My Grandfather’s Mysterious First Wife

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.

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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

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Postcard from 8/17/1911, from St. Luke’s Hospital, New Bedford

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.

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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.

Nothing.

I’d so love to find out the rest of this story…

 

 

 

 

 

Just When I was Thinking that My Genealogy was Getting a Little Ho-Hum…

…what do I discover?

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.

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Photo Credit:Sanford History Education Group

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.

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Salem Village Witchcraft Victim’s Memorial, Danvers, Mass, 2013. Photo Credit: Rebecca Brooks

My Grandfather, the Mariner: Part 3

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:

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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:

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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.

 

My Grandfather, the Mariner: Part 2

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:

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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:

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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:

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The inside left:

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The inside right:

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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.

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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.

 

‘Til next time!

My Grandfather, the Mariner: Part 1

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

“Til then…

My Parents’ Wedding Notice

A few days ago, I got a lovely little gift in the mail from my cousin, Beth.

Our fathers were brothers, and Beth is just a year older than I am. We grew up seeing each other several times a year, and our parents would always compare our height and weight.

I hated that.

These past few years, we’ve been able to see each other a little more often, and we’re the ones comparing now! But, it’s cholesterol levels and hot flash severity.

Beth and her sister, Sue, are beginning to help my aunt and uncle to sort through their things. And, Beth found a few items that she thought I’d like to have. And, she was right.

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This is the newspaper account of my parents’ wedding from 1941, in the East Los Angeles Gazette. I learned quite a few new things about them reading this.

  1. My mother wore an heirloom veil of French lace that was 136 years old. I have no idea where this is now, and I don’t remember ever hearing my mother talk about it. My hunch is that it came from my dad’s side of the family, through my French-Canadian grandmother.
  2. I didn’t know that my father’s sister, my Aunt Bea, was my mother’s maid of honor. My mom was an only child, and so had no sister who would have been an obvious choice. My dad had four sisters, and I’m so curious as to why Bea was chosen for this honor.
  3. I don’t recognize any of the names of my dad’s  attendants, except Randal Cooper. He married my dad’s sister, Virginia.
  4. I didn’t know that my mom had been a secretary for the Native Daughters of the Golden West. Her mother, my Nanna, was a member and an officer.

On the back side of this clipping is an advertisement from a local store.

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2 pounds of fig bars for 17 cents!

Ice cream for 15 cents a quart!

A pint of gin for 77 cents!

But, I’m really curious about why, oh why, would there ever be a need for 250 brewer’s yeast tablets???

Thanks, Beth!

“Pooch Finds a Home”

I’ve been thinking about, pondering, mulling over, etc., writing a new blog post. Everything but actually writing it. I was at a bit of a loss as to where to begin, as I didn’t expect to be in this place.

To be frank, my love of genealogy took a few hits over the holidays. I am still in a bit of a slump. Reassessing why I’m doing this and for whom. I think it’s beginning to feel fun again, in fits and starts, but there’s just not very much wind in my sails.

So, I think I’ll ease back into things and tell you about the story of Pooch…

A while back, my mother gave me a stack of notebook pages clipped together, with a story written in my grandmother’s hand. It was the beginnings of a children’s book about the dog that came to my mother’s family one Christmas Eve, when Mom was still a little girl.

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I thought it was pretty cute story, and I remember my Mom talking about Pooch often, so I thought it would make a fun gift for my grandchildren.

Nanna Wells didn’t finish her book, though; she only completed Chapter One and had a sentence or two of Chapter Two. What she did have, though, was enough, so I ran with it.

The work on the story was fairly straightforward. I’ve read a LOT of children’s books in my life and knew where I wanted to take the story line.

But, then things nearly came to a stand-still. It only took about five minutes to realize that I was woefully inadequate to the task of illustrating a children’s book. And, what’s a kids’ book without illustrations?

Boring, that’s what it is.

I didn’t even know what illustration style to use! Just go look at any random handful of kids’ books, just look at the illustrations, and you will quickly see exactly what I mean. There is a HUGE variety of styles of illustrations, from simple line drawings to complete landscape scenery paintings, and everything in between.

So, I did what I always do when confronted with my ignorance: I checked out a few books from the library and dove in. Chibi-style illustrations seemed the easiest style with the shortest learning curve, so that’s what I decided. After all, I wanted this book done by Christmas and didn’t have an endless amount of time to make that happen.

I drew out my little doggie poses on paper, scanned them, and then used Photoshop Elements to clean up the drawings and add watercolor effects.

Here’s the cover:

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And, here’s the first page:

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And, here’s a picture of its debut:

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I think they liked it; I know I did.

My Nana

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.

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This is one of my favorite photos of her. Doesn’t she look fabulous? Just bit dangerous, too.

I think it’s perfect.

 

My Nanna

My mother’s mother, Vida Bula Gard Wells, known to me as Nanna, had a huge influence on me growing up.

She was a formidable woman in both body and spirit.

In body, she was a life-long corset/girdle wearer, so her hugs weren’t soft, but rather like hugging a tree trunk. In her later years, she permed and colored her hair into a curly red cap that didn’t move. I never saw her in pants; she was always in a dress with stockings and proper shoes.

In spirit, she was determined, strong, and smart. She attended normal school and became a teacher. She held a steady job through the Great Depression, while my grandfather was self-employed, and the family depended on her regular and sufficient salary. In 1935, she drove herself, her mother, and my 14 year-old mother across the country to Kansas at a time when most women didn’t have a driver license, let alone their own car.

She was born in 1896, and married my grandfather in 1920. She was 24; he was 19. I suspect this caused a bit of a stir.

She was a terrible cook, but thankfully, she often took us out to eat when we visited.

For lunch, we went to the five-and-dime, where I would get a club sandwich (Three slices of bread! Bacon! Little toothpicks with red, yellow, or green cellophane toppers! Bread cut into triangles!).

For dinner, we would all get into her big car and she would drive us to LA’s Chinatown, where we always went to the same restaurant. It was fabulous! A dozen or more different, and to this country girl, exotic, dishes arrayed out on the table. Egg drop soup. Chow mein. Little cookies with messages. Almond cookies with a single slice of nut in the middle of their crusty tops.

She was a life-long member of the Methodist church. On Saturdays, she would arrange the flowers for the next day’s service, and I often was allowed to tag along. Strangely, I don’t remember ever attending a service with her.

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I loved her, but I do wish I had loved her better. I miss her now.

A Family History of Veterans

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Uncle George

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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.

Thank you.