Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Little Background...Family Circumstances early 1800's

The Bickerstaffs resided Thame, Oxfordshire, England and appear to have been a poor family. Richard Bickerstaff was a gardener. He and his wife Mary Willoughby had 11 children, not all of whom survived to adulthood. Their next-to-youngest daughter Hannah, born 1835, was the second daughter in the family to have children out of wedlock. [The first, her sister Eliza, had 4 children before marrying a younger man and having 4 more children with him.]

Hannah was living at home when she had her first child, daughter Agnes, in 1858 [per her address on Agnes' birth register]. She had son Thomas in late 1860, and by the 1861 census, she and her children were living with an older sister with 9 children of her own. Hannah died in 1863; her death record indicates she had been ill for a year. She died in the Thame Workhouse, or poorhouse. Her children were 3 and 5 years of age.

Agnes and Thomas Bickerstaff remained at the workhouse. For many years I could not understand why another family member had not taken them in. However, I have come to understand that all the family was poor, usually with many children of their own.

Agnes was sent out to school at approximately age 13. At age 14 she and 2 other girls were sponsored by the Workhouse to emigrate to Canada as part of the child immigration party of Miss Rye. She remained in Canada until she turned 18. She then emigrated to Elmira, upstate NY [sort of across the water from Ontario, Canada].

Thomas evidently remained at the Workhouse; at age 18 he is mentioned in the Minutes of the Workhouse as having been involved in an incident with an unruly visitor at the gate. At about age 19 he joined his sister Agnes in Elmira, NY. It appears, from Directories, that he learned his trade of baker in Elmira. He and his sister later moved to Nantucket island, Massachusetts. Agnes never married; she made her living as a paid companion or nurse to older women. Thomas married and had 11 children, not all of whom survived infancy.