The only one of my grandparents I got to meet was my Granny Brawley, my mum’s mum. I knew that her father was called Patrick Cosgrove and her mother was Sarah Helferty. I knew that she was born in Glasgow in 1900. Prior to starting my research that was pretty much it. My granny died when I was just 7 years old so I never got the chance to find out more from her. When I started working on my family tree I was keen to discover where she had come from. Oh, I did know that her father was born in Ireland. At that time I kind of thought that was my connection to Ireland but if you have read any of my other posts you will know that my ancestry is over 50% Irish. This has been proven through research and DNA!
Anyway, I moved from my granny to her mother, Sarah Helferty. Research quickly showed that she had been born around 1867 in Glasgow. Her marriage and death records showed her mother to be Mary Wilkinson. So I tried to find her birth record. It’s quite an unusual name and around that time there was only one.
Sarah Helferty born in March 1867 in London Road, Glasgow. Mother recorded as Mary Ann Helferty. No father. Ok, so the no father part didn’t link with her marriage and death records but the rest fit. Researching illegitimate children, I discovered that to hide the illegitimacy a bride might invent a father. I surmised that the Arthur Helferty on my great granny’s marriage record was in fact, an invention. I did go looking for him but didn’t find anything. That, I decided, proved my theory.
At the time of finding the birth record I was actually working in London Road, Glasgow so I was able to take a short drive along to where the house where she was born would have been. It felt like a “Who Do You Think You Are” moment!
So with no real father’s details, I wanted to find out more about Mary Ann Helferty.
She died in 1884 aged just 45 in Govan Poorhouse. A quick check showed that the building where she died still exists and it turned out it was a building I had visited! I was starting to feel really close to Mary Ann.
I carried on digging into her life and it was not a happy story. After Sarah she had another illegitimate child, Ann who died as a baby. I knew that to find out more of the story I had to see the records of her time in the poorhouse I’d need to view the records. These are held at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. This was my first time using the records at the Mitchell. When they brought out the original register and I opened it to Mary Ann’s page I did feel quite emotional. I was a bit disappointed not to get white gloves à la WDYTYR but if the cameras had been on me they would have seen some dabbing at the eyes!
I got to find out quite a lot more about the life of my “great, great granny”. She actually had a further two children by a long term partner. The children had the partner’s surname. You can read more about Mary Ann in an earlier blog post by clicking here.
In the 1901 census my granny, who was just an infant, was living with her widowed mother in Glasgow. The family they were living with were the O’Donnells. It occurred to me that there may be a connection so I had a look at Mrs O’Donnell. Helen Helferty married Daniel O’Donnell on 25 February 1884 at St Francis Chapel in Glasgow. Her parents are recorded as Arthur Helferty and Mary Wilkinson. What? So Sarah had a sister that lived to adulthood? A sister who also used a fake father’s details? Or had I been wrong about my theory? I actually felt a bit sick when I realised that all my work around Mary Ann had been a waste of time. The woman who I felt I had come to know was not even related to me!
On the positive side it now gave me a name for my great, great grandfather which opened up a new branch of the tree and I hoped that Mary Wilkinson had a better life than Mary Ann Helferty. It seemed she was married and settled. Good news. Then I found Helen’s birth record.
Recorded as Helen Wilkinson she was born in 1864 and, as you can see, was illegitimate. So maybe not as straightforward a story as I hoped. I looked for the family in the census records. In 1861Arthur and Mary Helferty were living with their daughter Martha. Arthur is recorded as the head of the house. And there’s another member of the family, a stepson called William Duncan. So, Sarah had another sister and a half brother. Where did he come from? And if she Mary was using the name Helferty in 1861 why was she Wilkinson in 1864 and why was Helen recorded as illegitimate?
By this time I have used up a lot of Scotland’s People credits so I decided on another trip to the Mitchell Library. For a set fee you can spend the day looking at as many records as you have time for.
First thing I searched for at the Mitchell was Mary and Arthur’s marriage record. No trace. Then I went for Mary’s death record. Could this be her?
Mary Wilkinson died aged 39 years in the City Poorhouse. She’s recorded as single with no mention of Arthur. Since I was at the Mitchell I could request the register.
I was a bit nervous opening up this huge ledger. I wanted to believe that Mary and Arthur had had a better life. I am very grateful to the Poorhouse officials who noted her story in a fair bit of detail.
Transcript of Poorhouse record no 1369612
Mary Wilkinson Resides 57 Princes Street 2 up right with Elizabeth Dickie.
Place of birth: Ireland Date of inspector visit: 1.20pm 10 February 1871 Status: single Age: 40 Occupation: cleaner Religion: Protestant Disability: Febricula and bronchitis
Dependants: Helen age 7 born Glendornal (in fever hospital). Martha age 10 born Saltmarket (in fever hospital). Sarah age 31/2 born Saltmarket (in fever hospital) William age 10 1/2 57 Princes Street
Daughter of William Wilkinson a labourer dead and Martha Gilly cannot tell where she is.
First application. Settlement Ireland
Remarks: in lodgings at 3/ a week. Putative father of children Arthur Helford with whom she has cohabited for many years.
Particulars of settlement: in 57 Princes Street, Glasgow. Prior for 5 years residing in the summer season in Lochgoilhead and spending winter months in Glasgow.
13700999 11am 2 March 1871 Mary Wilkinson applies from 57 King Street back 2 up. Prostration of strength and children
Sarah and Martha both in fever hospital. Helen and William 2/3/1871 self and two children admitted to house by indoor inspector.
On 17 March 1871 mother died in Poorhouse.
21 March 1871 Helen and William given to aunt Ann Hafferty residing No 7 Dyers Lane by inspector“
So there it is. Proof that this was indeed my great, great granny.
But what about my great granny Sarah. I still didn’t know where and when she was born. The Helferty name has been spelled in a dozen diffenent ways. You can see the poorhouse inspector recorded it as “Helford”. So I tried again.
And here she is recorded as Sarah Halford, daughter of Arthur Halford and Mary Wilkinson. She was born in the Saltmarket in Glasgow. As for mum having the name Stewart, that’s another story. I have written a previous post about Mary Wilkinson that you can read by clicking here.
So we have two Sarah Helfertys born in March 1867. If you know Glasgow at all you will know that Saltmarket and London Road are just a short walk. (London Road runs for miles but number 17 is at the High Street end and Saltmarket is at the foot of High Street). It turns out both girls were illegitimate and their mothers died in poverty in the poorhouse. What are the chances? I think I can forgive myself the mistake.