My Favourite Female Ancestor

March has been designated as Women’s History Month and I don’t want to let the month pass without highlighting my favourite female ancestor – Roseannah (sometimes Roseanna or Rose Ann) (nee Dowds) Mitchell, a paternal third great grandmother of mine.

Why is Roseannah my favourite? Well, it isn’t because she achieved something of great benefit to all of mankind. No, she’s my favourite because she provides colour to my ancestry. I’m not speaking of skin tone or pigmentation but rather Roseannah spent several years in prison as a convicted thief.

While some might consider Roseannah’s criminal and prison records as scandalous and embarrassing  I am proud of Roseannah and proud that I am her great-great-great grandson.

I admit that I was startled to learn through a search of the 1881 Scottish Census records that Roseannah was in that year a ‘guest’ of her Majesty’s hospitality in the General Prison for Scotland. Roseannah, or Rose Ann as she is named, is listed on line 16 from the 1881 Scottish census record page seen below. What could she have possibly done to warrant such a circumstance?

Following up, I was able to locate her court files in the National Archives of Scotland and obtain of copy of all the documents describing the evidence used in the case that resulted in Roseannah’s conviction to the eleven charges of theft and the resultant eight year sentence of imprisonment. I summarized the trial and evidence in a series of blog posts (from August 2011). The posts can be found at: The Trial of Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds), Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; and, The Trial of Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds): Her Words and Summary.

My pride in Roseannah is based on my sense that she did what she had to do to sustain her family. I can’t avoid the image that she lived in a Dickens novel, an unrefined Eliza Doolittle working as a ‘hawker,’ buying and selling odds and ends, often articles of clothing, always trying to make a few cents in order to feed her children. I’m proud to have an ancestor who demonstrated that level of devotion to family. That Roseannah was convicted of several crimes based on evidence that would not, in my opinion, stand any legal test or challenge in a modern 21st century courtroom, is irrelevant, not embarrassing.

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