Friday, December 9, 2016

Sepia Saturday: Postcard Leads to Two Shocking Discoveries

For this week's Sepia Saturday, I began by scanning one of the few postcards I have from Dorothy Louise Baker (1897-1981), to her first cousin, Wallis W. Wood (hubby's great uncle).

The year was 1912, and Dorothy was living with her parents (Adelaide Mary Ann Slatter and James Sills Baker) and her younger sister (Edith Eleanor Baker) in Toledo. 

Adelaide Mary Ann Slatter and her four siblings were born in London, and I went to my online tree to do a quick search on her name.

I found something quite shocking. Adelaide and all of her siblings had been admitted to Bromley House--a workhouse--for several nights in May, 1874.

This is the kind of sad place for the poor where, a few lines above the Slatter siblings in this same ledger, a 50-year-old laborer admitted for a few nights was found dead in his bed. Bromley House added to its defenses, according to records, to prevent "inmates" from escaping. Not the sort of place you'd want two little girls, ages 7 and 5, to stay for a few nights.

After catching my breath, I went back to my other research about the Slatter family living in a terribly poverty-stricken part of London, Tower Hamlets in Whitechapel.

I knew the three boys had been sent to a military training ship on the Thames in 1875 and were lucky to escape a devastating fire. All three brothers went on to serve with distinction in the military, with Captain John Daniel Slatter (1864-1954) becoming a renowned band leader based in Toronto.

But until now, I didn't know all five siblings had been bundled off to Bromley House, the workhouse. According to the admission and discharge book, they were sent by the matron of the Forest Gate School.


Well, I had a guess. I've never been able to find the death date of the mother of these children, Mary Shehen Slatter. Born in 1840, I thought Mary died before 1888, the year when her husband left London forever and came to America.

But maybe I was wrong. This was my second shock. Above, part of a ledger from "UK Lunacy Patients Admission Registers" for the year 1877. A Mary Slatter was admitted to Middlesex County Lunatic Asylum (later called Banstead Asylum) on September 28. This Mary died on April 19, 1889. According to the death index, this Mary was 52 years old.

So if Mary Slatter wasn't able to care for her children from 1874 on, it makes sense that they could be shuttled from school to workhouse to training ship (the boys).

Yet John Slatter sailed off to America and by 1893, was living in Cleveland along with a wife, Louisa (I've never been able to locate a marriage record for these two, so perhaps she was a "wife"). So did he leave a wife in the asylum and start a new life to forget the misery of the old one?

More research is in my future to determine whether the Mary in the asylum was, in fact, my husband's great-grandma.


  1. Wow! Isn't it amazing what you can discover with one little bit of information? That's what I love about genealogy ... it's like putting a puzzle together or solving a mystery. While it sounds like these children went through an incredibly hard time, it's the finding out of these stories which makes them more than just names on a page for us. Good luck with finding out more!

  2. Patty, it was simply amazing discovering these documents. And it's amazing that all five of the children grew up to have full, productive lives. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  3. The phrase "times were hard then" doesn't explain it all. Social welfare didn't resemble the safety nets we have today. Have you checked out I have several photos/postcards of workhouse boys bands and have used that website to understand the kind of life children endured in the workhouses.

  4. Mike, I did read about the conditions and lives at (and linked to it in my post). It's not easy to think about--and that's why I was shocked to discover my husband's family being there, at least once. I'm going to try to obtain more info about their stay. Thanks for reading and posting.

  5. How good a sleuth you are with your ancestry. I've taken a break for the holidays, but will soon go back to see what Ancestry has been up to while I've been gone. This is encouraging me to again look at some of the "dead ends."

  6. Barbara, thanks for leaving me a comment. These discoveries were so unexpected and they motivate me to keep doing my "go over" by checking for new info on my family trees more often.

  7. So heartbreaking to think about but a wonderful discovery. And you're so right, just wonderful that all of these children went on to have good, productive lives.

  8. I was always particularly dismayed to find my ancestors in the workhouse, Marian. They must have been truly awful places, given the reputation they still have today. Mary's Slatter's hospital admission records probably still survive. It would be interesting to know what was wrong with her - no doubt just a bout of depression. Perhaps the records can only be accessed in person, but there would be no harm contacting the archives to see.

  9. What a sad story! But, it sounds like the children survived and thrived - at least the boys did. You are doing a wonderful job tracking down the records for this family.