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Monday, 20 June 2016

My Strongest Ancestor - at the Genealogy Blog Party

 Liz at Little Bytes of Life has invited us to join a Genealogy Blog Party and write about " Our Strongest Ancestor".  Click on the link to find out more about the challenge which runs from June 20th-30th 2016. 

There was no question who I would choose to feature - my great grandmother Maria Danson, nee  Rawcliffe (1859-1919), who has appeared in a number of my blog postings.   I immediately felt drawn to her when, as a child, I first saw this striking photograph in the family's shoebox collection.

Her name was an evocative mixture of down-to-earth northern Lancashire grit (Rawcliffe). with echoes of a more flamboyant Latin nature (Maria). She looked a formidable lady. 

So why do  I regard her as "My Strongest Ancestor"?  Her life experiences were probably very typical for women in that period of history, and Maria demonstrated resilience, determination and commitment to her family in the face of adversity.   

  • At the age of 6, Maria  became motherless.  She was born in Hambleton, near Poulton-le-Fylde. Lancashire  in 1859, the seventh of eight daughters to Robert Rawcliffe (an agricultural labourer and carter) and Jane Carr.  Three children died in infancy.
  • At the age of 16, Maria's father married again - his wife Elizabeth Brekall, twenty years his junior and  a single mother of three illegitimate children.  So Maria faced an enlarged household, soon to be joined by four half-siblings.
  • Marriage quickly followed at the age of 18 to my great grandfather James Danson. By this time (1877)  Maria was living at the home of her eldest sister Anne Roskell, nee Rawcliffe - was this to escape the crowded situation of her father's large household? 
  • By all accounts of her grandchildren,  Maria had a difficult time with James, a joiner,   who seemed to be a bit of a "ne'er do well".  This is borne out by  the only photograph I have of him,  - the bearded figure sitting merry in Poulton stocks.


  • Yet over 20 years,  11 children were born to the marriage, with two babies  dying in infancy.   Maria, one of so many sisters,  had finally her only daughter Jennie, born in 1897,  when Jennie's  eight surviving  brothers were George aged 3, Frank 5, Albert 7, Tom 9, William 12 (my grandfather), Robert 16, John 18 and Harry 20 - all living at home.    How on earth did Maria cope looking after such a large family in what looked to be a small terraced property?
  • At the age of 47, Maria was left a widow, when James died in 1906, with George, Frank  and Jennie still under 14 years old,
  • Further family tragedy followed when eldest son Harry died a year later aged just 30.     Second son John had married but his wife died from consumption  at the age of 21, leaving a baby daughter Annie Maria (the little girl in the first photograph above).  John and Annie returned to live his family home.

    Maria with her only daughter Jennie and granddaughter Annie, c. 1908

  • Few families escaped the impact of the First World War, and the Dansons were no exception with five sons serving.  In 1916 came the devastating news that youngest son George,  a stretcher bearer in the Royal Army Medical Corps  was killed at the Battle of  the Somme, a week after his 22nd birthday.  Eight  months later John, a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery  died in training at army camp.  The family related how "Granny had to fight to get John's name on the local war memorial", as John had not actually served abroad.  
    Poulton-le-Fylde War Memorial commemorating John and George Danson 

  •  Maria died 22nd November 1919 aged 60. 
I have recollections of visiting Maria's sons, (my great uncles) and memories of Maria have been passed down in particular through her only daughter Jennie, Jennie's daughters. and my own mother and aunt, along with the tangible artefacts of her copper kettle, her best tea-set, jewellery and collection of photographs.
In one of those fascinating  family history coincidences,  at any early stage of my research, I sent away for Maria's birth certificate,  only to find she was born on January 15th,  the same day as my own daughter 114 years later - I like to think that my daughter has inherited the strength of character that Maria displayed throughout her life.   

Maria' deserves her accolade as "My Strongest Ancestor".

 Copyright © 2016 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved.

To meet other bloggers at the June Genealogy Blog Party, click HERE 



  1. Thanks so much for sharing your great-grandmother's story...wow, she sure faced a lot in her short life, especially having to hold the family together as a widow. I love the photos as well - it's wonderful to put a face to her name :)

  2. Thank you for sharing the story of your great grandmother. Love the pictures

  3. This is a wonderful post and tribute to your great-grandmother. Good for her to fight to have her son added to the local memorial. The photos are terrific, too!

  4. She definitely deserves the accolade. Our women ancestors in particular had to be so strong with the many challenges that came their way.

  5. Wow, what a hard life she had! So many losses over and over again. Thank you for sharing her story. I'm a little jealous that you have some keepsakes and heirlooms from her, my family didn't do that on any of my lines.

  6. When life was so difficult, we have to wonder how each found the strength to go on, but Maria did. Wonderful story.

  7. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to comment - I was proud to write this tribute to Maria, my great grandmother.

  8. I love the photos! Especially the one in the stocks! She certainly sounds like she was a very strong woman who faced many challenges, and with 11 children!!


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