Sepia Saturday: Nellie Coates Dawson

This week, I celebrate the 155th birth anniversary of Mary Ellen “Nellie” Coates. It is my grandmother Eveline’s handwriting that identifies Nellie by her married name on the photo below.

The little I know of Nellie is pieced together from a few photographs, a copy of a letter she wrote, a couple of references to her in letters written by others, and records found online.

Nellie, the older sister of my great-grandfather Joseph Coates, was born March 30, 1863 in Willington, County Durham, England. John Coates, her father, was 23 and her mother, Eleanor Richardson, was 18 at the time of her birth. Younger brother Joseph was born when Nellie was four and sister Jennie (Jane Ann) came along when Nellie was twelve.

The 1871 England Census shows parents John and Ellen, daughter Mary Ellen, and son Joseph residing in the village of Willington. Nellie’s father is employed as a Joiner, possibly at Brancepeth Colliery, as that is where son Joseph was born three years earlier.

At first I thought the family lived in Willlington House, but on third reading, I think Willington House was vacant and the family lived in one of Lord Boyne’s Cottages, #5, to be exact. I’ve become quite distracted by Lord Boyne and his cottages and Willington House, and on and on. I must let it go for now.

I have yet to find Nellie in the 1881 or 1891 England Census. Her parents, brother, and sister were living together on Low Willington in the village of Willington – but no Nellie. I found an Ellen Coates in 1881(age and birth place match), working as a servant at 4 South Bailey, Durham. This sighting took me on another excursion through the internet to learn about The Bailey. If I could verify this person as my Nellie, it would give her residence/employment a connection to Prince Harry and Alice in Wonderland. I’m not comfortable making the call in favor of “Ellen” just yet. So many rabbit trails on this Easter weekend!

Nellie married Robert Dawson 1886-87. Nellie’s brother Joseph, my great-grandfather, emigrated to the United States in 1889, making it likely that he was present at Nellie’s wedding. I am happy to know this, as Joseph never saw his birth family again once he crossed the Atlantic.

The photographs below of Nellie and her husband may have been taken at the same time – they were at least taken at same photography studio.

In 1901, Nellie and Robert were living on Briggs Yd. in Willington with four children: 14-year-old  Edith, 8-year-old Joseph, 6-year-old Ida, and 2-year-old Hilda.

The 1911 England Census shows Nellie and her husband, both age 48, residing at 11 Low Willington, Durham. Three daughters, Edith age 24, Ida age 16, and Hilda age 12 live at home. The census records seven live births, but four of Nellie’s children were deceased by 1911; this would include her son Joseph. Robert is employed as a laborer in a mine. Hilda, the youngest daughter, attends school. Nellie’s widowed father, 71-year-old John Coates, is found on a separate census page at the same address. The five Dawson’s residence is described as three rooms; father John’s residence is described as one room. John is employed as a cartwright at a colliery. At seventy-one!

The photograph below is identified as 11 Low Willington. Unfortunately, the people are not – of course! I’ve always thought this might be John Coates and one of Nellie’s girls or another granddaughter, but now I’m wondering if this is an older Robert Dawson with one of his granddaughters. Another mystery to solve!

Two photographs of Nellie with a daughter – the same daughter at different ages, or two different daughters?

On Monday, May 19, 1919, Nellie wrote a letter to her brother Joseph (Joe) and his wife Mary. Their son John had visited while on furlough during WWI. In the letter, Nellie gives a few details of John’s visit and assured his parents that he was healthy and well. John brought a photograph of his parents with him. Nellie is surprised at the change in her brother’s appearance and wants a better photograph of the two of them. Because she made note of the sun in their eyes and Joe’s mustache, I wonder if this is the photograph in question.


