Hidden Histories

The legacy of attitudes towards illegitimate birth in the 1860s.
Tina Hook

There’s always one! One person in every family – at least that’s what I reckon – who takes it upon themselves to be the guardian of the family stories. Before me, it was my grandmother; she used to tell me some amazing tales dating way back to over 100 years before I was born, and I soaked it up like a little sponge!

With the help of other relatives, I’ve been building up a picture of my family’s Victorian past and trying to fill in the gaps. And there’s one huge gap; my grandmother’s father was illegitimate. This means that we haven’t a clue who his father was, so the family story hits a massive brick wall. But what I do know that was in the era he was born into, the term ‘father unknown’ would have created a huge stigma both for mother and child.

Working with the Local Studies library and family history experts, I’m currently exploring personal stories of generations affected by the conventions of Victorian Derby. I’m finding out about the vicissitudes of unmarried women’s lives and the difficult decisions that were faced by women struggling against prevailing attitudes that haven’t quite disappeared today.

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