104 Degrees in the Shade

104 Degrees in the Shade

Note to My Readers: Part of a genealogist’s research involves delving into the world around our ancestors especially when there is something that seems out of the ordinary.   I have recently found the indexed information on my great grandmother’s New York State death certificate and sent away to Albany,  NY for a copy.  Lillian W. Jennings Martin was just 47 years old and a patient at King’s Park Asylum in Smithtown, Suffolk County, NY for at least five years when she died on July 18,  1905.

LOCKED AWAY

I began to read about King’s Park and its creation in 1885 as a ‘farm colony’ to care for Brooklyn’s ‘insane’ patients which included anyone who’s diagnosis ranged from mentally handicapped (idiot) to ‘hysteric’ (as you can guess women were those patients) to schizophrenic. It was a pretty terrible place where patients were subjected to lobotomies and electroshock therapy and were essentially locked away from the world.   Lillian’s diagnosis remains unknown to me though two factors are in play.  She was committed shortly after her daughter Lillian Florence Martin was born and her maternal grandmother, Orinda Bennett James, had been an ‘insane pauper’ inmate at Whitestown Insane Asylum in Whitestown, Oneida, New York at the time of her death in 1852 at the age of 62.  Postpartum Depression?  Incipient Dementia?   The Asylum was shut down in 1996 and records of Lillian are buried in some snaggled and bureaucratic mess.   If they exist anymore at all.

THE SUMMER HEAT WAVE of 1905

I ran across dozens of articles about the Heat Wave of July 17-19, 1905 that struck down easterners in astonishing numbers. Citizens in major cities east of the Mississippi were in desperate need of relief.  New York City found itself without the funds to ‘wash down’ the streets thanks to Tammany Hall corruption and ice handlers threatened to go on strike, but fortunately that did not materialize.  Ice was being given away for free to ease suffering and it wasn’t uncommon to see people in the streets of Brooklyn, Manhattan and Long Island chipping off pieces from the blocks that were placed in the streets.  The unclean streets.

By noon on July 18th thirty horses had collapsed and died in Brooklyn alone.  At nightfall the toll of horses dead from heatstroke was almost fifty animals.  Infant mortality was almost 80%.  The first day of the heat wave ten human deaths and two prostrations were reported and physicians advised populations to “(1) eat little or no meat, but ‘subsist on fruit and dairy foods’.  (2) Dress lightly in weight and color and avoid starched clothing as much as possible.  (3) Avoid violent exercise of any kind and keep in the shade.”    Still the populace collapsed and died.

MILK AND OYSTERS

Daily Star 21 Jul 1905 Heat Wave and Typhoid headline

Brooklyn Daily Star, July 18 1905

And then came the spread of typhoid. It was rampant and devastating. The Health Department had its hands full and hospitals were under siege with the heat prostration victims compounded now by typhoid. Advisories against consumption of oysters and milk were everywhere. But not ice. Not ice that was accessed by everyone on the fetid and sweltering streets by the desperate folks trying to get relief from the suffocating temperatures that reportedly measured 104 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade for three straight days.   The Stock Market seemed to be a victim of the torpor as traders themselves sagged under the oppressive heat.   As reported in “Billboard”, New York’s theater district was a ghost town as the more well-heeled citizens fled to the shores and mountains in pursuit of breezes and cooler temperatures. The Heat Wave of 1905 was reported in newspapers around the globe…Japan, Australia, London, Paris.

I scoured the Brooklyn papers that reported deaths on July 18, 1905 and for weeks after in the hopes that she was acknowledged. Nothing. Her husband, Henry had declared himself a widower in 1900 so was there shame?  It wasn’t uncommon for families to deny mental illness especially when a family member is ‘sent away’.  Perhaps Henry had been struggling so mightily to manage their children in the heat that providing a death notice to the newspapers was not a priority?  As one New York Times correspondent wrote:

“The suffering of the dwellers in the tenement districts is terrible. People sleep on the roofs, on fire escapes, in doorways, on the sidewalks-anywhere to get away from the suffocating rooms.  Yesterday an order was issued throwing open the parks at night, and every green space in the city was covered with sleepers.  The effect was exactly that of a battlefield.  All the ordinary rules of decency forgotten at such a time as this. Children bathe in the public fountains without any interference on the part of the police, and outside the public baths long lines men and boys stand waiting eager to lose no time when they are admitted that they have already divested themselves of almost all their clothing.”

