A Tale of Two Cities

Mary Christina Snedden and Margaret Ann Morrison had many things in common. Mary’s father died when she was young, and her mother had remarried. Margaret’s mother had died when she was young. What they most had in common, however, was Charles Edward Wilcox. They each had seven children, and Charles was registered as the father of twelve of them. He may even have been the father of one other.

Other than birth, death, and marriages, Mary, Margaret and Charles’ lives can only be viewed in ten year slices. Thanks to the Scotland Census, however, much information can be gleaned from those slices.

Mary married Charles in Edinburgh in 1877,[1] he was a Mechanical Engineer and his income would have made them a middle-class couple. It is difficult to imagine therefore, how after only ten years of marriage, Mary came to leave Charles, and live out her life in remote Galashiels on the Scottish Borders, but by the time of the 1891 Scotland Census, that is precisely where she was, working as a birler in a nearby woollen mill.[2]

It could not have been easy for her to leave her husband, and work in a factory, she was not a working class woman. In Victorian Britain women and children and had no rights as individuals. Children belonged to their father and inevitably stayed with him. This was the case for Mary, six of her seven children were, by this time, living in Glasgow with their father.[3]

At what point in time did Margaret enter the Wilcox household? She was not present Ii the 1881 census in Edinburgh.  Charles is not recorded as present on that night either, but he and Mary were together for at least six more years, because their youngest child Jessie, was born in Edinburgh in 1888.[4]

The work of keeping a household running without the kinds of household machinery and pre-packaged food that we take for granted, was back breaking, full time work. It was not possible for anyone to keep house and hold down a job. With or without children, Charles would have had to employ a full-time, live-in housekeeper to replace his wife. Margaret first appeared in documents at this time, 1891, listed as his cousin and housekeeper.

She now had three children who are listed as, Charles’ adopted daughter, and two sons. The oldest son, Alfred is only one year younger than Mary’s youngest, Jessie. Alfred’s birth is registered as Alfred Edward Morrison, with no father, but with the same middle name as Charles. He died in infancy and his death record lists his mother as the wife of Charles Wilcox, who lists himself as the step-father. One could be forgiven for wondering if Charles was in fact the father of this child, and perhaps the reason for the marital split.

Could Margaret have been first employed in the Wilcox household whilst it was still in Edinburgh? Margaret’s first child Alice was born in 1884, in the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, probably because Margaret was an unmarried, first-time mother.[5] As a middle-class family with many children, they could have employed one or more servants. In the 1881 census, they lived in a house with only two rooms with windows. This is not uncommon in Victorian times, most working class housing would have had only one such room. What it does show is that, although they were middle-class, they were not wealthy enough to have spare rooms to accommodate a maid and her child. It is Margaret’s child, therefore, that makes it less likely that she entered the house at this time,

For these reasons, I think it is fair to imagine that Mary left Charles before Margaret was employed. Charles fathered twelve children in his lifetime, indicating a consistent sexual appetite, perhaps he was a philanderer, who was publicly caught out. Or, perhaps Charles was extremely violent and Mary feared for her life. After all, she moved a considerable distance from Edinburgh. If she moved away because of the shame that was attached to “desertion” in Victorian Britain, she need only have moved a short distance. She could have lived in Perth which was a large metropolis like Edinburgh.

As an engineer, Charles would have been limited to the highly industrialised cities of Edinburgh or Glasgow in order to gain work. The fact that he moved from Edinburgh to Glasgow, gives reason to believe that he may have done something too shameful to stay in his social circle. Was it sexual promiscuity or violent behaviour? Short of uncovering a newspaper article or a criminal history, we can only guess.

Without good social standing, Charles would have had difficulty in hiring a housekeeper. With an illegitimate child to care for, Margaret would have had difficulty in obtaining employment. This could explain how Margaret came into the Wilcox household. She could have come into service in Edinburgh and then moved to Glasgow with the family.

It is tempting to think that blended families are a modern occurrence but a quick look at family history will soon give another view. Margaret continued to live with Charles and had five more children. By 1901, Margaret’s oldest child Alice, had an illegitimate child of her own.[6]

By 1911, a number of Christina’s children had moved to Galashiels and are recorded living with her.[7]  It seems that, as in modern times, the children of the first partner, were not happy with their new arrangements.



[1] Scottish Marriage Register 1877 GROS Data 685/05 0426 Charles Wilcox and Mary Sneddon (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 25 December, 2009)

[2]Scottish Census 1891 776/0B 006/00 0031 Mary Wilcox (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 21 May, 2011)

[3] Scottish Census 1891 644/09 075/09 012 Charles Wilcox (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 25 December, 2009)

[4] Scotland Birth Register 1888, GROS Data 685/02 0518 , Jessie Margaret Wilcox, (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : Retrieved 24/7/2016)

[5] Scottish Birth Register, 1884 GROS Data 685/04 0313 Alice Lycke MORRISON (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 17 April, 2016)

[6] Scottish Census 1901 644/06 052/00 003 Charles Wilcox (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 26 July, 2011)

[7] Scottish Census 1911 775/00 013/00 011Mary Wilcox (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 21 May, 2011)

Gone too soon

Margaret Morrison had seven illegitimate children to three (or possibly only two) different fathers. Her story begins in Aberdeen in northern Scotland in 1864.[1] Her mother, Annie Hatt, died in 1874, at the age of 37,[2] of Tuberculosis. At this time her seven children were aged between two and fifteen years of age.[3]  Margaret was ten.

