Who Do You Think You Are? 2011
This week we hear from experienced family historian Roy Stockdill, who has been delving into JK Rowling's past. Read on for Roy's fascinating findings...
JK Rowling is the world's wealthiest children's author, reputed to be worth more than £500 million. She represents the classic 'rags to riches' story of an ordinary woman who thought herself a failure until she created a memorable character called Harry Potter.
This rags to riches element of JK Rowling's life is echoed in her ancestry: exactly 100 years ago, her great-great-grandmother was an inmate of a workhouse.
Ellen Caroline Card is JK Rowling's paternal great-great-grandmother. Born Ellen Caroline Brown in 1867 in Stratford, East London, she married John Card, a labourer, in Enfield, on 10 March 1895. They had a daughter, Rose Caroline Card, born in Enfield several weeks later on 25 May 1895, who is JK Rowling's great-grandmother.
Ellen has proven to be a somewhat mysterious character. At the time of the 1911 census she was an inmate of Enfield Workhouse, Middlesex. Her census return shows that she was living apart from her husband John and daughter Rose. Here we can see her 8th on the page click the image to enlarge it:
The 'Particulars as to Marriage' columns tell us that Ellen had two other children but only Rose had survived.
This is the address page of the workhouse in the 1911 census click the image to enlarge it:
It is possible that Ellen was there only temporarily or had admitted herself because she needed hospital treatment. Many poor people dropped in and out of workhouses because they were often the only place to get medical help at that time.
Here we can see the 1911 census return for Rose, Ellen's daughter. It tells us she was working as a domestic servant in Winchmore Hill, Enfield when the census was taken. Click the image to enlarge it:
Ellen's husband John's 1911 census return shows that he was working as a labourer and living as a boarder with the Culpin family in Enfield Town. Click the image to enlarge it:
The mystery surrounding Ellen deepens when we look further back in time. Her husband John and daughter Rose are present in the 1901 census (both living with the Culpin family where John is recorded as living in the 1911 census), but Ellen appears to be missing from the 1901 census altogether.
Ellen can be found in the censuses of 1881 and 1891, the daughter of George Brown, a labourer, and his wife Eliza, living in Enfield. George and Eliza were both born in Enfield but Ellen's birthplace was given as Stratford, Essex.
We may never know where Ellen was between 1895 and 1911, but considering that she appears to have lost two children and ended up in a workhouse, we can assume that JK Rowling's great-great-grandmother did not have a particularly happy life.
Have you experienced challenges finding your ancestors in the census? The 1911 census offers an unparalleled insight into our ancestors' lives findmypast.co.uk is the only place you can search the complete 1911 census for England & Wales.