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Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Bringing My Female Ancestors Out of the Shadows

An invitation HERE from   Randy Seaver of Genea–Musing  distracted me this week. He asked us to look at the age of death of our female ancestors. 

It proved more challenging than I first thought, highlighted major gaps in my research, and made me ponder on two questions:

Below - my paternal grandmother Mary Barbara Matthews.


    The further we go back in family history, the more shadowy our ancestors can appear - especially on the female side, where we don't often have the knowledge of an occupation to define the person.

    In 2014 I was prompted to review my research on my great, great, great grandmother Elizabeth Danson, nee Brown, who was little more than a name to me as the wife of Henry Danson, yeoman farmer. I came across this short but beautiful testimony to Elizabeth (Betty) almost by chance in the death announcements. during a quite casual browslng of British Newspapers Online 1710-1953 on the website Find My Past. -
    "Blackburn Standard Wednesday 20 May 1840: 
    Betty, widow of the late Mr. Henry Danson, yeoman, Trap Estate, Carleton, near Poulton-le-Fylde. She was much esteemed, and will be greatly regretted by a large circle of acquaintances".
    These few lines somehow brought Elizabeth (or the more familiar Betty) alive for me, as no other record had done. So I set out to see how I could bring her more to the fore of my family history by revisiting the records. I wrote Bringing Betty Out of the Shadows looking at her role as a daughter, wife, mother, widow, and friend. It was a very satisfying post to bring together and a template to undertake similar research with my other elusive female ancestors. But nature being what it is, I must admit I have made little progress to date - as the list below will show! 
    My blog has concentrated very much on my mother's Danson and Rawcliffe family in Lancashire, largely I think because I grew up with my mother's relatives and regard Poulton-le-Fylde as my spiritual home. Also the collection of old photographs at my grandfather's house was a great stimulus to finding out more about the people who featured in them.

    In contrast we lived some distance away from my father's family (Weston and Matthews) in the English Midlands and only saw my grandmother, aunt and uncles once or twice a year. Although my father regularly corresponded with them, and talked about his childhood, anything further back was very nebulous. Sadly there was hardly any family memorabilia, which had been thrown out on the death of his eldest brother.

    Many years ago, as a birthday present for my father, I did write up his family history, making use of a professional researcher in Shropshire to come up with the basic facts - this was the days before the Internet. But looking back at it, I admit it is pretty superficial and leaves me quite cold. I find it hard to identify with most of the people featured and have not felt motivated to find out more

    By coincidence I came across this quote:  
         "The best family histories are rich in detail"  **

    That is what my Weston/Matthews family history lacks, particularly when it comes to the female lines - again as you will see from the list below.

    ** "Women Writing On Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing", edited by Carol Smallwood & Suzanne Holland, and published by The Key Publishing House, Inc. of Toronto, Canada (www.thekeypublish.com).
So here is my list of my female ancestors, their dates and ages on death.

My major brick wall is tracing the background of my maternal grandmother,   as I have not even been able to find a  birth certificate.    So that immediately reduced the number of female ancestors that I could list:  

Kathleen Weston, nee Danson (1908-1999) - aged 91.

Alice Danson, nee English (1884-1945) - aged 60.
Mary Barbara Weston, nee Matthews (1876-1958) - aged 82.
Great Grandmothers
? English - ?
Maria Danson, nee Rawcliffe (1859-1919) - aged 60.
Sarah Ann Weston, nee Jones (c.1852- ?)
Matilda  Matthews, nee  Simpson (1849-?) 

Great Great Grandmothers 
Jane Rawcliffe, nee Carr (1819-1865) - aged 46.
Elizabeth Danson, nee Calvert (1811-1879) aged 68
Anne Weston, nee Walker (1829-1881), aged 52. 
? Jones  - ?
? Matthews - ?  
? Simpson - ?

Great Great Great Grandmothers

Jane Carr, nee  Crane  - ?
Anne (Nanny) Rawcliffe, nee Moon (1789-1822) - aged 33     

Elizabeth Danson, nee Brown (1766-1840) - aged 74
Grace Calvert, nee Harrison - ?    
Elizabeth Walker, nee ?

Great Great Great Great Grandmothers 
Jane Crane - ?
Alice Moon, nee Carter - ?

Margaret Danson, nee Fayle. (1730-1815), aged  85 
Alice Brown, nee Clegg  - ? 

  • There were no surprises from the analysis of the ages of death of my female ancestors.   My mother at the age of 91  had the longest life, followed nearly two centuries previously  by my g.g.g.g.grandmother Margaret Danson nee Fayle who died aged 85 = a great age for the times (1815).
  • G g.g.grandmother Anne (Nanny) Moon had the shortest life, dying at the age of 33.
  • But the biggest lesson learned is:

    I need to do far more in "Bringing My Female Ancestors Out of the Shadows". 

My mother  - Kathleen
Grandmother Mary
Grandmother Alice


Great Grandmother Matilda
Great Grandmother Maria



  1. I hope you find more details to round out their stories. I agree that that is what makes it all interesting. But so hard to do in most cases.

    1. Thank you, Kristin, for taking the time to comment. A lot to add to my "to do" list!


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