Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Justice for Uncle Justin?

Josephine Patten was my paternal great grandmother. These Pattens, as far as I know, aren't related to  General George. However, we don't know that for sure. They are in fact thought to be descended from a family whose origins are Scottish, as were the General's but our immigrant came from Somerset, England prior to the Revolution to settle in Chelsea and Malden, Massachusetts before relocating in New York City in the early 1800s.

In researching this branch of the family I have become acquainted with another genealogist in the Patten family who has been gathering information about them for years. Her name is Janet and during our first exchange of email, she told me, rather apologetically, that she had learned something about one of our ancestors that might not be welcome news. However, I assured her that it was always fun to find an interesting story, be it about a horse thief or a king.

These are the stories for which we all hope. They are the tales that usually supply us with lots of information about our ancestors. When there is a famous person or, as in this case, an infamous person up there in the branches, the low hanging fruit in the form of newspaper articles, historical accounts and family stories and the like, is much closer to the ground and with just a little shaking of the limbs, it falls at our feet where if we want we can just pluck it up and run with it. It might not be quite that easy, for there is always more research to be done and puzzles to be put together, but you get the picture.

This is the story of Uncle Justin Patten, one of Josephine's father's younger brothers, just an average guy. Justin was born in New York City in 1838, the eleventh child of 16 born to James and Sara Arden Patten.  New York City at that time was in some respects a pretty dangerous place to live, at least in some neighborhoods. The Gangs of New York that Scorcese made a movie about were in full swing. The Daybreak gang, the Dead Rabbits, The Slaughterhouse Gang and more, were actively preying on citizens and the newspapers were full of stories that made for great reading and extra editions.

When Justin was just 16 years old, Logan's Bakery, a place not far from his home in the 11th ward, was robbed between 2:30 and 3:00 the morning of September 29, 1854. When the baker and some of his employees surprised the two culprits, they ran. A foot chase began, the baker and his employees yelled "Watch!", the term people shouted to alert the neighborhood and the local constabulary that something was happening. Before the The New York City Police Department was formed in 1845, for 60 or more years after the British left the city, citizen patrols kept order and upheld the laws under what was called the "Watch System".

The robbery seemed fairly benign until a patrolman, James Cahill, 50 years old with only a year on the NYPD, joined the pursuit. Austin Lake, another police officer on duty,  heard shouts of  "Watch!" "Stop Thief" and ran toward the shouts. Shots rang out and as he ran toward where the sounds had originated, he met three bakers who said the shots had been fired at them. He saw no one until he rounded a corner and saw a man, "clinging to a tree, alive at the time but speechless and was in the act of falling to the ground." Lake went on as quoted in the New York Times: "I recognized him as one of our police officers, James Cahill. He groaned slightly as he sank to the ground; that was all the sound he made. By this time, 3 officers arrived and brought a wagon and we brought his body to the Station House."

Officer James Cahill has been officially recognized as the first New York City Police officer to die in the line of duty. There is a memorial to him at the NYPD Museum, along with other fallen Police Officers. Some dispute the distinction, stating that at least two others had been killed in the line of duty prior to Officer Cahill, but the official record states he was the first.

Now young Justin and a friend, James Ryan, were out sitting on a bench about sun-up the morning of the robbery. When a police officer stopped to talk to them, they both ran. The officer assumed that they had something to do with the crime and soon they were both arrested and charged with the murder. Five others who were in a nearby bar, all known to the police, were also arrested, but they were released.

Justin and James, however, had differing stories as to their whereabouts earlier that morning. In fact when Ryan was shown the corpse, he was reported to have asked repeatedly, "Did I do that?" Although there were no witnesses who could say they actually saw either James or Justin, they were indicted by the grand jury for the murder of officer Cahill. They were sent to jail to await trial. The New York City Jail was referred to as the Tombs, a building modeled after the Egyptian tombs. There they would sit among the hardened criminals for six months until April of the next year,when their trial would take place.
The Tombs

On March 29, 1855, just before they were to go to trial, an article appeared in the New York Times with the headline: Murderers in the Tombs.  This article provided a brief profile of the worst most fearsome prisoners in the Tombs beginning with a man who "murdered an old man and then stabbed the deceased's two sons with the same dagger that pierced their father's heart"; another fellow who killed his wife by "putting arsenic in her coffee"; another man who shot someone in the head with a musket; a man who kicked his wife to death and several others awaiting their trials for their horrible deeds, all murderers. And of course, Justin and James Ryan are profiled as well. Here is the actual account.

