Meet our Family Tree ancestor baby competition winner!


25 October 2017
Irene-in-2015-15622.png Irene in 2015
Meet our ancestor baby photo winner and learn her story

Family Tree reader Lisa Spooner was delighted to see a baby photo of her late mum on the front cover of our December issue, after winning our #FTBaby competition.


We had lots of truly wonderful entries from readers’ family photo collections, but Lisa’s really stood out. When she entered the competition, by posting her photo to our Facebook page, she told us: ‘This is my mum, Irene Claire Wiseman, who sadly passed away in July of last year, just a few weeks short of her 80th birthday.


'Born on 7 August 1936, the picture appears to have been taken in preparation of her enrolment onto the local Salvation Army Cradle Roll – we have the original large print photo, and the Cradle Roll paper certificate with the photo featured – I love the fact it has been coloured! None of us had seen this photo (nor the Salvation Army certificate) until after she’d died, when it was found stashed away in the top of a wardrobe.’

The winning photo

Lisa also sent us this photo of her amazing mum in later life and told us a little of her family history. She explained: ‘This is a picture of my mum, taken in August 2015, 11 months before she died and just eight months on from her initial triumph over the bowel cancer that eventually got her. She'd actually had several brushes with death over the course of her life; electrocution (faulty fire) in her early twenties, burst appendix at 60, burst gallbladder at 70...


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‘Mum was born in Dudley Road hospital, Birmingham, on 7 August 1936; the first of two daughters born to parents William and Gladys – they were quite old to become first-time parents (Gladys was 39 and William 42 when my mum was born) and they were (as my mum put it) 'quite Victorian' in their ways. We know very little about either of them prior to this; they simply did not talk about their past, and my mum did not think to ask (people just didn't, back then).


‘Both parents were from large families (William, one of ten, Gladys one of an alleged eight, though I have discovered it was in fact five). In my own research I have learned that our family roots lie deep in the heart of Birmingham's industrial heritage; so far I have gone back to the mid-1790s to my 5x great-grandfather and his brother. In their early twenties they left their small rural Warwickshire village to seek a new life in the newly-expanding town set to become the City of a Thousand Trades – where their descendants for the next two centuries continued to live and work.


‘My mum knew nothing of this wider back story; family history was simply not mentioned, and in fact seems to have been somewhat shaken off and muddied over, since she and her sister and parents relocated (climbing socially) from Aston (Jewellery Quarter ) to the more leafy suburb of Sutton Coldfield, where she herself remained for the rest of her life (I grew up there, but moved away two decades ago, to live in west Cornwall).   


‘Three major factors defined my mum's childhood:


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1) WW2 (she was three when it started; memories of air raids and bombs, food rations and fear)
2) Her dad William's dominant personality (all the hallmarks of PTSD; his young adult experience as a WW1 prisoner of war)

3) Her mum Gladys's long-term illness and traumatic death at 55, when my mum was just 17. Foisted, at 13, into the role of primary carer, housekeeper and substitute mum for her younger sister, she left school at 15 and went straight into her first job as general assistant in a greengrocer's and florist's shop. She had actually wanted to go to college to study jewellery design, but her dad would not let her; insisting instead that she must "get a job and bring some money into this house". Here she remained for the next 16 years, and the shop served as a channel for her creative talents; learning "on the job" to very quickly become the main florist. She made the bouquet that was presented to the Queen during her visit to Sutton Park for the 9th World Scout Jamboree ("the Jubilee Jamboree") in August 1957. In her early twenties – independent, newly confident, and with her own money to spend – she travelled to Europe, flying on a "rattling sardine can" of a plane to visit Italy, Switzerland and Holland: quite out of character for a girl who grew up scared to go on the swings, never learning to swim or ride a bike ...


‘Leaving the shop in her early thirties – by now on her own with me, then still a toddler – she went on to master many jobs (farm worker, cleaner, doctor’s receptionist) but would always be best known as 'the flower lady’; the 'go to' person for local weddings, funerals and special occasions, working late into the night in the small lounge of our council maisonette, ribbons and wires and flower stems strewn all around, before hurrying off to her various day jobs, tired yet determined.        


‘Strong and eccentric women featured prominently in our family history. My mum’s two grandmothers – Eliza-Ann, the fearsome 'Granny Wiseman' (William's mum), and Martha, the one-eyed 'Granny Cooper’ (Gladys's mum), who was blinded by a dinner fork thrown by her younger sister. She wore a black leather eye-patch over the empty socket and refused to wear the uncomfortable replacement glass eyeball, keeping it permanently in a glass of water on the bedside table.


‘Eliza-Ann had a bit of a miserable, poverty-stricken life with her alcoholic, often violent husband, and Martha went on to raise her five children alone (pre-welfare state) after her husband James ("that 'ol' haybag!") disappeared (claiming to be going for "a swim in the reservoir" he never came back, and is believed to have gone to America). This is something of a reoccurring theme; repeat generations of strong, independent women, getting on with it, as best we can!   


‘My mum would have loved to have seen herself as a baby on the front cover of a magazine, albeit it unrecognisable! She placed great value on physical looks and aesthetic beauty, so to know that she had won on account of how she looks, would have made her very happy.


‘I myself am thrilled that her picture is being used on the cover, although of course there is a certain bittersweet feel to it, with her being no longer here. I am especially looking forward to receiving my framed copy as a prize, and will hang it in pride of place on the “family history” picture wall.’


Thanks to Lisa and everyone who entered the competition – you can view all the ancestor baby photo entries at here.


Certificate and photograph both © Lisa Spooner.