My 2x great-grandmother's life has been quite a mystery.

Ann Norah O'Brien
Birth ABT 1860 • England
Death 16 JAN 1923 • Exeter, Devonshire, England, United Kingdom

She went by the name Norah O'Brien.

1901 census


1911 census


She had 5 illegitimate children including my great-grandmother.

Francis Harold O'Brien
Birth 21 MAR 1894 • Barton Regis, Gloucestershire, England
Death Unknown

Winifred Lydia O'Brien
Birth 30 OCT 1896 • Stroud, Gloucestershire, England
Death 28 NOV 1979 • New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada

Dorothy Doris O'Brien
Birth JANUARY 1898 • Stroud, Gloucestershire, England
Death 19 APRIL 1986 • North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

John Edward Goode O'Brien
Birth 19 JAN 1900 • Stroud, Gloucestershire, England
Death 6 JUL 1965 • Gloucestershire, Gloucester, England

George Albert O'Brien
Birth 8 JUL 1901 • Stroud, Gloucestershire, England
Death 10 NOV 1946 • Gloucestershire, Gloucester, England

28 Dec 1901 The register office, Stroud, Gloucestershire, England
George Edward Goode

I ordered all of her children's birth certificates as well as her marriage certificate.

Her oldest son was born in the Bristol City workhouse. Does that mean he was born while she was working?

What can you tell me about these workhouses and how can I find records? What types of people worked in the workhouses and what were they for?

Also, Norah's birth date is a mystery. The only record I found in the GRO Index for that date range was for St Pancras, Middlesex. The father's name on the certificate is different from the name on her marriage certificate.

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2 Answers 2


A good place to start researching workhouses is workhouses.org.uk. They have a page about Bristol Workhouse.

Bristol actually maintained two workhouses:

  • The Clifton Union workhouse at 100 Fishponds Road, Eastville
  • Stapleton Workhouse

The records of the Clifton Union Workhouse are held by Bristol Archives. Unfortunately, the details on your certificate show that you need the records for Stapleton Workhouse.

Although Bristol Archives does have some records and photographs for Stapleton Workhouse listed in their catalogue, they don't appear to have the patient records listed. According to the information on the workhouses.org website, these were virtually all destroyed by enemy action in 1940 (presumably during a bombing raid).

Stapleton Workhouse went to to become Manor Park Hospital, which is now called Blackberry Hill Hospital.

Since Norah was listed as a domestic servant, employed at 10 St James Parades, on Francis Harold's birth certificate, she clearly wasn't a workhouse employee but rather an inmate.

Have you traced Norah and her family through the earlier census records (1861 - 1891)? These may give some idea of when she moved from London to Stroud/Bristol. It may also give some clue about the reasons behind the confusion over her father's name (he may have died when she was very young, for example).

  • I'm not able to find her in any previous census records because her oldest child was born in 1894 so he would not have appeared in the 1891 census. Because of the uncertainty in her birthplace and parents' names I cannot trace her any further. Commented Jun 2, 2019 at 20:37
  • @user1261710 My personal Ancestry subscription has expired, but I've found a likely candidate for James & Ellen O'Brien in Somers Town in 1861. I would see if that looks right and work forward from there. Commented Jun 2, 2019 at 20:54
  • I could not find that record. I found this one though but I'm not sure if it's her. ancestry.ca/sharing/… Commented Jun 3, 2019 at 12:42

An address would only be shown in column 5 (mother's name) when the mother's usual address at the time of the birth is different to that shown as the place of birth. So you would read that she was working as a servant at 10 St James Parade and probably only went to the workhouse infirmary to give birth (being the only medical provision available to her at the time).She probably wasn't an inmate of the workhouse at that stage.

However, she is resident in the workhouse at the time of registration (nearly three weeks later) , which does imply that by that time she has become an inmate.

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