Great-Great Aunt Winifred Margaret Atwell, aka Margaret Armstrong

Wedded bliss did not last long in the marriage of Arthur Vinton (formerly Arthur Holzel) and Margaret Armstrong (formerly Winifred Margaret Atwell). Later newspaper accounts alluded to Arthur not being very good with money (always a problem when there is a family to support). Perhaps this was Margaret’s incentive to continue to work in theater, for Arthur accused her of refusing “to give up theatricals and make a home for him” and stated that it was difficult for them to find work in the same town.

The Holzels separated in August 1922, with Margaret and Evelyn remaining in Long Island City, NY as Margaret continued acting in New York City. During the separation, Arthur wrote to Margaret that “The way to hold a man is to be his pal. Not to dance and raise hell, but to play the game with him.”

What was Arthur’s game? Margaret soon found out that he was living in Kansas City, Missouri with another woman, Mrs. Marie Pohl, née Marie Eugenia Welch, wife (or ex-wife; I haven’t found out yet) of August Pohl of San Diego, California. Margaret put her foot down during an August 1923 visit from Arthur, confronting him with her findings. Arthur seemed to waffle, asking for time to think things over and decide whether or not he wanted to reconcile or let Margaret pursue a divorce.

Margaret chose to file for divorce and did so in January 1924 (perhaps she gave him until the end of 1923 to make a decision, or perhaps she took the time to get her legal paperwork together). in the filing, she requested $125 per week for alimony toward child support for Evelyn. Meanwhile, Margaret continued her work on stage.

On January 9, 1925, the decree of divorce was granted. Margaret received $200 in legal fees and $40 per week for alimony. By the end of the decade, Arthur married Marie and got his wish for someone “making a home for him” in upstate New York, where he ran a side business of a cattle then a turkey farm. Apparently Arthur got to “play the game” with Marie, as he notoriously had numerous affairs and was often cruel to Marie.

As far as I know, Margaret never re-married. By 1930 she and Evelyn were living in Los Angeles, CA where Margaret launched a movie career as a character actress. Her film career can be found here. It seemed that the financial issues that Margaret experienced with Arthur were far behind her. She was able to provide Evelyn with a college education (Evelyn went to the University of California, Los Angeles) and trips abroad.

Margaret Armstrong in her role as Annie Oakley's mother.  Author's collection.

Margaret Armstrong in her role as Annie Oakley’s mother. Author’s collection.

Eventually Evelyn met and married Clinton A. White sometime before 1950 (I suspect during the late 1940’s). This marriage caused a permanent rift between Evelyn and her father, Arthur, for Clinton was African-American. (Indeed, in some states, such an inter-racial marriage was not even considered legal.) According to my grandmother, Arthur disowned Evelyn; online anecdotes seem to support this. Evelyn was not deterred; the couple raised a family, ran a family business, and spent the rest of their lives together.

Evelyn White in 1961.  Courtesy (Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Immigration Cards).

Evelyn White in 1961. Courtesy (Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Immigration Cards).

Sometime after Margaret’s movie career ended, it seems that she must have moved in with or close to Evelyn and her family, for she passed away in Alameda County, CA on December 15, 1961. I’m not sure where she is buried; with all the names she had taken on, it’s been difficult to find her final resting place.

Clinton White died on April 6, 1988 in Berkeley, Alameda County, CA, so Evelyn went to live closer to her family in Brookings, Curry County, OR. There she died on September 19, 2000.

Because of the very separate lives and physical distance between my great-grandfather and Margaret, I never personally knew that side of the family. It’s my hope that a curious cousin might see this and reach out!

Great-Great Aunt Winifred Margaret Atwell: Rising Star

Winifred Margaret Atwell was born October 7, 1885 in Providence, Providence County, RI.  She was the oldest daughter of William Atwell and Altie May Williams and the oldest of their children that lived to adulthood.

Winifred completed four years of high school, and it seems that she had a musical education as well. Perhaps William took it upon himself to teach her. I found at least two articles from 1902 and 1904 where Winifred accompanied her father to performances. At both she performed dramatic reading and at one even played a piano solo. Later in 1908 and 1909, she taught music alongside her father at the Atwell Music Studios.

