This past week, my husband and I spent a day in Lynn, MA, where so many of my father’s people come from. We visited the wonderful little Lynn Museum, drove along the waterfront, and, most importantly to me, found my Keene family plot in the Pine Grove Cemetery.
Among the many things I had hoped to discover at the cemetery was a headstone for Thelma, the first wife of my grandfather, who had died so young. I had hoped that there would be more information either in the records or on the grave to fill in some of the missing pieces to her story.
We found the Lynn public works office early in the morning, where the cemetery records are kept. The clerk who assisted us couldn’t have been nicer. We left the office with several printed pages of locations and families to search for. I had done my homework and printed up the detailed pages of cemetery maps found online. We thought it would be quick, armed with the plot information and the maps.
Pine Grove Cemetery is HUGE. It’s over 250 acres. The lanes wander and meander without much symmetry or organized plan. Most of the lane signs are missing, too. We finally found out that if we used Google Maps, the car’s GPS, and the printed maps in conjunction, we could sort of find our way around. Sort of.
We finally found the Locust section where the Keene plot was supposed to be. We wandered among the gravestones without finding anything. We tried to search out the plot number again, but that led us to the wrong section. We searched the printed maps once more, where we finally saw the correct plot, right where we had parked the car. But, on the other side of the street in another section.
And, there it was.
I’m standing right at the curb, and the Keene plot consists of the first two headstones closest to me and the line of stones in the second row, beginning with the large square one and going to the right of the photo.
From the information we got at the records office, there are a total of 25 grave sites in this plot, with 23 individuals. Unfortunately, of those 23 people buried here, only seven have headstones. It’s unclear if there ever were headstones for the others or if they have been lost to vandalism over the years.
Berthemla H. Keene is buried here, but sadly, hers is one of the missing stones. The record indicates that her grave is “D.” We had no idea where “D” was, as all the other graves with headstones were numbered.
She died at 18 years, 11 months, and 26 days.
Her story makes me sad: dying so young, being largely forgotten in our family, and having no physical record of her presence here. But, without her passing, my grandfather would have never married his second wife, and I and my family simply wouldn’t exist.
Thanks again to helpful readers, the mystery of Grandpy’s first marriage is finally cleared up!
No, not really. In fact, it might be even murkier…
It seems that Charles L. “Kune” of Boston, MA married Berthelma H. Waters of Kirksville, MO on July 25, 1910 in Moberly, Missouri.
Now, before you think, “Ah, ha! Kune isn’t Keene!”, let me show you something.
In the 1930 census record for Grandpy and Nana, Keene has been incorrectly transcribed as “Kune.” You can see this in the record below.
I know this is the right family, because this is the transcription for the census page below:
Those are my grandparents and their children, including my father, Charles, Jr. The double-e in Keene has been misread as a “u” by the transcriber. Just as it had been on the 1910 marriage record between Charles and Berthelma.
Now, back to their story.
Here is the 1910 census record for Thelma. I believe that she was working as a waitress in a hotel when the census enumerator came around on April 15, 1910. Which is why she is listed with seemingly unrelated people.
Charles and Thelma most likely met when he was working as a chef, perhaps in the same hotel. And, I can place Charlie in Moberly, MO in July, where the marriage to Berthelma took place, based on a postmark of July 5, 1910.
On their marriage record, Charles has claimed that he is over the age of 21, which is correct, as his birthday was April 24, 1883. He would have just turned 27.
According to the census, Thelma was born in 1893, which would have made her only 16, as her birthday wasn’t until September, according to her death certificate. But, the death certificate gives her year of birth as 1892, making her 17 at the time of her marriage to Charles.
Somebody fudged the truth on their marriage certificate, regardless. Thelma’s age is stated as being as over 18. Which can’t be true given either 1892 or 1893 as her birth year.
I think that this record of marriage is correct for Charlie and Thelma, but that begs the question just whose is the first marriage certificate found for Charlie and Anna?
In fact, I have a lot of questions.
Who is Charles L. Keene of the St. Joseph, MO, February 10, 1910 marriage license? This Charles also gives his hometown as Boston, MA and his age as over 21.
My Grandpy was in St. Joseph when this marriage license was granted, based on postmarked cards sent home, from January 10 through March 9, 1910. What are the odds that two different men with the exact same name and hometown were in St. Joseph at the same time?
I don’t know!
I did find a “Charles L. Keene” on the 1910 census in St. Joseph, Missouri, but his birthplace is New Hampshire in 1880. However, he, too, is working in a hotel as a cook.
