When I first discovered Alice in 1881, she was known as Alice Wood. Alice was my great-great grandmother, wife of Benjamin Wood, a Waterman on the River Foss, mother of Alice Wood and grandmother of Reg Heppell.

Before I added Alice to my family tree, I needed to know her maiden name. I hadn’t yet found a birth registration for daughter Alice as there were so many registered. Alice Wood was quite a commonly used name. Instead, I opted to search for the marriage of Benjamin and Alice. I did find the marriage and so ordered a copy of the certificate. This revealed that the marriage had taken place at the Register Office in York on 10th October 1876. Alice Jameson was 26 years old, a spinster and 24 years younger than her husband. Alice’s father was named George Jameson and he was a Whitesmith, deceased by the time of his daughter’s marriage. Benjamin was a 50 year old widowed labourer, son of George Wood, a Waterman. Pretty straight forward, yes? I added all the names to the family tree and started the search for more details of Alice and her father George.

Alice and George appeared together on the 1871 census; a puzzling entry that suggested Alice was George’s stepdaughter, rather than his daughter. At first, I expected that Alice may have been raised by George as his own child and maybe Alice was unaware that he was not her real father. Looking at the census details, it was very clear that Alice was his stepdaughter. The other children in the household were named as sons and daughters. This suggested to me that George and his wife Jane, Alice’s mother, must both have been previously married. The other children named were older and younger than Alice, yet she was named last on the census. Alice was 18 years old and employed as a servant.

The next step was to find Alice’s birth name. From the information already found, I estimated that Alice would have born around 1850-1855. There was no record for an Alice Jameson birth in York for that time period, so that confirmed my suspicions that Jameson was not her birth name. My thoughts turned to Jane, her mother. If I could find a marriage to George Jameson, then that should declare her name, either her birth name or her previous married name and possibly both. I found a marriage for George Jameson to Jane Foster. This George was also a Whitesmith, so I was confident that this was the correct marriage. Jane’s father was named as James Ward. This meant that Alice would either be a Ward, if illegitimate, or Foster if she was born during Jane’s first marriage. There were a few birth entries for the name Alice Foster for that time period so I hunted for more evidence.

I looked through the 1861 census and found Jane Foster. Jane was a 28 year old widow, employed as a servant with the Featherstone family in Fossgate. There was no mention of Alice living there with her. I did eventually find her, living as a boarder, with the Cooper family on Walmgate, aged 8. Using this age as likely to be the most accurate, I ordered what I believed to be her birth certificate. I hit lucky and had managed to identify her as Alice Foster born 3rd April 1853 at Wilson’s Row, Layerthorpe, York, in the parish of St. Cuthbert. Her parents were Michael Foster, a labourer, and Jane Foster formerly Ward.

I thought I had all this sewn up but then, when adding Benjamin and Alice’s children to the tree, I struggled to find a birth entry for the eldest daughter, Margaret Ann Wood. From the census information I knew she was born about 1876, so possibly born just before Alice married Benjamin. I looked at entries for Foster and Jameson, and found, the entry under the name Jameson. To my surprise, I also found a baptism, which named Margaret Ann’s father as George Jameson! Now I was incredibly confused! Surely Alice’s stepfather hadn’t fathered her child? Maybe the entry was wrong? More searching did indeed reveal another marriage for Alice. In September 1874 she had married her widowed stepfather and so became Mrs Alice Jameson.

Her mother, Jane had died, leaving George with a few young children to care for, so Alice became the stepmother to her step-siblings and half-siblings. I feel the marriage must have been one of convenience, to ensure the children had a mother, because less than a year later George died, leaving Alice to care for the children. Alice had only one child with George, Margaret Ann Jameson, who became known as Margaret Ann Wood.

After Margaret Ann was born and Alice and Benjamin were married, Benjamin Wood became Margaret Ann’s father. Margaret Ann was not referred to as his stepdaughter, as her mother had been in early life. Margaret Ann was named in the census as his daughter. Alice and Benjamin had seven more children together; Robert, Alice, Elizabeth, William, Benjamin, Francis and Frederick. The family lived in Peasholme Green, in the centre of York, where Benjamin worked as a Waterman on the River Foss.

The River Foss in York at Browney Dyke in the 1890’s

In 1900, Benjamin Wood died, leaving Alice a widow once again. She lived the rest of her life in the Hungate area of York with her children. Alice died 15th March 1924 age 71 at 3 Layerthorpe Buildings in York. Her eldest daughter, Margaret Ann, was present at her death.

Alice Foster Jameson Wood, mother of eight

York 3rd April 1853 to 15th March 1924.