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Sunday, 13 March 2016

My Feisty Female Ancestors

March is Women's Family History Month, so it seemed appropriate to pay tribute to three women in my mother's Danson family.

My Great Grandmother Maria Danson, nee Rawcliffe (1859-1919)

Maria has been at the heart of my family history activities and even as a child her name attracted me as a mixture of down to earth Lancashire grit (Rawcliffe) and a more exotic Spanish side with her dark looks and the name Maria.

There was an apocryphal family story that "granny's dark looks" came from Spanish sailers shipwrecked after the Armada on the Lancashire coast. I did come across a small local history on Hambleton, where Maria was born and that referred to a similar incident of shipwrecked Spanish sailors settling there - but it was not from the Armada but a century later in 1660.

Maria was born in 1859 on the 15th January which 114 years later was the day my own daughter was born - a coincidence which delighted me. Maria was the 7th out of 8 daughters of Robert Rawcliffe, an Ag. Lab. and Jane Carr. She was only 18 years old when she married James Danson in 1877. They had ten sons (8 survived infancy) before their only daughter Jennie, born in 1897. Maria was widowed in 1906; two sons died in the First World War and Mara died in 1919 at the age of 60.

How old do you think Maria is here? I find the photograph difficult to date. Is she around 40 years old? i.e. the year 1899.

Maria's life has given me endless stories for my family history and posed lots of questions. Her name for a start seemed quite exotic compared with her sisters - Anne, Jane, Jennet, Margaret, Alice, Peggy and Martha., though I later discovered that in the 1850's Maria was the 15th most popular name for girls - so not quite so unusual as I liked to think.

Another puzzle remains over her name - Maria on her birth certificate. but in many official documents including the 1881 census, her marriage certificate and my grandfather's birth certificate it is Martha - the name of her youngest sister who died at 4 months old. Maria was only just four years old at the time, so could hardly have remembered her, so why did she choose to adopt her name? To her two granddaughters who are still alive. Granny's name was Maria.

My Great Aunt Jennie Danson (1897-1986)

Maria's only daughter, my great aunt Jennie (1897-1986) was by all accounts, quite a feisty character. She was the only daughter and last child of James Danson and Maria Rawcliffe born on 24th December 1897, after eight surviving brothers - George then aged 3, Frank 5, Albert 7, Tom 9, William 12 (my grandfather), Robert 16, John 18 and Harry 20 - a large family in a small terraced house. Her father died when was eight years old,

I love this photo below of Jennie with the "modern" hairstyle of the 1920's. She went to work in they local post office and was determined to lead her own life, much to the dismay of her five unmarried brothers who were used to her running the home after the death of their mother (Maria) in 1919. Their own marriages soon followed, once Jennie became engaged.


My Aunt  - Edith Danson (1907-1995) 
Aunt Edith played a key role in my life and was a teacher, traveller, a great talker and my godmother. She was also a talented lady, who married for the first time at the age of 73.

Edith was born 2nd September 1907, followed just a year and a week later by my mother, Kathleen, born on 8th September 1908, daughters of William and Alice Danson of Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire. They remained very close as sisters and most of the photographs I have of Aunt Edith show her almost always with my mother.

                                                       Edith (left) and Kathleen

                                                   Kathleen and Edith (right)

Aunt Edith was fond of regaling me with stories of the family and her life in teaching. She was the only one of the family to win a scholarship to Fleetwood Grammar School, riding the four miles on her bike in all weathers. She became a teacher at Burn Naze School in Thornton Clevelys (a poor area of town in the 1920's and 30's) and had a keen memory for past pupils (particularly black sheep) and humorous incidents such as excuse notes, written for absences.

I have my blog and Facebook to thank for a wonderful update on Aunt Edith. Ex pupils at the school set up a Facebook page on Burn Naze School Past ahead of the centenary of the school in 2014 and in a google search found my blog and got in touch. I was delighted to read comments from former pupils of "Miss Danson". who was remembered with fondness

Edith must have been great to know in her 20's, with tales of the young men she went dancing with in Blackpool.
                                                              Kathleen & Edith

Like my mother, Edith was talented in painting, embroidery and dressmaking, loved dancing, music, reading and baking - though there were some apocryphal cooking moments when my uncle (her brother) stirred a rice pudding, thinking it was very thin - she had forgotten to put in the rice! Another time she was proud of a tart with a golden pastry crust and fresh blackcurrants from the garden - until we took a mouthful - she had forgotten to add sugar to the fruit. "Scatty" was often a term used to describe Aunt Edith, as her mind was on so many things at once.

Edith kept home for her widowed father and brother for much of her life and travelled widely, even to Russia in Iron Curtain days, bringing back gifts to add to my collection of costume dolls.

In line with her spirit of adventure, she married for the first time in 1981 at the aged 73. a widower friend of my parents. and died in 1995 aged 88. 

                    Aunt Edith (in blue) with her husband George, my mother Kathleen and brother Harry.

You can tell from these photographs that Aunt Edith was someone who enjoyed herself. She took on the role of my godmother with great gusto and, with my mother,  left me with a wonderful legacy on how to get the most out of life, plus many fond memories of a feisty woman.
                                                        A Painting by my Aunt Edith 

I am proud to have Maria, Jennie and Edith as my feisty female ancestors.  

Based on a post first written in 2012. 


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