thirteen.

Sarah’s mother was Mary.
She had 7 children when she was aged 27 to 42. She grew up and stayed living in the next village to where Sarah moved to, her husband was also an agricultural labourer.
Sarah was the eldest girl but with two older brothers.
Mary was born in 1808.

Although not in this family line, one of my other great grandmothers was also an amazing women.

She was married at age 19, when seven months pregnant. She had ten children over a period of 23 years. Her second daughter died aged 13, her third daughter died when just one year old.

She worked as a servant when first married with two children. She was widowed in 1914 when she was aged 47. At that time she had eight children who were aged between 28 and 5. Her eldest daughter had married and emigrated to Australia, the two eldest sons both served in WWI. Again, what was her life like, raising young children alone during the war years, with her older children in far off lands?

Ella on the right with her sisters.

Ella on the right with her sisters.