A Note To My Readers: Yesterday I spent hours in Brooklyn, NY…via my laptop that is. I have been haunted by the fact that I cannot determine the fate of my paternal grandfather’s mother. I know I am not alone in the family secret category. Dad’s family seemed to be one with all manner of voids. Almost like a scatter of chain links. There they are in front of me clearly related…isn’t the material of the same making? And the fabrication distinctly of the same hand? One by one I pick up the pieces and rebuild the chain, noting the beginnings and the endings…watching for the telltale scars and scratches to match the partners. On occasion several links have stayed fast. And inevitably I come to the link that fails to close. Lillian W. Jennings, my paternal great grandmother is that link.
Henry A. Martin and Lillian W. Jennings
My paternal great grandparents, 26 year old Henry A. Martin and 25 year old Lillian W. Jennings, left Auburn, New York in 1884 within days of their July 16th marriage by the Trinity Methodist Church pastor and settled in what is now known as Clinton Hill. They set up household in one of the old brownstones on Waverly Street and Henry went to work as a stenographer. The Brooklyn Bridge had been completed in 1883 connecting the boroughs and Henry rode the trolley into Manhattan.
Henry’s brother, Ernest had married another Auburnian, Emma Grace Kilmer, the year before and they, too, had made their home in Brooklyn where Ernest worked as a stenographer and then began selling typewriters in the New York Metro area. Ernest became very successful and with Emma and their two daughters lived in a lovely building in Prospect Park. A long life for Ernest was not to be. He died suddenly on Long Island beside the train tracks after collapsing from a massive stroke. Emma and her daughters, Edna Mae and Grace Harriett, did not stay in Brooklyn, but rather packed up their household and moved to Hempstead, Long Island where the girls grew up and married.
And Henry? And Lillian?
The research began with the Federal and NYS censuses supported by Brooklyn directories and newspapers. Addresses were pinpointed in directories in 1887, 1888, 1890 and 1897 and the NYS 1892 census shows the family, Henry A., Lillian W., Al H. and George E. living on Halsey Street in Brooklyn. By 1900 Henry was living in Brooklyn as a ‘widower’ with their four children, Albert, George, Howard and baby Lillian on Jefferson Avenue according to the enumeration in the Federal Census.
Just yesterday I found that Lillian had borne another child – a girl – in Union, Hudson, New Jersey (now West New York, New Jersey) on August 12, 1888. My grandfather would have been just a year and half old. But why New Jersey? All the other children were born in New York. Since the child was not in any subsequent census, I can only assume she did not survive.
By the 1905 NYS Census, Henry and his children, Albert “Bertie” (my grandfather), George, Howard and Lillian, lived in another brownstone this time on 236 Reid Street. Henry was enumerated as “head” and living with the family was the children’s caregiver “servant”, Henrietta Fischer, a 35 year German immigrant. No marital status category was provided in that census. Henrietta was as close to a mother figure as little Lillian would have. The two travelled together periodically.
In 1907 young Howard died in Brooklyn at the age of 14. I never sent away for his death certificate. Perhaps the knowledge of why he died might provide a clue. Or add to the mystery.
By 1910 Henry had finally set up a permanent residence at 691 Halsey Street and that year married widow, Mary Giddings. The Martins attended the Janes Methodist Episcopalian Church on Monroe Street. Over the years Henry threw himself into church and civic organizations. At the Janes Methodist Church Henry ran the men’s bible study and served in several capacities with The Valley Forge Council, Jr. O.U.A.M. 76 and the Janes Social Union.
George continued to live with his father and stepmother on 691 Halsey until he went off to fight in the 49th Infantry in WWI in 1917 at the age of 26. Uncle George was in the parlance of the time “a perennial bachelor”. I vividly remember his auburn hair…curly and topped with a jaunty beret…sipping tea with my mother and my father’s sister in the big farm kitchen in the 1950’s. He visited…motored was the term at the time…from his Murray Hill home quite often. Always quiet and shy, he was almost delicate. And I thought exotic (he was from NYC!) and kind. After my father’s death, he sent me a set of oils and brushes because he knew that I like to paint. He is pictured in the blog banner with my father and his mother’s sister, Harriet Jennings White. George is buried next to my grandfather, Albert, and sharing a headstone in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, New York. His footstone is the only tender sign of affection I have found.
