Ruth Newell – a half-sister and a mystery

This is a photograph from my family collection showing two sisters, their names were always given as  Ruth (left) and Sarah Anne  Midgley.  Sarah Anne was  my great great-grandmother, who married Kelita Crossland. The family story was that her sister,  Ruth had not married but had gone to America and made her fortune. In the early decades of the 20th century she was visited by younger members of the family – the children of Sarah Ann’s daughter, also called Sarah Anne, Harriet and Jesse Micklethwaite.  Both seem to have been impressed by their stay  and Harriet recounted that so fond of America did she become that her father, Joah Micklethwaite, travelled over the Atlantic to retrieve her.  Harriet always told how Ruth had done well in America and worked in  industry.  Jesse, in some brief notes about his memories of the family wrote

Ruth left home for America in her early twenties and was not married, evidently she prospered and turned out very well and a very rich woman.  Living in Streater, Illinois, she did marry in her 80s but unfortunately died soon after.

However, he appeared to think that she was his mother’s sister rather than her aunt.  There is a passenger record for Jesse and his mother travelling to New York on the Mauretania in 1913, so it is likely his memories are less than perfect since he was only 8 years old at the time.  He also noted

Joe invited to visit his sister Ruth in Illinois, but after a time she gave him the push!  I have no further information on this chap but I do remember when mother and I visited Ruth (1912) Joe used to spend the best part of the day in a rocking chair placed on the porch chewing tobacco!

There was neither a Joe Crossland nor Joe Midgley in the family, and this remark has always been puzzling.  Ruth must have impressed the young Jesse for decades on his house in Beverley, where he was a successful businessman was called ‘Streator.’

Closer examination gives a much more complicated story.  Sarah Anne Midgley was born in Hunslet in 1839; Ruth was born in 1841.   The 1841 Census covering Russell Street in Hunslet gives William Newell, aged 40, a shoe maker, living with his wife Sarah, 35, and two daughters under 2, Sarah and Ruth,  all with the surname Newell.   Alongside them are four other children William, Samuel, James and Elizabeth Midgley all born between 1826 and 1835.  The 1851 census gives additional information, Sarah Anne Midgley is living with her mother, Sarah Anne Newell, born around 1804 along with siblings Samuel Midgley (b.1834) Ruth Newell (b.1840) and Joseph Newell (b.1846) in Bower Street, Hunslet.  Clearly ‘Ruth Midgley’ is a half-sister, sharing a mother but not a father.   In June 1839 there is a death record for William Midgley in Leeds. In March 1840 a marriage is recorded at St Peters in Leeds between Sarah Midgley. a widow, and William Newell; Sarah’s father is listed as James Harrison, thus providing her maiden name.  Ruth Newell is born about a year later.

In 1861 the Newells are still living in Bower Street , Ruth aged 20 is a flax spinner and there are two brothers, Samuel 26 and Joseph 14, a labourer in the iron mill. There is no sign of  her father, William Newell. Next door is Ruth’s half-brother James aged 56, his wife Mary Anne and four-year old daughter, Sarah Anne, along with a lodger called John Greenwood.

In 1862 Ruth is baptised into the Methodist Church, her family had been Church of England.  The baptism is in Wesleyan-Methodist Chapel, Hunslet; she names her parents as Sarah and William.  It is easy to make assumptions, but an adult baptism does perhaps suggest a women searching for something in her  life.  The Chapel was probably Lady Pit Lane Methodist Chapel.

On Aug 30 1868 Ruth Newell married John Henry Lucas, a coal miner, at St Mary the Virgin, Hunslet; William Newell, a cordwainer is noted as her father.  Her half-sister’s father on her 1850 marriage certificate was William Midgley, a shoemaker and almost certainly the same person.   On the marriage certificate Ruth makes her mark, thus indicating that she cannot write; so do the two witnesses, James Chadwick and Elizabeth Beckwithe.   She gives her address as ‘Jericho Street’ which is the street where her half-sister lives with her husband Kelita Crossland.

 John Lucas signs his name and gives the name of his father as Benjamin Lucas; although in 1842 John Henry Lucas is born in Hunslet, with his mother Elizabeth Lucas as his only parent. John and Ruth Lucas appear in the 1871 census living in Houghton Glass, Yorkshire, they have no children and he is described as a coal miner.   In 1881 John Lucas and his mother Elizabeth are living in Houghton Glass,  he is described as married, but no wife is present. In 1893 he marries again, to Sarah Anne Cawthorne, a widow.  In 1891 they couple are living in Houghton Glass with four children (one is Sarah Anne’s daughter by her earlier relationship).  Their relationship is almost certainly bigamous, since John’s first wife is still alive and divorce would not have been available to a working man at that time.  It is possible that Ruth has simply disappeared from his life for so long that he can assume she is dead.  John Henry Lucas died in 1909.  Sarah Anne is living with her grown up children in 1911 and dies in 1918.

Ruth does not appear on any UK Census after 1871, how and under what name she reached American is unknown.  However there is a Joseph Newell (a former coal miner), listed in the Illinois deaths in January 1925, age 78, born Yorkshire, England Aug 13 1846, at 210 Loucks Ave, Peoria, Illinois, wife’s name is Elizabeth, his parents both born in England.  He is buried in Parkview cemetery, Peoria.  It is highly possible that this is Jesse Micklethwaite’s ‘Joe’ and Ruth’s brother. Streator, not that far from Peoria,  was a major coal mining area attracting immigrants in the later decades of the 19th century when the developing cities like Chicago had a huge need for coal.  Joe, with experience of coal mining, was the kind of worker who would have travelled the Atlantic for employment with good wages.

Ruth Newell almost certainly died in Peoria.  It is possible that she re-married late in her life as Jesse Micklethwaite’s notes suggest although there is no evidence to support that claim.  A photograph in possession of a member of the Crossland family shows an elderly woman outside a clapboard house – probably Ruth in old age.  Much of her story is unknown.



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