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Saturday, 18 May 2019

Family Traits: 52 Ancestors - Wk. 20

"Nature" is the theme for this week's  "52 Ancestors" Challenge and I have opted to look at "nature" in terms of personality, with a snapshot at the characteristics that I perceived in my extended family of ancestors  - from Active  and  Adventurous  to Resilient and Talented.  

My great great grandfather Thomas Weston (1826-1917), a bricklayer,   was an active man late into his life.  Born in Shropshire,  he married at the age of 24 Annie Walker, a domestic servant and they  had seven children.  But by the time of the 1881 census, Thomas was a 54 year old widower, living in Pattingham, Wolverhampton with his three youngest children, then aged 15, 13 and 7.  He soon remarried  - his wife Harriet Edwards  18 years his junior, with their son Thomas born in 1882. A family anecdote told how Thomas, when in his 90's  was still climbing a ladder to pick plums and apples from his trees.   He died 26th December 1917 at the age of 91.   

My husband's maritime ancestors (Donaldson, White & Moffet)  must have had a streak of adventure in them to venture out from South Shields into the North Sea in all weathers as they plied their trade as master mariners.    Below, a photograph of John Robert Moffet (c.1814-1881), supplied by an Internet family contact - the only image I have of my husband's mariner ancestors who faced storms at sea  as part of their daily lives - as evidenced by local newspaper reports of shipping disasters. 
You also have to admire the sense of adventure that drove our ancestors to take a leap into the unknown and emigrate - such as my great grandmother's sister Alice Mason, nee Rawcliffe of Fleetwood, Lancashire,   who in 1887 set sail  with six children aged 1 to 13, (plus "two pieces of baggage") to join her husband John  and live in the teeming tenements of  Brooklyn, New York.   The couple went on to have five more children  in America, the eldest Arthur Valentine, born appropriately on 14th February 1888 - a reunion baby!

BRAVE - the men who fought in wars, amongst them:
  • The five Danson brothers (my grandfather and great uncles) who served in the First World War.
  • Three great uncles who died - George Danson, John Danson and Arthur Weston.  
  • My father who landed with the American forces on Omaha Beach just after D Day in 1944  and experienced the winter Battle of  the Bulge. 
  • My uncle who was one of the many men evacuated by the flotilla of small ships off Dunkirk in 1940.
  • My uncle who faced the horrors of a Japanese POW camp.

My husband's great grandfather Aaron Armitage, (1849-1889), a miner in Yorkshire,  spent much of his short life in court or in prison, as revealed by  searches in the British Newspapers online.  His crimes ranged from stealing a pig to assaulting the woman whom he later married. Was this is "nature" or was "nurture" a factor, as research showed that Aaron's father  Moses, also had a criminal record? 

My cousin's Scottish ancestor William Dower (1837-1919)  was  appointed by the London Missionary Society as a Wesleyan Missionary in South Africa   setting  sail there in 1865 with his new wife Jesse. William and Jesse set out on an ox wagon journey to East Griqualand and the town of  Kokstad.  William began his working life as a joiner before studying for the ministry  and his trade stood him in good stead for helping to build both his new home and a new church.  He went on to write a definitive history of the area in "The early annals of Kokstad and Griqualand East" and is remembered in the local museum. He died on 21 December 1919 at  "Banchory", his home named after his birthplace in Scotland.  He left behind a legacy in the country he came to love and a family who made their mark in many different fields.

William and Jesse Dower in 1913.

My Mother Kathleen Weston, nee Danson (dressmaker)  and her second cousin Elsie Oldham, (hairdresser)  in the 1920's and 30's both set up businesses in their home. 

Elsie's father  was the only son of a  firm of well established carters and coal men in Blackpool,in a house with a large yard, hay loft, tack room. and stabling for around sseven  horses.  Founded c. 1890, by Joseph Prince Oldham,  it was eventually sold in 1948 to another local firm.

My GGG grandmother  Elizabeth Danson, nee Brown, (1766-1840)  was little more than a name to me,   as the wife of Henry Danson, yeoman farmer, until I decided to  revisit the records to find out more about her.

I came across this short but  beautiful testimony to Elizabeth  almost by chance 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".
This little piece somehow brought Elizabeth (or the more familiar Betty)  alive for me, as no other record had done. 
I think of my Aunt Edith (1907-1995) as one of a line of "Feisty Danson Females".  She was my “maiden aunt”, and my godmother,  who played a key role in my life.  She was also a  teacher, traveller, craftswoman -  and a great talker. 

Edith must have been great to know in her 20's, with tales of the young men she went dancing with in Blackpool.  She kept home for her widowed father and brother for much of her life, alongside her work as an infant teacher,  and travelled widely, even to Russia in Iron Curtain days, bringing me 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 age of 73, a widower friend of my parents.

IMMORAL  (according to the conventions of the time) 
John Danson,  the eldest son of my GGG grandparents  in 1810 at the age of 21, was served by Lancashire Quarter Sessions with an affiliation order,  ordering him to contribute to the upkeep of his “said bastard child”  The poor unnamed  child (no name stated)  was repeatedly given this tag throughout  the document. 