The two people that Justin and James were being compared to, Nicholas Saul and William Howlett were two boys who headed up the Daybreak Gang and were said to have done so at the ages of 15 and 16. Members of the gang went by names like Slobbery Jim. Sow Madden, Cow-legged Sam McCarthy and Patsy the Barber. The rumor was that each member of the gang committed at least one murder and many robberies before the age of 16. The river front was their main target, killing crew members and robbing these vessels, usually before dawn, thus the name the Daybreak gang. They had been credited with over 40 murders. Saul and Howlett's reign of terror ended with a bloody battle after they killed the watchman on a yacht. The Daybreak boys, trying to protect their leaders, put up a good fight, but Saul and Howlett were arrested and sentence to Death in 1852. They were hanged in the yard of "The Tombs" in January of 1853.  I only can assume that the police and the neighborhoods were hyper vigilant about anything that seemed to be gang related. But, the write of the article may have embellished some on just how "hardened" these two boys, Justin and James, really were.

Imagine reading that article about your 16 year old brother, or son? Well, Justin's older brother, Jefferson, a well-respected successful Machine Shop owner in New York was no doubt infuriated by what the reporter had to say about his young brother. In fact, the next day this appeared in the Times.

After a very brief trial, the judge said any evidence to personal identity was so vague and just because the boys weren't at home that night didn't justify a guilty verdict. Even the District Attorney "expressed the satisfaction with which he heard any intimation that might fall from His Honor's lips, but this case was so serious that  it deserved a formal trial, although certainly  he had no doubt that if he sat as a  juror on the case, he would join in the verdict of acquittal." " His honor then briefly addressed the prisoners, warning them of the consequences of habits that might lead even to suspicion, and after a friendly admonition as to their future conduct, ordered them to be discharged, to the infinite satisfaction of themselves and their friends." I'd be curious to find out how they felt about all that after sitting in the Tombs all those months. 

Lest anyone be wondering if Justin became a hardened criminal after all or ended up back in prison, please be assured that he did not. Justin had been a gilder by trade before all this happened and he went back to that profession. He was married within 4 years of the incident to a girl named Cecilia Selmer. They had  5 children, 3 of whom were born before he enlisted in the 73rd New York Infantry during the Civil War. When he returned to  his family in 1866, he became a member of the Metropolitan City Fire Department where he received meritorious commendations on several occasions, including one incident during which he was singled out for having rescued people from a burning building. 

After, or perhaps during the same time he served on the fire department, he got a job as a street cleaner and I am sure he did what he could to keep a roof over his family's head and food on the table. In an article that appeared in the Times in 1895 he and a veteran fireman who were dismissed from the Street Cleaning Department, filed suit in the Supreme Court to see if they had the right to discharge veterans to reduce expenses while retaining non-vets. They were discharged about 3 months before the suit but no charges had been brought against them. It was strictly a budgetary decision. Their lawyer contended that as they were veterans, they could only be dismissed for cause. I don't know what happened with that lawsuit. I have a feeling he may not have prevailed as about that same time he became disabled due to an umbilical hernia and painful varicose veins and in his application for a Civil War Veteran's pension, he stated that he was unable to work and that he nearly lost his life twice due to these maladies. He was approved and received a Civil War Veteran's pension for a few short years before he died in 1899 at the age of 61. His wife received, after his death, a widow's pension of $8 a month. She lived with her daughter and her son-in-law until her death.

I think Justin was just an average guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time; out when he shouldn't have been out; hanging around in a bad part of town, probably with the wrong characters and sowing some wild oats. From the full accounts in the newspaper, (which I'd be happy to share with you if you would like to read them,) I am not convinced that James Ryan didn't actually fire that shot, nor am I convinced that Justin was there at all. And, I wonder how all that affected him and the choices he made during the rest of his life. Yes, just  an average guy: a gilder, a war veteran, street sweeper, and a hero. Not a king. Not a horse thief. But what an interesting ancestor.

Josephine Patten, my great grandmother and Justin's niece, was born when Justin was on the fire department. She would grow up to marry my great grandfather George Willett, a New York City Police Officer.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Paige from a Love Story

She sits in her chair, straight backed but comfortable for her. The old wooden arm feels smooth and familiar as she runs her right hand over it, preparing herself to pick up the letter on the table next to her. In her left hand, she holds a neatly ironed handkerchief she has taken from the top drawer in her bureau. The letter that she’s kept, the letter she has read and reread so many times, and yet she still needs to prepare herself even after all these years. She knows that it will make her smile and cry and smile again when she reads it, even more than the first time she read it. How could she have know then how much it would come to mean to her as time passed? She doesn’t really need to read it at all because she could recite it word for word if asked. She can close her eyes and see the handwriting on the page, the handwriting so easily recognized as her Jim’s.

