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Tuesday, 25 June 2019

A Spanish Look in Lancashire? 52 Ancestors - Week 26

The character of my great-grandmother, Maria Rawcliffe (1859-1919) had always appealed to me.   Her name was an evocative mixture of down-to-earth Lancashire grit with echoes of a more flamboyant Latin nature. She looked a formidable lady from the one photograph I had initially of her. 

Maria Danson, nee Rawcliffe, with her granddaughter Annie Maria Danson.
 It was this photograph that started me on the ancestral trail.

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. All this captured my imagination and, as a child,  I began weaving stories about her.

The findings in the actual research were much more prosaic.  Maria was born in Hambleton, near Poulton-le-Fylde in 1859, the seventh  of eight  daughters of Robert Rawcliffe (an agricultural labourer and carter)  and Jane Carr.  By comparison, her sisters had much more ordinary names - Anne, Jane, Margaret, Jennet, Alice, Peggy  and Martha - five surviving infancy. 

I thought the name Maria was quite exotic - until I saw a listing of popular names in the mid 19th century to find Maria was no.15 - so not that unusual.

 At 18 years old, Maria married James Danson at Singleton and went on to have ten sons,  before the birth of her only daughter Jenny in 1897. She died in 1919. 

Maria is at the core of my family history story and her name lived on in her granddaughter Annie Maria Danson, her grandson Harry Rawcliffe Danson and now my own granddaughter Niamh Maria.  

As for the Spanish Armada story, I was delighted to find in the local library a history of Hambleton village  which told of an incident in 1643 at the time of the English Civil War. A Spanish frigate, the Santa Anna ran aground in the River Wyre estuary. The crew were taken off the ship, which was set alight to prevent it falling into the hands of the Roundheads. No efforts were made to get the crew home and  several married local farmer’s daughters. The dark Spanish features showed up in their children.  

So maybe I do have some Spanish blood in me after all?

Copyright © 2019 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Could DNA  answer my last question?  I have never gone down that route yet, and my only living relations on my mother's side are her two elderly cousins in their 80s and my brother.  


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  1. If this isn't an invitation to do DNA testing, I don't know what is! However, there was a Portuguese priest allegation in my husband's family. His 100% Japanese DNA doesn't definitely rule out the Portuguese angle. I would need more of his relatives to test.

  2. Tracing those post-1643 families sounds like a possible project. Even if you never found a definitive answer, it would be bound to be interesting. :-)


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