I’m anxious to wrap up the Witter letters. Not because I’m bored with Mr. Witter and his tales from Ipswich, but simply because once I finish his letters, I can move on to the next stranger’s letters. You know how it goes, that requisite job so you can pay the bills compounded with family responsibilities doesn't leave much time to luxuriate in genealogy.
But wouldn't it be fun to simply research and write about these letters day in and day out? Then, once I finished with the hundreds that I already have in my possession, go forth and collect strangers letters from shops and flea markets around the world and share their stories too. Sadly, unless the lottery gods are smiling upon me, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Though, you never know…
With every letter, I discover something new. Words, places, people, research tools even bits of history that were skipped over in the standard schoolbooks. Like in the letter below - 'superannuation'. Never heard of it, right? It’s a noun meaning “regular payment made into a fund by an employee toward a future pension,” a pension plan. Good old Jim was already eleven years past his employer's assigned expiration date.
I also discovered some great tools to research Scottish ancestors. They are listed at the end of this post and will come in handy should I ever be hunting for my Scottish ancestors or more friends of Scottish origin.
On to old Jim Witter...
14 Chenery Street
Dear Alice & Fred,
We were very pleased indeed to again hear from you & to hear you were all well & happy though you are a long way from us. We often speak about you. Well things have changed here you would not know the town now so many alterations.
I am sorry to say my dear old girl has has a very rough three weeks with bronchitis. I think she has the turn now for the better, but you know what she is. She has kept on the go the whole time although the cough has pulled her to pieces. I hope it will soon leave her. I have had a touch of rheumatic or a strain in left knee but would not lay up as I have to retire from my job on the 31st this month. There is a superannuation scheme now so no Corporation employee can be kept on after age 65. There are a lot put off. I shall have put in just about 34 years under the Corporation some of them say I am fit for another ten years. I shall have nothing to do so think Polly & I can run over & see you for the weekend sometimes.
April we expect Hettie home for a holiday from New Zealand. I am glad they were two hundred miles away from that terrible Earthquake. It upset us at first. Ethel the granddaughter is a nurse in a Hospital out there she is well & happy. We had a letter last week from her. Just fancy those stuck up Meadows not replying to your letter. They pass us as though they had never seen us before. But that sort of thing don’t worry me a little bit. They only do it once with me. My wife was so pleased with your cheerful letter she said I wonder what they would say if we popped over there. I said they would find up bit of bread & cheese I know.
There are several fresh people in Chenery St. but I don’t know half of them. Mrs. & Miss Violet Rose still live opposite in answer to your inquiry. Polly was born 7th Nov 1852 maiden name Howard. I was born 15th May 1853 so you see there is only six months difference & we don’t seem to feel we are 78 years old. Still there is the fact. I don’t think there is anything more this time & we trust this will find you all in perfect health I am sure you all make a fuss of the Baby boy.
We join in fond love to you all. God bless you.
Your ever affectionate friends
Jim & Polly Witter
Is your sister poor Annie still living?
114 Chenery Street
Dear Old Friends,
We were very glad to get your nice long letter and kind Seasons Greetings for which we thank you all & pleased to hear you are all keeping in good health but sorry for Mr. P being unfortunate as regards work. In this country the unemployment is awful & the whole business has almost ruined the Country. Now they are striking off the people who have received the dole for a certain time & they have now to apply for assistance from the Guardians (which is now call Freebie Assistant Dept). Then if you have a little pension or children earning money they take all that into consideration of what is coming into the home so that in some cases they get very little help. What will happen in this Winter I don’t know.
Our dear Hettie & her husband have gone back. We had a letter saying they arrived in New Zealand on 1st Nov. & they had a splendid voyage not one rough day & only one wet day. All trade & business in N. Zealand is almost as bad as England. Shops are closing there & yet one thing I cannot understand is they keep opening new shops in Ipswich almost every week. Dress & blouse stalls & boot shops every few yards you go.
We are glad to hear John is doing well & is a fine big man. I am pleased to say our family are all well except my dear old girl. She suffers such pain in her foot and shoulder and cannot get a good nights rest. Her nights are awful yet she keeps on with her housework but has to go easy with it in fact we both have too. A little hurry and my breath is almost gone. Still we are getting to the age of wearing up. Polly was 79 past month, I was 78 last may, Herbert our eldest was 59 a few days ago so our time is shortening in this world we wish there was a less distance between us so we could have a chat now & again.
Our old houses on Lower Ramparts look funny now. Everything is pulled down on both sides of the the old homes. We hear Miss Last is in the Alms Houses so she is alright for remainder of her life.
Our granddaughter Ethel is well & nurse in Hospital in New Zealand by her photo she is a fine big woman. She is 22 or 27 now.
I could fill sheets of paper about new streets & alterations here but I would not interest you as no doubt you will have forgotten a lot off streets. Things remain about the same as regards people on Chenery St. The coop stores is a monster place now. The Harvey’s are scattered only Tom living in the town. Ray the oldest is married we hope to hear soon again from you. We both join in fond love & every good wish. God bless you all.