Joseph Coates and Mary Harris Coates

The next record of Nellie is a letter written by her sister Jennie to my grandmother Eveline in April of 1939.
“I am sorry to say my sister is in poor health, she cannot walk, and has to be lifted in and out of bed, and her husband has had strokes, which have left him very childish, my sister is 76 gone March 30th. They are living with Hilda, the youngest daughter and her husband, she has 2 little girls, it is a lot of work for Hilda, as she is not very strong. They are living at Hunwick now, they left Willington 3 or 4 years ago.”

In November – no year, but I think 1939, Jennie wrote another letter to Eveline with this mention of Nellie: “Hilda hasn’t much time for writing, your Aunt Nellie is so helpless. they are both to wait on, & the 2 children Freda is 10, & Marjorie 5.”

I have yet to find a record of Nellie’s death.

Nellie’s niece, Ethel Elgey (Jennie’s daughter) wrote a letter to my grandmother Eveline in December of 1958. Ethel had received a photograph of Eveline and had this to say:
“You do remind me very much of Auntie Nellie your father’s sister. I’ve never seen such a likeness to her before, it must be a bit of The Coates coming out.”

I don’t see a great resemblance to my grandmother in these pictures of Nellie. Maybe they grew to look more alike as they aged. Here is Eveline in November 1960 standing behind her son Al, granddaughter Deb, and mother Mary Harris Coates. This may provide a clue of how Nellie looked as an older woman.

Eveline, standing

Happy Birth Anniversary, Nellie! You have left me with many questions left to answer.

Sepia Saturday 412 Header

And now I confess that my submission for Sepia Saturday this week in no way resembles the photo prompt, although we could wonder if Nellie ever had a dog.

Pack your bag and head for Sepia Saturday where you will surely find someone who has shared images and stories that resemble this woman and the spotted dog.

Sepia Saturday – George and Bella to the Rescue

Sepia Sat 6 April 2013Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images.

George and Bella Elgey have provided the subjects for my Sepia Saturday posts for the past several weeks. You may have thought we’d be done with them by now, but you would be wrong. George and Bella have come to my rescue by providing my only picture of a historic building reminiscent of the castle in the prompt picture. And … I know I promised not to write any more about the photograph taken at George and Bella’s wedding, but as I prepared this post I realized that I just couldn’t keep my promise. 

My grandmother, Eveline Coates Hoskins, received the following letter from Bella Lidmore Elgey in 1951. Elgey.George.Bella.Jennie.letter1951 pg1 Elgey.George.Bella.Jennie.letter 2

This must be the view of Durham Cathedral that Bella referred to in the letter.
Durham Cathedral in folder

Someone – possibly Jennie or Bella – provided a caption. My grandmother added “England”. The calendar is missing.

Durham Cathedral in folder reverse Aunt Jennie must have signed the greeting on the back herself as she spelled her name as she did in the letters she wrote to my grandmother. Bella spelled her mother-in-law’s name “Jenny” throughout the letter. I wonder if that annoyed Jennie – or if she realized it. She had been Bella’s mother-in-law for 30 years by 1951. You would think Bella would know how Jennie spelled her name!

I was able to remove the postcard from its mat. Here is a higher resolution scan.
Durham Cathedral

Here is a crop of the lower right hand corner.
Durham Cathedral crop

And of the cathedral.
Durham Cathedral upper crop

Durham Castle is adjacent to Durham Cathedral and together they comprise one of the first World Heritage Sites inscribed by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) in 1986.

Durham Castle has been home to University College, the oldest of Durham University’s Colleges since 1837.  Approximately 150 students at University College occupy the keep and the rooms along the Norman Gallery. Meals are served to students in the Great Hall. In Bella’s letter, she states that her daughter-in-law is 2nd cook at Durham Castle. I don’t know what her job entailed, but I would guess it involved preparing meals for university students.

You can see a few pictures of the kitchen here and the Great Hall below.


And a diagram of the layout of the castle here.

Elgey, George.WeddingThe letter above also provides another clue to the identity of the people in George and Bella’s wedding photograph Unknown sweet shop in Englandbecause I can compare Bella’s handwriting in the letter to the handwriting on the back of the photo of the sweet shop – which I used for Sepia Saturday last week.

