For quite some time, a branch of my family tree has stood there, undisturbed and unexplored. I have often wondered what became of my great-great-grandmother’s sister Diana, her seven children, and their descendants. Surely, with seven children, there must be someone out there who is related to me via this mysterious great-aunt! Let’s see if we can track them down…
Diana Vickress was born in Lyonshall, Herefordshire in 1851, the third child of Frederick and Ann Vickress; her eldest sister Elizabeth was my grandmother’s grandmother. I can only presume she was given the name Diana in memory of her paternal aunt, another Diana Gaskell, who sadly died of consumption aged 21 the same year the younger Diana was born.
Diana’s first years were spent living with her family in Herefordshire. Unlike most of her siblings, however, she was not destined to spend her life in the Herefordshire countryside, and by the late 1870’s had moved north to Cheshire, where on 4 September 1878 she married a man called Robert Gaskell who was a hatter and wool washer. The couple soon welcomed their first son, Frederick, so named in honour of his maternal grandfather.
The couple’s first entry in the census was in 1881, when they were recorded as living in Mill Brook Cottage in Rainow, on the outskirts of Macclesfield and within close proximity of the industrial dreariness of Manchester. Over the next ten years, Robert and Diana would welcome four more children into their home: Ann (1883), Florence (1885), Elizabeth (1887) and Samuel (1889). The family, by now living in Bollington, would be complete with the arrival of two more daughters: Emma (1893) and Dora (1896).
The family was not to remain complete for long, for in 1898, at the age of 45, Robert Gaskell died leaving a young widow with seven mouths to feed. By then, the elder children were already forced to earn a living to ensure the family’s survival (Fred, the eldest son, was listed as a “mill hand” in the 1891 census, when he was just 11).
The fact that by 1901 (and again, 1911) Diana’s profession in the census is left blank leads me to believe she may not have been able to work, whatever the reason for this may have been – certainly no incapacity was given. All of her children, however, started to work early. By 1911 Fred was working as a “calenderer hand” (i.e. someone who presses paper or cloth through rolls to make it glossy and smooth), while sisters Ann and Dora worked as “paper stainers” and Samuel and Emma worked in a cotton spinning factory. Having to undertake such manual work from an early age, life must have been harsh.
By the early 20’s Diana’s children started leaving the nest, although by then some were fast approaching their forties, and thus had narrower chances of starting their own families. Samuel seems to have been the first to marry, in 1920, to a Mary Jepson, but lack of evidence seems to show they were childless; Samuel died in 1961 in Bollington, Cheshire.
Diana’s eldest daughter Ann married a Harry Whiston in 1924, but at 41 she was probably too old to start having children; I certainly have found no information relating to this couple’s possible descendants. Similarly, her sister Emma married a Charles H. Bevan in 1936, when she would have been 43. I have not been able to trace a marriage for siblings Frederick or Florence.
Dora and Elizabeth seem to have been luckier at finding partners, as they each married brothers: Dora married Harry Banks Hawley in 1927 (no issue, that I can find) while Elizabeth married George Hawley in 1922. The latter seem to have had two or three children, although there is some confusion as to the number of children they had. There are three Hawley children recorded in the early 1920’s with Gaskell as their mother’s name, but one (Muriel) was born in 1920 – two years before Elizabeth and George’s marriage- and the other two, Lois and Herbert were born in the same year (June quarter and December quarter of 1923 – perhaps too close to actually be siblings?).
Lois Hawley married Andrew Gibson, and appears to have given birth to two children in the 1950’s. Her brother Herbert married Doreen Lees in 1949 and also fathered two sons. These four cousins seem to be the only living descendants of my distant great-aunt Diana Gaskell, who died in 1935 at the ripe old age of 84.