Raised by an Aunt & Uncle Part 1: The Mysterious Locket

When you find a child missing from a census, the first assumption is probably that the child has died. Sadly, this was far too often the case. Sometimes though, they were living with other family members. You might even find them with a grandparent living right next door, where there was more space!

Of course, we all visit family now and again, and it’s possible that on the night of the census, a child was just visiting that day, or staying there for a short time. However, it was also quite common for children to be raised by other family members, even when their parents were still living.

This blog post is the first of two stories about women in my family who were each raised by an aunt and uncle. It’s also a reflection on the lives they had, compared with the lives they might have had.

The Mysterious Locket

In 2018, my husband’s aunt showed me a locket that had belonged to her grandmother (my husband’s great grandmother), Ida Maud Martin née Gifford. The locket contained striking Victorian photos of a man and woman (which you might recognise from my homepage and social media accounts). She told me that her grandma had been brought up by the couple in the locket, but she had no idea of their names. It was a branch of the family I hadn’t looked into yet and I was thrilled to have a new mystery to solve!

Ida was the daughter of Mark Gifford and Phoebe Morse, who lived in the Forest of Dean. Like many men in the region, Mark Gifford was a coal miner, as was his father, also Mark Gifford. In 1851, when Mark Sr was 61 and Mark Jr was 13, they were both coal miner labourers living in the village of Bream. In 1856, there were 221 pits in the Forest of Dean, and almost every man and boy was a miner. In 1861, both Mark Giffords were still coal miners, even though the older Mark was by then 73. He did eventually leave coal mining … but rather than retiring, he worked as an agricultural labourer into his eighties! Mark Gifford’s brothers also worked as miners of coal and iron ore, except the youngest, who was deaf and dumb.

In 1866, the younger Mark Gifford was in the newspapers, after a woman (in one article called a prostitute) stole a sovereign from him at a ‘low beer-shop’ in Gloucester. Just a few weeks later he married Harriet Ann Jones. Mark and Harriet had two daughters and a son. However, Harriet died in 1874.

The following year, Mark remarried to Phoebe Morse, a miner’s daughter. Two of Phoebe’s brothers had died a few years earlier in mining accidents, which highlights how dangerous this work was. Mark and Phoebe also had two daughters and a son, the first being Ida Maud in 1877. In 1881, Mark, then an iron miner, lived with Phoebe and four of his children – the younger two children from his first marriage (the oldest daughter had left home to become a domestic servant) and the younger two from his second marriage. However, four-year old Ida was living 120 miles away with William & Harriet Jones, in Walton on the Hill, just outside Liverpool. Ida was described as their niece. And there Ida stayed, until she got married.

Who were William & Harriet Jones? I assume that William was a brother of Mark Gifford’s first wife Harriet Jones (though I’ve not yet found proof). William was born in Ireland, but his wife Harriet came from Yorkley in the Forest of Dean, where Ida was also born. Unfortunately I’ve not been able to trace them prior to 1871 and I don’t know Harriet’s maiden name. William Jones was a warder at the Liverpool Gaol in Walton on the Hill for over three decades.

Lots of questions come to mind:
– How old was Ida when she left home?
– Why was she selected or sent away to be raised by another couple? Were her parents struggling for money, or unable to cope with caring for all of their children? Ida’s younger brother seems to have been poorly as an older child, so perhaps he was unwell as a baby too, and demanded extra funds and attention.
– How did Phoebe feel about her own first child leaving home while she continued to raise two older step-children?
– Why were William & Harriet Jones willing to raise Ida? The couple do not appear to have had any other children of their own. In 1871 they had another niece living with them, who would have been an adult by 1881. Therefore they presumably had the desire as well as the means to offer another girl a home. In 1881 they were in their late forties and seem to have been childless. Ida, the daughter of Phoebe rather than Harriet, was not a blood relation, but perhaps they offered or agreed to care for Ida rather than another sibling simply because they took a shine to her.
– How did Ida feel about growing up without her parents and siblings, and did she ever see them or write to them?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. However, I think she must have had a much more comfortable and secure childhood than she would have had with her parents. As a prison warder, I assume her uncle would have been better educated and significantly better paid than her father, a collier, and that her adopted family would have had higher social status and greater respect than the one she left behind. Additionally, she was now the only child in the family, so everything that her aunt and uncle could afford for their family would have come to her only. The community she grew up in was dominated by the prison (built 1855), with most neighbours also being prison warders and their families. A workhouse had also been built there in the 1860s. How much contact did she have with the prisoners, or the inmates of the workhouse? And how did this experience differ from life in the close-knit Forest of Dean mining community, often defined by tragedy and hardship?