King’s Park Asylum with its hundreds of patients no doubt had its share of prostrations and deaths due to the oppressive heat wave.  Did Lillian die due to the heat?   Will her death certificate reveal a truthful cause of death?   The conditions in New York City and Long Island may also explain why Henry’s son Albert…my grandfather…went to live in central New York (Auburn) with his grandfather’s family. Where he met my grandmother, Sarah Leona Penird.

Is my existence the result of the 1905 Heat Wave and a typhoid epidemic?

Deborah J. Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

© Copyright October 2017. All Rights Reserved.

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Eggs, Dresses and Postcards

Eggs, Dresses and Postcards

My 2nd great aunt Ida C. Curry Bedell (1866-1943) was a teacher for most of her life in New York state schools in Cayuga, Tompkins and Broome counties. Born in Aurelius, Cayuga County, New York, Ida is the sister of my maternal 2x great grandmother Katherine “Kate” C. Curry Curtis.

Deborah Tyler et al

Deborah Jane Tyler Curry, Jennie B. Curry Sinsabaugh, Ida C. Curry Bedell in Ithaca, NY

My mother used to talk about Ida…”Aunt Ida” and would invariably pull out the image of  a photograph (circa 1900) of Ida sitting on the porch of her sister Jennie B. Curry Sinsabaugh’s home in Ithaca with Jennie and their mother, Deborah Jane Tyler Curry and Jennie’s daughters Cora and Elsie.  At the time, Ida was teaching in Ithaca and living with Jennie and her family and their elderly mother.   Three generations and one of my treasured possessions.

Ida was single for a good portion of her adulthood until at the age of 39,  she married in 1905 to widower Charles Henry Bedell of Aurelius, Cayuga County, NY.

A few years ago, after I posted a story about Ida, I was sent an image of Ida by a descendant of Charles Bedell and his first wife Frances. The photo was taken when Ida was a young woman. Among the keepsakes that belonged to Ida were some folksy postcards that she had sentimentally kept.

With no telephone (or social media) a plea for eggs on a postcard.  How fast did this get resolved?

Eggs gone and I would like more before Sat if possible.  Have been repairing the hen house and it disturbed the hens so they are not laying so well and i have not enough of my own for Saturday morning. So if you can not come please send card so I will now.

Hastily

Ella Fowler

Ida’s stepdaughter, Flora Viola Bedell Lasher sent a request for eggs…TWO DOZEN in a 1909 postcard.  Evidently Ida had some prolific hens!

Dear Ida

Will you please bring me a couple dozen of eggs next time you come out.  Come so you can stay a while.  We are all well.  Alvin cried for an hour that day.  He is all right now.  Good by yours  Flora

And another plea postmarked September 11, 1907 from Rochester, N.Y.  Was K. C. Katherine Deborah Curtis, my grandmother’s sister?

Dear Aunt,

Will you please send me that dress you said I could have.  Will pay charges on stage.

K. C.

 

Ida Curry Bedell

Ida C. Curry Bedell

It was lovely to hear how beloved Ida was by her step children as evidenced by the fact that they kept her photo and memorabilia.  The photograph is lovely to see, of course, but the postcards are what I treasure most.

Ida is buried in Lakeview Cemetery in the Village of Cayuga with her husband Charles and his first wife, Frances Harnden Bedell and just steps away from Ida’s mother and father, Deborah Jane Tyler and Frances J. Curry.

Deborah J. Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

© Copyright July 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

A Tonic For What Ails You

A Note To My Readers: A gray day…thunder and rain. No wonder my muscles hurt. OUCH. Hauling out the aspirin. I think of my 2x great grandmother, Deborah Jane Tyler Curry and her granddaughter (my grandmother) Florence L. Curtis Purdy who had rheumatism. My turn.

