I am still researching my 2x great-grandmother.

Ann Norah O'Brien
BIRTH ABT 1860 • St Pancras, Middlesex, England
DEATH 16 JAN 1923 • Exeter, Devonshire, England, United Kingdom

She had 5 illegitimate children. I ordered all of their birth certificates.

Her eldest son was born in the Bristol Workhouse. She was working as a domestic servant and became pregnant so then she went to the workhouse.

Within a very short period of time (about 2 years) she moved from Bristol to Stroud and appeared to have started a new life. She became a charwoman, a shopkeeper, a hawker and then a housekeeper of no profession.

Her children are spaced about 2 years apart nearly in sequence which would seem like she was in a relationship.

How would it have been possible for her to leave the workhouse so quickly with a young baby and become a charwoman/shopkeeper?

She was working as a domestic servant at 10 St James Parade Bristol in 1894. I found that dwelling in the 1891 census and she wasn't there. What kind of dwelling was this?


I have posted about her before:

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  • 2
    A thought unrelated to the question: have you looked at the electoral rolls for Stroud around the births of the children to see who was living in the relevant streets? You might spot a pattern.
    – user6485
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 18:20
  • 2
    "Her children are spaced about 2 years apart nearly in sequence which would seem like she was in a relationship." I wouldn't make that assumption. Look for patterns as suggested, but try to keep an open mind and phrase those ideas as questions for yourself: "What if she had been in a relationship, then perhaps I could find ..." It's a subtle difference but be careful not to create a brick wall for yourself.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 19:29

2 Answers 2


The workhouse in England (or Wales) was not somewhere anybody wanted to linger, but it was often the only choice for a single pregnant woman about to have her baby who could not "lie-in" (give birth) where she was living (e.g. as a domestic servant) and did not have any family to go to (or did not want them to know her 'shame'). If the child was healthy and so was she, she would often leave very quickly (within days or weeks) once she had somewhere to go. She may not even have been admitted to the workhouse, but only to the infirmary to lie-in.

You should look at the records associated with the workhouse in question, if they have survived. You might find:

  • Workhouse Admission and Discharge Registers. Information on name, age, occupation, former residence, creed and general observations (plus of course dates of admission and discharge)

  • Creed Register. From 1869 the workhouse master had to provide information on an inmate's creed (religion). Records included Name, date admitted, creed, informant, when discharged/died

  • Birth and Death (in the workhouse) Registers. Births gives date of birth, parents name, parish where admitted, if baptised, child's name if given, remarks; deaths provide date, name, parish where admitted, where buried

  • Workhouse Medical Relief Book - includes name, age, date, diet, when discharged

but be aware that not all these have survived for all workhouses. There are other records for some workhouses but those are less likely to have details of individuals.

In this case you could look at the Bristol Archives catalogue and possible the Gloucestershire Archives catalogue to see what they hold; very few workhouse records are online and (as far as I can ascertain) none for the Stapleton workhouse. https://genealogy.stackexchange.com/a/15523/6485 suggests the Stapleton records were destroyed in 1940.

Peter Higginbotham's The Workhouse is an essential reference tool when researching ancestors who spent time in a workhouse.


My great grandmother was in a similar situation in workhouses in London, I wondered a similar question. I discovered she relied heavily on her sisters as well as the workhouse's related "receiving homes" to temporarily house her children while she had my grandfather. The other children remained in the receiving homes longer after she left the workhouse, so they could provide some kind of "child care" while she got back to work and eventually found a family home.

I found the workhouse visitor books useful - showing the sister visiting regularly up until the day of the birth.

I round the receiving homes admission and discharge and creed registers very useful, as they showed the children being sent "To Aunt" at their home address, which then led me to find their family too.

The workhouse infirmary records were also useful, as the kids were often sick and sent there for periods instead of staying in the workhouse or homes. The infirmaries have their own A&D, creed registers, patient registers and other records which can all add pieces to the puzzle.

Before finding all this, we didn't even know she had sisters nor about some of my grandfather's siblings! There was a huge amount to learn from the workhouse registers about how she coped - but I realise I'm a bit spoilt with the mass of online data from London.

About St. James Parade, I've found this mapping tool useful for visualising places historically. You can overlay older maps on top of new ones - it's great fun. https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=19.266666666666648&lat=51.4587&lon=-2.5928&layers=168&b=7

If you use the "OS 25 Inch 1892 - 1914" map overlaid on top of the OpenStreetMap, you can see the houses which are no longer there, I guess no 10. is next to the presbytery, and it's opposite a graveyard - now the park. You can see the kind of area it's in.

They feel like five floor terraces from the census, with relatively working class inhabitants and no servants listed. I wouldn't have thought shoemakers and such could afford a live-in domestic servant, but things were different then. Perhaps the area was wealthier in 1894.

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