I am not sure that this is my Grandpy, as we have a postcard from him dated April 11, 1910 from New York, NY. (Remember that the census was taken April 15.) But, he certainly could have been back in Missouri by the 15th, if he rode the train. But, then, why the incorrect information of hometown and birth year? This Charles is listed a “single”, so he couldn’t the one who married Anna just two months prior.
Arrggg….. But, wait, there’s more!
Why is Thelma’s maiden name “Waters” on the marriage record, but “Page” on her death certificate?
What happened to Charles and Anna? Although not exhaustive, I did search the 1910 census for them. They should have been enumerated as a married couple, as the marriage would have taken place in February, and the census was taken in April. However, I could find them under neither Keene or Kune.
Perhaps an annulment? A quicky divorce? (Seems unlikely in 1910.)
I am thinking that a more likely possibility is that the marriage between Charles and Anna never actually took place. The records are for an application for a marriage license and a marriage license was granted. But, perhaps someone got cold feet.
And, now my head hurts. As I’m pretty sure does yours.
So, one day I was searching online for my grandparents’ marriage certificate when I pulled up something that made me gasp out loud. It was certainly a marriage certificate for my grandfather, The Mariner, but the wife most definitely wasn’t my Nana.
Right there on the page, No. 150, was listed my grandfather, Charles L. Keene, of Boston, MA. But, the wife’s name is given as Miss Anna L. Backus, of St. Joseph, MO. Both the application for the license and the marriage license were issued the same day, February 10, 1910, in Buchanan Co, Missouri.
I can place my grandfather in St. Joseph, MO. He wrote home to his parents quite often, and the postmarks verify his location. So, I’m pretty certain that this is the right Charles L. Keene.
Charles was specified as being over 21, as he would have been 27 on his birthday in March of that year. Anna’s age was specified as being under 18. Because she was not yet 18, her mother had to give permission. She is listed on the application as Mrs. Mary Handley/Haudley.
This was all a pretty big shock to me, as I had never heard of my grandfather being married prior to marrying my grandmother. There were, and probably still are, things not spoken of in my family. I’m thinking most families are like that, but it’s still a bit of a shock, for example, to go to an uncle’s funeral, one whom you have known all your born days, to find not only his first wife, but also a daughter, in the front pew. Stuff like that happens.
But, back to this story.
My Grandpy married my Nana June 4, 1912, just a little more than two years after he married Anna. There was a story here, and I determined to sniff it out.
And, promptly came to a dead end.
I asked my Uncle George, son of Charles (and my father’s brother), if he knew anything about it. He seemed to faintly recall someone, somewhere, saying something about a possible marriage that might have taken place. But, he couldn’t say for sure.
Uncle George’s wife, my Aunt Gwen, about the same time, shared with me binders of family records, letters, and genealogy that she had collected over the years. My Grandpy was a chef, and traveled all over the US for work, and he faithfully sent postcards to his parents. (This was before he joined the Matson Line.) I noticed that in those he sent to his parents from 1910-1911, there were quite a few from “Charles and Thelma.”
Thelma? Anna? What was going on here? How many wives did Grandpy have???
Aunt Gwen, bless her, had transcribed these postcards. I began to put the transcriptions in chronological order, hoping to sort out the story. I found no mention of Thelma in the postcards from the date of their presumed marriage until September of the same year, 1910.
9/23/1910, from Atchison & Lenora: We leave here Saturday. Will send address as soon as possible. Thanks for the cards and pictures. Looks just like Father. Will be home in the spring. Thelma and I are both well. Hoping everyone is well at home, Love from Chas and Thelma
10/4/1910: Will send address soon. Both are well. Chas and Thelma
From 10/9/1910: Hello Mother: We are in Kansas City for a while working at the Savoy Hotel. Will write you a letter tomorrow. Address 709 East 9th Street. Thelma & Charley
10/12/1910, from Kansas City, MO: Dear Mother, We both wish you a Happy Birthday– and as soon as we are able will send something to show that we still think of you. We are both well and hope that you and Father are also. 709 E. 9th St. Love from Charlie and Thelma
No date: Dear Mother. Am out of work for a week on account of sores breaking out on my face and hands but the Doctor is giving me plenty of strong medicine which by the feeling surely ought to cure me. Thelma is working hard every day.