A Tonic For What Ails You

Deborah took a ‘remedy’ called “Kenyon’s Blood and Nerve Tonic” that was pretty much cannabis. That was no secret as other ‘druggists’ sold tonics with the same ingredients. Some even added chocolate for flavoring! Evidently Ithacans in the nineteenth century swore by J. C Kenyon’s Tonic. The newspapers were full of testimonials that declared their appetite had returned and they felt much better after one bottle. Uh huh.

Kenyon’s ‘agents’ for the Owego firm….were Judson Bryant Todd and Arthur B. Brooks, druggists in Ithaca. Todd also sold oils and paints which were treatments for corns and skin ailments at his mercantile on 6 E. State St in Ithaca. He was a regular CVS..selling cigars, manicure sets, perfumes.

And ‘Hot Weather Colognes’. A display ad in the “Ithaca Daily News’ reads:

“You can get them at TODD’s PHARMACY. Those odors due to perspiration can be covered with colognes until the bath-tub is conquered. You can find a large variety there, and unless your education in such things has been sadly neglected you should have them, and at TODD’S PHARMACY they are legion.”

Brooks sold his own brands – “Jamaica Ginger” and “Brooks Hot Drops” and “Sun Cholera Mixture” at his pharmacy at 30 East State St. He called himself “The King of Tonics” and his own concoction was dubbed “Brook’s Calisaya and Iron Tonic” and advertised as having the nourishing properties of ‘Beef and Wine” at 50 cents a pint. Calisaya…an herbal liqueur. Booze.

Well, look at this way..my straight-laced Methodist 2x great grandmother lived to be almost 90 and evidently bore her suffering cheerfully. Bless that tonic…

 

 

 

 

 

Deborah J. Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

© Copyright March 2017.  All Rights Reserved.

Lost Arts. The Gregg Method.

My mother was a prolific list maker. They were all over the house and jammed into her purse.  If the season changes and she added a chic new exchequer, the lists made the transfer with her lipstick and wadded up currency and life savers.  They were as constant as the rising sun and the stars in the sky.

Those bits of her streams of consciousness always smelled of TABU and tobacco and sported the inevitable loose speck of her Virginia Slims. Every once in awhile she would cleanse the house of her lists and slowly, but surely the accumulation would begin again. Mostly they were grocery lists, but there were reminders to write her sisters or her brother. She never wrote “Bill”…always “Brother” and the random events…PTA meetings and Christmas parties…birthday notes and something for a neighbor. Her conversation with herself because there was no other adult in the household to share the weight of her thoughts.

I am her.  I have a lifetime of my own lists…and remake them religiously.  I keep notebooks and they are a grand design of random thoughts, tasks, and doodles.

Many of my mother’s lists were simply replays because in the melange the original was ‘somewhere’ and time was wasted sorting through the paper trail to update them.   Besides, I think it was a comfort device for her to put those things down in her flourishing handwriting and begin afresh.  Again…like me.

Except for Christmas lists. Mom was trained in Gregg’s shorthand.shorthand
She knew my sister and I would stumble across one of the months of wish lists and spoil her Christmas Day surprises. Instead there were among the daily wool gatherings that began in October, the purposeful squiggles that we couldn’t decipher…no Google in the 1950’s. It wasn’t driven by today’s nutty Christmas marketing before Halloween.

No, it was about a single mother putting our gifts on layaway and paying on them incrementally until they were freed from their ransom and she could bring them home for her girls.

The only telltale mark that my sister and I sleuthed out was the check mark next to a line of squiggles…some ‘thing’ was paid for.

One elegant purse lives vividly in my memory.  She carried it at my wedding.001  Mom had saved for it and treasured it above others.  Yes.  Elegant.  That was her.   And when she helped me change into my ‘going away dress’, she opened her purse to retrieve a hankie and there in the midst of the familiar tobacco bits, lipstick tubes, crinkled cash and perfume was her latest list of ‘things to do’ the morning of my wedding.

