I’ve always hoped that my great-grandmother Mary Elizabeth Dewhurst believed that her mother Isabella was her sister, because having married and had two more children, Isabella and her new family emigrated to Canada in 1893 leaving Mary behind aged just 14.
Mary had grown up in the home of her grandparents Christopher and Mary with their 12 children and named Christopher as her father (which he wasn’t) when she married John William Ousby in Penrith, Cumberland in 1902. Like so many other illegitimate children she was absorbed into her mother’s family. Perhaps no one (least of all Mary Elizabeth) was any the wiser.
I can’t help wanting this to be true because otherwise she must have felt so terribly abandoned. Think of the counseling she would have had today. Back then she would have just had to cope with her distress. I wonder too if Isabella’s new family ever knew. They all came home to Shap, Westmorland in 1898 and stayed for almost 10 years living a few houses away from Christopher and Mary, before returning to Ladysmith, British Columbia in 1907. Mary Elizabeth must have known they were there and probably visited. Did anyone let the cat out of the bag? Or had the fib been so absorbed by everyone by that stage that it had become the truth.
Whatever the truth Mary Elizabeth was surely one of the luckier illegitimate children. Brought up within her own family, her mother supported and both of them taken care of when so many others were thrown on the mercy of the parish.
Of course I would love to know who Mary Elizabeth’s father was, but that’s another story…