Thursday, 4 October 2018

The Other Woman



Meet my Grandma.     Her name was Martha, but she was always known as Cissie.   

This second photograph is of her mother, my Great Grandmother, Sarah.  She had nine children, eight daughters (my grandmother was her second daughter) and one son - he was number nine.   Perseverance and persistence paid off!




Sarah's mother-in-law, my Great Great Grandmother, was another Martha.   The only image I can find of her is this photograph of some portraits which one of my distant relatives owns.     The man is my Great Great Grandfather.    He looks very stern, and from what I have read about him he may well have been so.



 

The star of this post is my Grandma - Cissie, the woman in the first photograph.    She looks so sweet and quiet, though I do detect a core of strength in her, or perhaps that is because I know her story.     

Around the end of the First World War, Cissie met a man and fell in love.   

Before long she discovered that she was pregnant, and in early March 1921 she gave birth to a daughter, my aunt.     Cissie was 37 years old and unmarried.

To put this in context, this was just after the first world war when women over the age of 30 had only just been given the right to vote, and workhouses were still in existence.    People who couldn't support themselves and their children, or who were not helped by their family,  would be likely to end up in the workhouse, a place to be avoided if at all possible.

Some families would quietly absorb the child into the family group, others would have their 'errant' daughter sent off to be confined in a mental institution, there are many cases documented where this resulted in the women being incarcerated for decades, simply because they had a child out of wedlock.   

I won't explore all the avenues of thought and fact on this subject, tempting as it is, I will try to stick to the story.

Cissie had met the love of her life, we don't know how or when.    It was scandalous enough to become pregnant, but the 'sin' was compounded by the fact that he was a married man and already had a family!

Cissie, a spinster, had lived at home with her parents, in Middlesex.     My grandfather, and his first family, lived in Lincolnshire.      How did they meet?  Where did they meet?  When did they meet?   Forever lost to time.

My grandmother got her surname changed (by deed poll)  to match that of my grandfather, and moved up to Lincolnshire to live just a few roads away from where my grandfather's first family lived.    He no longer lived with his first family, he chose to be with my grandmother.

Today, this would be a fairly unremarkable story, but it all happened almost a century ago and must have been quite scandalous.

Somehow it was all 'managed' and grandfather's two families (the children, not the first wife) became friends, indeed we still are to this day.      Of the enormous pool of relatives, the ones we mostly socialise with are from this branch of the family and Cissie is still remembered with enormous affection by those few remaining ones who are old enough to remember her.

My great grandfather was never mentioned in family folklore, so perhaps he disowned his daughter for bringing such shame upon the family!    Maybe he was as strict and unbending as his own father was reputed to have been. 

Great Grandma was quietly supportive;  my mother used to delight in telling me about the enormous wicker hampers, filled with food and clothes,  which her grandma regularly sent to them, right up until her death when my mother was ten or eleven years old.

My mother, born six and a half years after her sister, knew about the other family, visited them, played with them and loved some of them.      She grew up believing her parents to be married, but hadn't given it much thought, until she fell in love with my father.

They became engaged, began to plan their wedding.   Documents were required for the legalities.   To her total devastation she discovered that her parents had not been married and that she, to use her own word, was a bastard.     That had a deeply wounding and profound effect on her and scarred her for the rest of her life, but that is another story.







32 comments:

  1. How lovely to actually know that story, it could have been kept secret forever. I know nothing about great grandparents except their names

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    1. I have the pleasure of being the keeper of the old family photograph box. Some have names or inscriptions on the back of them but far too many don't. When my aunt died I also received her tin of photographs and old family letters. These, tied in with the family tree (which a distant cousin had researched) allowed me to match some up. Far too much was left unspoken in our family!

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  2. What a story. And what a woman. Incredible for those that times. Cissie must have been very strong. Did you know her?
    You inspire me to write some time about my own grandmother's. Totally different story
    ..pioneers

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    1. Unfortunately not, she died a few years before I was born. She must have had such inner strength and determination, I wish I had known her. One of her sisters married and emigrated to NZ, stayed for the rest of her life, I believe.

      Please do write, Linda! That sounds like something very special indeed.

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    1. I would love to know how it was that it all turned out as it did, when so often these things end in bitterness and recriminations which then gets passed on through the generations. I think she must have been a really interesting woman.

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  4. The women had to be so strong in those days. I find family stories wonderful and have found so many missing links through ancestry about my own family, although its the unanswered ones that are so intriguing xcx

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    1. They certainly did, Chrissie. People and their stories always interest me. I was lucky that a distant relative had done a lot of research on the family tree, so that gave me names and dates. I think we all have interesting stories just waiting to be told!

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  5. This is a story to be written as a novel. Aren't you up for the task? What stories are the children, grandchildren of the first family telling, I wonder?

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    1. My days are packed as it is - my own fault because I have so many interests! We all get along very amicably but I hesitate to potentially stir up old tales of troubles and woes!

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  6. You certainly (and not surprisingly) come from a long line of beautiful, strong women. What a shame that we have such conventions and that your mother felt ashamed. It should be enough that ones parents truly love each other. I think it's wonderful that it all 'worked' and that the merged children grew close.

