"Let me see generation times, will we hear children singing rhymes? Sweet memories gone by..."

19 June 2012

Grace, part 2

Place a name upon the night
One to set your heart alight
And to make the darkness bright
Paint the sky with stars
--  "Paint the Sky with Stars" by Enya

Yesterday marked my great-great-grandmother Grace Cole's birthday - only, her name wasn't originally Grace...

Tracking down Grace and her siblings in the Virginia birth registers has been interesting to say the least.  Her parents, Dabney and Lucy Baker, had five children, but it seems as though they had some difficulty deciding on names.  Further adding to confusion is that the children had trouble keeping track of their birthdays. 

Dabney and Lucy were married on July 16, 1868.  One year and four days later, their first child, Nellie Blanche Baker, was born - July 20, 1869.  Sadly, little Nellie lived only nine months.

Their second child, Grace, was born on June 18, 1871.  But going back through the birth records, her name appears as "Nellie G. Baker."  Possibly Nellie Grace?  But in all other records, starting from the 1880 census onward, her name is Grace Belvin Baker (Belvin for her grandmother's maiden name).

The Bakers' third child was Elijah, named for his paternal grandfather.  Elijah was supposedly born on September 1, 1873.  In the Richmond birth register his name is recorded as simply "D. E. Baker," and his actual birth date was October 12.

Next came Mattie Virginia Baker.  In theory, her birthday should be January 31, 1875, but I haven't yet been able to find her in the records.  Heaven only knows if that date is correct, or what her name might originally have been.  Hopefully, she'll turn up eventually.

Lastly is Dabney Gathright Baker Jr. - he was especially fun to search for.  Dabney wrote his birth date as August 4, though on different records the year varies between 1878 - 1881.  As it turns out, he was born on August 14, 1878, with the name "James Northell Baker" recorded.  Even better, on the 1880 census, his name is given as "Lothair."  Go figure.

P.S.  No pressure, Lesley! :)

12 June 2012


Telling our stories from a distant past
Most are remembered, the good and the bad
Like an old winding river in a curious plot
-- "Mystery Game" by Clannad

Out of eight generations in my family, the name Grace has been in five - including the newest, who will celebrate her 2nd birthday this week!  So, to distinguish between the two Graces in this blog, my great-grandmother Grace is referred to as just "Grace", and her mother Grace is referred to as "Grace Cole".

Sometimes I find the most interesting family history tidbits by accident.  I regularly use the well-known genealogy websites for official records, but every now and again, I'll put a name into Google just to see what pops up.  Just recently, I stumbled across an old yearbook with a familiar name in it.

One of the gaps that I've been trying to piece together is Grace Cole's life after her first husband died and before she moved from Virginia to Maryland.  Grace Cole's first husband was Charles Siegel, and in the 1900 U.S. Census, she was living in Richmond, VA with him and their two children, Charles Jr. and Grace.  Charles Sr. died in 1903, and Charles Jr. died in 1908.

Despite searching every which way I can think of, I've been unable to locate Grace Cole in the 1910 and 1920 census records.  Part of the problem arises from not knowing when or where she remarried, or when exactly she moved to Maryland.  The only clues I have are:  1) her brother's obituary from 1917, which still gives her last name as Siegel, and 2) her D.A.R. application, which shows her as dropped in 1919, and has the name Siegel crossed out and replaced with Cole.

Though the younger Grace is also missing in the 1920 census, she does appear in the 1910 census with her great aunt Octavia Gentry, staying at a hotel not far from where her grandmother was living in Mathews County, VA.

But a Google search turned up another puzzle piece – a 1917 yearbook from the State Normal School in Fredericksburg, VA.  The school has gone through a few name changes over the years, and is now the University of Mary Washington.  It started out as an all-girls school, but became co-ed in the 1970s.  Many libraries have been digitizing public-domain books and making them freely available on various websites such as the Internet Archive.  UMW has digitized all of its yearbooks, known as "The Battlefield", from 1913 up though 2010.

It seems that in 1917, when she was about 19 years old, Grace was a student there as a member of the class of 1920:

Paging through the yearbook, Grace was involved in a variety of school activities, from playing tennis...

 (Now we know where Dad & my sister get their tennis skills from!)

... to Glee Club...

... to a student group called "Sphinx":

Comparing with the previous yearbook's photos and names, Grace has to be one of the girls in the bottom row.  I showed the yearbook to my dad, and he thinks that Grace is the third photo.

No yearbook was made in 1918, and Grace is not in the yearbooks for either 1919 or 1920, so it looks like she only attended the school for that one year.   Grace's cousin Lucy Sears was also a student there, a member of the class of 1918, and was also a member of "Sphinx".

So it seems that Grace Cole and Grace were still living in Virginia for most of the 1910s, and probably didn't move to Maryland until after 1919.  Searching marriage records in Virginia and DC has turned up no matches for Robert & Grace Cole;  at that time, Maryland still kept separate records for the Baltimore City and the counties, and has no complete index, making a search tricky at best.  All I know for sure is that the three of them were living together in Baltimore by the 1930 U.S census.

06 June 2012

Coming to America

Leaving for an unknown shore
With every breeze just like a sigh
The sea is deep with tears of those before
With feelings like the seabirds' cry
It gently took me by the hand
Across the ocean blue
And placed me in a foreign land
Far away from you
-- "Servant to the Slave" by Capercaillie

My ancestors can be grouped into three categories:  those who have been here since before the Revolution;  the Germans who arrived in the mid-1800s;  and the Italians who began to trickle in around the turn of the century.  Ninety-one years ago today, the last of my immigrant ancestors arrived.  On June 6, 1921, my great-grandmother Maria disembarked in Boston along with her daughters Josephine and Rose, after a twelve-day trip from Naples aboard the Canopic. 

 (from Norway Heritage)

Like many Italian women, Maria traveled using her maiden name, even though she was married with two children.  According to a note on the second page of the passenger manifest, she was suffering from "malnutrition that is likely to cause [her] to seek treatment."  Rose, my grandmother, had just passed her first birthday, even though the list shows her as four months old.

The family was following a common pattern.  Maria's husband, my great-grandfather, Raffaele had come to the U.S. seven months prior, sailing out of Marseilles on the Roussilon and arriving at Ellis Island on October 23, 1920.

From his immigration record, he was planning to settle in Trenton, where a cousin of his was living - though both Raffaele and Maria apparently believed Trenton to be in New York, not New Jersey.  Raffaele found work here and later brought over his wife and children.  A year after the family was reunited, baby Dominic arrived.

Between 1900 and 1930, more than 3.5 million Italians came to the U.S.  Many did not originally plan to stay.  Men wanted to find work, save up money, then return home.  By the time Raffaele made the journey, however, Italy was going through rough times, just coming out of World War I.  Unemployment and inflation were high, politics were unsettled, and Mussolini was coming into power.  It's easy to see how life in America seemed so appealing.

My mom always complains that I don't research her Italian family enough.  The problem isn't that I don't want to;  it's that the research is much more difficult.  All my usual resources - vital records, censuses, cemeteries - are U.S.-based, and thus only trace back so far.  My main source is some hand-written family notes from my grandmother and Aunt Jo.  So, until we brush up on our Italian and organize a family vacation to Bari, I can't research as far back as I have with my other ancestors.  Sorry!