Susannah Cottam Kellett

Today I followed the story of someone in my family tree, which struck me as rather sad.

She wasn’t a direct ancestor, she was my second coursin three times removed, and the story is just a bare outline, gained from the birth, mattiage and death indexes and census records for Lancashire.

She was the eldest daughter of John Cottam of Heaton in Lancashire, and Nancy Kellet of the nearby parish of Heysham. According to the 1871 census, Susanna Cottam was 3 years old, and her younger brother Adam was 1. Her father John was a farmer of 102 acres at Forton in the parish of Garstang.

In the 1881 census the family was still at Forton, Susanna was 13 and listed as a scholar, and her brother Adam was 10, and there were several younger brothers and sisters: Margaret, Ann, Robert and Elizabeth Alice.

In the 1891 census she was no longer with the family, but I could find no trace of her in the census staying anywhere else. She would have been 23 years old, so perhaps she had left home and got married, and was living under another name. The rest of the family had moved to Nether Wyresdale, and there were no farm servants — perhaps the older sons provided the labour on the farm, or perhaps they lived out, and came in to work; at any rate he is listed as an employer. John Cottam’s widowed mother-in-law Margaret Kellet was also staying with them, living on her own means.

In 1901 the family had moved to Preston, and they appeared to have come down in the world. John Cottam was a farm labourer (cattle), working for someone else, as were the older sons. The mother-in-law had gone, probably died. There was another daughter, Nancy, aged 7.

And the oldest daughter was back, aged 33, and a cotton weaver. She was listed as Susanna Kellett, rather than Cottam. And there were two grandchildren: Edith Kellett, aged 9, and Florence Kellett, aged 5, clearly Susanna’s daughters born out of wedlock.

Why was she now listed as Kellett rather than Cottam? Was she an illegitimate daughter John Cottam’s wife had had before they were married, and now that she had illegitimate daughters of her own, was her father distancing himself from her by listing her under her mother’s maiden name?

Part of the answer is revealed in Susannah’s baptism record in St Peter’s Church, Heysham:

Baptism: 20 Oct 1867 St Peter, Heysham, Lancashire, England
Susannah Kellet – [Child] of John Cottam & Nancy Kellet
Abode: Heaton & Heysham Lordsome House
Occupation: Farmers Son & Farmers daughter
Notes: Single Woman
Baptised by: Charles Twemlow Royds Rector
Register: Baptisms 1849 – 1900, Page 41, Entry 322

Jphn Cottam and Nancy Kellet seem to have married soon after Susanna’s birth, and almost immediately after they were married went to live at Forton in the parish of Garstang, where most of the other children were born. She was listed as Susannah Cottam on the next two censuses, perhaps because no one there knew them.

So I wondered what eventually happened to Susanna. Did she marry, either the father of her daughters or someone else, and live happily ever after? Apparently not.

According to the death register she died in about August 1907, at the age of 38. She was listed as Susannah Cottam Kellett. Her elder daughter would have been 15, ans the younger about 10 or 11. I wonder what happened to them. Did their grand parents continue to care for them, or uncles and aunts? And from the bare outline, Susanna seems to have had rather a hard life. There have been lots of single parents beofre and since, including others in my own family. But her story left me feeling a bit sad for her.

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