Thursday, November 18, 2010

There's Something about Henrietta

Henrietta Davis Hall was my paternal Great Great Grandmother. She has been the one ancestor who continues to call to me and seems to insist on my learning her story. I have felt compelled to do that since the first day I started to research my family history.

Memorial Congregational Church
Sudbury, MA
 About 15 years ago, at a service auction for our church in Sudbury, Massachusetts, one of the items offered by my dear friend Rick was a day of research at New England Historic Genealogical Society's library on Newbury Street in Boston. That same year, another item was offered by another dear friend, Frank. He offered a tour of his bee hives and a close up and personal meeting with his "girls". I bid on and purchased both of those items and although the bee keeping operation was fascinating and meeting his hive of girls making their honey was better than anything on the National Geographic Channel, the outfit did nothing for me at all.

The day with Rick, however, opened up a way for me to discover family history, something I had always had a thirst for. I loved the stories my Grandmother Hall told me about her upbringing in New York City and about her father, the NYC policeman who died young and her larger than life flapper-era sisters, some of whom I knew. I so loved their visits from the big city when I was little.

My Grandmother Waters' told stories about her mother, widowed in her 30s raising 4 children alone and the emotional and financial setbacks the family endured. My Grandfather Waters talked about his ancestral connection to Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Scottish heritage. My Grandfather Hall talked about his Derby Line, VT ancestors and that we were related to the Ames families and the Goodnow families of Sudbury, MA, both old names in that town where I grew up.

I had all these bits of information and I wanted to know more and to confirm what I had been told. You can't grow up in a town settled 150 years before the American Revolution and not want to know more about your roots. It's all around. My Grandfather, for a time, was the town historian and I just loved the stories about the town's history. They all seemed so personal to me. I felt as if I knew the people in those stories. And, some of them may well have been my ancestors and I wanted to get to know them. 
So, Rick and I went in to Boston one chilly winter day on the T from Franklin. I had a little bit of information about several people from all of my lines, but no dates earlier than grandparents, really.

Some information was just written on the back of a piece of office stationery in my Grandfather's hand, but it gave us some helpful clues.  

Click on the photos to enlarge
Rick and I talked on the train ride into town about what information I did have and he came up with a plan to get started. The library, just a short walk from the T Station, is an eight story stone building. Although not in this particular building at first, the library first began in 1845 and is the oldest genealogical library in the country. Many US Presidents and other noted Americans like Daniel Webster and David McCulloch, Henry Gates and Charlton Heston have been elected to its board. But you can read all about that if you go to their link. NEHGS Click here to go there.

So, Rick brought me to an upper floor where the census records were kept. He taught me a little about the Soundex, a way to abbreviate the millions of names out there, the first step in narrowing our search. In this large room there were probably twenty or so microfilm viewing machines in carrels and large volumes of books and file drawers everywhere. People were scattered sitting around tables, in the carrels or standing at the file cabinets or bookshelves. Most of the items now online hadn't been digitized yet back then, so paper or microfilm was the way the records were stored. 

As I looked around at the people all engrossed in their work, I felt this surge of adrenalin, this sense of urgency. It was similar to the way I sometimes feel when I arrive at the movies and there's a long line. I feel this weird competitiveness welling up in me, fearing that someone getting in sooner will get the better seat, or maybe the last ticket. Seeing these people dig through these books and files and microfilm made me feel like I better get in there and find something out because time was running out! I just wanted to push everyone out of the way and FIND MY ANCESTORS! 

During that first day at the library with Rick, although we were there for at least 8 hours, and only broke for lunch because we promised to meet our friend Kitty at a nearby restaurant, the time flew by. We were very successful, though.
Rick, my favorite Genealogist, and  Kitty and me

1900 Census Jessie Willett
 In the 1900 census for New York City, we found my Grandmother Jessie Willett listed as 8  months old, living on East 8th Avenue in Manhattan with her parents and a few of the sisters' whose names I knew. Some had yet to be born.

Me and Gram Jessie Willett Hall


Leslie C. Hall, my Grandfather
And also in the 1900 census we found Jessie's husband-to-be and my Grandfather Leslie C. Hall, in his home on 88th Street in Manhattan, 7 months old,  living with his mother, whom I knew as Lady May and his father Leslie J. Hall. Seeing my Grandparents names and ages was an emotional discovery and I was hooked.

Lady May Budd and Leslie J Hall
My Great Grandparents

Samuel Atkinson Budd

In a document I have in my files that was written in 1915 by my Great Grandmother's brother in law, my Great Great Grandfather Samuel Atkinson Budd ( Lady May's father) when he asked about his service during the Civil War, responded that he "prefers the quick dash of the cavalry over the plodding of the infantry." Like Great Great Grampa Samuel, I would prefer it if researching was a flurry of discoveries one after the other. In truth, I soon learned that researching one's family history requires patience, perseverance and hours and hours of plodding through records to get the job done.

Fortunately, I was blessed with a lot of patience and perseverance, at least for research. The "hunt" has become as exciting as the discovery, in some ways. I think it's the accountant in me. I love the detective work to find that error, sometimes just one penny, that will make things balance at the end. Finding that one little fact, which could be brand new or it could either confirm or disprove something I suspected can lead to all sorts of interesting discoveries. 

According to the 1900 census, my grandfather's father's father was born in VT. So, that led us to the 1880 VT census. (The 1890 Census are non-existent as they were all destroyed.) I had heard the town of Derby Line mentioned in Grampa's stories and knew they were in the dairy business up there, but I really knew nothing more. Well, we found GGGrandfather Albert Hall in 1880 in Holland, VT. That's a town right next to Derby Line and part of greater Derby in Orleans County. It's right on the Quebec border.

Albert's wife was Henrietta and she was 31 years old and born in Massachusetts and in the home we find Albert's mother at age 70, my Great Grandfather Leslie J age 7,  his sister Lillian age 9 and Hattie, the youngest daughter at just 4 months old. We then went looking for Albert in the 1900 census. We found him but no longer in Vermont. During that 20 year period, he had moved from the sloping hills and fertile farmlands of Vermont to New York City. Little Hattie was there with him but he had a new wife named Jennie, who he had just married a year earlier in 1899. What happened to Henrietta?
And so began the hunt. I felt as if I had no choice but to find the answer to that question. I had developed some sort of affinity for this young woman, my grandfather's grandmother, who nobody had ever mentioned to me. That's another part of the mystery: Why hadn't I ever heard her name before? And where did she come from? So many questions, but the most burning one for me was 'where was she in 1900'?

I will leave the story here for now. I hope you come back to find out more.


Peg said...
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busybees said...
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