Reaching for it now, ready, she opens the page folded in half and begins to read…

Jan 21, 1915
Dearest Ethel

            I will begin by answering your questions about the kidlets who have been awful good. Loraine’s eye is well and she has been out all the time for the past two days and has the roses back in her cheeks. She was so tired tonight that when she was being undressed she said “my, I will be glad when I am in bed”. Burnham is OK. But I will be glad of my regular bed-fellow. Tues. night I awoke and he had both hands in my hair pulling for all he was worth, and although I thought him asleep he spoke of it the next morning.

She smiles at the thought of the “kidlets”. Loraine was four and how she hated to go to bed most nights back then. And Burnham was 6, and still he loved to crawl up into bed with is Daddy. Elinor was a bright little eight year old, in charge of everything. And the baby West was just two. How she had hated to leave him for that time, how she hated leaving any of them. But, her mother had needed her at her side. She gently shook her head thinking of how simple things were then. Her children just like steps, every other year, as planned. She held her hand flat against her stomach, as she had done when she waited for them to be born, remembering that at the time, she didn’t even know little Gordon would be coming in just a year. And again she smiled at the thought of them all.

Elinor is well as usual and said this noon that if you didn’t come home to-day she would have the “bumps.”They know the three days are up that I told them you would be gone and they don’t see why you don’t come home. The baby is fine, follows Lottie around like a little dog and she says does not make her a bit of trouble. I do not think that he has cried once since you left. Lottie has taught him to call her Lottie and about five this AM he woke up and I heard him call “Bot Lottie” but during the night he always calls “Mamma Bot”.
I am about as usual, with a cold added and to-night brought home a bottle of cough syrup.

            She always feels that catch when she reads that line. That moment of panic that is fleeting, but makes her feel, even now, that she should be doing something to fix it. And as quickly as it comes, the feeling is gone and she allows herself to breathe again and the panic is replaced with the sadness she knew would come, too. But she has a compelling need to read on, and she does.
I have written for two seed catalogues, one which Warren Wells recommended so next week we will pick out our seeds and order. Lovetts 1915 cat. of fruits and flowers came today. We rece’d in the mail today an invitation and ticket to an art exhibit in Springfield Sat. To-night is installation of officers at K. of P. and Buckley has been trying to get me to go as he says it is just one year ago since I was last there and that I ought to go once a year but I of course would not go alone.

 I have a piece of very bad news for you, the price of the moving pictures at Blanchards is now 20¢ for the last three days of the week. Won't that grieve you? I am so glad mother came through her operation as well as she did and sincerely hope there will be no set-back. I was called to the long distance at 10 AM today and was almost afraid to answer, when it turned out to be Lawyer Reoutard inquiring about one of his clients I could have cursed him roundly for the scare he gave me. 
When you see mother again give her my love and tell her I think of her constantly and to hurry up and get well and come home.
Miss Bartlett has called Lottie up twice and is much excited at your long stay, wants you to call up as soon as you get home. Guess she misses her meals.

            How Jim loved to tell her news every day when he came home from work. It was always such a special time of day for her and the children when he walked through that door. And they had so many friends and places to go-all those business dinners and church functions and club meetings. But going to the Blanchard was their favorite thing to do. Although they’d been married just over 9 years then, she still felt like she had felt when they first courted and then when they were newlyweds while Jim was still in school in Maine. When he’d come home, and they’d go to a show it was just their special time together. How she loved him. She glanced over to the college yearbook that she had left open on the footstool and studied his picture and read the caption.
"Jim forsook home, friends and civilization in a wild desire for quiet study and education. His manner of getting the latter has been original and unique. The only bright spots in his wilderness existence have been the short glimpses of that other life caught during vacations."
It always touched her to think that he loved their life together so much that it was even obvious to outsiders. When she read that caption it always made her proud. And that was always how she remembered him, young and handsome and ready for life, and so smart. The smartest man she'd ever known. How lucky she had been when he first came into her life. And she shifted her eyes to the bookshelf where that picture of him at Wells Beach sat among his books.