11/23/1910: Dear Mother. Your letters and paper received. Am very glad to get them. I can go to work Saturday. Love Chas and Thelma
On a postcard with no date, from Amarillo, TX, continuation from another card: …and I get my board free so that helps a little. We came here with the intentions of working and saving our money until spring when we will come home but this month I don’t think we can save anything and so near Xmas we will be poor this year but have not given up hope. I hope you and Father are well and when I am stronger I will write more. Love from Chas and Thelma
No date, picture postcard from Dallas, TX: To Mother from Thelma
No date, picture postcard from Dallas, TX, : To Father from Thelma
2/1/1911, from Dallas, TX: Dear Mother Keene. We rec’d your letter with the Christmas cards the other day. Have neglected sending a card–waiting for a letter in answer to ours. It is very warm here. We are getting along as well as could be expected. Mrs. C. L. Keene
And, then, a dark turn…
8/1911, from Wood’s Hole, MA: Dear Mother. Just went to see Thelma. She is beginning to improve. Temperature dropped to 102 and rational all the time now. Chas.
8/1911, from New Bedford: Dear Mother. Just telephoned New Bedford. Thelma is better. I will go to see her Thursday…Love from Charlie
8/17/1911, from New Bedford: Dear Mother. Thelma is better. Temperature is 99 this AM. Dr. says everything looks very favorable and with good luck can come home in four weeks. Charlie
8/21/1911, from new Bedford, MA: Dear Mother; Last night Thelma was generally improved. Temperature normal. Sounds very encouraging. Am very busy and poor help. I am well and quite strong. Hope you and Father are OK. Will see you in Sept. Love from Charlie
8/29/1911, from New Bedford, MA: Dear Mother. Thelma is a little better this morning. Love from Charlie
9/2/1911, from New Bedford, MA: Dear Mother. I telephone to Thelma every night and she is still about the same except last night she had a slight hemorrhage but has not bled any more since. We are still hoping for the best. I will see you next week some time. Charlie
And, then nothing…
Until five months later, February 20, 1912, when Charles wrote a passionate love letter to my grandmother-to-be, Perpetue, also known as Ducky, also known as Pearl.
Charlie and Pearl married June 4, 1912 in Northampton, MA. They are entry #84 in the record below. Charles was 29, and Pearl was 19. Charles is recorded as a widower.
It appears that Thelma passed away sometime between September of 1911, when she is still in the hospital, and February of 1912, when Grandpy wrote of his love to Nana. But, I can’t find any record of that. In fact, I can find no records of Thelma at all.
I have searched for census records, deaths, anything, using all the varieties of Thelma’s name I could think of: Thelma Keene, Anna L. Keene, Anna Backus, Thelma Backus, etc.
That my 7th great-grandmother, Sarah Hood Bassett, was accused, convicted, imprisoned, and eventually released in the hysteria that was the Salem witch trials.
I had seen her name in some family papers several times, but because of how the information about was worded, I made the (faulty) assumption that she was an in-law, cousin, or another very distant relative.
But, no. Direct ancestor. When the penny finally dropped, I was stunned, to the say the least. The witch trials had been an interesting, if sad, bit of ancient history to me. But, now… this was my family.
This is what genealogy does: makes distant history suddenly very real and very personal.
Here are the generations between Sarah and me:
Sarah Hood Bassett, born 1657, died 1721
Her daughter, Ruth Bassett Allen, born 1690, died 1756
Her daughter, Ruth Allen Breed, born 1724, died 1811
Her son, Abraham Breed, born 1752, died 1831
His daughter, Eunice Breed Thompson, born 1788, died 1869
Her son, William Dimond Thompson, Jr., born 1823, died 1911
His daughter, Lydia Ann Thompson Keene, born 1850, died 1938
Her son, Charles Lawrence Keene, Sr., (the mariner) born 1883, died 1959
His son, Charles Lawrence Keene, Jr., born 1919, died 1996
…and then me.
When Sarah was 35, and the mother of six children, she was brought from Lynn for trial in Salem May 23, 1692. A servant girl in her brother-in-law’s household had accused her of giving her an “ointment.” She was immediately convicted and sent to the Boston jail, taking with her her little 2-year old, Ruth.
She was jailed with her brother-in-law, Richard Proctor, and his wife, Elizabeth, who were both sentenced to hang. Both Elizabeth and Sarah were pregnant. Richard was sent to his death in August, but Elizabeth’s sentence was postponed until after her baby was born.
However, during Sarah’s 7-month imprisonment, the hysteria calmed down and cooler heads began to prevail. Sarah was released December 3, 1692, and her son, Joseph, was born two weeks later. She had a daughter in August 1695 and named her Deliverance. Appropriate, I think.
