The Rochford Women by Joyce Young

Our family celebrated the 100th anniversary of the immigration of our Rochford family to Canada with a family reunion in 2006. It provided an excellent opportunity to gather information on the many branches of the family and my aunt compiled the data into a wonderful Canadian family genealogy. But I felt there was something missing. Who were the women marrying into this family? How do I trace someone who insists on changing her name? I decided to start with my maternal grandmother, Dorothy.

My grandmother Dorothy raised seven children including six girls through the depression and instilled very strong beliefs in the value of life-long learning and work. All her daughters went on to obtain post-secondary education and employment after marriage. This was in an era when society still did not encourage education or employment for women. Where did my grandmother’s attitude come from?

I had certificates for her parents’ wedding and her mother’s birth. I first searched the microfilm of Canadian passenger lists and census returns. I then started using the internet to search various databases. I was able, through the use of Lovell’s Directory of Montreal for example, to verify the addresses which the Rochford families called home. It was then necessary to search British records.

I searched census records, birth, marriage and death indexes, military records and various directories. I also searched for historical information regarding occupations, localities and the like. As time went on, more and more records were being linked to digital images of the microfilmed documents. The availability of the digital images significantly increased the confidence level of the information I was finding.

Dorothy’s mother Lizzie Thompson and her father George Edward Rochford both worked in the newly industrialized shoe & boot manufacturing trade in Leicester, England.

Between 1890 and 1903 the traditional British boot and shoe industry lost markets as the result of poor quality and finish, and recovered only after the adoption of American production methods, etc. The trade in Leicester was seriously affected and part-time work was the rule rather than the exception.

Of the 12,700 people in Leicester in the first half of 1903, 67 per cent worked full-time. By the end of the year this figure was reduced to 47 per cent.

George, a skilled tradesman, was blackballed from work after speaking out to management on behalf of co-workers in the days before strong trade unions.

They had a difficult decision to make.

Lizzie and George set their hopes for a better future in Canada.

Dorothy Rochford came to Canada four months shy of her sixth birthday on May 9th, 1907. She had not seen her father since he departed for Canada August 31st, 1906 but what a present they were bringing! Travelling with her on the ship Lake Manitoba from England were her sister Margaret, baby brother Michael and her mother Lizzie Rochford. Her father George had left his pregnant young wife Lizzie at home in Leicester while he sought employment in Canada.

Dorothy and her family were indeed fortunate in her parent’s decision. Within a decade, her parents were the proud owners of both a city home in Montreal and a country home in Valois, Quebec.

They were gracious hosts and welcomed everyone to holiday functions, entertaining their guests with music and song around the piano. According to Dorothy, her parents believed the troubles of the old world should be left on the other side of the ocean & that people should get along regardless of origin, language or religion.

Her parents’ home was filled with books and by grade four Dorothy could answer questions the grade eight students in the classroom couldn’t. But the doctor advised against sending her to high school – too hard for a “delicate” child.

Just a few months later, she was sent out to work. Hardly easier than school! She soon moved up to bookkeeping and managing the small office of the lingerie manufacturer, Finnie, Perrin Co. of Montreal.

Dorothy was very active in parish life and she belonged to the sodality in St. Dominic's RC Church and was president for many years.

Her father George died when she was twenty leaving her family reliant on the income Dorothy and her brother could provide.

Her cousin, Barney Rochford, had a good friend Mack. It was through Barney that Mack and Dorothy met. She postponed her marriage to James Malcolm (Mack) Roberts for several years to help support her three siblings still in school.

Dorothy and Mack were married on the 21st of May, 1927, in the sacristy of St. Dominic's RC Church because Mack was a Protestant and in those days mixed marriages were not allowed in the church. The Roberts family were not at all happy about this! Following the wedding, there was a reception for friends and family in the Rochford home at 4614 Bordeaux Street in Montreal.

