Some Defining Moments

Once in a while, we find something that makes us smile, laugh out loud or cry. Quite a mixed bag you might think. But finding out about your ancestors can and does elicit all of these emotions. These are the stories of a few of my own defining moments – just some of the reasons I love finding out about the people who made me who I am.

James McTurk Drain, a Scottish soldier

I’d always been told that my Great Grandfather James McTurk Drain was a Scottish soldier. It was also widely believed that he was in the “Black Watch”. What was certain is that he had signed up to fight for King and country in the “Great War”, although I was told he was a regular (a soldier in everyday life, not just in wartime).

Imagine my surprise when I found his name in the “Book of the Dead” – a record of every soldier killed in the Great war. There he was, J Drain Pte. 2nd Battalion Border Regiment d. 29 Mar 1915.

Private James McTurk Drain

Wait a minute…. Pte… that’s short form for Private; so okay no-one had ever said he was an officer. BUT… 2nd Battalion BORDER REGIMENT – that is definitely NOT the Black Watch. Further digging told me that soldiers back then had to sign up in the area they had been born in… which lead to the discovery that my handsome SCOTTISH Great Grandfather had in fact been born in Shap, modern day Cumbria. So, in effect he was English?

Wow. one tiny bit of information had led to the collapse of lots of family stories. There was a bright side, if it can be called that. He had been brought up in Scotland from a very young age, and had always called Dalbeattie home. Later discoveries included a letter from the Mayor of Norwich to his father (not his wife) to offer a few words of comfort knowing that he had spoken to James just days before he died from his injuries and that he (James) had wanted to go home to Dalbeattie. The latest of these finds was actually seeing his name on the cenotaph in Dalbeattie and on a plaque from Dalbeattie primary school, the very school he had attended, along with the names of all those other former pupils who had lost their lives in the "Great" war.

Isabella Parsons, my first ancestor in the workhouse

Finding my 2nd Great Grandmother had been sent to the workhouse elicited a totally unexpected (at the time) wave of sorrow, and an exclamation (I’m afraid out loud in the Mormon library) of “how could they?”! I never expected it to come as such a shock.

Crumpsall Workhouse

Richard Matthew Jackson had died leaving his widow Isabella (née Parsons) to bring up their five children alone. The older two, Richard Henry and Elizabeth had been old enough to work so they went to stay with their paternal Grandparents. The three younger children still had to be fed etc.

Isabella was sent to Crumpsall workhouse with John William, and the younger two boys Amos and my Great Grandfather Alfred were both sent to Swinton Industrial School. That last titbit explained my Gran’s story of how her father was “well educated”. But it still makes me sad to think of Isabella having to live in the Workhouse.

Isabella, her husband and her in-laws were "tobacco pipe makers" by trade. And as a very interesting aside, a vast amount of the clay pipes were actually found on the former site of the workhouse.

Claypipes found in Crumpsall Workhouse

Richard Jackson, the headline in a newspaper

Isabella’s father-in-law caused more tears.

Richard Jackson (born about 1819 in Aldgate, Middlesex in the UK) had been with the love of his life for more than 55 years. Theirs was truly a love story!

They had met in Newington, in London in 1838. The parish of Newington St Mary was part of the Brixton Hundred of Surrey and this contained all of the manor of Walworth.

He married Elizabeth Hall (in the very same church her parents had married) on 11 Apr 1841. Their son, Richard Matthew (born before they were married in July 1839) had been christened with his mother's maiden name.


In approximately 1869, they made their way "up north" to Manchester, along with Richard Matthew and his wife Isabella (see above) and their 3 young children.

On the 1871, 1881 and 1891 census he gives his trade as a "Tobacco Pipe maker" which fits with everything I have ever been told. From the latter census details, it seems life was not easy for the couple. Their son died in 1881 at the age of 41 years.

So what caused my tears?

Richard at the age of 74 became ill. Okay, I know that even now that is to be expected in older people, however back then for the people like Richard who were poor and without the NHS to fall back on, the ONLY option was to be admitted to the workhouse infirmary.

Elizabeth wouldn’t go; I think perhaps she was afraid she would never get out. Richard was bereft! He had never been apart from his beloved wife. He discharged himself and was found by police who had to take him home on a stretcher. He later died from “bronchitis and a form of consumption”. The newspaper article is so very upsetting even now. This is the transcript of the newspaper article...