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Thursday, 25 January 2018

52 Ancestors - Wk.4: Great Grandmother as My Dinner Guest:

Maria with her granddaughter, Annie, c.1916

This week’s prompt from “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” asks us to name our favourite dinner guest.

There is no doubt which ancestor  I would like to be my dinner guest  - my great grandmother Maria Danson, nee Rawcliffe, (1859-1919)  who is at the heart of my family history research. 

I immediately felt drawn to her when, as a child, I first saw her  photograph in the family's shoebox collection.  She looked a formidable lady!

Her life  has given me endless stories for my family history and posed lots of questions.  Perhaps a dinner party is not the place to probe too deeply, but  I would  love to build up a rapport with her and find out more  about  her lif
Her name seemed  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 from this one photograph I had initially of her. To give additional colour there was a, no doubt, apocryphal story that “granny’s dark looks” came from Spanish descent, after an Armada ship had been wrecked off the Fylde coast of Lancashire.

There are so many questions I would like to ask Maria. .  There is also the appeal  of a  charming family history coincidence.  For when I sent away for Maria's birth certificate, I discovered she was born the same day  - 15th January -  as my own daughter 114 years later.

What was your childhood like?
Maria  was the second youngest of eight sisters  (three of whom died in infancy). Their father Robert was a carter in the village of Hambleton, near the small towns of Fleetwood and Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire. 

Their  mother, Jane Carr died in 1865 when Maria was 6 years old with her surviving sisters  Jennet 8, Alice 11, Jane 14 and Anne 17.  

When Maria was 16, her father remarried in 1875,  Robert's   new wife Elizabeth Brekall,  was 29 years his junior and a spinster with three illegitimate children . Four children were born to the marriage   - a "blended family" of  sisters, step siblings and half-siblings.

How close were you to your sisters?
My mother had vague recollections of a great aunt Anne who married  a farmer and great aunt Jane who married a man from nearby Fleetwood and these had a basis in truth,  I also discovered tha Alice   and husband and 6 children had emigrated to Brooklyn, New York - a great find as I  was able to make contact with American third cousins.

How did you meet your husband James  ?
Maria and James married in 1877 at St. Anne's Church, Singleton. when Maria was only 18. James, a joiner was living in the parish  where his father was a toll keeper at the Shard Bridge over the River Wyre.   Maria's address was just given as the nearby hamlet of Thistleton, presumed to be staying with her eldest sister Anne who, was married to Robert Roskell, gamekeeper.  Was this perhaps to escape the crowded situation at her father's large household  in Hambleton?

By the account of my mother, "Granny had ”a time of it” with James ,   Maria (one of eight daughters) had over 20 years ten sons (two dying in infancy) and finally an only daughter Jennie.    How on earth did Maria cope looking after such a large family in what looked to be a small terraced property?

The only photograph I have of my great grandfather James Danson who is the 
bearded figure, sitting merry  in the old stocks in Poulton Square.

Why did you add the name of your youngest sister Martha to your own. 
Early on in my research, there was a puzzle in that many official records, on Maria such as her 1877 marriage certificate, the 1881 census entry, burial record and my grandfather's  1907 birth certificate  gave her name as "Martha Maria".   I sent away  to the local Registrar for Maria's  birth certificate c.1859 and outlined my confusion over her Christian name. 

To my great surprise the result was two certificates - for Maria, daughter of Robert Rawcliffe and Jane Carr, born 15th January 1859 and another daughter Martha, born to Robert and Jane on  20th January 1863.    Four months later Martha died.  

Maria would only have been barely four years old then, so could hardly have remembered  her youngest sister. Moreover their mother Jane died two years later, so could not have kept the memory of baby Martha alive for very long for  her other daughters. So why did she adopt her name along with her own?  We shall never know.  

What can you tell me about your grandchildren?

 My own grandmother with Edith, Kathleen (my mother), Harry and baby Billy, c.1916


So why do  I regard Maria as my favoured dinner guest? 
Her life experiences were probably very typical for women in that period of history.  

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 her 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 young girl in the first photograph above).  John and Annie returned to live with arin family home.  In 1917 whilst in army camp training John committed suicide, leaving Annie an orphan .   Only a few months earlier youngest son George, a stretcher bearer in the Royal Army Medical Corps.   was Killed on the  Somme just after his 22nd birthday. 

Maria died in 1919 aged 60, buried in Moorland Cemetery, Poulton-l-Fylde, 

Through all her life, Maria demonstrated resilience, determination and commitment to her family,  I am proud to respect her as my great grandmother.   

This came to me via my mother's cousin - a lovely portrait of Maria, but difficult to put an age on her - what do you think?

C.1908 - Maria with her only daughter Jennie (at the back) and little granddaughter Annie Maria. 

This profile is based on blog posts I first featured in 2010-11.


52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Thank you, Barbara, for taking the time to comment. I should have added an approximate date to the final photograph of Maria with her daughter and granddaughter (since added). I reckon c.1908 judging by the age of the children. I imagine the family tragedies that befell Maria led to her weight loss as in the first photograph.

  2. There are similarities to this in my own family my gt grandmother was also widowed in 1906 with her husband succumbing to TB. But my grandmother was orphaned the following year. They were living in Warminster, Wiltshire.


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