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  • Writer's pictureSarah von Allmen

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 13.

Week 13 – Sisters.

The final prompt for Women’s History Month is “sisters”, and my choice fell on one of my great-aunts who seemed always to be there for her younger siblings – and others!

Mary Ann Potts was born in Pendleton on 26 February 1869, daughter of Charles Potts and his wife Jane Nesbit, two Irish immigrants from Antrim. She was the second of nine children, but her older brother died in infancy, as did her next two siblings, leaving her as the oldest of the family by five years and I suspect that (as was common in the large families of the time) she helped her mother with housework and childcare from a fairly early age.

When Mary Ann was 20, she married Joseph Jackson, a painter and decorator, and would go on to raise a family of ten children with him. However, a year after their marriage Mary Ann’s mother died of peritonitis at the early age of 48, leaving her father on his own with five children aged between 7 and 16. My grandmother (and namesake) was nine years old, and according to my father Mary Ann pretty much brought her up until she was old enough to work.

Mary Ann at her husband's shop in King Street, Stretford

In 1893 the brother closest in age to Mary, Charles Henry, married Mary Laffin. Both gave their address as Joseph and Mary Ann’s home, and the Jacksons witnessed the marriage. I don’t know why Charles wasn’t married from his father’s home, or if there was some element of disapproval on the part of his father: the couple were very young (just 19 and 18 respectively), and Mary – who had Irish ancestry like the Potts family – was a Catholic, which may initially have been hard for a Belfast Protestant to accept. Whatever the reason, by 1901 any problem had happily been resolved, as Charles and Mary are recorded on the census at the same address as his father.

Unfortunately, Charles’ marriage came to an early end when Mary died of enteric fever in 1905 and reading between the lines, he found it hard to cope. His five children all spent much of the following five years at Styal Cottage Homes, the children’s section of Chorlton Union Workhouse, and the oldest son James was sent to Canada in 1907 as a British Home Child under a well-intended but fundamentally flawed scheme which aimed to give destitute and orphaned children a better life in the Colonies. James joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force just after the outbreak of World War One, and in 1915 assigned his military pay to Mary Ann, implying they may have kept in touch while he was in Canada. He spent at least one period of leave with the Jacksons and made a will leaving all his property to Mary Ann, who he seems to have considered as something close to a substitute mother. (His story is worth a blog of its own and will doubtless figure here at some point!)

In 1908 Mary Ann’s oldest daughter Ethel had an illegitimate daughter who was brought up as if she were the twin of Mary Ann’s ninth child Joseph (who was actually six months older). She is recorded on census returns as Joseph and Mary Ann’s child, but the family was well aware of the truth – the fiction was for public consumption to preserve Ethel’s reputation.

Mary Ann’s fourth child, David Jackson, married Alice Maud Jennings (a cousin of my paternal grandfather) in 1921. They had three children before Alice tragically died of septicaemia in 1927 following an incomplete miscarriage. David took the children back to his parents’ home and lived with them until he remarried in 1929.

Mary Ann c. 1924

I wish I’d known Mary Ann and Joseph, who both died in the early 1940s, as everything I’ve discovered or been told makes me think that they were a lovely big-hearted couple who put their family first without hesitation

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