He looked so wistful and pensive. How she misses him. 
I have a good notion not to tell you how lone-some I am, but I am and want my “rib” back and if you stay longer than Monday I shall come down and kidnap you. So, you see I am not only lonesome but selfish and a little jealous and when I wake in the morning and reach out for you dear, only to find you gone, then I am really lone-some. How much a part of me you have grown to be you may not realize. But I want you back now, at once, please come.
            I miss my good-bye kiss in the morning my welcoming kiss at night and those last long kisses before we go to sleep, come home to me dear. I want you.
Dear I am probably selfish but come as soon as you can. It will be so good to have you back.       

            I  must close now as it is ten o’clock. Give my love to grandma and the rest and with a heart full for you, dear, I am ever.

                                                            Your Jim.

P.S. If you need any more money telephone as soon as you get there. Telephone any-way Sat. and let me know how mother is and when you will be home .

She runs her fingertips over his signature, presses the paper to her lips, breathes in the scent, and folds the pages, placing them in her lap. With eyes closed, she leans her head back against the chair and she thinks about what might have been, even now, she thinks of what might have been.

Ethel Marsh Tiffany married James Lonsdale Paige in 1905 when he was still a college student. Jim was born in Southbridge, MA, like Ethel, but his parents moved Jim and his brothers Carl and George to Missouri and then on to Kansas when he was only 2.

He lived there until he was 15 when Jim returned to Southbridge to complete high school. He lived as a ward in an elderly aunt’s home. He was somewhat of a mechanical genius and at an early age, right out of high school, he was hired by American Optical Company, a major employer in Southbridge, the place where Ethel’s father had worked since he himself was a teenager. Jim alternated “periods of work for the American Optical Company with years of study at the University of Maine and the University of Pennsylvania.”  When he returned with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, he quickly became the supervisor of a large department that made the lenses at American Optical, earning a very good living and enjoying a highly respected place in the society of the little town.

In April of 1916, a year and a few months after he wrote this letter, Jim and Ethel welcomed Gordon Hastings Paige into their family, the youngest of the five.
In February of 1917, Ethel lost her father, Harlan Tiffany, with whom she was very close. She was an only child after losing her older brother when she was two. She had been the apple of her father’s eye and it was a sad day for her. But more difficult days were to come for Ethel in 1917.

Jim began to feel ill some time late in 1916 or early 1917. Although he continued to work for a while, when he began to fail so badly that he could not work, Ethel sent for his parents, who came from Kansas to be by his side. His brother George was a physician living in Arizona. It's likely George came to his bedside, too, perhaps before his parents came. And at some point, when it was evident that he was not winning the battle, his mother took an envelope and quickly wrote in pencil the message for a telegram to Jim's brother Carl back home in Iola Kansas. And although his coworkers and friends and family all had expected that he would win that battle, he did not. In his mid 30s, Jim Paige died “at 3:55 AM, Friday July 27 at his home on Chapin Street in Southbridge, leaving a wife and five children.
Carl E Paige
Iola, Kansas
"Yours received. Jim is calling for you. Come at once.

Ethel kept the envelope upon which Jim's mother Clara West Paige had quickly written out the message to be wired. A curious thing to keep, until you turn it over and see the other side of it. In addition to a short grocery list, it contains a curl of littlest child Gordon’s hair which was “cut by mother when he was 10 months."

As if she had not endured enough that one year, little Gordon grew sick and died just a couple of months after his father, not yet two years old, in December of 1917.

Ethel Tiffany Paige lived to be 90 years old. She never remarried.
Ethel Marsh Tiffany Paige and her great great granddaughter Corina

She was my great grandmother.

Elinor, in the letter, was my grandmother.

My grandmother, Elinor, me and my mother.

Great Grandma Paige always seemed stern and cool to me and I was a bit afraid to approach her when I was little. Her home in Stow, MA was neat and clean but we weren't allowed to touch anything, except one game she would get out for us to play with during our infrequent visits. It was a fishing game. Wooden dowels, painted yellow, each with a red string tied to one end and little red horseshoe shaped magnet tied to the string were the fishing poles. The fish were brightly colored metal cut outs of fish. There was a black cardboard folding octagonal enclosure that stood on the floor and we placed the fish inside it. Each fish had a number on it and that was how you accumulated points. It was sort of fun, but it seldom took up the whole visit. We had to sit still and wait for the grown ups to finish talking and that was very hard. We didn't look forward to those visits, really. And the fishing game is all I remember now.

But I have learned so much about her just from this one letter, the only one we have from Jim. Other details about her life I have discovered through research have shown me what a vibrant young woman, she was. She was someone I would have loved to know when she was younger, and I was older. She had a superlative soprano voice which she shared with her community often and was in great demand as a soloist. She was involved in community affairs and a mother of five who ran a happy home with an involved husband. She was a loving daughter and a devoted wife who was most certainly in love with her husband as much as he was in love with her. And although she lived through so much tragedy at a very young age, I think that love must have been what sustained her all those years after. Had I only asked her about it when I had the chance. Truly a love story. Truly.

