Sunday, February 23, 2014

52 Ancestors: Poor Elsie, Orphaned at 9 Months and Pregnant at 19

52 Ancestors: Poor Elsie, Orphaned at 9 Months and Pregnant at 19
Elsie age 15 in 1913
on her way to Canada
Amy Johnson Crow has a new challenge for geneabloggers called Challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. Amy challenges genealogists to write about one ancestor once a week. 

Elsie Phyllis Markham was my great-grandmother. She was born in London England in 1898 to parents Albert Markham and Edith Finch. At the age of 9 months Elsie was orphaned when her parents died within a month of each other. 

Elsie's mother Edith was an illegitimate child born in the St. Pancras Workhouse. There does not seem to have been much contact with Edith's mother Martha Finch who had a total of 3 illegitimate children born to her while she was in the Workhouse. 

Elsie and my Grandpa Bert 1918

Baby Elsie and her two year old brother Frederick Markham were lucky enough to be taken in by an Aunt and Uncle but her 8 year old brother Albert Finch was sent to an orphanage. Several months after being taken in, the uncle refused to pay for the children's upkeep any longer.  Little Frederick was sent to a different orphanage than Albert, and Elsie was adopted by an older couple. 

Albert, who himself was an illegitimate child born in the St. Pancras Workhouse to his mother Edith Finch, was 8 year old when he entered Barnardo's Homes and at the age of 11 was sent as a Home Child to Canada. Letters exchanged between Albert and Barnardo's reveal that he was not treated well and ran away several times from his life of servitude and beatings. Eventually Albert was placed in the home of Roy and Mary Skinner of St. Mary's Ontario and there he found a happy life where he was treated as a son.

Frederick Markham

Albert was determined to reunite the family and began saving his money as a young teen so that he could bring Frederick and Elsie to Canada to join him. In September 1913, 23 year old Albert sent for 15 year old Elsie and she joined him in St. Mary's Ontario. 

His younger brother Frederick was an inmate of Miller's Orphan House in London until March 1914. He was18 when his older brother Albert paid for his passage to Canada. Sadly Frederick enlisted in the CEF (Canadian Expeditionary Force) during WW1 and was killed overseas. 

Elsie, poor Elsie, got pregnant in August 1917. She was just 19 years old and alone in the world except for her brother Albert. One month later she married Bristol Holden but recent DNA tests have revealed that Bristol was not the baby's father. 

Elsie and brother Albert
That was a surprise but confirmed what my grandmother Luella always told me - that Elsie was "fooling around with the hired man Cooper and that is Bert's father, not Bristol Holden." We have narrowed the possible candidates to two men in the Cooper family. We do not judge Elsie harshly. She was young, alone and pregnant in 1917. What was she to do? Her options were limited! 

We do not know whether she told Bristol the truth before marrying him or whether she kept her secret and let him think he was Bert's father. It really doesn't matter because by all accounts they had a happy marriage. 


Unknown said...

Greetings. Elsie was my maternal grandmother....might be interesting to correspond.

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Hello Doug - It is very nice to hear from you! Elsie was my husband's great-grandmother. I have a lot of research and info on Elsie and her family going back several generations and am happy to share.

Please contact me at