Sarah was later paid £9 in recompense.
Salem Village Witchcraft Victim’s Memorial, Danvers, Mass, 2013. Photo Credit: Rebecca Brooks
If you remember, I have been sharing with you the items that my cousin Beth had sent me, items from our common grandfather’s time as a ship’s cook.
Today, I have two menus from 1935, while Grandpie was working on the Matson S.S. Malolo.
From Tuesday, July 9, 1935, en route to Honolulu:
Hummm… Tonight, I think I’ll have the Fresh Lobster Cocktail, Fried Monterey Bay Abolone Steak, and Butter Cream Slices for dessert.
From the voyage en route to San Francisco, Saturday June 15, 1935:
Again, I am amazed at the amount and the variety of the foods offered: fresh Colombia salmon, “Chop Suey sundae” (raisins, dates, vanilla ice cream, flaked coconut, and chow mein noodles), Hawaiian poi, casaba melon, caviar, and Newfehatel cheese.
I can imagine that Grandpie and the crew ate very well!
I have to imagine, as Grandpie passed away from cancer when I was only six months old. I wish I had known him, but I like to think that his two sons, my dad, Charles Jr., and my dad’s brother, my Uncle George, are something like him. If so, he was a bit of a scamp with a twinkle in his eye.
But, there is a bit of a family mystery around him, too. But, more about that next time.
As far as I can tell, my grandfather, Charles L. Keene, Sr., began as a chef/steward with the Matson Line sometime in the 1930s.
Among my files, I have a newspaper clipping from a distant cousin’s scrapbook of Charles Sr. at work. From the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Wednesday, May 11, 1938, aboard the Matson SS Manulani:
If you give just a cursory reading of the headline, you might have gotten the impression that Charles Sr. was a former chef to the King of England. But, no. Charles was just cooking the menu that was planned by the chef to royalty. I think this is where the family legend that Charles Sr. was a chef to the royal family began.
In the bundle of ephemera sent to me by my cousin, Beth, were several menus from his days at sea.
This is the luncheon menu from the Matson SS Lurline, for Wednesday, May 27, 1936:
I am impressed with the variety of items available for lunch! I can’t imagine that I’d want to order sardines in oil, herring salad, or pickled pigs’ feet, but I am happy knowing that they are available should I get a hankering.
The front of the dinner menu the same day:
The inside left:
The inside right:
Not as much variety as there was for lunch, but it all sounds delicious.
The Roman Punch intrigued me, so I did a Google search. This is a quick list of the ingredients: Champagne, dark rum, triple sec, egg, sugar, orange juice and lemon juice. Yum!
Below is the luncheon menu for Saturday, May 30, 1936. Again, I am impressed with the variety of dishes available.
Maybe I’d start with the Chilled Watermelon, followed by the Lamb Curry and Rice, Bombay Style, for my main course. And, definitely, the Red Cherry Pie for dessert.
If you remember from my last post, my cousin Beth has sent me some fun family ephemera. (Just try to say that three times fast!) In addition to my parents’ wedding notice, she also sent me several menus and other items from our grandfather’s days as a ship’s chef.
Charles Lawrence Keene, Sr., my dad’s dad, began his working life as a chef in hotels. He sent postcards and letters back to his parents in Massachusetts from all over the United States, as he traveled to where ever he could find work. Eventually, he was hired as a chef for the Matson Line, working aboard both passenger liners and cargo vessels. From what I have found, it seems that most of his voyages were between the West Coast and the Territory of Hawaii.
During World War II, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Merchant Marine. During the war, he sailed to Europe at least once, as we have a Christmas card sent to my grandmother from Palermo in 1943.
The photo above is of my father, Charles Jr., and his father, Charles Sr., both in their wartime uniforms, taken about 1944. From his WWII registration card, Charles Sr.’s age at enlistment was 59.
This was actually my father’s second enlistment, the first being in 1938, as a young single man. He had sailed to the Territory of Hawaii, where his short stature wasn’t a deterrent to his enlistment, as it was on the mainland.
Dad was stationed at Schofield Barracks, and my grandfather would often meet up with him when his ship was in port. One of the items Beth sent me was a menu from The Post Exchange at Schofield. I imagine that they walked over to the Exchange, ordered a nice sandwich, and caught up on the news.
I can also easily imagine my dad enjoying either a roast beef or liverwurst sandwich, followed by a scoop of ice cream, and washed down with a cup of strong black coffee, all for about .30!
