Roseann (Roseannah) Dowds Mitchell Revisited

In May, I wrote a blog post entitled, “My Ancestor Did What?”, about the discovery that my 3rd great grandmother, Roseann (or Roseannah) Mitchell (nee Dowds) appeared to have been convicted in 1877 of theft by housebreaking and that she had been sentenced to eight years in prison for the crime. I speculated as to what the motive might have been and recognized that only by reviewing the case file could I come close to any answers, including the most important one – was this ‘my’ Roseann Dowds Mitchell?

Although it is a bit of a lengthy process to receive a fee estimate for a copy of the applicable court file from the National Archives of Scotland, the wait was worth it. The cost of the file material was a little more than $100 but Roseann’s is a thick file, more than 150 pages. I have received the first 100 pages, all high quality colour photocopies of the original file that includes the thirty-four witness statements from the trial in addition to Roseann’s own statements.

As to my questions about the case, it is regarding ‘my’ 3rd great grandmother, Roseann Mitchell (nee Dowds), of that I have little doubt. Although I can’t take pride in the criminal acts described in the case file, I am proud of my ancestor and not threatened at all by her ‘record.’ The information contained in the pages I have received adds dimension to her name in my database. The information adds bark to the family tree, not just another leaf.

As to the story surrounding Roseann’s conviction, a single post won’t do it justice and properly I need to see the 50 pages of the file that have not yet been sent to me but are “to follow ASAP” according to the note provided by the archivist who processed my request.

I have only had the opportunity to take a quick read of the file to this point and it is safe enough to say that Roseann was convicted and sentenced based on circumstantial evidence. The “he said, she said” variety of evidence that convinced a jury of guilt but leaves me wondering about the sub-text of the Glasgow street life of the time, with sufficient characters to fill a ‘Dickens’ novel.

In addition to the thirty-four witnesses, sixteen articles were admitted into evidence at the trial. Of these articles, twelve items were clothing – ‘the stolen goods’ – ranging from a napkin to trousers to petticoats. Roseann professed her innocence to the end but circumstances accumulated that lead to her conviction and separation from her family and an unhappy eight years in prison.

Leave a Reply