Ida’s sister and half-sisters all left home as teenagers to go into domestic service, but Ida was a dressmaker’s apprentice at home at age 14 (when the photo below was taken), and she stayed home until she was in her mid twenties. Ida’s half-brother became a miner like his father and grandfather. At the age of 19 he was convicted of an attempted assault on a woman, but let off due to previous good behaviour and the ‘great temptation [he] was subjected to’! He continued to be in trouble with the law for violent behaviour; even at age 71, an old-age pensioner, he was charged with stabbing his neighbour with a fork! Her full brother seems to have been unwell as a child, and died at the age of 20.

Ida Gifford in 1891, aged 14

In 1899, Harriet Jones died, and in 1901, Ida, 24, still lived with her widowed retired uncle, working as a housekeeper (probably for him). William Jones died later that year. After William’s death, Ida became Second Nanny to a wealthy family, the Stacpooles. According to my husband’s aunt, she fell in love with a footman, but his social status was so much higher than hers, that the match was impossible! However, James Martin, a man who delivered vegetables to the house, did fit the bill. In 1905, Ida married James and they soon had three daughters. Did Ida’s parents, who still lived in the Forest of Dean more than 120 miles away, come to her wedding, I wonder? Did they meet their granddaughters? Ironically, in 1911, Mark and Phoebe Gifford, now in their sixties and retired, had a 16-year old granddaughter living with them, who was a dressmaker’s apprentice. By then, perhaps they themselves were able to offer better opportunities to their granddaughter than she had at home. However, their support of their granddaughter would be short-lived, as Phoebe died in 1912 and Mark in 1913. Mark died intestate with his estate valued at just £25.

A beautiful picture of Phoebe has been handed down to us. Based on the dress style, circa 1860s, this would have been taken before she was married. It’s surprising to me that a miner’s daughter had such a full and fashionable gown, and that the family had the means to take her picture. However, Phoebe’s family were free miners (independent miners) and they seem to have been considerably better off than the Giffords.

Phoebe Gifford nee Morse c1860s

Was the portrait a precious possession of Ida’s, which she took with her to her new home? Perhaps. Nevertheless, it is her aunt and uncle, William & Harriet Jones, whose pictures she kept in her locket. I have more to find out about them still, but I’m so glad our family now knows their names.

Update 13/9/20: I now believe that William Jones was not related to Harriet Jones, the first wife of Mark Gifford. The Jones name was a red herring! Rather, I believe that his wife Harriet was Harriet Morse, an older sister of Phoebe Morse – Ida’s mother. This would indeed make William & Harriet Jones Ida’s uncle and aunt. Harriet’s age and place of birth fit. However, as yet I have found no marriage certificate for William Jones & Harriet Morse and can’t find Harriet in the 1851 or 1861 censuses. It’s possible they married and lived in Ireland during this period.

Next: Raised by an Aunt & Uncle Part 2: A Transatlantic Record …

6 thoughts on “Raised by an Aunt & Uncle Part 1: The Mysterious Locket

  1. This is such an intriguing story and wonderful that you have the locket. You have raised some important questions concerning motivations and emotions that are not easy to answer. It would be fantastic if you can find out more about William Jones and his wife Harriet as this would at least confirm the connection between the families.


  2. Thanks, Jude. My aunt has the locket but I am glad I was able to take a picture of it. I agree that the motivations will probably never be known, but it is so interesting to consider the possibilities. I’d love to find more out about them and place them firmly in the family tree, but I’m finding it difficult to locate them with confidence before 1871, and I can’t find a marriage. Let me know if you have any suggestions!


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