Martha’s Story

Martha (not her real name) was a woman I came across while researching another part of her family tree. Her story was one that intrigued, and also saddened, me. Martha moved around a lot in her life. I don’t think it was an easy life, but see what you think.

The first time Martha appeared in the records was in the 1851 census in Scotland. She was recorded as living, age 13, with her parents and her younger brother – all of whom were born in Ireland. Her father was a weaver and Martha’s occupation was recorded as “sells brooms”.

After she married James, a miner, in November 1859 in Stirling, Martha was recorded giving birth to a daughter, Agnes in Bathgate, West Lothian, in February 1860. Then her second daughter, Elizabeth, was born in December 1861 in Shotts, Lanarkshire.

Her next child was Charles in late 1863, but by then the family had moved to Durham in England. Charles was followed 2 years later by Mary, and then 2 years after that by James.

By 1875 the family were in Edinburgh, where Martha’s last child, Walter, was born in December. Just 2 months later, Martha’s husband, James, was in court charged with “failing to provide education for his two children” and was sentenced to 14 days in prison. James then disappeared from the records until 1901.

In 1879, Martha’s second daughter Elizabeth married, and 2 months later gave birth to her first child, a daughter, followed a year later by a son. By the next census, in 1881, Martha was recorded living with her third daughter and youngest son next door to Elizabeth in Edinburgh. Eldest daughter, Agnes, was recorded as a “ward assistant” at the Royal Infirmary; eldest son, Charles, was working as a miner, boarding with a family in Shotts, and her other son James was recorded as an “inmate” at Wellington Farm School for Boys, a reform school (the last time he has been found in any records)

The following year (1882) Martha’s eldest daughter, Agnes, died aged 22. At some point over the next two years Martha moved to Glasgow and in 1884, calling herself a widow, she married again.

In May 1889, daughter Mary married in Glasgow, and 6 months later gave birth to a son. When he was just a month old, Martha had her daughter taken in to the Glasgow City Poorhouse, certified as insane, where she died a month later in January 1890. The child was left in the care of his grandmother, Martha. But she obviously could not cope. She was reported to the local magistrates for neglecting her grandson, and sent to jail for 5 days as a result. The child only lived to be a year old, dying in the City Poorhouse in November 1890.

While this had all been happening in Glasgow, daughter Elizabeth had given birth to a girl in Edinburgh in December 1888, who died at the same time as Mary’s son was born. Elizabeth also disappears from the records after she reported the death of her 1 year old daughter.

Martha’s second husband died in 1896, and 2 years later she married for a 3rd time. By the time of the 1901 census, Martha was a widow once more, scratching out a living as a “Domestic Worker”.

Despite her hard life Martha was 75 years old when she died in Stobhill Hospital, a Glasgow poor-law hospital, so it’s possible that she had previously been in the poorhouse.

The final “twist” in Martha’s tale is that her first husband, James, was not dead. Although it’s not known what happened to him or where he went, he was recorded on the 1901 census as a coal miner, boarding with a family in Stirlingshire. He actually outlived Martha, dying in 1920 in the Poorhouse in Linlithgow.