I am so fortunate to have had a wonderful mother who kept lists and loved to be vivacious until her last days.   I bought her a new purse for every birthday and put in a note in lieu of a list…one item.  Thank you, Mom.

Deborah J.  Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

© Copyright October 2016.  All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

The Flowery Kingdom

Occasionally genealogists spend research time delving into the nooks and crannies of history to broaden the knowledge of an ancestor’s life.   For some time I have been gathering information on the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  Specifically the Japanese Pavilion under the direction of Royal Commissioner Seiichi Tejima (1850 -1918) and the charming teapot exhibit contributed by my first cousin, Frances Lorinda Heath Eldridge (1847-1930) of Yokohama, Japan.

As described by R.E.A. Dorr in “Arthur’s Home Magazine, Vol 62”.  Published in 1892,

1893-columbian-exposition-japan-pavilion

1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Japanese Pavilion. Chicago, IL.

“Of all the countries that will exhibit at the fair, the plans outlined by Japan are now attracting the greatest interest.  The appropriation of $630, 000 by the legislature or parliament of the Flowery Kingdom was a genuine surprise, and there was at once much curiosity to learn how so large a sum was to be expended.   A few days after the appropriation was announced by cable, Mr. S. Tegima (sic), the Japanese royal commissioner, arrived in Chicago.  He was a most courtly, elegant gentleman, who, except on occasions of extreme ceremonial, appeared in European costume.  He was wined and dined at the Chicago clubs and in the most exclusive homes.  He was taken to Jackson Park and shown the exposition grounds and plans of the buildings in process of construction.

Finally Mr. Tegima asked for a business meeting with the director-general and chief of construction.  At this meeting he unfolded a plan of operations for Japan which it is believed will eclipse the plans of any other foreign power.   He demanded space at the north end of the wooded island for a Japanese building to cost $100,000 and for a botanical garden to cost nearly as much more.  He proposed an annual appropriation by his government to keep both in order and repair.  The propositions were both accepted, and Mr. Tegima, having secured surveys of the ground allotted him, left for Japan with the promise to return in July with two hundred native carpenters and gardeners and begin work on August 1st.

The building will be a duplicate of one of the emperor’s most beautiful and ancient temples.  It will be built in Japan in sections, taken apart, sent to America in a Japanese war-vessel, and put together by the emperor’s own workmen at Jackson Park.  The garden, too, will be laid out in Japan, and Mr. Tegima promises that landscape gardening effects will be produced far more wonderful and beautiful than anything before seen outside his own country.  Tons of earth will be brought with the plants, as many of those to be used thrive only in their native soil.

Inside the Japanese palace will be a collection of relics, carvings and other articles showing the implements of industry and the art treasures of this ancient people.  Many of these articles will be loaned by the emperor from his private collection, and from the national museums.  Native attendants and soldiers will have charge of and guard these treasures of the East, and native gardeners will have exclusive charge of the flower beds.  In short, a small section of Japan will be shown at the fair.

Altogether Japan will occupy within the exposition grounds 148, 975 square feet of space.”

Anxious to provide the exposition with the best representation of Japan, the number of items shipped far exceeded by many tons the contracted amount.  The Meiji had heavily invested in the industrialization of Japan and promoting their arts and goods to the world.  The enthusiasm for the opportunity the exposition offered was met with an enormous gathering of exhibit material.  What was excess was sold at the Exposition and shops in Chicago.

“The Japan Daily Mail” revealed that the “Ho-o-den” – the pavilion- was so jammed with items “as to be well-nigh bewildering”.  The pavilion, known to westerners as the Phoenix Pavilion, was given to the City of Chicago as a permanent showcase of Japanese art and a gesture of good will and the city maintained it thus for 120 years.

The pavilion was lost to fire in 1946, but many of the individual items remain and revitalization is underway.  Just last year three two-sided panels called fusuma were found in a Chicago Park facility.  Yoko Ono has contributed a major piece of art to the project.  The garden in Jackson Park has been re-designated as “The Garden of the Phoenix” and promises to restore the grounds, install a pavilion and once again inspire visitors to the site.

tejima_seiichi

Seiichi Tejima.