I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
     'Tis better to have loved and lost
  Than never to have loved at all.
                              Alfred Lord Tennyson


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Who is Gramma Grammer?

When I set out to write about my ancestor, Gramma Grammer, I thought I was going to reveal something sinister based on just a couple of facts I had about her and had thought I'd write some sort of parody of Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde. But, as it turns out, although people aren't always who they seem to be, she was just a normal person whose life was long and full of ups and downs, just like the rest of us. When we piece together lives based on documents such as census records, death records, city directories and the like, it's not easy to tell who our ancestors really were. But, it can be fun, and sometimes touching, to speculate.

Some of my readers might remember that I told you about Gramma Grammer in an earlier post. She was my great great great grandmother on my mother's side. All I knew about her was that my grandmother is the one who said she used to call her Gramma Grammer, and that my mother once told me that she was pretty sure this was the woman she was told had a wooden leg. I haven't been able to confirm that yet. My mother told me that once when she and her mother were in the Woodbrook Cemetery in Woburn, where many family members are buried, she asked her mother how Lorena A. Grammer was related? Her mother replied, "Oh that one's been married so many times, we don't know who she is." ...But I do.

Gramma Grammer was born Lorena Abbie Pelsue in Stockholm, New York in 1835. Stockholm is way up in the county of St. Lawrence in the northernmost corner of New York, almost to Canada. The name Pelsue is not uncommon up there, although I hadn't ever heard it before. Lorena's parents actually came from Chelmsford, MA by way of Vermont and ended up in Stockholm, NY shortly after the little town was first founded in the early 1800s.

Lorena, the youngest of five children born to George and Pheobe (Newell) Pelsue is not living with her family in 1850, but she wasn't far away. At only 15 years old or so, she left the family home and was living with neighbors on a large farm. The owners of the farm were Franklin and Cynthia (Pelsue) Ellis. Cynthia is probably a cousin, although I am not certain. Ten years later another member of the family, one of  Lorena's nephews, also lived there. This was a large farm and they had a large family so they most likely welcomed young family members to help out in the home and on the farm. It was and is a very small town and chances are people helped each other out when they needed it.

I am not sure Lorena was suited to the 'servant's' life. Within a year or so, she met and married Nathan Hyde a shoemaker from Woburn, MA. Stockholm is a long way from Woburn, so it's a puzzle how they met. Perhaps they had a mutual acquaintance or her older brother introduced them. I have a feeling there may even be a common relative somewhere, but I have yet to discover that. So often that does turn out to be the case in those days.

Whatever brought them together, Nathan and Lorena made their home in Woburn where they had five children: one son, Nathan Hastings Hyde who died as an infant and four daughters. One of those daughters was Minnie Hyde Tiffany, my great great grandmother and one of the original keepers of my genealogy scrapbook.

Nathan provided well for the family while he was alive, but he died at the age of 50 after 24 years of marriage, leaving Lorena a 42 year old widow with 4 teen aged girls to bring up. She may have found it hard to pay the bills after she lost Nathan because soon Lorena moved her family to New York City where they lived with her eldest daughter Helen, who was married to Edwin Tiffany. (Later, Helen's younger sister Minnie, would marry my great great grandfather Harlan Tiffany, Edwin's brother.)

About eight years after Nathan died,  Lorena had since moved back to Massachusetts where she met a widower from Boston. His name James B. Berry, the father of two sons who was born in New Brunswick, but moved to Boston as a young man. There he became a well-respected Pianoforte Manufacturer. Lorena's daughter Minnie was an accomplished soloist and played the piano. She may have been one of James' students because he also gave piano lessons.

When all of Lorena's girls were grown and gone from the home and James' sons were also on their own. Lorena and James married and made their home in Boston, where he ran his successful business. James died after they'd been married only 6 years. Lorena must have found it very difficult to have lost him after such a short time. In 1892, the year after he died, a brief bio was written up in an industry publication:
The Annals of Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Organization 1795-1892

Once again, Lorena found herself a widow. This time, although she was alonea and living by herself in Woburn for a while, it was barely a year and a half after James died that she married Samuel A. Grammer in January of 1893 and became Gramma Grammer. Samuel was another widower, who lived in Woburn and was about thirteen years older than Lorena. Samuel was a prominent shoe manufacturer. Being in the same business as her first husband Nathan, they may well have been acquaintances. 

