Ada Marion Jefferis (1884-1981): Researching Writing Lives

What a lovely experience this has been. From start to finish I have been fascinated by the life of Ada Marion Jefferis and so emersed in the 19th century that it has become a helpful distraction whilst being under Covid restrictions. 

Let’s start from the beginning shall we. Just over 3 months ago I was presented with Burnett, Vincent and Mayall’s invaluable archive of working-class autobiographies and was told to choose one from the list; overwhelmed is an understatement. There were so many intriguing working-class writers that it made it very difficult to choose just one. Then I was introduced to Mrs Ada Marion Jefferis. Although it was her birth date that drawn me in first (as we share the same birthday), her memoir is actually a dictation, written by her daughter, which I found particularly interesting. This meant that I was reliant on Ada’s daughter, Elsie’s writing skills but it felt as though Ada was speaking directly to me, so I knew she was the author for me. Her memories came to life as she dictated and it felt as though I was sat in the room with them, involved in the conversation.

Whilst some memoirs were over 100 pages long full of detailed descriptions, my 19-page memoir seemed disappointing. But I was definitely wrong. In the biographical entry written as a summary of Ada’s memoir, it states: “No details of interests or activities.” Surely this was a joke? Ada’s 7000-word memoir, although fragmented, was filled with her hobbies and love for celebrating in the streets of Wokingham, Berkshire. It is in fact the activities that Ada took part in that she provides the most description for, such as, May Day festivities, school trips, leasing after harvesting, visits to London and so on…

With a short memoir, comes a transcription. Admittingly a strenuous task at first which quickly became exciting. Not only did I love expressing my perfectionist side, making sure every single word, line, crossing out, was exactly where it was meant to be, but transcribing helped me to build an extraordinary relationship with my author. I was able to make a special connection with Ada as it totally slowed down the reading process which made me vigilant to what I would normally skim over. Writing as Elsie did in 1980, made me feel as though I had a small part in this amazing story of a wonderful lady. Anyone that has the chance to transcribe or is questioning whether it’s worth it, definitely do it! It will put you at a whole new level with your author where you will understand their writing style and narrative voice as well as being able to recount points from memory much better than you would having just read it. I believe that my transcription is a valuable contribution to public history of the working class.

I think it is clear how much passion I have accumulated for the life of Ada Marion Jefferis and generally servants in the nineteenth century through my blog posts. As a researcher of domestic service, there were only slight glimpses of Ada’s employer who she worked for as a lady’s maid, but these glimpses were often telling about their relationship and Ada’s representation of a higher class. Although Ada’s experiences as a servant are not recorded in depth or the great detail I hoped for, she paints a positive picture and does so by sharing her joys and difficulties. Therefore, the fragmented narrative is valuable as it is constructed in a way that Ada wanted it to be interpreted.

I’d be lying if I said my journey as a researcher hasn’t been difficult and plain sailing. It can be disheartening when you can’t find the information you have been looking for to fill in the missing puzzle piece and it was also disappointing that I never quite managed to find a picture of Ada. However, after numerous searches on Ancestory.com, I was able to track down her husband’s family. Although this was irrelevant to the theme of my blog posts, it shows how you can get sucked into a rabbit hole and 5 hours later you have a huge family tree that serves no purpose but fascination. This is what I have loved the most about becoming a researcher and it would be a dangerous game if I had all the time in the world. Also, as my author consistently referred to dates and events, this meant that I took the time to cross check this data with secondary resources such as books, surveys and online family history sites to ensure the reliability of my author.

From other modules on my degree, I already had some blogging experience which meant that I came equipped with WordPress basics and blogging techniques. Although I found it difficult to switch off from my usual academic writing of essays in terms of shortening my paragraphs and being able to use contractions to provide an informal, chatty tone, I quickly adjusted and got the hang of it. From then on, writing blog posts became second nature and it took the pressure off without the need for big fancy words to make myself look smarter. 

Coincidentally, for another module, I was tasked to complete an assignment which consisted of creating a Wikipedia page for someone/something that doesn’t currently have one published. Therefore, Ada Marion Jefferis was an obvious choice and meant that I could use the information I had already gathered from my research. This was great fun and it give me the chance to document Ada’s life in two different writing styles. Blog writing being relaxed and conversational with engaging visual media and the Wikipedia page being chronological and factual with structured headings and key dates.

Who would have thought that social media would be such a useful tool in researching the working class in the nineteenth century? I used Twitter (@anaisljmu), as my social media platform to source relevant information, interact with fellow researchers and classmates aswell as to discover images and videos that were targeted to the life of a lady’s maid. A highlight of my experience on Twitter is seeing the widespread recognition for the wonderful work that is published on the Writing Lives website. Most say that mine and my classmates’ work provide an exceptional addition to history and this filled me with pride and motivated me to continue to strive for my best work. It’s a positive space to share achievements and advertise each other’s blog posts.

As discussed, I have gained invaluable research skills but most of all, my view on life has done a complete 360 spin and so I have gained on a whole new level. For example, I see bicycles and aeroplanes every single day and don’t give them a second glance, but Ada marvels their beauty and practicality, designating numerous paragraphs of her memoir to these inventions. I have grown up with a mobile phone and wireless connection, being able to communicate with whoever I want and take pictures of whatever I feel like, yet Ada never had this privilege. Like Ada, I also have an older brother who lives in a different country so taking the time to cherish memories, as she does, is now on my daily to do list. You never know what is around the corner and the numerous relationships Ada has lost to death illustrates that life is far too short.

Anyway…I am now wondering what would talk pride of place in the autobiography of my life so far.

Participating in the Writing Lives project has been a pleasure and such a rewarding experience. So now I part ways with Ada Marion Jefferis, but her wonderful stories and memories will live on with me forever. 

Primary Sources:

  • 1:379 JEFFERIS, Ada Marion, ‘The Memoirs of a.M. Jefferis. Written by her Daughter’,TS, pp. 1-19 (c.7,000 words). Brunel University Library.
  • Jefferis, Ada Marion. ‘The Memoirs of A.M. Jefferis. Written by her Daughter.’ Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies. University of Brunel Library. Special Collections. 1:379.

Images:

  • Featured image retrieved from: https://kathorusmail.co.za/46616/well-done-on-your-attempt-at-summiting-kilimanjaro/

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