Thursday, April 21, 2011

Coincidence: 1. The state or fact of occupying the same relative position or area in space

Genealogy is filled with coincidences and serendipitous discoveries. One of the stranger coincidences in my ancestral journey has to do with two families named Brown.

In 1870, there was a tiny little village in Massachusetts called Whitinsville. It is still there today, but as it was then and is now, Whitinsville (pronounced White-ins-vill) is not a town, but what is called a Census Designated Place. By definition that means it is an area where there is a concentration of people living, as if a town, but it isn't incorporated and there is no separate local municipal government. Whitinsville is officially a part of the town of Northbridge.

Northbridge was originally inhabited by the Nipmuc tribe. It was once part of neighboring Mendon and then later part of Uxbridge, before it became a separate town in 1772. Being locate on the Mumford River, it was ideal for the textile mills that sprung up in the area, providing jobs that attracted European immigrants and locals to the area.

John  Whitin, the patriarch
Whitinsville was named for The Whitins (a variation if  Whiting) who were a successful family in the area, first manufacturing farm tools, like hoes and shovels. Once the Mumford River's energy was harnessed, they built a cotton mill. This mill was large, utilizing 1,500 spindles at a time. Soon, the sons of the family became frustrated with the crude tools and machinery available to the industry and began to develop their own patented equipment in their machine shop and became the largest producer of textile spindles in the area. So successful was this family, that by the turn of the century, they owned and operated five cotton mills in town, a machine works and a huge foundry.

Although there were many mills and other industries in Whitinsville, the entire town of Northbridge, in 1870 had a population of only about 2,600 people. Although I don't have the exact population of Whitinsville at the time, we can be reasonably certain that the population was measured by the hundreds rather than the thousands.

In the mid 1800s, Alexander Brown immigrated from Ireland to Whitinsville as a young boy. Alexander's bride Ann, was also born in Ireland. In 1870, Alexander and Ann are a young couple living in Whitinsville and Alexander is a Dresser Tender, which is a job in the cotton mill tending the thread on the spindles.

Meanwhile, another fellow also named Brown, Andrew Brown that is, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, not at all far from Whitinsville. Andrew married Almira, also from Rhode Island. They moved to Chicago for a short time in the 1860s after Andrew returned from the war. There, a son Ethelbert was born in 1868. When Ethelbert was just 2 they had moved back to the Northeast and settled in Whitinsville where I found them in the 1870 census as well. Andrew was a boot maker.

The Black Eagle Tavern, Whitinsville
For a few years around 1870 these two Brown families probably interacted in the little village. Perhaps Andrew and Alex met at the local tavern and tried to figure out if any of their family members were related. Ethelbert, Andrew's son was two years old in 1870. In 1872, Alex had a son also named Alexander. Maybe they talked about their sons and compared notes about their wives. Perhaps their wives became friends. They may have exchanged recipes or met in the local butcher shop or sat together at the Friday night socials.

Andrew and Almira moved back to Providence by 1880, where they raised Ethelbert. Ethelbert met a gal named Margaret Hines and they would have a daughter Hortense. Hortense had a sister Mildred Brown and they grew up in the Franklin area, about 20 miles south of Whitinsville. Hortense Gertrude Brown Locke was my first husband's grandmother, my sons' great grandmother. She lived to be 106, to date my sons' longest lived relative.

Meanwhile, Alexander and Ann Brown, moved from Whitinsville, also about 1880, to Sutton, MA which is also about 10 miles north of Whitinsville. Their son Alexander met and married Alice Moore. They raised their two girls named Anna Brown and Mildred Brown in Sutton. Anna Frances Brown Crowell is my husband Ed's grandmother. Anna's sister, Mildred ALice Brown Kelliher, was my husband's longest lived relative who died in 2002 at the age of 104.

I am not sure what this coincidence means, really. Let's just say that it was a big confusing tangle when I discovered these two Brown families while I was researching my children's (and ex-husband's) families and Ed's ancestry. For a time I was thinking they may have been related, but not so.

These two unrelated Brown families who both lived in 1870s Whitinsville produced the longest lived family members in the two separate family trees that I've been researching, which was kind of interesting.

Both families also included women named Mildred Brown. I don't know if I will ever find another link between these families. I suppose it's possible. For now, for these two Brown families, the only link I can find so far is me! A hundred years after Andrew and Alexander both made Whitinsville, Massachusetts their home, I would end up married twice. First. I was married to the great great grandson of Andrew Brown. And now, I am married to the great great grandson of Alexander Brown. Go figure!

Charles Brown, possibly a common ancestor?
You never know who you might meet up with along these journeys.


Gail said...

Hello! Loving your entry today--a distant cousin of mine, Brenda, told me about it. I guess we are related too! I am a descendant of Andrew and Almira Brown (they are my 4th great grandparents). I'd love to share any info I have, which isn't too much, and see what you might have.
Please feel free to contact me!

Susan (Nolichucky Roots) said...

I love this! These serendipitous finds fascinate me. Lovely job!