But, Samuel wasn't long for this world when they married. He passed away a mere 11 months later. Lorena Abby Pelsue Hyde Berry Grammer, or Gramma Grammer, now a widow for the third time at the age of 68 was most certainly feeling somewhat defeated. But, she persevered. 

Lorena invited her niece Alice Hyde, and her granddaughter Elsie Tiffany to live with her over the next few years. Elsie moved out after a while when she married, but Alice stayed with her, and never married. Lorena never married again, either. Somehow she managed, living with her niece, perhaps charging rent. They moved fairly often, but always stayed in surrounding towns such as Woburn, Stoneham, Wakefield and Medford, Massachusetts. 

What had made me start to think for just a minute that there might be a darker side of Lorena was when my new genealogy on-line buddy, Wayne, sent the following clipping to me. I am very still curious about it and wonder if Gramma Grammer might have been confused or desperate, or what maybe just a little bit greedy, when at 82 years old this article appeared in the Globe: 
Boston Evening Globe, Tuesday, August 01, 1916

Fletcher B. Hyde of Malden, now serving with the State troops on the
Mexican border, and other heirs joined in a bill filed in the Superior
Court today, against Lorena A. Grammer of Medford, who was the widow of
Nathan H. Hyde, a brother of James Hyde, who died In 1873, and her three
daughters, seeking the appointment of Charles H. Hyde, an heir, as
receiver of the property left by James Hyde and to restrain Mrs. Grammer
from interfering with the management of the estate.  Fletcher Hyde had
handled the property until he went to the border, and since then, it is
alleged, Mrs. Grammer has been collecting rents.  Judge Lawton
restrained Mrs. Grammer from collecting rents due Aug 1 or interfering
with the management of the property.  An order of notice returnable Aug
7 has been issued.

I think Lorena knew exactly what she was doing and probably felt entitled. I think this is how Lorena made ends meet. After all, she had outlived three husbands, 2 of whom had other heirs, and yet she still managed to land on her feet, wooden leg and all. The James Hyde mentioned in the article was Alice's father. Maybe she thought she had some claim to the rents since Alice was living with her? I doubt I will ever know.

Lorena lived until she was almost 85. The last home she lived in was on Winthrop Street in Medford, where she died on the 15th of October in 1919. I wonder if this was one of the properties mentioned, and if it is, maybe she won the lawsuit which allowed her to remain there.

In the scrapbook my great great grandmother Minnie kept, written next to her mother Lorena's obituary was the following:

"My dear mother died October 15, 1919. Age 85 years in just 5 days more."

I have several letters from Lorena, written to her granddaughter Ethel, my great grandmother. Ethel was a little girl when most were written. In one letter she was just turning ten and asking about her upcoming birthday. There is one written around Christmas, asking her what Ethel had written in her letter to Santa. One talked about her staying warm and cozy in her rooms and not wanting to venture out for a visit to Southbridge, where Ethel lived, until the spring. Each one was full of sweet, loving terms of endearment, addressed to My Dear little Granddaughter or  My dear Ethel. There are also a few in the collection written to her daughter Minnie, all addressed similarly, "My dear daughter, My dear Minnie". And every single one was signed your loving grandma, or your loving Mamma, then very formally: L. A. Hyde or L. A. Grammer. (I don't have any L. A. Berry letters.) It struck me as very funny that she needed to identify herself, especially with her daughter, in any other way but Grandma or Mamma.

So, Gramma Grammer  left the world perhaps a villain to some whose rents she collected, but much loved by her daughter and granddaughter. I am not sure what I think about that little run-in with her family and the court. I like to think that she prevailed and that all went well. But, I think if we look at her whole life, and not just one small chapter, I'd say she did a pretty good job for a woman of her time, and a one legged one, at that.

She's not so much of a mystery to me any more. She rests in Woodbrook Cemetery, along side Nathan Hyde, her first husband, her sister Sophia Pelsue Shed and her husband, her baby Nathan Hastings Hyde, her daughter Helen Hyde Tiffany, her niece Elsie and her husband. And a mystery person named Lotie Hyde Grammer who died in 1875. 

Do you suppose there was another Gramma Grammer?

More in the weeks to come-

"A Paige From a Love Story"
"A Crooked Politician?"
"A Devil of an Ancestor-in-law"
"An Accusation"
"Seven Sisters"

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon

During the hunt for our ancestors, sometimes we researchers do get lost in the history of our families and the intrigue of another time and place. For hours and hours we can find ourselves camped in front of our computers following a trail hundreds of years old. But, usually the simple demands of our everyday lives and a spouse feeling a little neglected from time to time, will interupt the hunt, bringing us back to the present and reminding us what's really important in our lives.

