Showing posts with label London Metropolitan Archives. Show all posts
Showing posts with label London Metropolitan Archives. Show all posts

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Researching "Misfortune" Mary Shehen Slatter

My husband's great-grandma, Mary Shehen Slatter (1837-1889), was in and out of London workhouses during the early to mid-1870s. She married John Slatter (1838-1901) in 1859. From 1860-1869, they had six children. But John had no steady work as the years went on. He was out of their lives as Mary and the children bounced in and out of workhouses, trying to stay afloat amid their poverty.

At top, Mary's workhouse discharge on January 17, 1874, indicating she had a bad leg, and was being sent to Newington workhouse. This time, she was without her children. Often, her children were also sent to the workhouse with Mary, to be sure they had meals and shelter.

In 1875, as shown above, Mary was still "destitute" and released from this workhouse "to Poplar" workhouse while her children were kept a couple more days (to be fed) and then discharged to Forest Gate School in the notoriously poor area of Whitechapel, London.

Thanks to my cousin Anna, who visited the London Metropolitan Archives last year, I know that Mary Shehen Slatter was diagnosed with "melancholia" when admitted to Colney Hatch Asylum and, later, sent to Banstead Asylum. The asylum's notes indicate that Mary's real problem was poverty and misfortune. She died in Banstead of tuberculosis.

Yet every one of her children grew up and had a good life. One was taken in by Grandma Slatter at an early age. The others muddled through the school/workhouse system, and then the boys joined the British military as young teens. Both girls came to America, married, and had families of their own.

Thanks to the many Rootstech sessions I attended on how to locate parish chest records, my plan is to flesh out the family's backstory by doing more research in their London parish. For background, see this Family Search wiki discussion of parish chest records, and another Fam Search article here. FindMyPast has some parish chest records here (not for "Misfortune Mary," however).

This is my post #12 in Amy Johnson Crow's #52Ancestors challenge for 2018.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Surname Saturday: Mary Slatter, Melancholy and Demented?

Last month, I wrote about discovering in the Banstead Asylum records a woman named Mary Slatter who was possibly my husband's great-great-grandmother. I was doing a Genealogy Go-Over and learned that more records had become available, so I dove in.

The only way to find out more was to see these records in person, since they're not available in any other format. My wonderful cousin Anna in London was kind enough to visit the London Metropolitan Archives, where she read the admission and discharge registers.

If this was indeed Mary Shehen Slatter, her life was even sadder than the family could have imagined. Get out your hanky. Here's what the records say:
  • Mary was admitted to Banstead Asylum on September 28, 1877, at age 40. (This is within a year or two of the age I would expect her to have been at that point.) She was married, the wife of a laborer, and she was from Whitechapel (these facts fit exactly with the Mary Slatter I'm trying to find).
  • Mary's "previous place of abode" was--oh, dear--Colney Hatch Asylum. In other words, she was institutionalized before she even got to Banstead. Colney was notorious, another place to hold paupers, originally meant to be more humane but then resorting to straight jackets and other restraints. Wait, there's more.
  • Mary's form of mental disorder was characterized as "Melancholy and demented." 
  • Mary's cause of insanity was described as "Misfortune and destitution."
  • The duration of Mary's previous attacks of insanity was 3 years, 4 months.
  • Mary died young of phthisis--meaning tuberculosis--on April 19, 1889, at age 52.
Now my cousin is going to view the Colney Hatch records in person to try to learn more about whether this is indeed our Mary Shehen Slatter.

From what I know about hubby's g-g-grandmother, this could very well be her sad fate. The family was chronically impoverished, I have confirmed from the records and from later comments made by Mary's children as adults.

Mary's first-born child, Thomas John Slatter, didn't live to the age of 11. He was born in 1860 (see him in the 1861 UK census excerpt here, with the Slatter family listed in Whitechapel) and he died sometime before the 1871 UK census. * Was this why Mary was first institutionalized?

I hope the Colney Hatch records will give me more insight into Mary's life. Also, I've sent for Mary Slatter's death cert to see what it says. UPDATE: Mary's death cert is a single line in a ledger. It says "date of death is April 19, 1889; place: "Middlesex Lunatic Asylum, Banstead; female, age 52, wife of a labourer, Whitechapel; cause of death is phthisis." No place of burial mentioned, no maiden name. Since the Mary I'm seeking was the wife of a labourer in Whitechapel, the death cert supports my theory but doesn't prove that Mary Slatter in Banstead was Mary Shehen Slatter, hubby's g-g-grandma.

* Elizabeth, in a comment below, notes that Thomas seems to be alive and living with his grandparents in the 1871 census. Thanks to her help, I have clues to dig deeper!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Surname Saturday: Tracing the Sad Fate of Mary Shehen Slatter

Was my husband's great-grandma, Mary Shehen Slatter, committed to a London insane asylum in 1877 -- and did she die there in 1889?

Thanks to online records, a phone call, and the kindness of a cousin who lives in London, I'll soon know more about this ancestor's sad fate. This is part of my Genealogy Go-Over, filling in the blanks on the family tree.

I am fairly certain of Mary's birth date, thanks to marriage records, but not her death date nor her whereabouts after the 1871 UK Census, shown here. At that time, Mary and her husband John Slatter and their 5 children lived together in Tower Hamlets, Whitechapel, London--an area known for extreme poverty.

In December, I learned that Mary's 5 children had spent time in a notorious London workhouse.

Checking further, I discovered that a woman with the name of Mary Slatter had been committed to Banstead Asylum in September, 1877. Whether this is our Mary Slatter, I couldn't tell, but it was an intriguing and disturbing thought.

Women were committed to such asylums for a variety of reasons, not just in the 19th century but also well into the 20th century. Click to read what one genealogy researcher found out about her great-grandmother's time in Banstead, circa 1930s. But get out your hanky before you click.

Next, I did an online search and landed at the National Archives in Surrey, England, which has an entire page devoted to Banstead Asylum and Hospital, closed for years. At the very bottom is the statement: "...not clear whether these records are now at either London Metropolitan Archives or Surrey History Centre."

Time for a phone call to the Surrey History Centre. The gentleman who answered the phone listened to my question about where the asylum's records might be found and told me they were definitely at the London Metropolitan Archives. He even gave me the archive catalog code so I could quickly locate what I needed.

On the London Metro Archives site, I found lots and lots of files readily available to the public, subject to the 100 year rule that protects patient privacy. Oh, the archive has patients' records, organized by date and by gender. Also visitors' logs and some photos (possibly only of staff, but maybe I'll get lucky?). What a treasure trove. Only one catch: These files must be accessed in person.

I sent an email to my London cousin Anna, asking whether she would be willing to undertake a field trip to the archives on my behalf. Even though she has no relation to poor Mary Shehen Slatter, my wonderful cousin agreed to visit this spring, armed with what I know and what I want to know. Before the snow melts here in New England, I hope to confirm whether this is hubby's great-grandma Mary and clarify her fate.

Why is Mary Shehen Slatter in my thoughts? Because too often, women are much less visible in family history . . .  especially once they marry and their maiden names disappear from public records. I want to honor and respect the lives these women lived, give them dignity and help them be remembered as more than simply "the wife of" or "the mother of" when I share the family tree with their descendants.