Thursday, July 28, 2011

Carved in Stone

Since last week I have spent quite a lot of time doing research here on Cape Cod with more than the usual amount of time on my hands. I wasn't always successful in my searches, but I thought I'd share with you what I was looking for and what I did, or didn't find just to give you a taste of what we genealogy driven people experience regularly.

Some of you will remember the two-parter about Ruth Hinckley Nickerson Crowell Phinney and her two husbands killed at sea. You may also remember that in the same story, I talked about her son Simeon, who went to sea as a young lad and came back a ship's captain who started the Baptist Church in Bass River. Well, because that church is around the corner from where I live here in the summer, I thought I'd go see if I could find any of these characters from our story. And I did!

I found Simeon, and his wife Charlotte, buried there right next to the church.

Simeon died in 1848 at the age of 70

Although I have been to this cemetery on a hunting expedition before, until I wrote Ruth's story, I had no idea who Simeon was and would not have made any special note of his being there. But it is fitting that the first minister of the Bass River Community Baptist  is buried so close to his beloved little church.

And just to the right of Simeon, he buried his mother, whom he adored and for whom he sacrificed his childhood, going to sea to help ease the burden of so many mouths to feed. Right next to Simeon, lies in eternal rest, Ruth Hinckley Nickerson Crowell Phinney.

Ruth, outlived husband Thomas Nickerson, murdered at sea and Abner Crowell, killed
on a British Prison Ship months after they married. She was Simeon's mother.

Some of you may remember that Ed has several ancestors in his Crowell family tree whose first name was Heman, a unique name I once thought, although now I seem to come across it every time I do research in the 19th century. Ed's great great grandfather was Heman as was his great great great grandfather. While exploring that old cemetery, I found Ed's ggg grandfather Heman's headstone. I also found his ggg grandmother, Minerva.

Heman and Minerva are buried right next to each other. Minerva, whose maiden name was also Crowell, making things a little complicated was a cousin of some degree. I guess there were lots of Crowells on the Cape back then and probably not too many eligible mates who weren't in some way related. Minerva whose name is spelled MEnIrva on her gravestone, died in 1878 at the age of 75, outliving Heman by many years. I have confirmed from several different documents and histories that the date of her death is accurate. 

However, Heman's grave which shows that his age at death was just 40, confirming what I had already found, the date of his death shows as August 15, 1835 which was not what I had at all. So, now I had to find out what was correct. I knew that this date was suspect for the simple reason that I have more than one source document telling us that Heman and Minerva had children as late as 1842. Unless they were freezing embryos back then, something was not right. I checked and rechecked what I had on file. I knew this was the correct Heman because he was married to Minerva.

Minerva's parents, Vinney and Experience Crowell, (also a Crowell before she married Vinney. What?!?) are buried right nearby, so I have the correct Minerva, wife of Heman. 

And so, one discovery of a headstone created another mystery and uncovered conflicting information that I had to iron out. My records showed that Heman died at the age of 40 in 1842. I have his birth record dated 1802; I have his marriage record to Minerva; I have the birth records of their children, including those born after 1835, the date on his headstone.

On the official death record from the town register, it says he died at "about age 45" on August 31, 1842 of consumption. Heman was a seaman, so the fact that this record identifies him as a Mariner is one more piece of evidence that this was the Heman who died in 1842, although they were a little off on guessing his age. I also found a transcript of a newspaper announcing his death in the "Yarmouth Register" It simply says, Heman Crowell, age 40 on September 15, 1842. The headstone says he died August 15, 1835 at the age of 40. So, sometime between August 15 and September 15 1842, 40 year old Heman Crowell died.

The explanation for the error on the headstone is most likely that both his headstone and Minerva's stone were erected at the same time in 1878 when she died. From someone's memory, perhaps Ed's gg grandfather, they carved the date into the stone, left there to baffle genealogists for hundreds of years to come. 

From another side of the family, I spent many hours trying to determine some background on Ed's own grandmother, Josephine Eaton. This woman was someone he and his cousins and siblings knew, who died just over 30 years ago and yet she remains the "Henrietta" of his family. Not that she met a sad demise, but that she is such a mysterious figure.

Josephine was born in Ireland in 1886. We knew she came from Kilkenny and that she lived Bridgewater when she met and married Ed's grandfather Orin, who lived in Middleborough. So that was a help as well.

1910 Census
In 1910, the newlywed couple of Orin and Josephine are found in Middleborough, he shoe trimmer. Notice that her name is Johanna, something her family only found out in the late 70s when a great granddaughter was born, named Joanna. Josephine casually mentioned that this was her name when she was in Ireland, although her family had only known her as Josephine all those years. This record clearly shows that she and her parents were all born in Ireland and that she immigrated in 1899. Sounds like it should be easy to find her immigration record, right?

1920 Census
In 1920, we have Orin and now Josephine, still in Middleborough. The immigration information, however, shows that she immigrated in 1907 and was naturalized in 1908. Okay, so which date do I go after? 1899 or 1907? Hmmm....

1930 Census
But in 1930, now the family has moved to Cape Cod and that she immigrated in 1904 and was an alien, never having become a naturalized citizen.

