Extraordinary or being proud of your ancestors…

This weekend I read this in the Observer Magazine.

For those of you that can’t be bothered to click the link, it’s about some women who feel that they were forced to give up their children for adoption in the 50’s and 60’s and the group they have formed to campaign for an apology from the government.

What is really clear to me, reading their stories is that the people that they didn’t get support from was their parents. Because good girls didn’t and a pregnant unmarried daughter was disgraceful.

I know that my Grandad was firmly of the opinion that you should be married. If you got pregnant (or got someone pregnant) you should get married and I know how upset he was when my cousin didn’t get married. But I know that he loved his first great grandchild and the circumstances of her birth didn’t matter. Once she was here, she was her and you love your family.

It wasn’t my Granddad I thought about when I was reading this article though. I was thinking about my great-grandparents, who I didn’t know and never met. I don’t have photos of and in the case of my Dad’s grandparents, I don’t even know their names although I’m going to bet one of them was called Mary!  My ancestors weren’t anything special, they didn’t invent anything, they weren’t well known, they were pretty normal working class people.

Ordinary people that they were, it seems that on both sides of my family, they did something extraordinary. They didn’t force their unmarried daughters to give their children up for adoption. Not just once but a couple of times.

Here’s the story my grandma, Iris and her sister Ellen.  According to Ellen, they were trouble and, again according to Ellen, she kept getting caught and Iris didn’t! Ellen had 13 children in total and I’m hazy on all the details but I think at least 6 of them had different fathers and were born before she was married. Two were adopted, one down the road and he always knew Ellen was his biological mother and one completely outside in a closed adoption.

My paternal grandparents, according to family legend managed a couple of children before she was married, all of them to my grandfather and maybe that’s what saved her because in Ireland before and during the war, I can’t imagine that there wasn’t some pressure to send her off to the nuns, in fact she did go off to the nuns. One of my uncles was born in a Magdalen Home. He and my aunts recently tried to find out more about it but there’s little information and it’s hard to work out what exactly happened.

In both the cases of my great-aunt and my grandmother, it seems to me that the support they had from their parents was the important thing. You can’t be forced to give your child up for adoption if your parents support you, even if they don’t approve.

I can’t imagine that being the parent of daughters that got pregnant outside of marriage was a very comfortable experience in the 30’s and 40’s, so to stand by your children at that time as they made the same ‘mistakes’ and added yet another mouth to feed to the household, would have been no small thing to my working class great grandparents. It seems that they did though and I think that’s extraordinary.

I feel for those women in that article but my aunt and grandmother weren’t amongst them because of their parents.


About nicdempsey

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1 Response to Extraordinary or being proud of your ancestors…

  1. Pingback: Friday Links | Nic Dempsey

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