My grandmother’s family are not an easy lot to unravel. Her sisters (like many Victorian girls) seem to have delighted in pet-names, and matters are not improved by the naming of two successive daughters Elizabeth (in 1879) and Eliza (in 1881).
My mother, now 90, has done her best to help. She is confident that Charles (the one born in 1874, not the one born in 1873 and buried in a public grave later that year) emigrated to the USA and lived in Atlantic City. Elizabeth – her ‘Auntie Beth’ – she remembers well, full of fun and frolics before her death at the age of 50. George, too, she remembers – born in 1885 and a merchant seaman, his first wife died and his two children were brought up in a seaman’s mission, although he married again and had another daughter who became a doctor.
Auntie Dollie in 1922
Who, though, was Auntie Dollie? Could she be Eliza, born 1881?
There are photographs: a lovely portrait from 1922, when Eliza would have been 41: huge beautiful eyes gaze out from under under a smart straw hat,
… and there are school groups from the turn of the century (the OLD century, not the millennium!) when she was a pupil teacher (and Eliza would have been in her teens).
There is a somewhat breathless letter in 1925, cancelling – at short notice – an intended Easter trip to visit my grandmother in Greenock.
And there are some exquisite sketches in my grandmother and mother’s autograph books: this morning I gathered them all together into one set in Flickr.
My mother has no actual memory of Auntie Dollie, so I have been assuming she died before my grandmother moved back to Liverpool in 1929 (my mother was then 7). A search of the English death registers, though – even for all Eliza Turners in all of England and Wales for the relevant years, and all Turners in Wigan likewise, have failed to turn up a death of a possible candidate of the right sort of age.
And then occurred one of those magical strokes of luck. Whilst hunting for a phone number in my desk drawer this morning, I came across the business card of someone I must have met, oh, eight years ago on some foray to the Wigan History Shop with my daughters.
This evening, I casually logged onto the wiganworld website. REALLY impressive – forums, photos … and indices. I tried first for Joseph Turner – my gg-grandfather – who was parish clerk in the 1850s, and instead found (in 1891) a young man of the same age as his son Joseph, tried for attempted murder and sentenced to ten years penal servitude. Gulp. There were, however, at least four Joseph Turners born around that time so hopefully this one isn’t ‘ours’!
HOWEVER – and this is where things got a bit exciting – a search of the cemetery index revealed an Eliza Turner of the right age, buried in 1927. And the reason I couldn’t find her death in England? She died in GLASGOW – presumably on a visit to my grandmother.
Minutes later, I had her record from the Scotlands People website – infinitely superior and far cheaper than the English system of applying for full-blown certificates. She died at 121 Hill Street, as did the architect Neil Burke Moir 30 years later, also of cancer. It is now the J D Kelly Building, housing part of the School of Art but I have a feeling it may have been a small private nursing home – I had some tests done in a building in Garnethill when I was a child. Was it the same one?
So, finally, I have (probably) solved the mystery of Auntie Dollie. But – what’s this? Checking the details of the actual grave plot – it contains not only Eliza and her parents (my great-grandparents) but another infant, who was born barely four months before my grandmother and so can’t possibly be another sister. Who, then, can she be? I have ordered the certificate and must now wait, with bated breath, for its arrival in a week or two’s time.
[Update: the birth certificate arrived, the mystery solved: the baby is my grandmother’s cousin, first daughter of her father’s much-younger and recently-married brother. No scandal, just another sad reminder of the high infant mortality rates a hundred or so years ago]