Mrs William John Wilkes was born as Ellen Needs in Tresco in the Scilly Isles off Cornwall, England on 13 June 1864. She was baptised one month later on 12 July.
She was the daughter of George Needs (b. 1824), a labourer, and Anne Pender (b. 1821). Her father was a native of Somerset whilst her mother was a Scilly Isle native and they were married in 1848. She had six known siblings: Samuel Pender (b. 1852), John (b. 1853), George (b. 1854), Mary Elizabeth (b. 1856), Eliza (b. 1858) and Henrietta (b. 1861) and her mother had a daughter, Joyce Ann (b. 1846), from a previous relationship.
She first appears on the 1871 census living with her family at an unspecified address in Penzance, Cornwall and at the time of the 1881 census she was working as a domestic servant and living at 14 North Parade, Madron, Cornwall, the home of elderly unmarried sisters Ann and Marien Bosustow.
Ellen was married in Penzance in 1888 to William John Wilkes (1) (b. 1865 in St Just, Cornwall), a mason builder, and the couple had a son the previous year, William James (b. 19 September 1887). The family appear on the 1891 census living at an unspecified address in Gulval, Cornwall. What became of her husband is not clear and it appears she was remarried in 1908 to Adolphus Sharp Mitchell (b. 1872), a Penzance-born rigger although the marriage may not have been a happy one with them both living apart by the time of the 1911 census.
Ellen appears on the 1911 census (listed as Mitchell) living with her married half-sister Joyce Ann Ellis and her family at 3 Creswells Terrace, Botallack, St Just, Cornwall and she was described as a married general domestic servant. Her husband was living at 12 Pinners Street, St Just Cornwall on the same census. By 1912 it seems she had reverted to her original married name of Wilkes. Her husband Adolphus died in Penzance in 1929.
She embarked Titanic at Southampton and travelled third class under ticket number 363272 costing £7. She was travelling to 457 Rhodes Avenue, Akron, Ohio, the address of her nephew Sidney Hocking who had emigrated a year previous. Also travelling with her, albeit in second class, were her sister Eliza Hocking and her son George and two daughters Ellen and Emily with the latter's two sons.
Ellen was reunited with family in New York and finally arrived in Akron, Ohio where she spent the rest of her life. She was later joined by her son William and his family with whom she lived for many years and they were still resident together on the 1940 census. William died on 31 May 1947.
In Ellen's final years she became a recluse and was discovered by neighbours in February 1955 living in squalor at her home, 681 Amherst Street in Akron. She was without heat or running water in the middle of wintertime. Although her home had furniture, she had been sleeping sitting upright in a chair in her living room. Unopened mail, some years old, was in stacks surrounding her. She was suffering severely from frostbite and partial amputation of her feet was later performed and she remained under treatment until her death.
Ellen Wilkes died on 27 April 1955 at the City Hospital, Akron aged 90 and was buried in Glendale Cemetery, Akron beside her son.