I don’t know what I hoped to achieve when I started researching my family history back in 2000. My beloved Dad hadn’t long died and one of the last conversations he had with my mother in law, who had researched her family, was his regret of not keeping in touch with his father when his parents separated. He wondered what had happened to him and asked if this type of research would help him find out. Unfortunately not long after, he suffered a massive heart attack so never did find out. I suppose this got me thinking, I really didn’t know much about my father’s side of the family and my journey began.
I suppose most of us when we start our research wonder how far back we can get but real family history isn’t just about dates and skeletons in the closet, it’s about people, how they lived, what they did and how the world outside the family affected them. My interest in Social History definitely has arisen from all my research.
I would like to tell you about Jane, one of my paternal great grandmothers. It was her who really got me hooked into finding out all I could about my ancestors and what life had been like for them. It was her death certificate dropping through the letter box that set it all off. She was the first of my ancestors that I had managed to trace through her birth, marriage and death certificate and five census returns from a young toddler of 2 years old in 1851 to a 42 year old wife and mother in 1891. It was the 1901 census that gave me the clue to her death having occurred as her husband was listed on that as a widower. Sure enough that day I held her death certificate in my hand and I confess to shedding a tear for this woman I had never met but felt such a connection to. She was just 49 years of age and the cause of death on the certificate was breast cancer and exhaustion. I don’t know why the word exhaustion upset me so much. I probably had this image of a sick woman trying to carry on looking after a young family. Sixteen years later their are so many more names on the chart but what is really important to me is their lives and how they made their way through it all.So this is Jane’s story.
Jane was born on the 23 April 1848 in the lovely Oxfordshire village of Hook Norton. Her parents were James and Elizabeth Hall.She was baptized on 03 July 1848 in the local parish church. James was a Labourer on a farm, Hook Norton was a agricultural community. Elizabeth had already given birth to three other girls and would go on to have two boys after Jane’s birth. So Jane was to grow up in Hook Norton with her sisters and brothers. The 1851 census, when Jane was just 2 confirms James’s occupation as an Agricultural Labourer, the eldest two girls Louisa and Hannah being at school, leaving Jane and her sister Maria at home with Elizabeth.
The 1861 census we find Jane still living with her family in Hook Norton. During this year her youngest brother James is born and on a wider scale this is the year that Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert dies.
Eight years later, on 13 September 1869 Jane marries Ellis John Grey. This marriage takes place not in Hook Norton but in Marlowes Chapel, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire. This was a Baptist Chapel and I have found no connection to the Baptists in either Jane’s or her husbands family. Her husband was registered on the 1861 census as living in Hemel Hempstead. The address given on her marriage certificate was Kings Langley which is 74 miles away from Hook Norton. Had Jane moved to be near her betrothed? Ellis at the time worked for the Post Office as a Rural Messenger. Did the couple meet on one of Ellis’s rounds? On there marriage certificate there is no occupation listed for Jane.
Two years later, on the 1871 census the couple had moved on to Clifton on Dunsmore in the parish of Rugby in Warwickshire. Ellis had left the Post Office and is now listed as a Railway Policeman. Their first daughter Elena Maria was 11 months old and had been born in Kings Langley before the move. Jane’s occupation is noted as Policeman’s wife.
Jane was to have 10 children altogether. Her second daughter Rosetta was born while she was living in Clifton on Dunsmore. During the mid 1870’s the couple were on the move again to Nottinghamshire. Five of Jane’s children would be born here including my Grandfather, James George William Grey.
By 1881 Jane’s husband is now a Railway Signalman and the couple are living in the Railway Gatehouse at Linby in Nottinghamshire. On the census of that year we actually see an occupation listed for Jane as a Dressmaker. There are at this time 6 children in the family. Elena and Rosetta have been joined by Ellis John, Annie Christina Florence, Jane Elizabeth and Hilda Lilian.It wouldn’t be long before Jane was pregnant again with my Grandfather who was born in 1883.
The 1891 census is the last time we will see Jane. She is 42 years old and the couple are back in Hertfordshire in the village of Kensworth. Her husband has two jobs that of Publican and Farm Labourer. Jane has had two more children Laurence Percy and Septimus Henry since the move and was pregnant again with Camellia Violetta who would be born in December of that year. Why the move? It would have bought her closer to Hook Norton Just some 50 miles away. Her father had died in 1882 leaving her mother with a 22 acre farm to manage. Could it be they thought they could help out being nearer?
Five years later in 1897 Jane died on 09 November back in her home village of Hook Norton where her widowed husband settled. On her death certificate her occupation is listed as Wife of Ellis John Grey, Farmer. They must have made the move back to help with the family farm or was Jane’s health the reason? The cause of death was Scirrhous of Breast (Breast Cancer) and Exhaustion. She had died with her husband at her side aged just 49. Her youngest child was just a month short of her sixth birthday. The Hook Norton Parish Register has her burial date as the 15 November 1897.
She would have seen three of her daughters marry but would not be there for the marriages of six of her other children. Nor would she witness the death of one of her sons during World War One.