A Gardener in the Family by Ellen Maki, Ph.D.

Cactus speciosissimus with caption

One of my favourite pastimes is gardening – reading horticultural journals, browsing through seed catalogues, and especially getting my hands dirty. So I was intrigued when I discovered an 1851 census record for my 3xgreat-grandfather, Thomas Gee, that gave his occupation as gardener.

I had a pretty good idea what my farmer, agricultural labourer, and market gardener ancestors did for a living. But Thomas’s occupation, gardener, was a bit vague.

He was born 23 January 1799 in Sutton, Lancashire, England, which is now part of the city of St. Helens. It was an industrial area, and Thomas’s father, John Gee, was a glass blower. Of his 5 brothers, 4 were glass blowers like their father, and the fifth was a collier. I wondered how, in this industrial setting, Thomas came to be a gardener. And I wondered whether he was a market gardener, growing fruits and vegetables for market.

Old newspapers can be a terrific source of information. I spent a recent afternoon searching for my ancestors in the newspapers and made a discovery that shed light on what kind of work my ancestor, Thomas Gee, was involved in. In a brief article that appeared on 29 June 1844, the Lancaster Gazette reported that a rare cactus was growing in the conservatory of the local M.P., Peter Greenall. It was reported to be a ‘splendid specimen’, over 9 feet tall, and it was sporting 250 blooms. And who was Mr. Greenall’s gardener? None other than Thomas Gee.

Lancaster Gazette 29Jun1844 Thomas Gee with caption


  1. The National Archives. London, England. 1851 Census of England and Wales. Appleton, Cheshire. HO 107 / 2164 / 116. Page 11. ED 9b. SN 52.  http://home.ancestry.ca/ : accessed 2 May 2016.
  2. Lancaster Gazette. (1844) Splendid Specimen. 29 June. p. 3a. Collection: British Newspapers 1710-1953.  http://www.findmypast.com/ : accessed 2 May 2016.


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