A Woman of Mystery – Mary Wilkinson c1832-1871

The story of my great great grandmother, Mary Wilkinson is very confusing and there are a number of pieces missing. Mary was my maternal grandmother’s maternal grandmother and I would love to know more about her background. Mary, it would seem, did not have a problem lying to the authorities which makes finding out the truth about her life pretty difficult.

I first came across Mary’s name on the marriage record of my great grandmother, Sarah Helferty. Sarah’s parents are recorded as Arthur Helferty and Mary Wilkinson.

From there my next step is to find a marriage record for Mary and Arthur but I couldn’t find anything.

I believe I have Mary in the 1851 census working as a servant in Glasgow but I can’t be 100% sure it’s the same person. I’m the 1861 census she appears with husband, Arthur and her two children, 8 year old William Duncan and 5 month old Martha Helferty. William is recorded as Arthur’s stepson. While Arthur and Mary were both born in Ireland, the two children were born in Glasgow but I haven’t found a birth record for either one.

In 1864 Mary gave birth to a second daughter. While she used the name Ellen Helferty during her life she was registered as Helen Wilkinson and there is no father listed on her birth certificate. Her mother is recorded as Mary Wilkinson, shirt maker, no domicile. Strangely the baby was born in Kilmodan, Argyll.

My great grandmother was born in March 1867 and it took a bit of time to track her down as her surname is spelled ‘Halford’. She was born in Glasgow and was also illegitimate although Arthur does appear as her father. Her mother is recorded as Mary Stewart nee Wilkinson (widow). Widow? Stewart? I have no idea where that name came from especially as her first child had the surname Duncan.

The next major event in Mary’s life was the death of her son. William Duncan was just 18 years old when he died of typhus fever at the fever hospital in Glasgow in January 1870. His death was registered by Mary who gave her name as Mary Duncan nee Wilkinson. She provided the father’s details as William Duncan, iron dresser (deceased).

Just over a year later, on 17 March 1871, Mary died. Tragically her death occurred within the City Poorhouse.

It’s always heartbreaking to find an ancestor having to turn in desperation to the poorhouse. She left Ireland optimistic of a brighter future but she was taken young leaving behind a young family. From a research point of view this gave me a new source of information. Fortunately I was at the Scotland’s People Centre at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow when I found the death record so I could immediately request the Poor Law register.

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

Quite a lot of information there. First of all I was surprised to see Mary was Protestant as I believed all of my maternal side were Catholic. It may explain why she never married Arthur though.

Why did Mary not know her mother’s whereabouts? I know nothing of when Mary left Ireland. She may have come with her parents as a child or on her own later on. I was disappointed that the record did not record the town or at least county of her birth. She named her eldest daughter after her mother suggesting at least some affection or respect.

And then there is another William. Without the Poorhouse record I would never have known Mary had another child.

William is recorded as Wilkinson with no father listed. He died just a few months after his mother in June 1871. His father’s details are missing from this record too.

After Mary’s death the children were given into the care of Arthur’s sister, Ann. I hope that they were able to stay together.

Mary certainly had a tough life. I cannot be sure of the kind of person she was. She used three married names but was never married. She lied about this information but perhaps that was to cover the embarrassment of having illegitimate children. I wonder if Arthur believed she was a widow. At the time of her death she had lost a child and had two ill in hospital and little William who suffered ‘debility from birth ‘. I’d like to think she was a good mother or at least tried her best. I’d love to know more about her life as she travelled between Argyll and Glasgow. Did she have her children with her?

I hope at some point to have all the relevant records including her early life in Ireland. I’ll keep looking.

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