My Great Granny – Sarah Helferty 1867-1921

This is an update to a previous post about my maternal granny’s mother, Sarah Helferty. I’ve found out a lot more about her and, after my recent visit to the church where she married my great grandfather, she’s been on my mind.

All the circumstances of her life suggest that she must have been tough to survive.  She has also been fairly tough to research because no-one in the family knew anything about her past prior to meeting my great grandfather.

What I did know about Sarah was that she married my great grandfather, Patrick Cosgrove in Dundee and was widowed when my grandmother was just a baby. She remarried a man from Newmains, Lanarkshire and lived there until she died.  She and her second husband had two children. It was believed that she may originally have come from Glasgow and that her parents were Irish. So with this basic information I set to work.

The first document I found was of her marriage to Patrick Cosgrove.

At the time of their marriage on 3 December 1888, the two were living and working in Dundee.  Their addresses in Whorterbank, Lochee show that they were neighbours.  Sarah was employed as a mill worker at the Camperdown Works. Dundee at that time was famous for it’s Jute Mills.  The working conditions were poor and the wages were low.  The women in the Dundee jute mills had a reputation for being tough, loud and hard drinking.  There were three women to each man earning Dundee the name of ‘She town’ .  I have visited the Verdant Works Museum which tells the story of the millworkers and how they lived. It’s a fascinating place.

The marriage certificates lists Sarah’s parents as Arthur Helferty and Mary Ann Wilkinson.  So I continued my search using these details.

Sarah was born on 2 March 1867 at 144 Saltmarket in Glasgow. 

It too me a while to find the record because the name is recorded as Halford. Sarah’s mother is there as Mary Stewart nee Wilkinson, a widow. Except she wasn’t a widow at all. She never married. Sarah was her fourth child and it appears that Arthur Helferty was the father of three of them. I have posted about Mary and you can read more about her life here.

By the time of the census in April 1871 when she was just four years old, Sarah had lost her mother and two brothers both of whom were called William. The older boy was Mary’s son but not Arthur’s. He had the surname Duncan but I haven’t been able to find his birth record. He died aged 18 in January 1870. A baby boy, William Wilkinson who may or may not have been Arthur’s son died in June 1871. Mary had died in March of that year.

It’s hard to know what happened to the 3 remaining children. After their mother’s death in the City Poorhouse their aunt Ann Helferty claimed them but in the census they show as residing with Arthur. I hope this means that he was a decent man and did his best for the girls.

By the 1881 census Sarah was no longer living with her family. At just 14 years of age she was employed as a tobacco worker and was living in lodgings.

From there we move on to her marriage to Patrick up in Lochee. I don’t know how long she had been in Dundee prior to her marriage. They had left by 1891 and were living in Newmains, Lanarkshire. Patrick’s family had come to Newmains from Ireland in the 1870s. At that time the couple had no children and shared their home in Furnace Row with two lodgers.

There lives faced some ups and downs and there were even brushes with the law. You can read more about these events here and here.

The couple were married for almost twelve years when their daughter, Catherine was born on 16 July 1900. By this time the family were living in Glasgow but in 1901 Sarah was left widowed with a small baby when Patrick died of smallpox in February of that year.  In the 1901 census Sarah and Catherine are listed as lodgers living with Sarah’s sister Ellen and her family.

On 11 February 1902 Sarah married widower Edward Cooper.  Edward, like Patrick, was an Irish immigrant to Newmains who had also spent time working in Dundee. It was there he married his first wife.

At the time of their marriage Edward had three children so Sarah took on the role of stepmother as well as having to care for my grandmother. My mother remembers Edward as a kind man but one of his descendants has been in contact with me and she has heard a different story. I do hope that there was some happiness in their marriage.

Sarah an Edward had two children together.  Arthur was born on 18 November 1902 and Mary on 7 February 1903.

Sarah died on 4 December 1921.  The cause of death was cirrhosis of the liver, possibly from drinking which may have started back in her time in Dundee.  She was 54 years old. She had such a tough life.

I recently visited Cambusnethan Cemetery to visit her grave. She is buried there with Edward. Sadly the plot is unmarked.

7 thoughts on “My Great Granny – Sarah Helferty 1867-1921

  1. My heart breaks for Sarah. I can’t imagine how she felt at 17 losing her mother. She definitely sounds like she was a strong (tough) woman. Great research. You did a really good job of telling her story.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Mary Ann Helferty 1840-1884 – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #13 | Shaking The Branches

  3. My mother’s (Aunt Sarah’s) middle name was Helferty. She wouldn’t tell me why she was called that, but hated it anyway (or at least that’s what she told me)

    Great work again Paula!

    Liked by 1 person

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