Being the eldest girl, the mothering would have automatically fallen to Margaret, the only other girl was aged two. We can only speculate about how it must have felt for Margaret to lose her mother and at the same time have such responsibility thrust upon her.

Margaret’s first illegitimate child Alice was born ten years later in Edinburgh in 1884.[4] and her life was irrevocably changed by the birth of that child. Could it be, however, that it was the loss of her mother at such a young age, that set Margaret on a collision course with her fate?

Margaret lived most of her life as the servant of the father of five of her seven children.


[1] Scottish Birth Register, 1864 GROS Data 168/02 0974 Margaret Ann MORRISON (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 17 April, 2016)

[2] Scotland Death Register 1874, GROS Data 168/02 0098, Annie Morrison, (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : Retrieved 23/7/2016)

[3] Ancestry.com. 1871 Scotland Census [database online]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007. Original Data: Scotland. 1871 Scotland Census. . Reels 1191.General Register Office for Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland. Source Citation: Parish: Old Machar; ED: 22; Page: 17; Line: 7; Roll: CSSCT1871_35

[4] Scottish Birth Register, 1884 GROS Data 685/04 0313 Alice Lycke MORRISON (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : acessed 17 April, 2016)

Finding a difficult ancestor

I have been slowly tracking down a particularly difficult ancestor called Margaret MORRISON.  Firstly her name is unbelievably common in Scotland at the time she lived. Secondly she never married and so I had no documents that listed her parents.

She was the mother of my grandfather Edward WILCOX who was illigitimate. I was able to find his father Charles Edward WILCOX in Glasgow the 1891 Scottish Census where Margaret is listed as the Housekeeper.

At first my fascination was with Charles’ wife Mary SNEDDEN whom he married in Edinburgh – what happened to her, was she still alive? I tracked her down fairly quickly, discovering that she lived her life out in Galashiels. That was some time ago, and now my focus was on my ancestor Margaret MORRISON.

I needed more information,  so although I knew who the children were, from the 1881, 1891, and 1901, Scotland Census,  I decided to lash out and get their birth registers.

We Scots are proud of who we are and we lead the English speaking world in access to family history archives. For less than £1 I can instantly download an image of the page in the registration book. To access that information here in Australia it costs up to $45 and can only be accessed by snail mail.

I digressed. Charles Edward WILCOX had ten children by these two women and Margaret already had two other children  whose fathers’ were not named. I could not find anything to define when one relationship ended and the other began, I suspected that they overlapped – not an unreasonable guess for the Victorian era. There were too many Margaret MORRISON’s to prove or disprove her status in either 1881 or 1911. Now I was frustrated, returning to the lesson on brick walls in my course I thought about the collateral lines (using siblings) and I decided to get the birth registers of the second Morrison child Alfred Edward,  his middle name implied that Charles could be his father but he had not been given the WILCOX name so I knew his father was unnamed and had ignored him so far.

This was when I struck gold. For reasons unknowable, on Alfred’s birth, she called herself Margaret Ann Hatt MORRISON. Now, assuming she predeceased Charles because neither woman was named on his death register, I moved to a death search between 1901 and 1920 where I found a possible Margaret who’s mother’s maiden name was given as HATT, the informant, her daughter Alice CAMPBELL, could possibly have been Alice MORRISON now married.

Finally,  could I prove or disprove this death register with a birth? It was known that she was born circa 1865 in Aberdeen,  Aberdeenshire.  Two possible births were found one Margaret and one Margaret Ann. Margaret Ann’s mother had a maiden name HATT and so closed the circle of proof.

Margaret MORRISON was born Margaret Ann MORRISON on 5 November, 1864 in Morningside, Aberdeen. Her father was Robert MORRISON a clock maker and her mother was Annie HATT. She was never married and had seven children, Alice L and Alfred E MORRISON, then Charles, Thomas, Edward, John and George WILCOX. Alfred and Charles both died in infancy. Margaret died in Glasgow on 23 October, 1919 nine months prior to the suicide of Charles Edward WILCOX, the father of at least five of her children. No mention of Charles is made on her death certificate, her daughter now Alice CAMPBELL informed the registrar.

I cannot tell you how addictive the hunt and the find is, it has to be experienced.  I am so glad I decided to join the Diploma of Family History at the University of Tasmania,  I have decided to continue to study even though the next unit is Convict Ancestors and I have none.

Stay tuned for the next exciting adventure: