Mary Elizabeth Vickress was my great-great-grandmother’s much younger first cousin, though I do not have any proof that the two ever met. According to her birth certificate, Mary Elizabeth was born on 16 March 1860 in Pensnett (then a part of Kingswinford, Staffordshire – now in Dudley, West Midlands). Her birth was registered in Stourbridge registration district, with her surname misspelt as Vickeriss.
Mary Elizabeth’s spent her first year living in the area where she had been born. When she was one, she was recorded on the 1861 census living with her family on Fox Street, Kingswinford. Under the same roof were her father Henry Vickers (sic), described as a carpenter; her mother Sarah, and Mary Elizabeth’s elder half-sister Caroline (from her father’s short-lived first marriage). Although Henry’s surname is misspelt on the census – a common occurrence with an unusual surname like Vickress-, his age and place of birth prove he was my great-great-great-grandfather’s younger brother.
In 1862 Henry and Sarah had another daughter, Mary Ann, who sadly died the following year. Three more children were born to the couple within the next decade. By the time the 1871 census was taken, Mary Elizabeth (this time recorded simply as Mary) was listed living at 91 Pearson street, Wolverhampton with her parents and her younger siblings Mercy (aged eight), Jane (three) and William Henry (two). Sarah would have been pregnant at the time, as later that same year she gave birth to another daughter, Susannah, who tragically died aged four months. A further daughter, Drusilla, was born in 1873.
The family lived in dire circumstances, a fact which is reflected in children’s early deaths, sometimes within a very short time. By 1881 the family had been decimated to a handful of surviving members. Mary Elizabeth’s siblings Jane, William Henry and Drusilla, as well as their father, had all died during that time.
To make ends meet, it seems plausible that Mary Elizabeth may have followed in her elder half-sister’s steps, and went into service during the 1870s, for she is not recorded in the family home – only her mother and her sole surviving sister Mercy were still living in Wolverhampton. Unfortunately, I have not been able to trace Mary Elizabeth on the 1881 census (though she would still have been alive at the time). That same year, her mother Sarah died, leaving only Mary Elizabeth and her sister Mercy as the sole surviving members of their immediate family.
Mary Elizabeth’s movements thereafter are hard to trace. In 1885 her younger sister Mercy, an unemployed domestic servant, gave birth to an illegitimate son, who sadly died after living for only two days. A few months later, in 1886, Mercy herself died in Erdington Workhouse, Birmingham. Her will was proved on 11 November 1886, and notes that her sister Mary Elizabeth was “of 263 Great Lister street Spinster the sister and one of the next of kin”.
Sadly, to this day I have not been able to locate a marriage, death or emigration record for Mary Elizabeth Vickress that might shed some light on her whereabouts or what became of her after 1886. It’s almost as if Mary Elizabeth Vickress disappeared forever! Can YOU help me find her?
A sad footnote to this family’s story is the early death of her elder half-sister, Caroline Ann, who had gone into service at a young age and worked in various places during her short life. Having also survived her father and most of her younger half-siblings, in December 1891 she found herself pregnant, unmarried and gravely ill. A newspaper of the period tells us about her last moments:
DISTRESSING DEATH AT SELLY OAK
Mr. Edwin Docker (Coroner for East Worcestershire) held an enquiry yesterday morning, at the Oak Tree Inn, Selly Oak, into the death of Caroline Ann Vickress. From the evidence given by her uncle, Joseph Davis, who lives in Frederick Road, Selly Oak, and carries on business as a builder, it appeared that the deceased was 37 years of age, and had lived for some time with her uncle. On Sunday week last deceased remained in bed, feeling ill. On Saturday last, at about three o’clock, although feeling unwell, deceased left home intending to go to Sparkbrook, where she was in the habit of visiting. The witness Davis said that on Wednesday last he taxed her with being pregnant. She denied it, but being asked again by witness’s wife she owned to being so. – Harriet Edwards, Selly Oak, was also called, and said that at about 3.15 on Saturday last she saw the deceased coming towards her in the High Street. But before witness could reach her deceased staggered and fell on the footpath. Witness lifted her up, and after asking several people, who refused to help her, assisted deceased to the residence of a Mr. Cutler. She appeared very ill. Dr. Hollinshead was immediately sent for, and upon entering quickly laid the poor woman on the floor, but life was extinct. -Dr. Hollinshead stated that he considered death was due to syncope and asphyxia, and no doubt was aggravated by the deceased going out in the intense cold while in a pregnant condition. – A verdict in accordance with the doctor’s evidence was returned.