35.16 – Grace and Mary Jane Bell

Grace was one of the first graves adopted as part of the FOCCT project and is not untypical in being a single child buried here with no other family members anywhere in the graveyard. Todmorden was a place of industry and people came from afar – some stayed, some left again.

Her parents were Francis and Maggie (nee Hannah) Bell, who were both born in Scotland and married in Kirkcudbright in 1871. In 1881 they lived at Skircoat in Halifax but Francis became a constable in Todmorden that same year – he had been a member of West Riding Yorkshire Constabulary since 1873. They moved to 18 Boardman Street. They already had three sons, and would have another, but Grace and her sister Mary Jane both had short lives.

Grace died aged 11 months old, on February 22nd 1886, from acute bronchitis and convulsions probably brought on by a high fever. Bronchitis was a common cause of death in infants in those days, along with gastroenteritis. We take so much for granted nowadays with modern medicine.

Detail from Grace Bell’s death registration

Francis “compulsorily resigned” from the force in 1888 and in 1891 the family had moved to Elland and he was working as a night watchman. Looking at his signing up records, it seems likely that he had joined the West Riding Constabulary for a fixed term of 15 years, and either a request to continue was turned down or he was sacked, it isn’t clear. Their fourth son is in the census as having been born in Halifax in 1889. We can’t find any newspaper articles referencing what happened with Francis’s career or any further records online. They probably had some very sad memories of Todmorden at that point, having lost two daughters in very short succession, and maybe they all needed a change of lifestyle and scenery.

We think Mary Jane is probably buried in the same grave as Grace – she was born and died in January 1887, only four hours old. It would make sense to put her with Grace, but her name isn’t on the stone. Sometimes an infant or stillborn child would be interred with the soonest available other interment, if for some reason the usual rites could not be performed due to the child not having been baptised. Francis and Maggie had another child who died (the 1911 census has a section for how many children were born to a mother and how many were still living) but I don’t know where (or when) they are. Their burial isn’t registered as occurring in Todmorden.

Grace and Mary Jane are also interesting in that they illustrate the problem with only using public records for family tree research. It was using the British Newspaper Archive that we could prove that the Francis Bell living at Boardman Street from 1881-1888 was the same Francis Bell who was in Elland and Skircoat in 1881 and 1891, though the notice of his appointment as a local constable in November 1881. Otherwise it would be a strong guess, but only a guess. Grace and Mary Jane do not appear in any Ancestry family tree for Francis and Margaret and their descendants except ours which we have created for the graveyard. Yet another reason researchers must exhaust multiple sources before proclaiming something as fact!

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