William James Abernethy and Elizabeth Jane Charlton
  Gateshead area, and Sunderland, Durham, England

William James Abernethy was born in Heworth, county Durham, in 1846, and because of the deaths of older brothers whom he never knew, grew up as the eldest son in the family.

The town of his birth and neighboring riverside communities along the Tyne had been growing rapidly for 50 years, beginning with coal mining and later catching the boom in industries such as shipbuilding and the manufacture of heavy chemicals. It was the chemical industry that provided work for William’s father and thus anchored the family in the area for most of William’s life.

William James was born in Brewery Lane, Heworth, but by the time he was five the family had moved to a roomier home in Gosforth Place and his widowed grandmother from Ireland had moved in with them. They had moved again by the time William got his first job as a railway laborer. By this time, at age 14, he could contribute to the family income, but his younger brother and sister were still at school.

At age 22, William James married Elizabeth Jane Charlton from neighboring Gateshead. Elizabeth was from a smaller family that had moved to Gateshead from rural Winlaton, though Elizabeth herself was born at Gateshead. They had no doubt moved for better work opportunities for her father, though he died a few months after her birth so she had no memory of him. William and Elizabeth chose to be married at the parish church at Byker, across the river in Northumberland.

There would eventually be 12 children in this family - seven sons and five daughters. William would work as a house painter all his adult life. In their early married life they lived at 31 Grosvenor Street in Gateshead, but in the early 1870s the family made the bold move of emigrating to the United States with their four children. Fifth child Thomas was born in Pittsburgh in 1877, but for some reason they decided not to stay. They were back in England for the birth of their son, Robert in 1879, but took up house in Amberley South Back Street in Bishopwearmouth, Sunderland rather than returning to Gateshead. Some emigrating families found the US not to their liking, but it must have been an expensive proposition to take a family of six across the Atlantic, and return with a family of seven. Still, William was still only 33 years old. By 1881, William’s 73-year-old widowed mother had moved in with them.

Some time in the next few years, the family moved for one last time, to a house at 27 Cairo Street, Hendon, Sunderland, that still stands today. The photograph on this page, taken in 2005, shows the house to have been thoroughly modernized and renovated, but it is the same dwelling where William and Elizabeth lived with those of their very large family who were still at home - last daughter Alice was born there in 1891. Then, suddenly a year after Alice’s birth, William died of heart disease at his son John’s home in Henry Street, nearby. He was 51. The following year, John named a new baby son William James, after the grandfather he never saw.

William’s wife, Elizabeth Jane, widowed at 53, lived for a time in Athol Street with several of her children, then later moved to her daughter’s home at 23 Paul’s Road, Sunderland, where she died in 1911, probably as a result of a stroke, at age 62.

House at 27 Cairo Street, Hendon, Sunderland - the last family home of William James Abernethy and Elizabeth Jane Charlton and their children. The house still stands today, and has been extensively renovated. Photo courtesy of Colin Abernethy, a descendant of William’s through son John.

William James Abernethy: 
Born 1846 Heworth, Durham, England
Died 1898 Sunderland, Durham, England
Elizabeth Jane Charlton: 
Born 1849 Gateshead, Durham, England
Died 1911 Sunderland, Durham, England

John Abernethy - Born 1868 Gateshead
Mary Jane Abernethy - Born 1870 Gateshead
William H. Abernethy - Born 1872 Sunderland
Sarah Abernethy - Born 1874 Gateshead
Thomas Abernethy - Born 1877 Pittsburgh USA
Robert Abernethy - Born 1879 Sunderland
Jessie Abernethy - Born 1881 Sunderland
Lizzie Abernethy - Born 1883 Sunderland
George Abernethy - Born 1885 Sunderland
Frederick Abernethy - Born 1887 Sunderland
Oswald Abernethy - Born 1889 Sunderland
Alice Abernethy - Born 1891 Sunderlandotterson_robert_and_abernethy_lizzie.htmlshapeimage_4_link_0










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