Site of the former St. Savior Workhouse Infirmary where my grandfather was born.
My paternal grandfather, William Bird Churchill, was born in 1908 to Miss Annie Bird, a 30 year old "spinster". According to his birth certificate, he was born
at 72a East Dulwich Grove in Camberwell, a sub district of London, England. His mother's occupation was "Rag Sorter" and a different address was noted as her usual residence. No father was listed.
We never knew anything else about Annie Bird, as my grandfather sailed to Canada in 1910 at the age of 2 with the woman he always thought of as his mother, Mary Churchill. She was a widow with grown children,
and raised William as her own.
When I began researching his side of our family tree, he was not very interested in knowing about his "birth" mother, content that
Mary was the mother who had raised and cared for him. My father, however, was interested in knowing more; unfortunately it was not until after he passed away, seven years ago, that I started to learn more about my great-grandmother.
Annie Bird has been one of my most compelling genealogical challenges. There are hundreds of Annie Birds in the historical records of the late 1800s and early
1900s. Working backwards, comparing addresses and census records and known facts such as her age and occupation and broadening my research to siblings and finally Poor Law and Workhouse records has helped me to discover some things about
my paternal great-grandmother and her family.
I learned that the address on my grandfather's birth certificate was actually the St. Saviour Workhouse Infirmary.
And I learned that Annie spent a fair bit of her adult life in and around the workhouse and the infirmary. She clearly came from a impoverished working class family and the British Poor Laws which provided relief for the poor through admission to parish
workhouses would have applied to them at the time. Typical occupations found in the records for members of the Bird family were Carman, Scavenger and Charwoman.
Herstory: On April 15, 1878 Ann Caroline Bird was born to William Bird (occupation: Carman) and Elizabeth Kendall Bird of 10 Martin Street, St. Saviour, Southwark in southeast London, England. She was the third child of eleven born
to William and Elizabeth. Martin Street (later Miniver Street) appears frequently in the records for the Bird family for at least two generations, and assisted in linking several pieces of the puzzle of this branch of our tree.
I also discovered that in 1906, two years before my grandfather was born, Annie gave birth to a girl, baptized Annie Elizabeth Bird, at the Newington Workhouse Infirmary;
records note the infant to be "illegitimate". Sadly, in 1907, at 16 months of age, Annie Elizabeth died from the Measles.
I am pleased to now know as
much I do, but there are still questions to which I'll not likely ever have answers. Who were the fathers of Annie's children? I frequently wonder what led to my great-grandmother relinquishing my grandfather and how it felt to her at the
time. Did she have a choice? It was not unheard of for poor women to have had their children removed from their care against their wishes. The workhouse records show that William was discharged to the care of Mrs. Churchill in 1909 at the age of
14 months. I don't know if his mother cared for him until this point or not. Was it poverty, illness, grief? Annie was poor, from a large family. She appears to have been a patient in the infirmary several times before and after the
birth of my grandfather, including at the time of the 1911 British census. Was she unable to look after him? Maybe she wanted for him to have a better life than she could provide. I suppose maybe he did, however it saddens
me, whatever the reasons.
In the marriage records for 1915, Annie Bird at the age of 38 married a widower, James Mitchell. In 1923, at the age of 45,
Annie Mitchell died at 72a East Dulwich Grove, which we now know was the Workhouse Infirmary. Seems she never escaped her life of poverty.