Category Archives: Digweed

My Irish ancestors in Walmgate, York

As part of my diploma studies with Strathclyde University I am currently studying Irish records. Some of my ancestors came over from Ireland sometime before the 1851 census and settled in the Walmgate area of York. The family concerned are my three times great grandparents:  James Weir (about 1784-1857) and Mary Carty (about 1804-1875). In the 1851 census they were living in Long Close, Walmgate, York with their seven children, six of whom had been born in Ireland, and one who had been born in York. James was described as an agricultural labourer as well as his sons: Patrick, John and James and daughter Catherine. Their daughters Judy, Ann and Mary were described as scholars and Mary Carty, a visitor and widow (and possibly James’s mother in law), was also living with them.

James died on 21 January 1857. His death certificate records that he was aged 78 and a labourer living in Long Close Lane; his cause of death was asthma and disease of the heart. His death was reported by his daughter Catherine who by then had married James Duffy.  By the 1861 census Catherine, James and family had moved to Middlesbrough.

After James’s death Mary (Carty/Weir) continued to live in York and was recorded in the 1861 census living with her daughter Ann, husband Charles Rafter and a “niece” Mary aged 11. A question I have is, was she the daughter of Mary who was born in 1851 when she was 47, or the daughter of one of Mary’s children? So far I haven’t been able to find a birth or baptism record for her.

My three times great grandmother Mary continued to live with her daughter Ann, Charles and their family. In the 1871 census they were living in the St Dennis area of Walmgate. Mary died on 24 March 1875 aged 67. Her cause of death was recorded a phthisis. She was living with her daughter Ann and family at 19 Dennis Street; her daughter is recorded as the informant on Mary’s death certificate.

My research into this family has had some success with three of James and Mary’s daughters: Catherine (born about 1826 in Sligo, Ireland), Ann (born about 1843 in Ireland and died in 1890) and Mary (born about 1851 in York and died in 1918). Mary married Luke Richardson (1846-1891) and they are my two times great grandparents.

I have had less success researching the following children of James and Mary who were all born in Ireland:  Patrick (born about 1824), John (born about 1834), James (born about 1836) and Judy (born about 1841). If you have any information about any of them then do please get in touch.

Beware of what you find

Researching my ancestors has become something of a passion for me and I really enjoy writing stories about the people I’ve met in this way. From time to time though, I find things out which result in me having a more sombre view of life in a rural village.

A recent example of this relates to the Richardson family; my great grandmother was a Richardson. I was surprised to see that I hadn’t completed all the birth, marriages and deaths information for part of this family who lived in Yorkshire in the late 19th century. As I progressed with the task I came across Mary Ann Richardson, my first cousin three times removed, who as a young child was injured in a fire and subsequently died. The accident happened when both her parents were at work and her two brothers were playing outside in the yard. It looks like she got too close to the stove and her clothes caught on fire. The inquest record explains that one of their neighbours saw her “with her clothes blazing all around”; and that Leonard Smales, a farm labourer, “seized her and rolled her on the floor” to put out the flames. Mary had burns to her legs, body, chest, chin and ears and although her wounds were attended to, she died. Rather poignantly the 1875 burial record for Mary records that she died aged four and three quarter years.

Life in rural Yorkshire wasn’t easy; both of Mary’s parents were working as labourers, Joseph on the railway and her mother Elizabeth on the land. They were at work the day the accident happened, a Saturday. By 1881 they had moved to a nearby village and Joseph was described as a railway platelayer for the North Eastern railway who perhaps had moved with his job?

Sometimes even brief records can pack an unexpected punch. On a recent visit to the East Yorkshire archives in Beverley I handled a small document which recorded the indictment and sentence of my five times great grandfather. Elias was given 7 years transportation for stealing a variety of grains; perhaps either to sell and/or feed his family. He never made it to one of Britain’s colonies though. Elias died in 1812 in a prison hulk ship moored off Portsmouth, probably of hulk fever. I tried to find out more information about his burial but it looks like prisoners were just put in unmarked graves or worse.

Seeing both these records gave me an almost visceral connection to the past, something which I was really surprised about. Sad those these stories are, it won’t stop me doing my research; and their stories deserve to be told, it has also made me more aware of the conditions my ancestors endured in a part of rural Yorkshire which I experienced very differently as a child. To me it meant freedom, fresh air and the chance to read and learn. For them it was more about the daily grind and being able to feed their families. Despite the current climate, in comparison to their lives, I feel very lucky to live in the present time.