30 May 2010

Fractured Family

Frederick William Ford was born in Boston to Timothy and Ann (Cowan) Ford just a month after the Great Boston Fire of 1872. He would have thought of himself as the oldest child in the family although that was technically not the case: before he was born both his older sisters died within 10 days of each other of diphtheria.

While a young child Fred's family moved to Chelsea where he grew up, and before age 20 he was employed as a bookkeeper. He met Ellen “Nellie” J. Mahoney, a native of Chelsea, and on 30 December 1894 they were married. Both the bride's and the groom's parents were native Irish. They eventually had 7 children: Alfred Joseph, b 5 Mar 1896; Arthur Stewart, b 3 Feb 1897; George Francis, b 15 Sep 1898; Marie A., b. 14 Nov 1900; Ethel, b 30 Apr 1902; Gertrude Elizabeth, b 14 Aug 1904; and Helen, b about 1906.

Tragedy struck the family within a year of the birth of their seventh child. Marie died 27 Aug 1906 after 3 days of convulsions caused by diphtheria, just 5 years old. Then, 7 Feb 1907, Fred's wife Nellie died of septicemia (possibly a complication of her daughter Helen's birth). Fred was now a single dad with 6 kids, sons age 11, 10, 9, and daughters age 5, 3, and 1.

Fred hired a live-in housekeeper to help. Still, I imagine things were difficult. Three years after Nellie's death the family was living in Revere, Massachusetts. One would also expect to find the family in the 1920 census -- quite possibly without the older boys still living at home, but the younger girls would typically not yet have left home. But there is no such family a decade later. I found just one of the girls, 15 year old Gertrude, living with three “cousins”: Mary, Sarah, and Edward, all of whom are between the ages of 50 and 62. How did Gertrude end up with these cousins, and where are her sisters?

I found (eventually!) that Gertrude Ford had married Gordon Belbin about 1924. The 1984 obituary for Gertrude Belbin listed various surviving descendants, one of whom was her daughter Helen, granddaughter of Fred Ford and cousin of my father. I connected up with Helen via email. Here is what Gertrude's daughter told me:

Subject: Re: Genealogical Research-Ford
From: Helen Belbin

Hi Dan,

There is quite a story with my mother and her sister Helen. My middle initial is G. for Gertrude after my mother. After a while her father could not keep the girls at home and put them in the New England Home for Little Wanderers. He kept the boys with him. He allowed them to be put up for adoption and my mothers sister Helen was adopted. My mother was not. She was still there as a teenager. she was a handful. She said they would dress them up ever Sunday and have people come and look at them. After her father got married again he came to take her home but my mother would not go with them. He then got two old maid aunts (Sarah Collins was one) to take my mother in to help them. She went to school, worked in a shirt factory sewing and took care of the Aunts. She loved the aunts and took care of them until they died. Sarah had to be put in a Catholic home as she had Alzheimer.'s She said she only saw her father a few times after that. She did not see her brothers that I know of. She kept in close contact with her sister all her life until her sister died of a stroke in her fifties. ...


Family found! :)

How you can find info like this:

To find girls later in life, assume they got married and changed their surname. However, they don't change their first name or their birthdate (usually, anyway) and I knew both for Gertrude. By looking up in the social security death index all the women named Gertrude with her exact birth date, I came up with a list of potential women who might have been the married Gertrude. Then I researched each candidate until I proved or disproved them as the Gertrude for whom I was searching. It took a couple months, but it proved to be worth it.

Although retold moving from the past closer to the present, researching ancestral lines is done working from the present further into the past.

  • In this case I started with my grandfather, AJ Sr., and found him in the 1930 census. (US census, Census 1930 Northborough, Worcester, Massachusetts; Roll: 965; Page: 5A; Enumeration District: 243; Image: 132.0; Family 124, Lines 46-50). The family shows AJ Sr. as head of family and an electrician, wife Beatrice (Bridget's Americanized name), children Maxwell and Beatrice (born in Rhode Island) and AJ Jr. (born in Mass.).

  • Next stop is the 1920 census (US census, Census 1920 Chelsea Ward 3, Suffolk, Massachusetts; Roll: T625_743; Page: 36A; Enumeration District: 630;Image: 534; Family 742) where AJ Sr., a building electrician, is a lodger. He is single at this time.

  • Next stop is the 1910 census (Year: 1910; Census Place: Revere, Suffolk, Massachusetts; Roll T624_626; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 1683; Image: 1231; Family 161) where for the first time AJ Sr. is a child in the family and we see Fred Ford, widow, as head.

  • Finally, in the 1900 census (US census, Census 1900 Boston Ward 15, Suffolk, Massachusetts; Roll: T623 683; Page: 2B; Enumeration District: 1383; Family 29, lines 79-85) we see Fred and Nellie married. So far only their 3 sons have been born.

Supporting Helen Belbin's story above, we also see in the 1920 census (US census, Census 1920 Billerica, Middlesex, Massachusetts; Roll: T625_706; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 20; Image: 879; Family 249) that Gertrude, daughter of Fred andNellie , is living with sisters Mary and Sarah Collins and described as their cousin. The term “cousin” may have been used in less than the strict technical sense because Gertrude is 15 years old but Mary and Sarah are 62 and 50 respectively.

What might be next steps?

After finding new information you always want to ask yourself what new research is suggested. Even given the above information about the daughters of Fred and Nellie (Mahoney) Ford, there is lots still to be discovered. Who adopted Helen, and where did her family line go? Nor do I have information on Ether Ford past when she was 8 years old in 1910.

Helen said “After her father got married again” which is the only evidence I have that Fred remarried. The last record I have of Fred is the 1916 WW I draft registration card for his son George where Fred is listed as closest family member. Perhaps he did remarry but I don't have solid evidence of that.

Occasionally you get lucky: looking closely at the 1900 census you see that living with Ford family are two other relatives, Charles and Letitia Hilton, listed as the brother- and sister-in-law of Fred. Letitia is Nellie's sister, and that opens up another line of research.

Perhaps the most obvious avenue to pursue is to find out just what the actual relation was between the Collins sisters and their “cousin” Gertrude. I have done that, and in so doing uncovered a whole new immigrant branch of the Mahoney (Fred's wife's) family from Ireland to the US. That's another story.