Once married, she easily bore six healthy children in eight years and then her seventh child at age 43. But her doctor still fretted that she was so thin. The supreme irony is that outside of her pregnancies, Dorothy scarcely needed medical care. After 1950, she was active in the Catholic Women’s League at St. Francis of Assisi and served for many years as the parish bookkeeper.

I discovered that Dorothy’s mother Lizzie also continued to work after her marriage until the family moved to Canada. That, in addition to bearing nine children, six of whom survived, would have been a full workload! Did she set the foundation for Dorothy’s attitude towards women and work?

Lizzie was, at age 18, a shoe machinist by trade according to the 1891 census and continued in that occupation through 1901. Women and girls were employed in large numbers, both in and outside the factory, closing of the uppers by sewing machines.

George Rochford was a shoe edge setter and last maker. I have not been able to determine where either George or Lizzie worked. Could they have been working on the factory premises rather than at home and have met in that way?

A search of the UK census for Lizzie eventually revealed that her father James was a shoe rivetter, a process of attaching the sole to the upper with metal rivets rather than the traditional method of sewing with waxed thread. Could they have met through James? At least six Rochford or Thompson family members were involved in the shoe & boot trade in 1901.

In trying to trace Lizzie’s roots I ran into a stumbling block. Her mother’s maiden name is listed as Alice Barlem yet the only marriage I could find indexed was for a Bartlem. While the name is rather uncommon it became obvious it takes many forms. I began searching through various census records and found some pages with two different spellings for the same family group! I eventually developed the hypothesis that Lizzie’s mother was the Alice Bartlem who married James Thompson and was happy to confirm my hunch when the marriage record arrived.

Alice & James Thompson had six children. Lizzie’s younger brother, Arthur, may have died in 1900 as I find a record for a burial in the Welford Road Cemetery for one Arthur Thompson buried 11 Aug 1900 age 21 residing at #5 Crane Street, Leicester. Could he have been living with his sister Lizzie? She & George Rochford are recorded as residing at #5 Crane St. in 1901.

While Lizzie and George were christened and married in a Catholic church, the Bartlems seem to have been Baptists.

According to the 1861 census Alice Thompson was employed as a wool shirt finisher like her mother Mary. By 1871, she is a married seamstress or needlewoman doing hosiery work. She is most likely one of the many needlewomen working from home allowing her to also care for her infant son. Leicester was one of the larger factory towns in the 1800s and one of the primary industries was clothing and cloth production. Many women were able to do work from their homes either weaving, knitting or sewing. Similar to the shoe trade, employers would lease the hand looms and frameworks to employees, the cost of which would be deducted from their pay.

Alice’s sister Emma is listed on the 1861 census as a house maid, age 12, but by 1871 she is doing elastic work. Not only was elastic being used in the garment industry but it was also used in boot manufacturing. Did she meet James Thompson through the boot trade and introduce her sister Alice?

Alice has no other employment listed on the 1881, 1891 or 1901 census returns. Perhaps she and James were fortunate enough not to need the income but more likely her income while childrearing was too small to count. In 1911, Alice is recorded on the census return, age 63, with her daughter Clara, son-in-law George Wringe and grandchildren. She is working as a needlewoman. As a widow did she once again need to support herself?

Alice Bartlem grew up in a home where both parents were working in the “fabric trade”. Her mother & grandmother were needlewomen and her father was a framework knitter. According to the marriage registration for her parents Mary Starbuck and Thomas Philip Bartlem, Mary’s father John Starbuck was a framework knitter like Thomas P. Bartlem so occupation may once again have played a role in the joining of these two families.

It appears as if Alice’s mother Mary continued to work during her marriage while raising her three children.

In families such as weavers or knitters it was common to have everyone in the household over ten years of age occupied in some task and contributing to the household income. This is long before anyone thought of children as anything but little adults.

Have we now come full circle so that working mothers are commonplace and most families relay on two incomes?

Image - Rochford Family Tree