So, folks, my search for Johannah/Josephine's roots have just begun. I have family anecdotes to pursue but no real dates to go by. And the Irish records are terrible to work with, if in fact they even exist. We have several family members working on this mystery and someday we may actually find out how she became orphaned and when she arrived here. We know her mother and father's names from marriage records in Bridgewater and Middleborough, although her maiden name is spelled Shay in one town and Shea in the other. Her mother's maiden name is listed as Tobin in one town record and Tobey in another. So, you can see, Josephine is a real mystery on par with Henrietta.


In my family tree, I have been doing a little research on my great Aunt Charlotte Willett. I knew Aunt Lottie, as I called her, when she was married to my Uncle Frank. We loved Uncle Frank and Aunt Lottie, who were both singularly unique personalities in our family's history. Lottie was my grandmother's younger sister, a twin to her sister Edith. But one thing I always knew about Lottie which intrigued me as a little girl, easily taken in by any romantic story, was that she had been married as a much younger woman to a man who fell victim in some way to the stock market crash in 1929 and left Aunt Lottie a young widow. I never knew anything else about this fellow except that his name was Jim McNair and that she was heartbroken when he died. So, I went looking in Census records to find them as a couple in New York City around the time of the market crash, October of 1929. I don't know why exactly, but I wanted to know more.
Aunt Lottie c. 1936

I never found a census record when they lived together. The first thing I found was a record of a trip they took from New York to Quebec and Halifax, a two day cruise in August of 1928 aboard the SS Shawnee. Maybe a honeymoon? I like to think so. From that record I found out that his name was James Taylor McNair and that he was ten years her senior, they lived on 63rd Street. Later I found that he was actually 12 years her senior, perhaps not completely truthful about his age for fear his bride would think the age difference too much to overcome.

Passenger list from the SS Shawnee Aug 18-20, 1928
Like I said, I looked for a census record, but found none. From there, I looked for a marriage record, but found none. I looked for a directory listing, but found none. I looked in old newspaper articles, and I did find one.  As I scrolled down the page, I felt a little bit of hope that this would be a mistake, but it wasn't. For at the very bottom of the column, the last person listed was James Taylor McNair, beloved husband of Charlotte, who died suddenly in April of 1930.


It's funny how when you look for people you start to feel something for them. Although he passed away 80 years ago and I knew that he had, I was caught up in the story, a romantic one I knew from childhood, one that I wanted to end differently. But, it was just as I knew it would be. Yet, from that newspaper article I found that James, had children from a previous marriage, something I never knew before. I found he was in the automobile business, an executive of some sort. His parents were Scottish and his mother was Harriet, for whom his daughter was named. His son was the third James Taylor McNair, his father also shared that name with him. In this search, he became more real than ever and I still would like to know more about their life together, albeit so brief.

Charlotte, curiously is listed as single and was living with her mother and younger brother in the 1930 census that was taken 10 days before James passed away. Was he hospitalized for a while maybe? We don't know how he died. I remember thinking as a child that he'd jumped out a window, like the stories we'd all heard about after the stock market crashed in 1929. Then I remember hearing that maybe his heart gave out as a result of losing everything. But I am not sure what happened, really. *


 Lots of mysteries were uncovered this past week. Some solved, and some leading to more mysteries. It's often like that when researching genealogy. And even when we think we know the story, or even when it's carved in stone, like Heman's headstone, it's not always the way things were.


*Epilogue:
After my brother read this post, he sent me an email adding more information about Jim McNair. I don't think I'd ever heard this story, but now we know how he died. Still a sad tale.

From my brother, Chuck:
Here's what I remember being told about Jim McNair, all, or most, comes from Gram --
He was a handsome man who owned a Cadillac dealership, the only one in New York City at the time.
This could have been one of the cars Jim McNair sold back in those days.
 He had many wealthy clients, including the Rockefellers. He was a social friend of several of these wealthy clients and was quite well off himself. I was told he visited the Rockefellers at their Hudson Valley estate, Kykuit several times which must have impressed Gram. He, along with other well heeled young men of his acquaintance, invested heavily in the stock market and did very well for some years. When the market crashed, he lost everything, likely overly leveraged. His health deteriorated rapidly, his hair turned white "overnight", and he died of a stroke.

2 comments:

Suz said...

FRom my Brother Chuck:
Here's what I remember being told about Jim McNair, all, or most, comes from Gram --

He was a handsome man who owned a Cadillac dealership, the only one in New York City at the time. He had many wealthy clients, including the Rockefellers. He was a social friend of several of these wealthy clients and was quite well off himself. I was told he visited the Rockefellers at their Hudson Valley estate, Kykuit several times which must have impressed Gram. He, along with other well heeled young men of his acquaintance, invested heavily in the stock market and did very well for some years. When the market crashed, he lost everything, likely overly leveraged. His health deteriorated rapidly, his hair turned white "overnight", and he died of a stroke.

Heather Rojo said...

Loved this post! I picked up right away on some familiar names (Hinckley, Nickerson, etc) from my own family tree. But my lines daughtered out early in the 1600s so I can hardly claim much Cape Cod ancestry.