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"