Mary Ann Aldis (1794-1889)


Mary Ann ALDIS was a part of 19th century emigration from Europe to North America, the Old World peopling the New from its surplus population. Her history, with variations, was played out on a massive scale; and to that extent it is unremarkable. There must have been thousand of individuals and families whose plight was more desperate than Mary Ann’s. Yet Mary Ann had a particular hurdle to overcome: she had to succeed as a woman in a man’s world. Avoiding the temptation to remarry and have a husband help her to rebuild her life - or, more likely, interfere in her plans and want to take over and do things his way - she remained independent and provided her sons with the means to establish themselves and prosper. How much advice and direction she gave, we cannot know; all that is certain is that they were successful, both in business and as family men; and it seems likely, therefore, that they inherited from their mother the confidence and good sense to make out in their own right.

Whatever came her way, nothing, it seems, diverted Mary Ann from her chosen course. She lost three of her five children early, and a fourth pre-deceased her. Yet it cannot be doubted that her decision to emigrate was correct, and its outcome hugely successful; her surviving family enjoyed a new life in Canada that was unimaginable in the dark days following Robert ALDIS’s death. Would daughter Mary Ann and son Robert have survived if the family had not emigrated? Were their deaths the price to pay for the eventual success of Salem and Alfred? Hypothetical and irrelevant questions, really.

Finally, therefore, Mary Ann ALDIS’s story is remarkable in its own way. Not unique, almost certainly. But post-19th century readers have to make a decisive imaginative leap to appreciate her courage, determination and clarity of vision. There is no plaque or monument in Chatham, Kent, Ontario to commemorate Mary Ann’s long life and achievement. There should be - and many of her descendants in Canada and America would surely concur with that sentiment.


1.I am indebted to Diana Skaggs of Detroit, a descendant of Mary Ann Aldis, who provided much of the genealogy and related information from her side of the Atlantic and the family photographs.

2.I am also indebted to Wendy Cameron and Mary McDougall Maude, co-authors of Assisting Emigration to Upper Canada: The Petworth Project, 1832-1837, which proved an invaluable source of historical fact and interpretation to a family historian whose historical knowledge is sketchy and imperfect.

3.The Norwich Record Office archives were - and are - an inexhaustible source of contemporary information. My wife and I have spent many happy, and productive, hours there digging into the past, as is evident from this family history. We are grateful to the archivists and staff for their unfailing patience and help and for official permission to use, quote from, and reproduce parish records and associated papers.

4.The staff at Chatham Library and the associated genealogical Society must also be mentioned. They could not have been more helpful and welcoming.

5.I am particularly indebted to Jim and Lisa Gilbert of Chatham who gave generously of their time and books and provided much background information about Chatham.

A final expression of gratitude is due to Marion Aldis for her support and encouragement, and for her active participation in the research that led to the production of this family history

Research and text – George Aldis
Cover design and book layout – Marion Aldis


Some of Mary Ann’s descendents taken at an Aldis family reunion in 1997Some of Mary Ann’s descendents taken at an Aldis family reunion in 1997