It is worth noting that Seiichi Tejima is a venerated figure in modern day Japan.  Mr Tejima was curator of the Tokyo Educational Museum.   He had relationships with many collectors and museums and as Dr. James Stuart Eldridge (my cousin’s husband) was favored by the Meiji emperor and was a collector of Japanese art, artifacts and antiquities, it would be no small leap to think that Mr. Tejima went to Frances and asked her to contribute her collection of rare Japanese pottery teapots.

Since my cousins…the Eldridge’s direct descendants…did not know of the exhibit, but do have letters and Japanese artifacts, it might be fun to have them go through what they have in order to find mention of Mr. Tejima and together perhaps we will be able to connect the 123- year-old dots.

 

Deborah J.  Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

© Copyright September 2016.  All Rights Reserved.

 

Photograph of Mr. Tejima courtesy of Tejima Seiichi Sensei Den (手島精一先生伝), Published in 1929.

 

Edward Gray. Clam Chowder and Genetic Memory.

I have lived in several different areas of the country other than my beloved New York State Finger Lakes region over the years and some places had that inexplicable sense of ‘home’ almost immediately. None so much as living in Rhode Island. It was instant and heartfelt. I could never put my finger on it until in my later years I began to research my heritage and discovered my deep roots in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

When I return now to research, it is with a heightened awareness of my heritage and love of the New England coastline. I fondly recall the drive through Tiverton and heading south to Newport and the anticipation of a steaming bowl of clam chowder at the Black Pearl and a leisurely afternoon strolling through the grounds of one of the grand mansions.

And always the smell of the sea.

Perhaps there is something to the scientific theory that we have genetic or ancestral memories.

Plimoth Plantation is part of my heritage with both Mayflower passengers John Billington, Edward Fuller and Reverend John Robinson and a plethora of Great Migration settlers as well. As I have been working these lines for some time now, it occurs to me that like my New York State family, a New England nexus is present so I am building a graphic to illustrate the connections and to show the disbursement points westward. A much more daunting task than the New York State project because of the sheer number of ancestors in New England.

So what…or should I say WHO compelled me to begin this New England project?

My paternal 8th great grandfather -The English immigrant EDWARD GRAY, SR. (1629-1681) of Plymouth, Massachusetts

“where he settled as early as 1643, and died in June 1681. He received a grant of a double share of land at Plymouth, June 3, 1662, and was made freeman, May 29, 1670. He received a grant of one hundred acres at Titicut (located at a bend of the Taunton River), March 4, 1674, was grand juryman, 1671, and deputy to the general court in 1676-77-78-79. He was appointed a member of a committee, July 13, 1677, to examine the accounts of the various towns on account of the recent Indian war. He had nine-thirtieths of a tract of Tiverton lands, purchased with other, March 5, 1680, for eleven hundred pounds.” [i]

“Before Europeans arrived, the Pocasset people fished and farmed along the eastern shore of the Sakonnet River in what is now Tiverton. Forests, swamps, and streams provided fresh water, game, wood products, berries, and winter shelter. In 1651, Richard Morris of nearby Portsmouth purchased the Nannaquaket peninsula from its native inhabitants. There is no evidence of Morris settling here, so he may have used the peninsula to grow crops and graze animals. In 1659, Morris’ claim was recognized as legitimate by Plymouth Colony, which at that time included the Tiverton area as part of its holdings.

Strapped for cash by King Phillip’s War (1675 – 1676), Plymouth sold a tract of this land in 1679 for £1100 to the Proprietors of Pocasset. The “First Division” of the Pocasset Purchase created thirty large lots, with the northernmost edge close to the present-day Fall River-Tiverton border and the southern boundary at the Tiverton-Little Compton line.