“Ann Butler, single woman, was upon the 27th day of August last, delivered of a female bastard child in the said township of Marton, and that John Danson, husbandman of Carleton did begot the said bastard on her body and is the father of the same."
In 1900 the average life expectancy was 50 - largely influenced by the high rate of infant mortality.  Yet in the early 19th century my GGGG Grandfather James Danson (1736-1821)  lived to the great age of 85.  Below his signature on his will.

Although not formally trained, many of my ancestors enjoyed music, with my father, mother, uncle, and great uncle all in choirs;   my grandmother played the harmonium and my grandfather was in the local band.  

I was particularly proud to be given  the silver crested  baton,  presented in 1904 to my great grandfather John Matthews for  his long-serving role as conductor of the choir at Ladymoor Wesleyan Chapel,  in Wolverhampton.   From the days of my being in a school choir, choral music remains  one of my main interests. 

My Aunt Edith used to describe her grandfather as "A bit of a ne'er do well. Granny had some trouble with him", though I never found out any detail for this remarkBut this photograph of him perhaps bears out that description! 

My great grandfather James Danson (1859-1906) is the bearded figure, sitting merrily in the stocks in Poulton-le-Fylde Lancashire - the only photograph I have of him.

My cousin's  great great great uncle John Critchley Prince (1808-1866),was  well known in his time as a writer of poetry in the Lancashire dialect.  He  published his first poetry collection, "Hours with the Muses" in 1841. It sold well, running to five editions and attracting attention in London. Other collections followed, some published and sold privately by the author.

His verse is, for the most part, surprisingly optimistic. A notable exception is "Death of a Factory Child", in which he addressed the social conditions of the time, with these stark lines to end the poem. :

Hard had he labour'd since the morning hour,—
But now his little hands relax'd their pow'r—
Yet, urg'd by curses or severer blows,
Without one moment's brief, but sweet, repose,
From frame to frame the exhausted sufferer crept,
Piec'd the frail threads, and, uncomplaining, wept.

Many of our ancestors experienced in their lives hardship, misfortune, and sadness, especially with the high incidence of infant deaths. 

My Great Grandmother Maria Danson, nee Rawcliffe (1859-1919) had already seen in:  
  • 1905 - her daughter-in-law died aged just 21, leaving a one- year old baby daughter. 
  • 1906 - her husband Jame died 
  • 1907 - her eldest son Harry died  at the young age of 30. 
  • 1916 - her youngest son George was  killed on the Somme. 
  • 1917- her son John took his own life, whilst in army training.
Widowed with three of her eight surviving children then under 14 years old, Maria demonstrated  determination, stoicism  and commitment to her family - not least in also providing a loving home and a supportive family network for her orphaned  granddaughter Annie.  

The three Danson sisters, Edith, Kathleen and Peggy were all talented dressmaker, using the old treadle sewing machine in a house that did not get electricity until the mid 1950s.  Thy also  enjoyed crafts, including knitting, crochet, embroidery, patchwork, art, china painting, collage and doll making. I have my mother  to thank for introducing me to a wonderful world of colour in crafts - I inherited her interests, but not necessarily her  talents! 
Peggy, Edith and Kathleen Danson with their mother Alice, c.1941

                                      Victorian collage made by my mother 

                              Human nature is all there amongst my ancestors!


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  1. How very interesting to read of your family's qualities...there was a lot of talent being passed along in those genes. First paragraph has 2 dates of the gentleman's death...which one is it?

    1. Thank you, Barbara, for your kind comment and for pointing out an error. The correct date for Thomas Weston’s death is 1917 - I have a copy of his death certificate - and I have corrected the post.

  2. You've an extraordinary family which if you tried you could not make up. This type of short history requires, not only great skill in order to piece together so many members of your extended family, but your economy of words is remarkable when you relate such a diverse history.

  3. I love this post, all the traits and quirks of family members.. so interesting!
    My husband has the adventurous spirit of your Donaldsons...he sailed across the Pacific to Hawaii in often stormy rough seas. I’ll stick to fair weather sailing haha!

  4. What a great post. You have enough qualities to make a photobook where a photo or document appears on one page and the traits appear on the facing page. This would make a fantastic children's book for Christmas.

  5. You have found some wonderful information on your family. It’s great the way you can pay tribute to them.

  6. Sue, I love the way that you presented you family's stories. You have done a lot of research! I agree with the comment above that this would make a nice children's book.

  7. What a wonderful way to describe the Nature of your family! There are certainly some interesting, talented, and wonderful people in your family tree!

  8. Thank you all for your positive comments. I came very close to not contributing a post for the “ Nature” prompt. I have husbandmen, Ag. Labs and carters in my family tree - but no stories connected with them. Then the idea of “Nature” as Personality suddenly came to me and it was an enjoyable post to compose.

  9. Great post. I like your take on the prompt.


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