The thought that generations to follow may be looking at our lives some day should be enough to bring us back to the present and motivate us to do something really exciting and notable for those coming generations to discover. The irony of that is what I do that's most notable in my life time may well be to provide the bridge between the generations past and the generations to come with the history I dig up.

But folks, none of this is done in a vacuum, in spite of what my husband sometimes feels when I am secluded with old census records and out-of-print books. I do hear from some of my immediate family when I share something new about one of our ancestors here on Henrietta or through email, and that's always rewarding. It makes me feel like I am doing my job as self-appointed family historian. In addition to the family I've always known, I also hear regularly from living, breathing new family members I have met through the research done on-line.

Most of us have heard of the theory of the Six Degrees of Separation which is just another way of saying it's a small world. Specifically, it tells us that we in this "human web" are within six steps of everyone else on the planet by mutual acquaintances or friends.

A kind of fun offshoot is a game called the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, which I think is really funny. If you don't know about it, go to Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon on Wikepedia. Even though the game is to get from Kevin to any actor or movie within 6 steps, the truth is, everyone who is reading this has less than Six Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon because my sister and brother-in-law have actually delivered furniture to Kevin Bacon and his wife in the course of their furniture delivery business. I just thought you'd like to know that. And who knows, maybe someday I will figure out how we are related. But back to the original theory.
Kevin Bacon
My sister Cindy and Bro-in-law Steve

The theory of Six Degrees of Separation is proven over and over again when people on are able to contact others doing research on common ancestors or surnames. So, today I just wanted to tell you a little about some of these people I have met, just in the past six months, most of whom share ancestors in my trees.

Julie-Ed's second cousin. I "met" Julie when Ed's cousin Eileen got us together. Thanks, Eileen! Julie has done a lot of research on the Eaton side and been very generous with it all. I haven't met her in person yet, but we have exchanged lots of emails, photos and information. She lives up in Massachusetts and has done all kinds of tramping through cemeteries and taken photos of headstones. My kind of gal! My hope is that we'll get to meet this summer when I am up there again.

Jessie Willett Hall and me
  Joyce and Bob-Joyce contacted me when she saw my Willett family tree last June. At first when she wrote to me on, I didn't think we were in the same tree at all. But, she showed me that Joyce's 4th great grandfather is my 3rd great grandfather, Ebenezer Willett. That was really so exciting to me because the Willett tree has been a fairly short one since I began my hunt. Joyce and her husband Bob are both very involved in genealogy and have given me so much advice over the past year or so since we have connected. We think that Ed may well be in Bob's family tree and we must do more research on that! Bob and Joyce live in Florida and have a summer home in the mountains in Georgia, just a couple of hours from here. Last summer we actually were able to meet them in person when they invited Ed and I to their home in Georgia. We had a lovely lunch and a really fun visit. They are now good friends and we exchange regular emails. We are hoping to see them some time this month or next here in Chattanooga!

Leslie J Hall,
Henrietta's son

Sherri-Sherri lives in Utah. The roots we share are the Ames and Davis family. That's really interesting to me because those are Henrietta's parents. And as you readers know, Henrietta is my motivation. Sherri and I haven't corresponded in a few months, but I know as we learn more, we'll be sharing more information in the future.


Lady May Budd, my great Grandmother
Franklin Jay Ward and Lulu Budd Ward,
May's sister.
Carollee-Carollee is my Budd cousin! I recently contacted her when I found her tree which I suspected might be the same Budd family as ours. Sure enough, my great great grandfather Samuel Budd is in her line, too. We have been exchanging lots of information. The civil war correspondence I hope to get this summer from the NY Historical Society should be of interest to us both. And, recently I sent for his pension records and they are in the process of sending that to me. I am surely going to share that with Carollee as soon as I receive it. 

Jessie and Charlotte Willett
My Grandmother and her sister back row
 Karen-Karen, who lives in Georgia was a really remarkable find for me and although I haven't written to her since before Christmas, this is one person I really want to keep in touch with. After responding to my inquiry, Karen turned out to be the closest of all in terms of degrees of separation. Karen is the granddaughter of my grandmother's sister on my father's side. It is almost miraculous to me to have found someone who knew my grandmother Jessie Willett Hall's sisters personally. My great Aunts Charlotte, Millie and Edith were all in her life as well as mine and just as fascinating to her as they were to me. I remembered my grandmother talking about a wedding that she was going to in NY in the 60s and that the bride had gotten her lace in Italy. That stuck in my mind and for 40 years I wondered who that was. It was Karen! It is my hope that Karen and I can get to know each other even better soon. She's close enough in proximity that it shouldn't be too hard to arrange a nice day together.