Edward Gray (1667 – 1726) held nine shares along the southern boundary of this purchase. The 237-acre tract now known as Pardon Gray Preserve passed to Edward’s grandson, Pardon Gray (1737 – 1814), who farmed the property. During the Revolutionary War, Pardon Gray became a Colonel in the Rhode Island militia, and he was placed in charge of the local commissary, which he ran from his home. Colonel Gray supplied 11,000 militia and Continental troops stationed at Fort Barton prior to the Battle of Rhode Island in 1778. Marquis de Lafayette briefly used a house nearby as his headquarters. Pardon Gray died at the age of 78 in 1814, and he is buried alongside his wife, Mary, in the family cemetery.”[ii]

That land purchase in Tiverton caused his son EDWARD GRAY, JR (1666-1726), my 7th great grandfather, to migrate there and like his father was a merchant who traded between Plymouth and Newport. His many descendants and my ancestors were born, lived, married and toiled along the coastlines in Tiverton and Newport, Rhode Island and Dartmouth and New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Edward Gray, Jr. is buried on his former property in Tiverton.  The house was on the main road (Route 77) in Tiverton between Newport and Boston, and not far from the intersection known as “Four Corners.” (Routes 77 and 179)   The grave is not marked. On an old Tiverton map the location is indicated by a cross.  (Plat 15, Book 1, Town Hall. Notation: Old Edward burying place.  Tiverton Town Hall Land Records).

The Pardon Gray Preserve

I am excited to visit this historic preserve and visit the old Gray Family cemetery and perhaps get that tingle of ancestral memory.

The 230-acre Pardon Gray Preserve was purchased and preserved as permanent open space by the Tiverton Land Trust in 2000. It is an active farm and forest preserve adjacent to Main Road in South Tiverton and contiguous with the 550 acre Weetamoo Woods Open Space. The property, originally part of the Pocasset Purchase signed in 1676, contains many colonial artifacts including the Gray Family Historical Cemetery, an old well house (restored as a visitors’ kiosk) and original stonewalls. The Tiverton Land Trust stewardship program focuses on protecting open space, agricultural lands, historic sites and wildlife habitat. (Sakonnet Historical Society).

Edward Gray Burial Hill Plymouth monument stereoptocon

Stereopticon Card Image of Edward Gray Monument. Burial Hill, Plymouth, Massachusetts

Edward Gray, Sr. is buried in Plymouth in Old Burial Hill. His restored monument still stands.

 

 

 

 

 

[i] NEW ENGLAND FAMILIES, Genealogical and Memorial.  A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of Commonwealth and the founding of a Nation.   Compiled under the Editorial Supervision of WILLIAM RICHARD CUTTER, A.M. THIRD SERIES. Volume 1.  New York, Lewis Historical Publishing Company.  1915.

[ii] History of Pardon Gray Preserve By Tiverton Land Trust with research support from Tiverton Land Trust.

Deborah J.  Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

© Copyright August 2016.  All Rights Reserved.

 

The Lost Son

A Note to My Readers:  Genealogists understand that researching entire families, siblings, in-laws, aunts and uncles and cousins more often than not reveal the human history of our ancestors and indeed are likely to break down brick walls.  In my nascent days of genealogical research, I called this kind of research “sideways”.  I believe the scholarly term is “indirect evidence”. I still say “sideways” out of habit, but I am finally channeling my instinctive and self-taught methods into developing a more academic approach to accepted standards set by the Board for Certification of Genealogists®

I may need more than a modicum of patience for myself and the discipline of BCG reportage.   Still I have learned a great deal from historians, archivists and fellow genealogists and the satisfaction of continuing to improve on my knowledge and skills keeps it all so very interesting.

And, pardon the pun.   Relative.

The Long Lost Son. Walter George Lounsbury (aka Downing).

For several years I was trying to find out what happened to Medorah Rogers, daughter of the prominent veterinary surgeon from the village of Cayuga and Rochester, NY and his wife Mary J. Downing.  Medorah had a son, Walter George, but due to a misspelling of her his last name (Longsby) an error in transcription in the 1875 New York State Census, I could not find her or her family. Today I discovered that the name was Lounsbury not Longby and with that I was able to create the life and circumstances of  Walter George Lounsbury Rogers Downing.