Below are the back of the sweet shop picture and a sample of Bella’s handwriting from the letter… unknown Sweet Shop reverse crop Elgey.George.Bella.Jennie.letter 2 crop I think the handwriting is a match and further confirmation that Bella’s mother, Margaret Lidmore, and brother, Thomas Lidmore are two of the people in the wedding photograph.

The videos below provide a few more views of the castle and cathedral. The first video follows a route through the streets of Durham City to the Cathedral and Castle, on to Raby Castle, and finishes at High Force in Middleton-in-teesdale.

Did parts of the cathedral remind you of Hogwarts? Durham Cathedral was one of the locations used for the Harry Potter films. Durham Cathedral begins at 2:16 in the video below.

And while many treat Durham Cathedral and Castle with great reverence, some Durham University students provide a less reverent tour of their “crib”. I wonder what pranks university students might have pulled while Bella’s daughter-in-law was employed there in 1951?

I was going to leave out the last video, but it presents an interesting thought about preservation in the context of Durham Cathedral.

“… we can only ever preserve what we remember and we can only ever remember what we have seen and we only ever see what things that we see in a relatively short span of time that we call a lifetime.”

I invite you to continue the tour of castles, monuments and other historical sites or oddities prepared by other Sepia Saturday participants.

George’s Wedding Photo Part 6 – Jennie

I think I know where George’s mother is in the wedding photograph.

On the back of the picture below, my grandmother wrote:
Eleanor Coates
– daughter and grandchildren

Eleanor Coates, daughter and grandchildren copy

Eleanor Coates, daughter and grandchildren

That would make the older woman on the right Eleanor (Richardson) Coates and the younger woman one of her two daughters – Jennie (Jane Ann) or Nellie (Mary Ellen). The children lead me to believe that the woman is Jennie as they seem to fit the birth order of Jennie’s children.

The 1901 Census for England and Wales lists the following children for Jane A. and Frederick Elgey:
Jane P. age 9
John age 6
Ethel age 3
George age 1
Elizabeth age 1 month

If the baby in the picture is George, that would date the photograph above around 1900 – Jane P. standing between Jennie and Eleanor, John on the left, and Ethel in white standing in front. Records indicate that Jane P. died in 1905, so she would not have been in the wedding photograph.

Elgey, George.Wedding

That looks like Mom – Jennie Coates Elgey – peeking from behind her sons John and George.

Elgey, Jennie cropJennie Coates Elgey crop

They look like a match to me. Eyes, nose, mouth, and the shape of face look the same. The tilt of the head even seems to match.

Elgey, Frederick cropI do not have any other pictures to help me identify the rest of the Elgey family who might be in the wedding picture.

Perhaps the man with the mustache is George’s father, Frederick Elgey, who made his living as a barber. I think the shape of his face matches both George and John and he has the same deep-set eyes and eyebrows as George, John and Ethel.

But then again, maybe he is the father of the bride…..

Elgey, far right

Jennie and Frederick had two additional sons who appear in the 1911 census – Edward, born about 1905, and Thomas, born about 1910. The young man standing on the right looks enough like the others to be part of the Elgey family. Edward would have been about 15 at the time of the wedding and Thomas only 10. I think he looks older than 15 – he’s so tall.

Maybe he is a friend. Or a cousin.

Or maybe he is a brother of the bride. I think they look enough alike to be siblings.

Who knows? I hope someone can identify him!

If you’d like to catch up with who’s who in the wedding photograph, here are the links:
Isabella Lidmore
George Elgey
Ethel Elgey
John Elgey
Nellie – Mrs. John Elgey

_________________________________________________________________________ 1911 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1911. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA), 1911. 1901 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005. Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1901. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives, 1901.

FreeBMD. England & Wales, FreeBMD Death Index, 1837-1915 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2006. Original data: General Register Office. England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes. London, England: General Register Office.