Mary Ann Helferty 1840-1884

I was about to delete this post having discovered that this lady is not my great, great grandmother as I had previously thought.  A review of my research revealed that I had made a huge mistake in my research.  But apart from the fact she is not my family her story is still true and, I think, worth telling.  It may be useful to someone else in the future so I will leave it here on my blog.

Mary Ann Helferty was born in July 1840 in Magherafelt which at that time was in County Tyrone, Ireland.  Her parents were Michael Helferty and Ann Hendry.  Mary Ann was the second of their five children. I know that the family were still in Ireland in 1845 but by the 1851 they had come to Glasgow and were living in the Calton area in the East End. Michael is recorded as a labourer and at that time Ann’s mother and brother were staying with them. Mary Ann is listed on the census as a scholar but it is doubtful that she spent much time in school as she never learned to read and write.

By 1861 Michael no longer features in census records but I have not yet found death details for him. Ann was the head of the household. Mary Ann and her sisters, Catherine and Margaret were employed as workers in a cotton factory. Elder brother, Hugh had left home and younger brother, Michael was in school. He was born in 1853 and was the only one of the Helferty children born in Scotland.  The family shared their home with four lodgers.

On 17 March 1867 Mary Ann gave birth to a daughter, Sarah Helferty.  The child was born in their home in London Road in Glasgow.  There is no father listed on her birth certificate.  Mary Ann was 26 years old when Sarah was born, so not a young girl.  I do wonder about the father.  Was he a married man?  Was it a one night stand? Did he offer any support, either emotional or financial?

Five years later, in 1872, Mary Ann had another daughter.  Little Ann Hendry Helferty died just a few days after her first birthday.  Again there are no details of a father.  The baby was named after Mary Ann’s mother and that leads me to wonder why she had chosen the name, Sarah for her first child.  Was that a connection to the father’s family?  I found details of Baby Ann quite by accident when I searched on Scotland’s People under the name Helferty looking for further information on Mary Ann’s siblings.  So now she has two children out of wedlock.  I wonder how she was regarded in the community. Is it possible that the same man fathered both children?  Again that makes me consider the possiblilty of an affair with a married man.

Early on in my research into Mary Ann I discovered that she had died in the Poorhouse in Govan in October 1884.  The cause of death is recorded as phthisis.  I really wanted to know more about what had happened to poor Mary Ann that she should end up in such a place.  I therefore, visited the Mitchell Library in Glasgow where the Poorhouse register is stored and available for viewing.  I must admit it was exciting to see this original document.

The Poorhouse register is an amazing source of information and there were a couple of further shocks for me in Mary Ann’s record.  First of all I discovered that it was her daughter, Sarah who had her placed in the Poorhouse.  The record shows that Mary Ann was ill and unfit for work so I can only imagine (hope) that there was no other choice.

I also found details of a boyfriend with whom she had been living with for a number of years and two further children!  James was born in 1877 and Mary in 1882.  They both had the surname, Gallagher, after their father.

Whether Mary Ann was a victim of circumstance or a rebel I think it would be fair to say she had a very tough life. The family dream of leaving Ireland for a better life certainly didn’t come true for her.


9 thoughts on “Mary Ann Helferty 1840-1884

  1. I had a very similar discovery while tracing my husbands family. My discovery was found when I requested my husbands grandfathers birth certificate from London. It came back with “father unknown” and his grandfathers given surname completely different from what we knew it to be!! From this I found his surname remained the same until he and his mother immigrated to the United States when he was 10 years old. Then suddenly on their passenger list his mother is listed as a widow and he AND his mother have taken on a new last name!

    This shocked my father-in-law!! However he said it explained why his father and grandmother never discussed their past in England or “who” his fathers father had been.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I can remember a cousin saying our grand aunts would have thought it very impolite to go snooping around in people’s private lives – I suppose family historians could be considered the paparazzi of the cemeteries…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Indeed and very frustrating. I did try to see if I could find anything through court records to see if Mary Ann had sought financial help from father but there was no trace of the name Helferty. And I think it may be the Church of Scotland that would have had some records but this doesn’t help me as Mary Ann was Catholic.


  3. Pingback: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge #17 – Prosper | Shaking The Branches

  4. Pingback: Ann Hendry 1817-1871 – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #18 | Shaking The Branches

  5. Pingback: An Easy Mistake To Make – Finding Sarah Helferty | Shaking The Branches

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