 

As is my practice, I often go back to enigmas and check to see if I might find a new source of information that has come to light.  This time it was to once again see if I could find out what happened to Medorah Rogers Longsby and her son Walter George.  Medorah is an unusual given name and using it and the advantage of Soundex, there might be hope for discovery.  I have been back to these individuals countless times with no luck, but if I have one trait, it is tenacity. Or maybe I am just a cock-eyed optimist.   It paid off when I found Walter’s death claim and the complicated research data came together.

U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007

 

Name Walter George Lounsbury
SSN 565035802
Gender Male
Race White
Birth Date 28 Oct 1874
Birth Place Tonawanda, New York
Type of Claim Original SSN.
Signature on SSN Card WALTER DOWNING
Relationship of Signature Signature name differs from NH’s name.
Notes May 1937: Name listed as WALTER GEORGE LOUNSBURY
Household Members
Name Age
George Lounsbury
Medora Rogers
Walter George Lounsbury

It was time to work backward and sideways.  Create a timeline and analyze my research.   Still using my own wonky vocabulary as you see.

How and why did Walter George Lounsbury become Walter Downing?

According to his Social Security record, Walter was born in 1874 in Tonawanda, Erie county, New York.  His professional biographies state that he was born in Rochester, New York.  The confusion is understandable since Walter’s father, George, was from Tonawanda and his mother from Rochester.  Sometime shortly after his birth, his mother died. His father moved back to his hometown of Tonawanda, working as an Express agent or ‘cartman’ and traveled constantly.  He left Walter with his late wife’s parents, Dr. George G. Rogers and Mary J. Downing in Rochester, New York. Walter’s father continued on with his occupation and subsequently remarried and adopted a young German orphan girl, naming her Carrie after his sister. Walter was raised by his mother’s parents in Rochester, New York.

In the New York State Census of 1875 the infant boy was enumerated in his grandparents’ Rochester, New York household as their grandson, Walter G. (transcribed incorrectly as Longby which I have since reported to Ancestry.com).

Walter continued to live with his grandparents and was enumerated in the 1880 Federal Census in Rochester, New York as their 6 year old son “Walter G. Rogers”.   In the New York State 1892 Census, Walter was living with his now widowed grandmother in Rochester and still enumerated as her son, “Walter G. Rogers”.

When Walter G. Rogers married Katherine Ellsworth on October 15, 1897 in Rochester, New York, the marriage license listed his parents as George and Mary Downing Rogers and he was an insurance agent.  By 1900 Walter had relocated to Auburn, Cayuga, New York living on 87 East Genesee Street with his mother, Mary J. and a second wife enumerated as Mary, an actress. George continued selling insurance.

After  his mother Mary died in 1902, Walter G. Rogers left Auburn and I chased him by all three surnames all over country.  Born circa 1874 in New York State. Parents born in New York State.  Occupation: Insurance.  Wife: Mary who was an actress.  I found some promising information here and there, but nothing with that ‘slam dunk’ factor.

Since Walter’s social security records confirmed that he also used the surname of DOWNING, his maternal grandmother’s last name as his ‘stage name’, I went searching and found one Walter Downing. Actor. In Hollywood. With a wife named Augusta.  An actor that was in bit parts…mostly in ‘oaters’.

Working backward, in the 1930 Federal Census I found a stage actor named Walter Downing born in New York circa 1874 with parents who were born in New York , but with a wife, Augusta.  Just possibilities, so I went into industry sources to find more on Walter Downing.

 

Walter Downing’s IMDB bio states:

Walter Downing was born on October 28, 1874 in Rochester, New York, USA. He was an actor, known for Two-Fisted Sheriff (1937), The Hidden Light (1920) and One Man Justice (1937). He died on December 21, 1937 in Hollywood, California, USA.

The bio also indicates that he began his film career in 1915 though I found him in Broadway productions in the 1920’s.  So Walter was bi-coastal.

