My Great Granny – Sarah Helferty 1867-1921

This is a further update to a previous post about my maternal granny’s mother, Sarah Helferty. I’ve found out more about her so I thought I would add to her story.

I started my research of Sarah’s life with very little information.  All I knew 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.

Sarah also had two sisters, Martha and Ellen. 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. At least for a time.

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 in King Street, Glasgow. In that same census year her father was living just round the corner in a boarding house in Princes Street.  He later married the landlady. Click here to see a great photo from 1868 of Princes Street taken from King Street. (I know that area quite well. My husband and I went on our first date to a restaurant in King Street!)

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 and  by 1891 they had left the city 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. I had never known that Sarah had been in the village prior to her second marriage.

Sarah and Patrick were married for almost twelve years when their daughter, Catherine was born on 16 July 1900. She was born in Glasgow. In February 1901 Sarah was left widowed with a small baby when Patrick died of smallpox.  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. By researching both Patrick and Edward I realised that the two of them must have known each other their whole lives. They grew up as neighbours in Newmains.  Edward’s family were also Irish immigrants who came to Newmains in the 1870s.  It is possible they both went to Dundee together. Edward married his first wife, Agnes Sweeney in Lochee in 1887 but was back in Newmains by the time his first child was born in 1888. 

Edward And Agnes had three children so Sarah took on the role of stepmother as well as having to care for Catherine. Agnes had died in 1895 and after her death their youngest child, Sarah was placed in the care of relatives in Airdrie. She remained there even after her father remarried. (I learned about this through her granddaughter.)

Sarah and Edward had three children together. Arthur was born on 18 November 1902 and Mary on 7 February 1903. I had previously believed that they had two children but I just discovered records for their third child.  Edward Cooper was born in June 1806 but died just a month later.  The cause of death is recorded as spina bifida and meningitis.

The original Poor Law records for North Lanarkshire can be viewed at the Heritage Centre in Motherwell and they can now also be viewed online on Ancestry.  At various times and through both marriages Sarah and her family had to rely on the parish for financial support.  Her life was never easy.

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.  Cirrhosis is not necessarily caused by alcoholism but there are newspaper reports of disorderly behaviour which might suggest she was, on occasion, under the influence.


The above article from September 1891 is one such example.

It is not for me to judge Sarah.  She had the worst possible start.  Her mother died when she was very young.  She was illiterate, received little (if any) education and had very few options in life.

I still have a lot of questions about Sarah.  I would love to know how she came to be in Dundee.  Obviously there were employment opportunities there but it suggests her life in Glasgow must have been pretty bad.  I wonder how she got there and if she went alone.

Another  question I have is about her relationship with the Cosgrove family after Patrick’s death.  Did they help out with my granny? How did they feel about Sarah marrying Edward? Maybe they encouraged the two to get together.  My mother was not even aware that the Cosgroves had lived in Newmains so it may be that my granny didn’t have any relationship with them. There are some things I’ll just never know

In this photo you can see Sarah’s final resting place.  I got the burial information from the Heritage Centre. There is no headstone on their plot and I had to ask for help from a cemetery worker to help me find it.  Sarah and Edward are buried together along with two of his grandchildren. It’s a nice peaceful spot.

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