Beloved Brother. Rest In Peace.
And baby Lillian? She married Leo Franklin Leonard in 1922 and had three children – all before her father’s death in 1932. She lived within walking distance of her father and stepmother and yet when Henry died in 1932, the only survivor listed in the Brooklyn Eagle obituary was his second wife. No George. No Lillian. No grandchildren. He was referred to as her beloved husband. Odd and sadly detached. And there is no stone marking his grave.
Not much mention about Henry’s central New York roots in his Brooklyn life. No notices of visiting his family. Except for a Brooklyn Eagle news article at the death of his first cousin, Will Cruttenden, in 1928 who left him and his central New York cousins to share in a hoarded stash, he seemed removed. Henry’s spinster sister, Harriett Cornelia Martin, kept the family ties together attending weddings and funerals as ambassador of sorts and she traveled to New York to visit her brother. Henry’s daughter, Lillian, was named in Harriett’s obituary. Apparently Henry kept to Brooklyn. And my grandfather, Albert, didn’t. In 1905, Albert Henry was sent back to Auburn to his Martin family and met and married my then 15 year old grandmother, Sarah Leona Penird. In six years, the young father of three was dead by his own hand at the age of 24. A troubled mind.
What happened to my paternal great grandmother, Lillian W. Jennings Martin?
Genealogists are accustomed to gaps in information the further we go back in our research, but there are occasions when a more recent generation has ‘mystery’ written all over it. And family secrets.
Henry did not remarry until 1910, but relied upon two German sisters who lived in their building to care for the children while he went to work in Manhattan. Why was he single for so long a time? Is THAT a clue? Was Lillian really dead? Did she run away? Was she ill in an institution? I found a Lillian W. Martin in a state mental hospital in the 1900 Federal Census and her statistics were fairly close. The age was off by a very few years and this Lillian’s mother was born in Massachusetts and father in NY and my Lillian’s information was the reverse – mother was born in NY and father in Massachusetts. Genealogists understand that a slight variance doesn’t constitute a wrong conclusion. It just puts up a flag. “Caution. Proceed with Care.” But proceed I must. With Care. I cannot ignore the fact that I know that Lillian’s maternal grandmother, Orinda Bennett James, died in an insane asylum in Whitestown, Oneida County, NY in 1852 and my grandfather was so troubled that he took his own life by swallowing carbolic acid in 1911. Pathology…hard as it is…might be this genealogist’s evidence. HIPAA laws might get in the way of acquiring information and researching the Lillian W. Martin in what was Long Island State Hospital at King’s Park . Still….
Earlier this year I sent a request out to the Vital Records Department that covers the NY metro area…and no death certificate is there for her…not before 1900. I have poured over Brooklyn newspapers and Auburn NY papers for some kind of death notice for years now. Nothing. She is not listed in the Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn where Henry is buried. Alone. The North Street Cemetery in Auburn, NY has suffered from neglect and record loss…a shameful history story there…so I don’t know if her body was buried in the Jennings family plot. But there were other Lillian Martins who died in the New York metro area and I dismissed them because the death date didn’t neatly fit into Henry’s statement of widowhood in 1900.
With this possible clue…this painful clue…the next step is to ascertain if there are burial records for the patients of Long Island State Hospital at King’s Park.
I will keep looking in every nook and cranny. It would be like abandoning her if I didn’t.
My education on Brooklyn is just beginning…I have two history books on the area since family members on both sides left central New York in the 1880’s to live and work in Brooklyn. Just to get a feel for the Brooklyn of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. But the personal history is as black and white as the old photos and so very full of shadows. I knew my Grand Uncle George…my grandfather’s brother…and I own one of his lovely landscape oil paintings and my brother has one of his pastels…”The Three Cherubs”…that Uncle George created to celebrate my three brothers. But so very little of his mother, Lillian W. “Lillie” Jennings Martin.
Bits and pieces. Art and void. And perhaps madness.
Author, Historian & Genealogical Researcher