Real life Downton Abbey

My great great grandmother Emily Shields was born in Bilton, Yorkshire, England on October 25, 1868 to William Shields and Fanny Clark.  She worked as a nanny and then later a governess for a local estate.  I have been trying to find its name and have had a hard time. Her father William was a gardener and family lore says the head gardener. I have been able to find the Shields family residing in Bilton from 1861-1901 in the English Census.  Emily married Thomas Tyson Nixon in 1890 in Hull, East Riding Yorkshire.  I think of the television program “Downton Abbey” whenever I imagine their daily life as servants who dared to dream of a better life than one of servitude. The courage to dream of a life different than the strict hierarchy of a noble house makes me think of how special my ancestors must have been to think things could be different.

Nixon Family in the US

Nixon Family in the US

I have letters from Emily’s son, Leonard Nixon, that were left to my mother that talk about their time in Yorkshire and the trip to the US in 1907.  He explains that times were tough before they left as there was a recession in England. Thomas was a stone mason but work was scarce and he left the family for the United States first in 1902 get a job and make money to send back to the family for passage to America.  He only returned once in 5 years to visit the family as he made money to better the lives of his family. It was on this return trip that Emily conceived their final child Leonard. Thomas Nixon came back for the whole family back in 1907. It was then that he met his son Leonard for the first time.

Leonard Nixon, Thomas Nixon, Emily Shields Nixon and Emily Nixon Schwarz 1951

Leonard Nixon, Thomas Nixon, Emily Shields Nixon and Emily Nixon Schwarz 1951

Thomas and Emily did a wonderful thing by taking that leap of faith and immigrating to America to have a better life than what was to be had in Yorkshire. They lived the American dream to raise a happy and successful family.

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