There is an often-misquoted phrase that life for the Medieval peasant was “Nasty, brutish, and short”. In fact it was written by the 17th Century writer Thomas Hobbes in his book “Leviathan“. By the 19th century things hadn’t, for some, improved that much. One such unfortunate was Eliza Stewart, my gg-aunt. Her youngest brother, Robert Stewart (1859-1926) was my great-grandfather. Admittedly he wasn’t much lucky, spending a number of decades of his life in a mental institution (but that’s a story for another day).
Eliza Stewart belongs to my most challenging branch of the family. Her parents, John Stewart and Jane, are presumed to be Scots-Irish. They came to England somewhere between 1859 (when their youngest son Robert was born) and 1871 when they are recorded in the 1871 census living in East Thickley, Shildon in County Durham.
There are two important points to note here. Firstly, as was common with the censuses in England, the family birthplaces in Ireland are only vaguely described. John and Jane are both described as being born in Tyrone, Irland. I’m assuming that means County Tyrone. Their children all seem to have been born in “derry” Irland. Again, I’m assuming this is County Londonderry, although I guess they could have been referring to the city of Derry (Londonderry). This ambiguity, and the loss of the Irish censuses for 1851/61, has left me stumped researching these ancestors further. If anyone has better understanding on researching Ulster ancestors I would really appreciate it.
The second thing to note here, is that the family had moved to Shildon “Cradle of the Railways” where the Stockton and Darlington Railway established their workshops. As you can see the oldest three sons of John and Jane all have trades connected with the railways. Looking at the dates the children were born I’m guessing that there move to England was more connected with a search of better opportunities, rather than the Great Famine (1845-52) which occurred whilst the family was still living in Ireland.
Eliza Stewart is not recorded with her parents in 1871, so it was a long time before I even realised that she existed. Sadly she died before the 1881 census, so the only hint to her existence is a slightly odd entry in the 1881 census (below)
Jane Stewart is now a widow, her husband John died on 11th October 1877 from “Cardiac Dropsy”. Her son Joseph is rather eloquently described as a “Boilersmith” and Jane French, her grand-daughter is living with them. For a number of years I’d left this odd scrap of information, however earlier this year I felt the need to return to Jane and research her properly. Now the astute readers will have already worked this out. If you look at the 1871 census you will find that George and Eliza French are living next door to the Stewarts. Following the paper trail backwards we come to their marriage in 1869 and the only proof I have of her existence. As is common with my Stewarts they flirt between being Stewarts and Stewards, something that has been a problem for me over the years.
Going forward we reach the tough part of Eliza’s life. According to my best guess from the Familysearch and FreeBMD records she had seven children: John (1870-), Elizabeth Jane (1870-1872), Margaret (1872-1872), William (1873-), Joseph (1874-1876), Jane (1876-), Sarah Ann (1877-1878). As a parent myself I imagine that the worst thing that can happen in your life is the loss of your child. Eliza and George must have been heart-broken to lose four of their children who all died before their second birthday. worse was to come. Eliza died, aged 29, on the 6th of December 1878 from Phthisis, or as it is more commonly called Consumption or Tuberculosis.
After that her family drift in and out of the records. By 1881 her husband, George French, had remarried to Mary Dunning (In Q1 1880 according to FreeBMD) and was living with his two surviving sons and Mary’s daughter. Interestingly Mary Dunning, like George French and Eliza was born in Ireland. I wonder if this is a coincidence, or if that had both emigrated from Ireland as part of a larger community ?
Moving forward in time, all three surviving children seem to drift out of the census records. There is only one possible sighting of Jane in the 1901 census, living in Scarborough. George and Mary managed to live at least until the 1901 census where they are found in Darlington. I would hope that some of Eliza’s descendants are alive today, and that one day they may read this.
Postscript: I mentioned earlier that Eliza’s brother Robert was in a mental hospital for many decades. One interesting detail from his medical records states “14th March … He told me that 3 sisters had died of Phthisis.” If this is true then maybe there are more Stewarts out there waiting to be discovered ?