Your affectionate friends
Jim & Polly
Notes On The Letters
- The Stuck Up Meadows can be read about in the previous 1930 letter. I do wonder what made them that way. And of course, what Alice wrote to them.
- Earthquake in New Zealand - 1931 Hawke’s Bay quake was also called the Napier earthquake and occurred at 10:47am on the 3rd of February killing 256 people. The quake was a 7.8 magnitude and lasted 2.5 minutes. There were 597 aftershocks recorded through the entire month of February. (Source: Christchurch Libraries)
- Birthdays! I love it when they are in letters. Polly Howard: 7th Nov 1852. James George Witter 15th May 1853.
- Rose Family - Thanks to FindMyPast and Ancestry, the Roses were another surprisingly easy family to research just with the address and name. I only went searching for the basics though, more will likely pose a challenge.
In 1901 William Rose was an Assurance Agent residing at 15 Chenery Street in with his wife Lilias Rose age 43 of Scotland and daughters Violet L. Rose age 10 and Mabel A Rose age 9. The 1911 census lead me to Violet as a milliner and Mabel as a school teacher. Perhaps I’ll find some correspondence from them to Alice one day. Violet turned up in the UK National School Admission Registers on FindMyPast and was born 19 Jan 1891. She was also in the UK Wills & Probates on Ancestry passing away 23 Aug 1960 and she left her estate to her sister Mabel Alice Smith, widow.
As always, I got a little sidetracked by a unique detail, this time it was the name Lilias. So, some quick searching and I discovered Lilias Rose’s maiden name was Young [born 18 Sep 1857 Menstrie, Scotland] which quickly led me through the 1861 & 1881 Scotland Census on Ancestry to her parents and grandparents [Archd McGregor b. 1804 & Helen b. 1804] Breadcrumbs galore! All thanks to the delightful 1911 Census where families wrote in their own details and Lilias birthplace was mentioned. I learned a LOT about birth places in Scotland. See Resources at the end for some tips
- Sister Annie - Anna “Annie” Vince Frankland was still living when the letter was written. She passed away 25 Jan 1932. What little I know of her life seems to be filled with heartache. I’ll return to Annie another day once I uncover more.
- Freebie Assistant Department - I don’t think this was the actual name of the department but suspect it was a name that locals, or just Jim, gave to the government agency at the time. In 1931, UK unemployment was 2,643,127 following the 1929 Wall Street Crash. That was the highest number since statistics began in 1921. (Source: Clipping on The Guardian.)
- Miss Last - It took some time but I was able to track her down by an old Tower Ramparts address, the street Mr. Witter used to live on. Miss Last is Henrietta Denmark Spalding Last born 17th Nov. 1862. Her sister was Hannah M Last, dressmaker/furrier (b. Abt. 1853). Their parents, Henry Last (b. Abt. 1822) & Elizabeth Last (b. Abt. 1818). Hannah passed away in 1927. Henrietta died in 1958 at age 98. [in Part 5 of 10, I was trying to make sense of what looked like Min Last - turns out it was The Miss Lasts sisters!]
Well, that's all for now.
Still wishing I had all the letters Alice wrote to the Witters…
Happy Family History Hunting!
- Wikipedia - Hawke’s Bay Earthquake
- Christchurch City Library -Network of public libraries in New Zealand with a digital library. The link takes you direct to the Hawkes earthquake information
- National Records of Scotland - Census records are open from 1841 to 1911. The 1841 Census is the earliest to provide details on the whole population.
- Statistical Accounts of Scotland - Fantastic resources provided by the University of Edinburgh. All users can browse scanned images of the published pages, search the transcribed text, and view historical maps of the parishes and counties. Paid subscribers can use keyword search, tag and annotate pages and images, and access a wider range of related resources.
- Family Search Scotland Census Wiki - great information on the census as well as links to access them online. A substantial amount of the data is available free via FamilySearch
- Logie in Scotland Census Records - I ran into a bit of confusion with Lilias’s birth place of Menstrie, Perthshire listed in the 1911 UK Census and her birth place of Logie in the 1861 and 1881 Scotland Census. Logie is what appears on the Scotland Census. Perthshire appeared in another location and Stirling in yet another. Trouble is, depending on who you are talking to and what year they are referring to, the areas were often referred to by different names.
I found this on the FamilySearch wiki that helped explain why so many different “birth places” were mentioned: “LOGIE, a parish, in the counties of Clackmannan, Perth, and Stirling, 2 miles (N. E. by N.) from Stirling; containing the villages of Craigmill, Menstrie, Blairlogie, Bridge of Allan, and Causeyhead.” Now, Perthshire was a larger administrative county between 1890 and 1975 that is now divided to areas of Clackmannanshire, Perth, Kinross and Stirling. So - if you encounter multiple birth locations for someone - hit the atlas, use wiki resources and follow the ever changing parish & government borders over the years. A birth place of a different name may still be the same place. Confusing right?
- Find My Past - the 1939 register is filled with some fantastic information and the newspapers always are a great diversion when you can't find what you are looking for and just want to learn a little more about the town.
- Ancestry - Because one genealogy source is never enough.