As I have come across written stories and biographies of some of my ancestors I have found them to be fascinating. It becomes so much more real and I gain this sense that people are people, no matter the era. Reading about them takes them from being just names or photographs to real living individuals who experienced joys, love, hardships, loss, and adventures. The historian and story lover in me wishes I had more time to devote to genealogy research. I have been doing most of my research using Ancestry.com and thanks to other participants who are taking the time to upload photos and stories, my own ancestral background has been enriched immensely.
Let me share with you a little of the beginning story of Elizabeth Talmer Roberts, also know as Lizzie, sister of my great-great-grandfather. Lizzie was born on June 10, 1861 in Headless Cross, Worchestershire, England. Her father Abel was a blacksmith. Her mother Ellen Ross Roberts had been a school teacher before her marriage. Child education was not required in England at this time so Lizzie benefitted with her siblings from some education from her mother.
Children were expected to begin working very young. When Lizzie was about 5 years old, one of her jobs was to sit on the fence stiles and chase the birds from the growing crops. When she was about 7 years old she was hired out by a distant cousin. She ran away and came home crossing a pasture where a very mean bull was kept. She managed to get through the pasture safely, but this bull later gored her brother Thomas very badly.
At one time the family lived near a large needle factory and for some years she worked with her mother by bringing home needles to inspect and to package. They would return the finishes work to the factory once a week. When she was a young lady she worked on a darm and spent spent several hours a day working in the hay fields. According to a story written by her daughter Edna Shepherd Hanna, she later worked as a maid in a home on one of the large estates. It was here that Lizzie met and fell in love with a young man named John Wiggett.
Neither her mother nor her employer were very happy about this, so they tried to keep them separated. This only made them more anxious to be together. They did their courting through a small window and during walks to church. One day her mistress told here to go home until she could forget this young man. When she returned home her mother was very cross because of her behavior, and because her wages were needed to help support the large family.
One night soon after this incident her father wanted her to go to the public well for water. It had grown dark and the path led through a very narrow alley, which was a hangout for a group of very rough boys. Lizzie refused to go unless her brother would accompany her. Her father may have been drinking, for her refusal angered him very much, and he refused to let her brother William go. When she told her father again that she would not go alone he took a heavy blacksmith belt and gave Lizzie a severe beating. Then he made a bed for her on the floor by the side of his bed. In the night, after she was sure he was asleep, she ran away and went to the home of John Wiggett’s mother. She did not return home and instead her and John appeared in church for three Sundays before they could be married, a custom posting the bans. Their marriage was solemnized at the Parrish Church in the rectory of Headless Cross, County of Warwick on August 5, 1878.
John and Lizzie began their married life and were happy for awhile. They both worked stamping needles at the factory. In 1879 Lizzie quit work to prepare for the birth of their first child. Their daughter Florence Wiggett was born December 7, 1879.
In the early spring of 1880, Lizzie’s brothers William Roberts (my great-great-grandfather) age 17 and Benjamin age 16, were baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They began making plans to emigrate to Utah and departed England on June 4, 1880. Lizzie and John, still together, had their second child, a son, on May 1, 1881. They named him Benjamin Earnest Wiggett.
About this time her husband John began staying away nights and was spending more time and money in the ale houses. Lizzie’s brothers had written urging the family to join them in America and offered to pay the passage for those that wished to join them. Abel and Ellen Roberts (Lizzie’s parents), with their younger children Thomas, Harry, Sadie and Alfred, left England in 1882. Lizzie had wanted to join them and held hopes that a change might improve John’s habits. John did not seem to want to go and since Lizzie was expecting their third child they both stayed in England. Their third child, Lizzie Wiggett, was born October 17, 1882, but died a few days later.
The loss of her daughter, together with John’s drinking, saddened Lizzie very much. Lizzie had been receiving letters from her mother telling of their new life in America. A letter took somewhere between a month and six weeks to arrive. Lizzie always had a neighbor read these letters to her. One day a letter arrived and Lizzie was so anxious to read it she attempted to read it herself. Later when she had the neighbor read it she confirmed that she could read well enough for herself. Lizzie make up her mind that was going to emigrate to Utah and believed that her husband John would follow her. She had hopes of creating a new life together. It was a difficult decision as she was also expecting again.
The necessary arrangements were made for her and her husband, along with her sister Lucy and her husband Fred Fields. Stories say that John Wiggett went to the ship with them, but that his sister clung to him and begged him not to go. Whatever the reason John did not board the ship, yet Lizzie and their two children Florence age 3 and Ernest age 2, along with her sister Lucy and brother-in-law Alfred, departed on April 11, 1883 from Liverpool on the ship Nevada.
During the voyage her young son Earnest was very ill. The stories are that the captain of the ship told Lizzie that if the child died he would have to be thrown overboard. Lizzie prayed fervently that he would live. When they reached New York on April 23, 1883 Lizzie son was still very ill and she began to fear that they would be quarantined by the immigration and custom service. She had him wrapped up in a blanket and as the line moved slowly forward they didn’t stop her and instead barked at her “Pass on lady, pass on.”
To be continued….
In my next Mojo Monday on February 16th I’ll share more about Lizzie’s adventures. Just in writing this post I also discovered a web site called Mormon Migration and there are multiple written accounts of the ship voyage. In a future post I also plan to share how a family mystery that dates back to 1946 was solved.
* I have truly been fortunate to discover that stories and photos have been uploaded to Ancestry.com by distant relatives. I have also branched out at times and have found that opening up a search based on an emigration date, birth date, marriage date, or death date can sometimes lead to new discoveries.
Do you have any genealogical research tips to share?
Have you come across any great family stories or photos?
Have you spoken to any grandparents, great aunts or uncles about their lives or the lives of their parents?