I write quite a lot about my family history here and I’ve shared the story of my great-grandmother Lois Penney who was born in 1853. She had an interesting life, her father had a basket making business and the family moved from their Northamptonshire base to different places including Cambridge. At some point Lois met my great-grandfather and they had five children together, including my grandma.
Looking at census information, I had traced the ten-year markers of Lois’s life – except for 1881 when I just could not find her at all.
In 1861 the family, Charles and Martha and six children lived in Kings Cliffe, a small village in Northamptonshire. Lois had a brother and four sisters, at this point in her life;there were Sarah Frances (who she remained close to all her life, right into her old age) Martha and Elizabeth, George and Anne. There were two older sisters, Georgiana who had married Thomas Blow, a hairdresser and lived in Chatteris in Cambridgeshire, and Mary. sadly Georgiana died in 1881 but Thomas remarried, and continued his life as a hairdresser and owner of a fancy goods and toy shop. Mary also married, Charles Dean Dawson. Another sister, Matilda, had died as a child
In 1871 Lois was with her parents living in Cambridge, in Victoria Road, number 281, literally just round the corner from where I lived for a while as a girl. Her father Charles, for some reason called George in this census, was a basket maker, as was his son, Lois’s brother, also George, also a basket-maker – maybe that’s where the enumerator made a mistake writing George twice. He was also careless with their surnames, writing Pinney instead of Penney. As well as George and Lois, their sister Annie was with them in Cambridge.
Then I had the mystery, missing year, which in a way was crucial for Lois, because between 1871 and 1891 she met my great-grandfather and had the five children. I had details of her in 1891, and in 1901 when she was living alone with the children as Louis had died. I had her in 1911 living with the three youngest children, including my grandma… but I couldn’t find her in 1881.
The truth of the relationship between Lois and Louis was that they never married; he was from an observant Jewish family and she was a Gentile. Their eldest son, another George was born in 1879… or was he? It’s all a little mysterious and I believe he was born as Penney in Chelsea. The other children were all born as Walfords, even though their parents weren’t married.
So where was Lois in 1881? Her mother had died and her father was living with his second wife Sarah, two young children Rhoda and Edwin and step-daughter Annie, I searched everywhere for Lois in 1881, and have done so for several years. I did wildcard searches for her name Lois/Louise/Lewis etc and Penney/Penny/Pinny etc, but all to no avail – nor as Lois Walford – a name she didn’t actually adopt until after Louis’s death.
Quite serendipitously, I found her… on some genealogical sites people very kindly share their family trees, and I found Lois!! She was there not as Penny/Penney/Pinny but as Perry… She was living in Fisher Street, Cambridge – Fisher Street where my aunty and two cousins had lived seventy years later! This was a paternal aunty, not a maternal one so she had no connection to Lois, but it’s still a mighty co-incidence and it’s a street I visited dozens of times as a child!
Lois was with her little son George and was visiting her younger sister, Annie, now married and with her own little daughter, Mildred. Lois was there on the night of the census and write her ‘condition’ as ‘married’ although obviously she wasn’t. George who became a Walford was there as Penny too. One new thing I learned, she gave her occupation as dress-maker – apparently Annie was also a dressmaker and had worked in London. Had the two sisters lived together there? was it somehow through her work that Lois met Louis? Who will ever know. However much detective work i do, I’m not sure I will ever find out!