Great gran finds resting place of two of her children before her 91st birthday

A great-grandmother has been able to find where two of her children are buried before her 91st birthday.

Betty Rawsthorne, who grew up in north Liverpool but now lives in Thingwall, had seven children with the first born in 1955 and the last born in 1969. However, Betty had difficulties in pregnancy and three of her children were stillborn.

Before the 1980s, it is understood to have been common practice across the UK that when a woman had a miscarriage or a stillbirth, hospital staff often quickly took the baby away which meant some families have struggled to locate their children for decades. Betty was able to hold her stillborn son who was born at home before being taken away but the other two she never saw.

Now decades later after contacting Greasby woman, Gina Jacobs, a campaigner who has helped locate dozens of babies, the family have been able to find two of Betty’s children buried at West Derby and Everton cemeteries in Liverpool and are still looking for the third. Mothers who give birth to stillborn children now receive greater support from hospitals as well as charities.

The family are now waiting to be sent a map of the cemeteries showing exactly where the two babies, they know the locations of, are buried, meaning nearly seven decades later, Betty will soon be able to visit her son and daughter’s graves for the first time. She said: “They were still my children. It will just make me feel better.”

Betty said when she suffered her first stillbirth, following a home birth, the baby was placed in a chest of drawers in her home, before his body was taken away by a doctor.

She already had a daughter Margaret, at this point, who had been born in 1955 without any complications.

Betty, who is a devout Catholic, told the LDRS how they took her stillborn son away in a shoe box on the bus, “My second baby was a boy. I saw him. He had a mop of hair. I held him because he was the spitting image of his dad. At the time, I was only young. I was really upset. I never looked forward to the birth because I felt by the time it was seven months, the baby would be born dead.

She added, “I used to sit and cry. After he was buried, I couldn’t open the drawer [they had put him in, in her house] for about a year.”

However, she said her large Catholic family rallied around and supported her, adding, “When our family got together, it was like half of Liverpool.”

Still many in the family didn’t know about the stillbirths and Betty’s husband Bobby never told her how it made him feel. He died eight years ago at the age of 85.

She said, “He just stood by me. I never asked him. You didn’t in those days.”

Betty Rawsthorne with her seventh child, Joanne Norton. Credit: Ed Barnes

Joanne Norton is Betty’s seventh and final child born in 1969. She said, “My mum found it hard to say she’s got seven children and people would say no you haven’t.

“I know that nothing will make her feel happier than putting a bunch of flowers on the grave. It would be acknowledging it’s real. She says she has got seven children. She says that to everyone. It’s about acknowledging those babies existed. Things have changed for the better.”

A spokesperson for Liverpool City Council said, “Parents who are trying to locate the resting place of a stillborn child are very welcome to contact our Bereavement Services Team and we will do everything we can to support them.

“We offer a grave search service and a form can be completed on the council’s website. To help us in our search we ask that families supply as much detail as they can.

“Whilst we do everything we can to locate a grave we cannot guarantee that we will be successful. Hospitals varied in how they handled funerals of stillborn babies and also individual details historically may not have been recorded. Also, we can only support with burials and cremations that took place in cemeteries and crematoria owned by Liverpool City Council.”

For information on how to request a grave search, this can be found on Liverpool City Council’s website

Image: Betty Rawsthorne,, with a photo of her husband Bobby who died eight years ago. Credit: Ed Barnes

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