Maryanna-When I was researching the story about Jenny Lind Lewis for my Henrietta Blog I found Maryanna on Ancestry. You can look back at the archives for January 13th posting to get the whole story. In a nutshell, this was just a story I read in one of the clippings my gggrandmother had saved. I had no idea why she saved the clipping but found the desertion of this young woman worth writing about. Maryanna helped solve the mystery of what happened to the husband and then she put me in touch with Wayne, who she thought would have more information.
Jennie Lind Lewis
Wayne-Wayne made a fantastic connection for me. He identified the connection between my gggrandmother and Jenny Lind Lewis. As it turns out they are cousins. Wayne's family includes the name Pelsue which was my great great great grandmother's maiden name. We are cousins of some degree and Lorena Pelsue Hyde Berry Grammer, or Gramma Grammer, had a sister named Sophia who married a Lewis, one of Wayne's ancestors. Sophia's granddaughter was Jenny Lind Lewis Evans. She and my great grandmother were friends, second cousins and both singers. And that is why the clipping is in the scrap book. Wayne and I have continued to correspond and find out things about the Hyde family and our ancestors in common.  What's even more of a coincidence is that until a few years ago, he lived in the same little town in Maine right across the street from where my uncle now lives. They may have missed each other by just a year or so. Wayne now lives in Texas and is retired military, again, like my uncle.

Josephine Patten Willett's Obit (My great grandmother)
Janet-Janet is my most recent on-line cousin. She is directly related to the Pattens, which was my great grandmother Josephine Willett's maiden name. Janet is such a warm and generous person. She has been doing research for many years and is eager to share. Her great great grandparents H. James Patten and Sarah Caroline Arden are my ggg grandparents. Janet sent me a big package of information which I received just yesterday. Thanks, Janet! I can see a blog forming around one particular item she sent me. I think she knows which one I mean, too! Janet and her husband live in Florida and has in-laws who live in the Villages, just like I do! They may even know each other! I look forward to meeting her some day soon.

Bell Rock Light, Arbroath
Scotland -My connections in Scotland have to do with the Bell Rock Lighthouse and the Waters side of the family. It's been really fun corresponding with them, in particular another gal named Janet who keeps me updated on what's going on in Arbroath with the Year of the Light celebration in honor of the Lighthouse's 200th anniversary. My Ancestor was a lighthouse keeper there in the mid 19th century. Janet puts me in touch with other Scottish genealogists, as well.

And, just yesterday I received an email from my friend Debbie who lives near Abroath. I didn't meet Debbie on line but rather a few years ago on the golf course in Kissimee, of all places. I told her about our Arbroath roots and in particular the lighthouse in Arbroath when we met and she never forgot that. (She and her husband were really fun. Should I tell you that she ran into the back of my golf cart with hers? No I won't tell you that! It was very funny.) A year or more after our meeting in Kissimmee, Debbie wrote to me telling me that she thinks of me every time she drives by the light house. Yesterday, I heard from her, which was a wonderful surprise and she offered to go to some of the Year of the Light Celebrations, take some photos and even find me a little souvenir commemorating the event. Such a nice person. I do hope our paths cross again soon!

Some of these wonderful "cousins" send me email regularly and I have gotten to know them pretty well. It's always exciting to make the connection with someone who shares your 3rd great grandmother or 4th great grandfather. The people I have connected with are all so generous in sharing their research and their time. Mysteries are solved and coincidences are discovered that make the hunt even more fun. I hope that I have provided them with some helpful information, as well.

For me, these connections with folks all over the country and in Scotland, are right there with me as we share the exploration of the past together. Many of them are reading this blog now and they never know when one of their ancestors might be featured! I am sincerely thankful to all of you who help with the hunt and by providing your information and an encouraging comment here and there, as well as my loyal followers and readers. Directly and indirectly you contribute to The Hunt For Henrietta and I am always grateful for the help!

Some upcoming posts for Henrietta-

"Gramma Grammer-Jekyll or Mrs. Hyde?"
"A Paige From a Love Story" a story for Valentine's Day
 "A Crooked Politician?"
"A Devil of an Ancestor-in-law"
"An Accusation"
"Seven Sisters"