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    1. It is that quiet strength which fascinates me. It must have been so difficult, especially given what we know about the 1920's.
      Then we have the next generation of women - my aunt shrugged things off and was self-absorbed, whereas my mother absorbed worries and fretted, even though she was always the more practical one of the pair. Despite the revelations my mother remained close to my grandparents, so I guess they handled it all as well as could be!

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  7. I too have a "shameful" story in my family. One of my grandmother's sisters was close to giving birth to her husband's child and another sister went to stay with her and help her. The husband and the unmarried sister became "affectionate" and the result was a child. My great grandmother turned the unmarried girl out of the house, never to be mentioned, but was happy to have the child's father, her son-in-law, visit. It seems incredible at this distance. And yet in so many ways my great-grandmother was a liberal, humane woman with enormous compassion. It just seems weird - and sad

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    1. Oh, dear, that really is a sad tale. What a cad! Do you know what became of them? The double standard applied there - presumably for the sake of the 'wronged' daughter - is shocking. Does this mean that you have a whole raft of unknown-to-you relatives out there?

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    2. I think I may blog about it sometime.

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  8. I think such stories are only too common. My present husband's maternal family had two such events (mother and then daughter) and the latter only came to light as a deathbed confession! Before that, no-one knew about the daughter born out of wedlock, but they did make contact and keep it until her early death. Her grandmother had only just made it to the alter in time - her little girl was born 3 weeks after the wedding, so I surmise she had a large bouquet.

    My ex-husband's great aunt had a child out of wedlock - this would have been back in the 1920s I think - and she was put into a "mental hospital" as she was a "moral degenerate". Sadly her little boy died aged 18 mths. It was 40 years before she was released and then she finally married the love of her life.

    Your grandmother Cissie (my mum's name) was a very strong and determined woman and what a shame your mother was so ashamed by the circumstances of her birth, but things were different then weren't they? Even in the 1970s having a baby out of wedlock was considered disgraceful.

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    1. I have read so many terrible stories of women being put away, just like your ex-husband's great aunt - wonderful that her tragic story had a happy ending. I have absolutely no idea how people could just dispose of women, cast them out or lock them away and then get on with life.

      I must watch myself, I am within a whisker of pulling out my soapbox and boring everyone to tears.

      My mother's friend had a child in such circumstances, back in the late 1960's. Her parents were furious, the girl was sent away to a home for the final months, and then the baby was adopted. I well remember the shock my mother felt that her friends didn't support their daughter. Of course at the time I was unaware of my grandmother's story.

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  9. A fascinating story Elaine. Family history is so interesting.

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    1. No doubt each family has a wealth of such stories - most remain untold, lost to time. I think they definitely help to add some interest to a family tree!!

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  10. Being an unmarried mother was a stigma when I was a youngster now it's no so much but I wonder how many get pregnant just to get a council house

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    1. Times and attitudes have changed, and that is a good thing. With the lack of social housing they could be waiting a long time.

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  11. I discovered that my maternal great grandparents never married when I was researching my family tree. My great grandma wore a wedding ring and had his surname but no official marriage took place. He was from a travelling family so it's possible that they jumped the broom. Their sons were registered with his surname and their daughters with hers, which is why I had such a problem trying to find my grandmas's birth registration.

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    1. I can imagine that caused you a bit of head scratching until you worked it out, Scarlet! Don't you just love all these little stories which make our family lines so much more interesting!

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    1. Perhaps Fascinating would have been a better word.

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    2. Either one will do very nicely! Thank you, Susan.

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  13. Oh how differently such things are handled, today.

    All this, certainly makes for interesting family history.

    ✨ 🍁 🎃 🍁 ✨

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    1. Aren't they just! Life is much more complicated in some ways, in others, less so.

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  14. my grandfather was the disgrace of rural linconshire he married my grandma had 5 living children then ran off with her younger sister and moved to Rugby , I already knew this part of the tale , but when i was researching family history I found that he had also married the younger sister while he was still very much married to grandma ..so grandad was a bigamist...lol

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    1. Poor Grandma being abandoned, betrayed, and left with five children to raise! Did she manage it by herself? Did he get rumbled and sent to prisoned? Whatever happened to the 'Rugby' branch of the family - did they live in isolation or have you ever made contact? Fascinating stuff, Kate.

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  15. My husband's parents posed as a married couple until being quietly married in their 60's--after Poppa finally obtained a divorce from the first wife he had abandoned. It was wartime--if that explains anything--and my late mother-in-law had recently been jilted by the man she expected to marry. We sometimes read a novel that seems to have contrived relationships, too much 'drama'--when we begin to uncover the stories of the past, they are often more dramatic [and sometimes tragic] than any fiction.

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    1. So true. I see that the war played a part in your in-laws story, as undoubtedly it did in so many others, including that of my grandparents. What I didn't tell in the story was that before this happened, my grandfather's wife had given birth to another man's child, while my grandfather was away during the war... definitely too much drama!

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Lovely to hear from you!