Family History Research Reveals the Stories of Two Female Ancestors


By Glynn Burrows, Norfolk Tours


In the UK, Mothering Sunday is in March, so we have already had our celebrations, but, for some reason and I hope someone will explain, other parts of the world celebrate at different times.

As far as I have been able to ascertain, the original reason we had a special day for “Mothering” was connected to the Church, as the day always falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent. That day, people would go back to their homes and visit their family as well as their Mother Church. It was especially important for servants, who would often get positions away from home and this may have been the only chance they had to get to see their families.

For the family historian, it’s a great chance to look at the women of the family and see how they lived all those years ago, so, this article is all about some of my female ancestors and the lives they led.

The first one I will look at is my Great, Great, Great Grandmother: Lydia Goll. Lydia was born on March 6th, 1812 and baptised on April 5th, in Weasenham All Saints Church, the daughter of Edmund and Frances Goll. Lydia had several siblings and grew up in the countryside, her father working on the land. On 10th November 1831, Lydia married John Davy, an older man who was a widower and, although Lydia was a widow herself within a few months of her marriage she went on to have a son in 1832. In January 1834, she married James Bear, a local man, born in the village in 1810 and this couple went on to have at least thirteen children. Sadly, some of these children died in infancy, but several went on to live very full and long lives and their descendants are now all over the globe.

Looking at various records, including census and maps, etc, I have been able to find out that Lydia lived in very small cottages and the conditions were far from comfortable. In 1851, she was living in a cottage with a living room, lean-to kitchen, and two bedrooms. In that cottage she was living with: James, her husband, six children, two adult nephews, and her 78-year-old father. By 1861, it was just James and six children, as some of the older children and the nephews had left and sadly, her father had died. By 1871 James had passed away and there were only three children left at home and in 1881, Lydia was living on her own, with a Police Constable as a lodger. By 1891, Lydia was an elderly lady, living on her own. Lydia was laid to rest on 29th December 1899, in the same Church as she was baptised all those years previously. No doubt, there were a lot at the funeral, as she would have had a very large number of local family and, as a village elder, she would have had a lot of respect in the area too. Sadly though, I have no idea where she lies as she was a pauper, so there is no grave marker.

My next matriarchal ancestor did not have a country upbringing. Harriet Ann Bailey is my Great, Great Grandmother and she was born in King’s Lynn in 1864. In 1871, she was living in extremely cramped and dirty conditions in one of the tiny yards in the fishing quarter of the town. The family, at that time, consisted of the parents and five children. These yards were really bad. Usually, there would be a shop, house, or pub on the street frontage, and then, behind that, down an alley, there would be a yard with cottages. I call them cottages, but there were often little more than a couple of rooms. The yard would have a communal toilet, if they were lucky, and there would be work carried on in the open area. This work, being the fishing area, would mostly be very smelly and dirty work, so, compared to Lydia, poor Harriet had a rough upbringing.

By 1881, the family had moved to another yard and Harriet’s parents were there, with five children at home. By then though, there was a granddaughter too. In 1891, Harriet was married, with her own family and she is living in yet another of the yards in the town. The census tells us that her husband was a fish hawker and that there were five children. That is where the story gets really interesting. The eldest child has his mother’s maiden name and was obviously born before the couple married, as he was 7 and the marriage took place only six years before the census. The interesting piece of information though, is that this child was not born in King’s Lynn, like all the others. He was born in Norwich Castle. To any local historian, that means that, at the date of the birth, the baby’s mother was in prison for something quite serious, as people didn’t get sent to Norwich Castle Prison for stealing an apple! (Well not in 1882 anyway.)

The story took me quite some time to put together, but, it turns out that, in May 1882, the whole family had a fight with another young man, who lived in the same yard and he later died. Harriet, her sister Elizabeth and their parents, were all committed to Norwich Castle Prison for Manslaughter. The younger sister, who was only 13 at the time, was not prosecuted, even though she did take part in the affray.

As I said, Harriet had married in 1885 and she and her husband went on to have a family, many of whom still live in the same area. I find it very strange that the story was never mentioned to me when I started my researches. I often spoke to my Granddad about the family and he knew Harriet, but the story was kept under wraps, perhaps hoping that it was long gone and forgotten. It was, still I started digging!

So, it doesn’t matter if my “Grandmother” is a sweet little old lady, who grew up in a country idyl like Lydia, or a real rough-un, like Harriet, who spent time in The Castle Prison, they are still people who were obviously individuals and it is thanks to them that I am here today.

Glynn Burrows is the owner of Norfolk Tours in England where he provides customized, private tours and also helps his clients trace their English family history. If you are thinking about taking a vacation to England, visit

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