My family

52 Ancestors: Week 48 – Strength

I am taking part in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge for 2021. The challenge is organised by Amy Johnson Crow who provides a weekly writing prompt. I should have completed all 52 prompts by now, but I will do so as soon as possible.

I initially planned to use this prompt to write someone who demonstrated great strength of character. But I just couldn’t choose anyone, and kept coming back to my 2nd great granduncle, Samuel Fisher, who was an iron puddler. I thought this must have been a job which required great strength. His father, Jessie had been an iron bundler which I am yet to investigate.

From previous reading when I first came across the occupation of iron puddler, I knew it was to do with making cast iron, working with furnaces and so on. I have been intending to visit the museums at Ironbridge to find out more, but well, Covid. I really must get there.

Samuel Fisher was born in about 1849 and lived in Topton, Staffordshire. It was on the 1871 Census[1] that he was a puddler, and two of his younger brothers were puddler’s assistants.

In planning this blog post I googled “iron puddler” which took me to a page on Wikipedia[2] where I learned that puddling was a process for converting pig iron into wrought iron boiling out the silicon, sulphur and phosphorus. A puddler and his assistant would produce about 1.5 tons of iron in a shift. It was hard, hot work with toxic fumes leading to a life expectancy under 40 years. Samuel lived to almost 80 years old[3], he must have been one of the lucky ones.

The Wikipedia page mentioned that U.S. Senator James. J. Davis had written a book[4] about his early experiences of being an iron puddler. He was younger than Samuel Fisher, born in 1873[5] but he was working in the iron mill by the age of 12, so I felt I had to read the book to learn more about the working conditions Samuel would have experienced.

Davis describes a housewife sweating over a batch of biscuits, how the oven makes her hot and bothered. He explains how his job was similar,

“There were five bakings every day and this meant the shoveling in of nearly two tons of coal. In summer I was stripped tot he waist and panting while the sweat poured down across my heaving muscles. My palms and fingers, scorched by the heat, became hardened like goat hoofs, while my skin took on a coat of tan that it will wear forever.

What time I was not stoking the fire, I was stirring the charge with a long iron rabble that weighed some twenty-five pounds. Strap an Oregon boot to your arm and then do calisthenics ten hours in a room so hot it melts your eyebrows and you will know what it is like to be a puddler.”

Davis, James J. (2019) The Iron Puddler : My life in the rolling mills and what came of it. [Kindle version] CAIMAN. : accessed 18 January 2022. p.48

Well, I was right about iron puddling being an occupation for a strong person.

Iron puddlers at work

I didn’t finish the book I’m afraid, it got really rather political, in a time where eugenics and communism where widely supported.

Other posts about this family

  1. Census records. England. Tipton, Staffordshire. 02 April 1871. FISHER, Jessie (head) RD: Tipton. RG10/3000. FL 52. p. 45. ED. 16. : accessed 21 November 2020.
  2. Wikipedia contributors. (2021) ‘Iron puddler’, In: Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. : accessed 22 January 2022
  3. Deaths index. England. RD Dudley. 1st Qtr. 1928. FISHER, Samuel. Vol. 6b. p. 978. : accessed 21 November 2020.
  4. Davis, James J. (2019) The Iron Puddler : My life in the rolling mills and what came of it. [Kindle version] CAIMAN. : accessed 18 January 2022.
  5. Wikipedia contributors. (2021) ‘James J. Davis’, In: Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. : accessed 22 January 2022

My family

52 Ancestors: Week 12 – Loss

I am taking part in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge for 2021. The challenge is organised by Amy Johnson Crow who provides a weekly writing prompt. This week the prompt is Loss.

I am always struck when looking at the 1911 Census by the “fertility questions”, and how they must have hurt those filling in the forms at the time. On the 1911 Census married women were asked how long their current marriage had lasted, and within that marriage how many children had been born alive, how many were still alive and how many had died.

This has always struck me has being a very a painful question. 110 years ago, infant mortality was higher than now and most of the returns I have seen mention that at least one child has died. The question seems irrelevant anyway, surely just asking how many children were still living would have been sufficient? I have seen several returns where the names of deceased children are listed with their living siblings. How heart-breaking for the parents completing the forms.

This was the only year that this particular combination of questions was asked. I’m not sure what was included after 1921, but certainly there had been nothing like this previously. In 1921 the questions had changed; those over 15 had to answer if they were single, married, widowed or divorced. Divorced had not been an option on earlier census forms. For those under 15 the form asked if both parents were alive, father dead, mother dead or both dead. Also married men, widowers and widows had to answer how many  children or stepchildren under the age of 16 they had, and their ages.

I had a look through my 1911 Census folder and this was the hardest one one to view. My 2nd great grand uncle and his wife, Joseph and Sarah Ann Fisher, had lost eight children in their 38 years of marriage. Neither of them was yet 60 years old. I do not know how anyone copes with that amount of loss.

1911 census of England, Staffordshire; citing RG 78 PN 1064, RG 14 PN 17350, registration district (RD) 372, sub district (SD) 1.

