Widowed, Alone and Away from Home

In this blog, I'm looking at records which were created outside the UK. Many of us will have ancestors who travelled across the globe in search of a better life and they will then start to appear in the records of their new home country. These records can tell us much about how successful, or not, those new lives were. 

Most of my husband's Cornish ancestors, for at least the last 200 years, were copper and tin miners. The Cornish mining industry is very well documented, as are the journeys made by these highly skilled workers as they took their expertise across the world. There have long been family stories about life in the Transvaal, South Africa when Rubinal May Marks aka ' Granny Marks' was a child. Rubinal was the daughter of Willian John Marks and Mabel Marks nee Gilbert. Most of the stories were second hand and tended to focus on random events rather than reliable information about family members. This is where documentary research can start to fill in the gaps.

I located Granny Marks with her mother and two male siblings, one of them just 8 days old, on the 1901 census. There was no sign of them on the 1911 census. Other information on the 1901 census document lead me to believe that the father of the family had already travelled to South Africa. It was  common practice for the man to establish himself in the new country before sending for his family.   
I wasn't able to locate a fully reliable record of any of the family sailing from the UK to South Africa but, by using different search techniques, I did find a family returning to the UK in 1912, which matched mother and the 3 children in most respects except the surname, and the addition of another adult male. Very frustrating!

I extended my search to some smaller, more specialised websites, and found a record of the death of William John Marks, Rubinal's father and my husband's great grandfather. In fact, the death was recorded on 2 different documents; a Death Notice and a Form of Information of a Death. It has to be said the these 2 documents combined provide far more information than that required for the registration of a death in the UK.  

Apart from the vital information about the deceased person, there were also details of his parents, wife and children. The Form of Information of a Death records that William was an underground gold miner in the Ferguson Mine in Krugersdorp, which was where he died. He had contracted enteric fever at least 2 weeks before his death and was diagnosed with cardiac failure and pneumonia shortly before his death. The informant was JH Bawden.

It can only be imagined how difficult life would then become for Mabel and her children. Many thousands of miles away from home in a time when women, for the most part, were still reliant on men for financial support. 

My next task was to try and find other records created in South Africa relating to Mabel and her children. I was thrilled to get 'a hit' almost immediately!
A marriage record for Mabel, almost one year after William's death, and which took place in the Wesleyan Manse in Newcastle in the colony of Natal. And the groom? None other than James Henry Bawden, who had been the informant of William Mark's death. 

I mentioned earlier that I had found a record of a family returning to the UK in 1912 which had similarities to Mabel and her children. The additional adult male was James Henry Bawden, Mabel's new husband. The children were then using the surname Bawden rather than Marks, although they all reverted to Marks in adulthood.

Two things struck me from this piece of research.
Firstly, that records created outside the UK can be tremendously valuable.
Secondly, the situation for women like Mabel often lead to an early second marriage. Practicality was the order of the day; she needed support for herself and her children.
I make no judgement about what other emotions were involved but I know that Mabel and James  were together for many years. He enlisted in 1915, but within 3 months had been discharged as 'not being likely to become an efficient soldier'. He had been diagnosed with miner's Phthisis (TB) , sadly a condition which shortened the lives of many miners. 
Our family tree has been much enriched by the story above.