March 10, 2013
Happy Mothers’ Day
I began the journey into my family’s past when I became a parent. Missing my job and tired of recipes for puréed food, I was searching for a project when I came across the, then recent, release of the 1901 census. My very first search was for my Grandad whom I found quite easily in his home village of Hilcott, Wiltshire. He was only six months old and lived with his parents and five older sisters. Even though, as farm labourers, they wouldn’t have had much money, I imagined them to be happy: a son born after all those daughters! Just one census and I was hooked; desperate to find out more about those who had gone before me.
Unearthing the past has been an emotional experience – at times I’ve felt proud and elated at an ancestor’s achievement in the struggle for survival but more than often than not, I’ve been saddened, even upset by what they had to live through. Many of the devastating events affected the women most of all. When I registered my second child’s birth I had already learnt more about my family history and I thought of the mothers in my tree registering their children: Hannah knowing that she wouldn’t live to see her daughter Agnes growing up; Maria praying that her third daughter Nunziata wouldn’t die like the two, with the same name, before her (she didn’t!) and even further back, Ann who would set sail across the Atlantic alone with her children to start a new life in America. So many of them overcame tremendous obstacles to protect and provide for their children. Not least was my Grandad’s mother, Emma, who was forced to send three of her girls abroad when her husband died suddenly just a year after the 1901 census was taken.
So this Mother’s Day, I will think of these amazing mothers and all they experienced. Most of them were illiterate and all of them poor but they were courageous, strong and fiercely protective of their families and the more I discover about their lives, the more their extraordinary stories inspire me, especially now I have my own family.