I was hoping to be able to record those twelve children here, but I have struggled. Two of them are listed on the 1911 Census above, they were still living with their parents.

  • Joseph Fisher born about 1889, age 22 in 1911
  • John Fisher born about 1898, age 13 in 1911

Next I had a look for the 1901 Census for the this family.

The family were still at the same address, 29 Tipton Road, but more of the young family were at home. There were five children listed, sadly we now know that one of these children died between 1901 and 1911.

Class: RG13; Piece: 2730; Folio: 30; Page: 10

  • Mary Fisher born about 1873, age 28 in 1901
  • Sabra Fisher, born about 1887, 14 in 1901
  • Joseph Fisher born about 1889, age 12 in 1901, age 22 in 1911
  • Sarah Fisher born about 1890, aged 11 in 1901
  • John Fisher born about 1898, age 3 in 1901, age 13 in 1911

I checked FreeBMD for marriages and deaths for the three between March 1901 and March 1911. This is not a conclusive search, but I just wanted an idea.

I found a possible marriage for Sarah, Sarah A Fisher had married Arthur Haddon or William Hogan in the December quarter of 1910. This may or may not be the right Sarah. There were no results for Sabra with this search. Of course she may have married or died outside Dudley. I found a marriage for Mary Jane Fisher in the December quarter of 1901, and a death for a 32 year old Mary Fisher in the June quarter of 1906, either of which might be “our” Mary.
Ancestry however revealed a marriage for Sabra Fisher to Samuel Horne in 1904, and I found Sabra Horne on the 1911 Census, this appears to be the right person, though clarification is needed. A quick search of the 1911 census did not reveal any likely candidates for Mary or Sarah.

Next I looked for the family on the 1891 census. The family were still at the same address, and again had five children at home. Harriet was 11 years old, and did not appear on the later census. So now we know the names of six of the twelve children of Joseph and Sarah.

The National Archives of the UK (TNA); Kew, Surrey, England; Census Returns of England and Wales, 1891; Class: RG12; Piece: 2279; Folio: 27; Page: 14; GSU roll: 6097389

The GRO index reveals that a 15 year old Harriet Fisher died in Dudley district in 1895.

Here they are in 1881. Just the two children at home, with a large age gap between them. This suggests that there were probably children born in between. Mary A Fisher was 9, giving a year of birth of either 1871 or 1872, but in 1891 Mary Fisher was 17 suggesting a year of birth of 1873 or 1874, to add to the confusion she was 28 in 1901!

Class: RG11; Piece: 2858; Folio: 29; Page: 16; GSU roll: 1341685

  • Mary A Fisher born between 871 and 1874, age 9 in 1881, age 17 in 1891, age 28 in 1901
  • Harriet Fisher, born about 1880, age 11 in 1891, died aged 15 in 1895
  • Sabra Fisher, born about 1887, age 5 in 1891, 14 in 1901 probably married Samuel Horne in 1906
  • Joseph Fisher born about 1889, age 2 in 1891, age 12 in 1901, age 22 in 1911
  • Sarah Fisher born about 1890, age 1 in 1891 aged 11 in 1901
  • John Fisher born about 1898, age 3 in 1901, age 13 in 1911

Unfortunately parish records for Rowley Regis where the family lived are not available on the subscription sites that I use. When I have more time I will buy the parish records, though these may not be sufficient and a visit to the relevant archives may be necessary. I did try clever searching on the GRO index. First looking up a birth registration for Sabra (as the most unusual first name).

This gave me her mother’s maiden name, Smith. I could now look for children registered with the surname Fisher, mother’s maiden name Smith, born in Dudley. The GRO index allows searches for five years at a time, and a gender has to be selected. So to search from 1873 when Joseph and Sarah married (they had been married 38 years in 1911) to 1911 involved a number of searches. I found 16 children in total with the surname Fisher and mother’s maiden name Smith.

  • Mary Ann Fisher, born Dec Q 1873
  • Alfred Fisher, born Dec Q 1873
  • Alice Fisher, born Sep Q 1876
  • Selina Fisher, born Dec Q 1875
  • Eliza Fisher, born Jun Q 1878
  • Emily Florence Fisher, born Sep Q 1879
  • Harriet Fisher, born Sep Q 1879
  • Isaac Fisher, born Sep Q 1882
  • Joseph Fisher, born Mar Q 1884
  • William Bedworth Fisher, born Sep Q 1885
  • Sabra Fisher, born Sep Q 1886
  • Rose Fisher, born Sep Q 1887
  • Joseph Fisher, born Dec Q 1888
  • Sarah Ann Fisher, born Mar Q 1890
  • Mercy Jane Fisher, born Dec Q 1895
  • John Fisher, born Sep Q 1897

So, it would seem that there was another couple having children in the Dudley registration district in these years. By checking the census returns for another Fisher family, and cross referencing the death register it might be possible to narrow down which of these children are the six “missing” children of Joseph and Sarah Fisher. That is definitely a project for a rainy day. Today however, I need to dive into Essex parish registers for a friend.

I still do not know how they managed with that degree of loss, my heart breaks for them.