His brief biography in “The Stars of Hollywood Forever” by  Tony L.Scott fills in more information which indicated that Walter was in New York City performing.

DOWNING, Walter (b. October 28,1874 Rochester, NY d. December 21, 1937 Hollywood, CA-  Veteran western actor, Downing appeared in two Broadway productions: Taboo in 1922 starring Paul Robeson and Ruth Taylor and The 19th Hole starring Marion Abbott, Kitty Kelly and Howard Sidney.

Subsequent research into film titles in “The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion  Pictures;

Walter-Downing-as-newspaper-editor-Bill

Walter Downing as ‘Newspaper Editor Bill’ in “Kentucky Blue Streak”

Feature Films (1931 -1940)” include Walter’s listing in such films as “Helldorado“(1934),  “Kentucky Blue Streak” (1935), “Code of the Range“(1936),  “Two Fisted Sheriff” (1937) and ironically, “The Case of the Missing Man“(1935).  “Kentucky Blue Streak” is available to view online at no cost. Walter is cast as ‘newspaper editor Bill’.

In a 1920 Broadway show cast list, Walter Downing was cast as ‘Chief of Police’ in the comedy production of “Outside Looking In” starring James Cagney.

And what about “The Lost Son”?

New York NY Clipper 1890-1891 - 0671 E O Rogers display adWalter was never lost. He never ran away from home. He always lived with his mother’s parents and without much doubt spent time with his uncle, Edgar O. Rogers, the great showman and actor from Rochester, New York.   His father couldn’t have failed to know exactly where his son was. Dr. Rogers was prominent in his field of veterinary surgery specializing in horses and was listed in Rochester directories for all to see.  After the death of Walter’s grandmother,  it seems logical that the reason I lost track of him after 1902 was that he was offered a position with his uncle’s traveling emporium of actors and circus entertainment. Edgar’s wife who was a celebrated actress and his business partner died suddenly in 1903 and uncle and nephew found comfort together as a newly minted family and show business entity.  Goodbye, insurance and hello to the hurly burly of limelight and the romance of stage plays and life on the road.

All The Life’s A Stage

My favorite area to research is old newspapers. When I had nailed down the primary sources of censuses and death records and directories and noted secondary sources for further research, I settled down to the tried and true method of boolean searching for Walter George Lounsbury Rogers (on occasion Rodgers) Downing.  Two newspaper articles popped up concerning one George A. Lounsbury of Tonawanda who ‘found his long lost son’ in 1905. Walter would have been on the road with E. O. Rogers at most only three years at that time.
North Tonawanda NY Evening News 6 Oct 1905 Grayscale Walter Lounsbury gone 15years with E O Rogers

North Tonawanda NY Evening News 6 Oct 1905

According to the article, George thought Walter had died until one day in 1905 he read the posted bills of E. O. Rogers Repertoire Company that was posted in a public place with  the words ‘under the management of Walter G. Lounsbury’ and in a flash of recognition, found his long lost son.   What no doubt caught his attention was the fact that his son was listed as managing his uncle’s traveling acting troupe. George Lounsbury would have known his brother-in-law and putting two and two together and approaching his 60th year, he wanted to see his ‘long lost’ son.

Walter died in 1937 and is buried in Hollywood Forever Cemetery (formerly Hollywood Memorial Cemetery).   Walter’s wife Augusta died in 1944.  There is no evidence that Walter had any children from any of his marriages.
Author’s Note:  Mary J. Downing Rogers is the sister of my maternal 3rd great grandmother.   She and her husband, Dr. George G. Rogers are buried in Lakeview Cemetery in the Village of Cayuga.  The research is the ‘easy’ part.  The ‘fun’ part for me.  I travel the individual’s history with them in kind of a time machine and always with a sense of visiting family.   My imagination and my practical fact finder detective brain work that way together.  Note taking and citing are on autopilot.  It is when I have to abandon my time machine and report the work academically that I chafe.   All those citations.

Deborah J. Martin-Plugh

Author, Historian and Genealogical Researcher

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