Mary, did you know?

Noeleen Sutton


Mary Cavanagh, you are my grgrgr-grandmother. Did you know I first found you recorded in the 1841 census living at Stuart Street, Scholes in Lancashire and living with your mother, Brigid Cavanagh who was aged 35, and born in Ireland. Is she the Bridget Dayley who married a Patrick Cavanagh at Deane, Lancashire on 15 October 1827? Brigid was a weaver in the census. You were aged 15 with your brothers’, John, 13 and James, 5. Your sister, Catherine was 10 and you were all ticked as being born in the county of Lancashire. The children were all baptized at St Mary’s R.C. Church, in Wigan.

Unfortunately for me, no place in Ireland for your mothers’ birth-place, was noted in the census. Your father, Patrick Cavanagh was not listed as being in the household on that census night. To date I have found no trace of him. Had he died by then or were your parents separated? Your sister, Ann, born in 1837 is not in the census with you either. Did she die young?

You next appear in the records with your marriage to James Pilkington on 3 November 1844 at St Johns Roman Catholic Chapel in Wigan, Lancashire. You were 18 and a throstle spinner still living in Stuart Street while James was 20, born in Wigan and a collier. On your marriage certificate you recorded that your father Patrick, was a weaver. You and James both signed with a cross. The register has your surname as Cavannagh. It’s one of the many variations of your surname I have found for you.

Susannah, your daughter, was born on 27 November 1844 with James registering her birth with his surname as Pilkinton and your maiden name as Cavinah. When Susannah was baptized on 1 December at St Johns, your brother James Kavanagh, was a sponsor. Her certificate says she was born in Stewart Street but I know it to be Stuart Street. Was your mother still living there then?

You were still at Stuart Street when your next daughter, my grgr-grandmother Ellen, was born on 4 August 1846. This time your maiden name is written as Caavner. Ellen was followed by John in 1848 and William in 1850.

In the 1851 census, you and James, with your children, Eleanor [Ellen] John and James were living at Schofield Lane in Wigan and with you at that address on census night was your brother John with his surname spelt as Cavner. He was a coalminer, as was James.

Mary, did you know then, that you would lose your husband, James in tragic circumstances just a few years later, and be left with a young family? For James was to die in the Ince Hall Colliery Disaster on 18 February 1854 along with 88 of his fellow miners. He was only 35. The newspapers of the day printed the cause as an explosion of fire damp caused by shot firing.

You bore another son Isaiah in December 1856 but no father is recorded on the birth certificate. Was his father Thomas Pilkington, a brother of your James and with whom you later had more children? They were George in 1861, Hannah in 1863 and Thomas in 1868 and then Adam, born in Durham in 1869. It appears from their birthplaces that you and Thomas moved from Wigan to County Durham sometime between 1868 and 1869. You were living in Wigan in the 1861 census at Broom Street and in the 1871 census I found you at Tudhoe Street, Whitworth, Spennymore which is in Durham, aged 40.

No record has been found of a marriage to Thomas but then you didn’t have to change your surname as you were already a Pilkington from your marriage to his brother James. The laws of the day would have prevented such a union also. I am grateful to him for taking on his older brothers’ family, including my Ellen, after the tragedy.

In the 1881 census you are aged 50 and in the 1891 census you put down 60, as your age. My last sighting of you is in the 1901 census still living in Durham. Thomas is aged 66 and working as a coal miner and this time you are aged 75. This is closer to your real age. No children are with you.

Mary, did you know you would later lose a son and a grandson in another coal mine disaster? Your son, John Pilkington aged 57, together with his son James aged 29, were killed in the West Stanley Mine Disaster in Durham on 16 February 1909. They were amongst the 168 miners who died that day. It would be one of the districts biggest pit disasters. Their names are engraved on the monument in St. Andrews Churchyard in Durham. John left a grieving family of fourteen remaining children from his two marriages.

Another son of John, your grandson Isaiah, married Eleanor Benfold in 1908 and they went to the United States of America in 1912 on board the S.S. Celtic, with their children Eleanor and James Henry. They lived in Des Moines, Iowa where they had another two children, Margaret and George. Eleanor may have died young for he later remarried a widow, Irma Montz, and had two more children. Did you know Mary, Isaiah prospered in the United States, and according to his obituary was well respected.

Nothing is known of your other children, except your daughter, Ellen my grgr-grandmother who was to marry Thomas Atherton on 6 November 1865 in All Saints church, Hindley in Wigan. It was Ellen’s daughter Mary Ann, who married George Ogden on 17 March 1884 at Holy Trinity Church in Ashton in Makerfield, Wigan, and came to New Zealand with their five children in 1906. George and Mary Ann’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth Ogden, married John Wallett in Auckland, New Zealand in 1910 and they are my grandparents.

Mary, with a C or a K, I hope you know this is written with love by your grgrgrgrand-daughter, Noeleen, here in New Zealand. Did you know you have lots of “Kiwi” descendants including Millie Kay Sutton, your latest 5 x gr-grandchild.

Mary, I have so many questions, did you know…..?