And, then my grandfather would return to his ship and sail back across the Pacific to California.
I have a few menus from those voyages, but I will save them for my next post.
No, I’m not repeating myself, nor getting addled. I did have two nanas growing up. Or so I thought.
I realized as a adult, going through some old letters, that I had a Nanna and a Nana.
It turns out that my mother’s mother, the subject of my last post, signed her letters to me “Nanna.” But, for years and years, I wrote to her as Nana.
Kids. So oblivious.
However, my father’s mother was Nana with one “n.”. And, she, too, was a formidable, strong, determined woman.
I grew up, however, not realizing just what a treasure she really was. She and my mother had their differences, and unfortunately, it affected my relationship with her. I was rather in awe of her (not quite fear, but close) all through my childhood. And, again, because I didn’t realize until I was an adult that she really did love me, I missed out on learning more from and about her.
She was the second wife of my grandfather; he was a young widower whose wife had passed away just over a year into their marriage. He married my grandmother in 1912 in Massachusetts about two years after his first marriage.
My grandparents had six children in all, their birthplaces spaced out across the US from Massachusetts to California. The story goes that they would travel until they ran out of money, then my grandfather would find a job until they had enough saved to carry on west.
They didn’t begin the journey alone; my grandfather’s parents joined them. In 1919, while in Illinois, my great-grandfather died two days before my father was born. My great-grandmother continued to live with the family for many years after they arrived in California, to the distress of my Nana.
But, as I said, she was a fierce little thing. She bore that burden and many more.
My grandfather was a chef, traveling with both the railroad and shipping lines. He was gone for long stretches at a time, leaving my grandmother with their growing family (and his mother, who apparently wasn’t much for help). Nana took in the neighbors’ washing, grew and sold vegetables, and sewed their clothes. She did what ever was needed to get by.
And, from all appearances, their family thrived. All the siblings grew up close to one another, and they all loved their mother fiercely.
My grandfather died when I was only 6 months old, leaving my grandmother a widow for the last 35 years of her life. But, I never heard her complain or feel sorry for herself.
You just did what you had to do, and that was that.
Nana lived to 102. And, a half. And, all except for the last few years she lived independently.
This is one of my favorite photos of her. Doesn’t she look fabulous? Just bit dangerous, too.
I come from a long line of military veterans. It makes me proud that there were men (yes, only men it seems) who were willing to lay down their lives for this nation. And, amazingly, it seems that all of them survived the various wars, engagements, skirmishes, expeditions, etc., that cover such a wide definition of military service.
Beginning with the Revolutionary War, on my mother’s side of the family, my great-great-great-grandfather, Jeremiah Gard served with the militia in New Jersey and, later, in the ill-fated and ill-reasoned Sandusky Expedition. Through the near-perfect hindsight of 2016, I can’t say that the latter is exactly a matter of pride, but I can’t judge the motives and judgment of someone who was living in very different and perilous times.
The Sandusky Expedition Soldiers
His son, William Gard, served in the War of 1812 and was taken prisoner by the British in Detroit. He was released and sent home, only to arrive a few days before his wife died, leaving him with a toddler and a new-born. He quickly married his wife’s sister, which I’m sure was the act of a desperate, grieving man.
The Original Tombstone for William Gard
William’s son, William Perry, who was just a baby when his father passed away, served in the Mexican and Civil Wars.
William Perry Gard and his Wife Phebe
On my father’s side, he, his brother, and his father all served in the military. My dad enlisted in the Army twice. Once in 1938, and again in 1944. My uncle, his brother, is also WW2 veteran, having served in the Navy, and he is a Pearl Harbor survivor. Their father, my grandfather, was commissioned in the Merchant Marines.
My Father and Grandfather
So, to all these men, I hold a debt of gratitude for the freedoms and privileges I have today. And, to their families, especially their wives, who sacrificed, too.
I’ve just finished up another children’s book, my third. I love writing these!
This time, I’ve gone over to my father’s side of the family, to his younger brother, George. My Uncle George is a Pearl Harbor survivor, one of the last few remaining. I was shocked to realize that for even my children, World War II is in a galaxy far, far away. I felt the need to write a story for the next generation, hopefully in a way that makes history interesting, and most importantly, personal.
I’ve ordered enough copies for my grandchildren, and also copies for my uncle and his two daughters, my cousins. They, like me, are now grandmothers, so these books for those young ones will be about their grandfather. I can’t wait to give my uncle’s book to him. My dad is gone, so he’s the closest thing to a father I have these days. I hope to honor him while I can.