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  • Writer's pictureJessica Feinstein

Ellen Boothby

One of Ari's ancestors who I think had a very difficult life was Ellen Boothby. She was Ari's 4x great-grandmother, and not only did she lose five of her eleven children as infants, but her husband, Joseph Phipps, committed suicide. This is her story.

She was born on 25 October 1846 at Holbrook, Belper, Derbyshire:

Ellen Boothby's birth certificate. Crown copyright.

Unusually, she was not baptised until 7 December 1851, perhaps because a new baby, John, had just been born and they were taken to church on the same day. (In between these births came William, who died as a baby.)

The 1851 census shows Ellen aged four, described as a scholar (an infant school had been built in 1842 by William Evans). Her father William was a farm labourer, and the family lived on Holbrook Moor.

Ellen did not have a job in the 1861 census, but her mother had died and no doubt she had a lot of work in the home. Her younger brother John was a coal higler at the age of twelve, and her older brother Samuel worked on a farm. Ellen had an older sister, Ann, who was nineteen at the time of the census and had "housework" listed as her job.

In 1863, Ellen's father William died from heart disease at only fifty-four.

On the last day of 1867, Ellen married Joseph Phipps at St Alkmund's church in Duffield.

Ellen Boothby's marriage certificate. Crown copyright.

We next see Ellen in the 1871 census, in Holbrook village with Joseph and two young sons, William (3) and Joseph (11 months).

In 1881 they are at Barn Row in Holbrook, and Ellen now also has three daughters, Mary Ann (9), Elizabeth (5), and Emma (2 months). In between, another daughter, Eliza, died at the age of two.

Then we have the 1891 census and they are now in a house in Holbrook Street with William (23), George (12) and John (8). There had been more deaths. Emma died in 1882; another son, Frank, was born and died in 1885; and a daughter Ellen was born and died in 1888.

By 1901 Ellen's oldest daughter, Mary Ann, had married, and Ellen could be seen staying with her at 19 Coke Street in Derby.

The 1911 census is the last one in which Ellen appears, and we can see that two of her sons, Joseph and John, are still at home.

1911 census. Image from

The census tells us that five of Ellen's eleven children have died, which means that there is one child we have not accounted for (no birth, death, baptism or burial record found). The address is Town Street in Holbrook.

Four years after this census was taken, in July 1915, Ellen told an inquest that her husband Joseph had lost some of his work selling newspapers, and had also been ill, suffering from bronchitis and asthma. She said that he was very "curious" at times, but had not threatened to kill himself. It was also noted that his brother was in an asylum. One night she got out of bed and followed him out into the yard of the almshouses where they were living, where he showed her that he had wounded himself with a carving knife, cutting his own throat. Ellen ran into the road and called for help. Ellen's son-in-law, Frederick Sims (Ari's 3x great-grandfather), told the inquest that he found Joseph sitting on the sofa holding the knife, and he and his father bandaged the wound. Joseph was then taken quickly to the Union Infirmary by the local vicar, the Rev. Sidney Swan, who was summoned, got out of bed and brought his car, but Joseph died three days later.

Ellen's son John was called up to fight in the First World War and enlisted with the Sherwood Foresters (6th Battalion) on 29 November 1915. (See He gave his age as 26 (he was actually 32), and his trade as a labourer. His address at the time was Meakins Yard, Great Northern Road, Derby. He gave his next of kin as his mother, Ellen Phipps of Holbrook. He was a Private, and his regimental number was 5053.

On 25 August 1916 John was discharged from the Sherwood Foresters at Grainthorpe in Lincolnshire, in consequence of "not being likely to become an efficient soldier for physical reasons", although his work and conduct and military character were all said to be good. He was described as 27 years old, 5ft 2½ inches, with a fair complexion, brown hair and blue eyes. His trade was "horseman", and he had a scar over his right eye. He had served for 178 days.

His medical records say that he was suffering from "nerve deafness". He was examined at Northern General Hospital in Lincoln, where it was recorded that he had been deaf in both ears for ten years. He could hear ordinary conversation 10 feet away with his right ear but not with his left ("bone conductor almost gone".) There was a small perforation in his right ear drum. There was no treatment available, and the Medical Officer recommended discharge from the army.

Ellen died on 9 March 1919 from senile decay and exhaustion. She was seventy-two.

Ari, this is how you are related to Ellen:

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