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Monday, May 12, 2014

Lazy susan babies

My coworker of Italian descent and I did some tandem research together.  Family lore tells a story that his paternal great grandfather (The Salvatore I wrote about in "The joys of Ellis Island immigration records")  descended from Italian royalty.  It seems that one of Salvatore's ancestors was the result of a love affair between a royal son and a maid in the household. When the maid got pregnant, she had to leave the household to avoid a scandal. The woman left for Tunisia to have the child and her lover eventually followed and married her.
 When my coworker queried his grandmother many years ago, she told him that the maid and her child did not end up happily ever after with her caped prince charming.  The woman gave the baby up to a monastery.  He talked to his uncle recently and his uncle confirmed that the man was a French duke.
While I was focusing on the paper trail, my coworker did some digging into the story. He found a very interesting article here which talks about the foundling children of Sicily.  To avoid the disgrace of being an unwed mother (and not necessarily because of a dirt dog nobleman), many women who found themselves pregnant out of wedlock would place their babies on a wheel built into the outer wall of a church, which they would then turn into the interior of the church.  This allowed them to abandon the child anonymously.  These foundling children whose parents were unknown, were baptized and given names.  The conditions however were not the best and many children later died.   In some cases the real parent or parents would later "adopt" and raise the child.
  These foundling children were sometimes given names that made it clear that they were illegitimate and forced them to deal with the stigma associated with their situation for the rest of their lives (and their children's lives). In some cases, the children were given last names which were in fact the name of a town.  I turned to Google maps and sure enough my co-worker's great grandfather's surname is the name of a small town on the east coast of Sicily, almost directly opposite of Trapani.  
  The next step is to see if I can trace back through the generations find this wee foundling child.  Apparently there the records of the baptisms of foundling children contain details about where the child was found, what the child was wearing, any markings, and any tokens that were swaddled with the child.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Charles and his sister wives

All of my genealogy research has been packed away for a few months now in anticipation of a move and has limited my ability to do a lot of research.  I have however been trying to uncover some information about the life of the kids 3x great grand uncle and his family.
  According to the 1851 Census of Canada, Charles was born in Canada West in 1850 to Isaac and Mary.  He was living in Hamilton at the time.  In the 1861 & 1871 census records, Charles was living with his family in Georgetown, Ontario.  His age shifts by two years in both census records (~1852) but he is still recorded as born in Ontario.  Charles like his other brothers took up the shoemaking trade, following in the footsteps of his father.  In 1875, Charles married 18 year old Catherine.  A year to the day later, they had their first child Charles Sydney in Waterloo, Ontario.  Somewhere between the birth of Charles and the birth of their daughter Ida in 1878, the family moved to Michigan.  Charles, Catherine, Charles Jr., Ida (born in the US) and Ella (born in Canada) appear in the 1880 US Census in Detroit, Michigan.  Catherine's sister Mary Ann is living with them.   Seems boring enough but I couldn't find the family in 1890 in the US or Canada.   To my surprise I found a marriage record in 1889 for Charles Sr. and Ellen, who was Catherine's baby sister.  She was about 9 when Catherine married Charles.  Ewwwww.   The marriage takes place  in Windsor, Ontario (across the river from Detroit) although both Charles and Ellen are living in Detroit.  Charles accurately declares the names of his parents but states that he was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Hmmmm wonder what is up with that.  Poor Ellen at 22 marries her 39 year old brother in law and raises her 5 nieces and nephews.  I couldn't find any trace of Catherine dying although Charles does state he is a widower.  I've heard of sisters marrying their sister's widower to raise the kids and I know it still goes on today but I can't help but feel for Ellen.  I would think she was looking forward to a different sort of life. 
  I have to admit that I frequently give people the benefit of the doubt long after most doubt has been removed but I also have a pretty over active imagination and this whole thing had started to make me wonder what kind of man Charles was. 
   I looked a bit more and the children pop up in 1900 with Charles Jr as the head of the household.  Charles Jr, a day labourer appears to be supporting his two sisters and two younger brothers aged 18 & 16.  Unfortunately there is no address. Each child's entry states that their father's birthplace is Wisconsin and their mother's birth place is Michigan.  Each child is also recorded as being born in Michigan.  Seemed a bit odd and had me wondering why the Canadian connection seems to have disappeared for the family.  I also wondered where Charles and Ellen were. After I spent way too many hours trying to find them between 1890 and 1900,  I discovered that the 1890 census for Michigan was destroyed in a fire in 1921 and I couldn't find the family in the 1894 Michigan census.
So I turned to City Directories.
I found Charles Sr. in some of the Detroit city directories:

In 1890/91, as a shoemaker living at 243 Humboldt
In 1888/89, as a shoemaker living at 173 Poplar.
In 1889/90, as a shoemaker living at 374 16th Street.  I also found Sidney in the directory at the same address (occupation printer)
In 1901, as a shoemaker, living at  440 18th St

I may have also found Charles Jr. (Sidney):
In 1896 as a printer, living at 346 21st St
In 1897 as a printer, living at 181 26th St
In 1889/90 as a printer, living at 374 16th St

  I turned to a Michigan researcher for help to see if she may be able to uncover what happened to Charles Sr., Catherine or Ellen.  So far there is no trace of what became of Catherine or Ellen but she was able to uncover a death certificate for who seems to be a match for Charles in 1907.  Although the first name of the father is not correct, the mother's name and maiden name are a match and it states he was born in Wisconsin.  His marital status was unknown.  His cause of death was nephritis (kidney failure) cause by alcoholism.  The same thing that killed his brother Alfred in 1915.

I think the jury is still out about Charles. I'd like to think that he wasn't an alcoholic that drove his first wife to an early grave and forced Ellen to leave him. I'd also like to think that he didn't abandon his family.  And I would really like to figure out what the Wisconsin connection is or if it is a red herring.