Eventually, music seemed to fade away for Winifred as her performance expanded into acting; in the 1910 Census, she listed her occupation as “actress” in a “theatre”. It was hard to find her in the following years; however, I knew that she had taken a stage name: Margaret Armstrong. Although I think it’s a great sounding name, its so much more common than “Winifred Atwell”! The January 1917 edition of Providence Magazine stated that Margaret Armstrong was “an actress of exceptional ability”. It seems that her career was starting to take off. On January 2, 1917 she was in Manhattan, marrying Arthur Holzel. Perhaps she was beginning some work in New York’s theaters. Regardless, this was the last time that I saw her referred to as “Winifred M. Atwell”. Since she went by “Margaret” for the rest of her life, I will refer to her as such from now on.

Winifred Margaret Atwell on her wedding day, January 2, 1917.  Author's collection.

Winifred Margaret Atwell on her wedding day, January 2, 1917. Author’s collection.

The Holzels seemed to find themselves in Lynn, Essex County, MA, where their daughter Evelyn Atwell Holzel said she was born on March 27, 1918. (Although I have found no primary sources to support this yet.)

Now, if the name Arthur Holzel might sound vaguely familiar, it was because he was later known as Arthur Vinton, an actor on stage (in the 1920s), screen and radio (in the 1930s and 1940s). As Arthur’s and Margaret’s careers began to ramp up, their relationship started to break down. More on all of this in the next post!

The Little-Known Atwell Siblings

Some of my great-grandfather’s siblings have quite a bit of information available, but three have barely anything. Even so, I feel that they deserve their own post.

Richard Williams

According to the book Randall and Allied Families… , Richard was born on May 11, 1883 and died on August 18, 1884. I assume his short life was entirely in Providence. According to his father William’s sister, Victoria Eugenia (who called herself “Genie” in a 1932 letter), Richard was named after William’s father and after the Williams family from whom Altie descended. She also confirmed that Richard was the first-born child; his death must have been so devastating to his parents.

“Little Altie Bernise”

I recently noticed that on the 1900 census, Altie May Atwell is listed as having seven children born, five children living. Prior to writing this post, I could only account for six of the children. As I was re-reading Aunt Genie’s typed account of Richard, she wrote this: “He was the one who died as a baby”, then in her own hand (which I’d totally overlooked!): “as did Little Altie Bernise”. (I have to say, I’m not 100% that this is little Altie’s middle name, but it’s the best that I can tell.) Little Altie, you are found and remembered!

Aunt Genie's notation about little Altie.  Author's collection.

Aunt Genie’s notation about little Altie. Author’s collection.

Augusta Eugenia

Augusta Eugenia was born on January 13, 1894 in Providence. She was the youngest of William and Altie’s children that lived to adulthood. I found her listed as a child in the 1900 Census and the 1905 Rhode Island Census. In the 1910 Census, she was sixteen and working as a clerk at a shoe store. Finally, in the 1912 City Directory, she is listed as “a clerk at B&S” (which I assume is Brown & Sharpe, a large manufacturer in Providence at the time). At that point, she was living at 45 Wilson Street, away from the family. After this record, I have no idea what happened to Augusta. She may have died, gotten married or moved away. (I tried checking her 1912 address in the 1913 City Directory, but the house was listed as vacant – just my luck!) Even my grandmother, who at least knew if one of her relatives was married or not, never said if Augusta married.

Great-Great Grandfather William Armstrong Atwell

This may seem like skipping around a little bit, but I feel the need to write about my great-grandfather’s father before I move on to his siblings. After all, William is what these diverse siblings have in common!

William Armstrong Atwell was the firstborn child and only son of Richard Atwell and Margaret Patterson. He was born at George Street in Lowell, Middlesex County, MA on June 11, 1860. The family moved to various places in Eastern Massachusetts (more on that when I write about his father at a later time), settling for a period in Taunton, Bristol County, MA. There in 1880, twenty-year-old William was working as a machinist at a foundry and machine company. One of the few things I remember my great-grandfather telling me was that his father had three fingers (on which hand, I’m not sure). I have to wonder if that condition may have been a result of this work.

In 1881, the Atwell family moved to Providence, Providence County, RI. Here, William met his future wife, Altie May Williams, daughter of John Williams and Mary Elizabeth Randall. Altie worked as a box-maker, so I’m not sure how the two would have met. Perhaps William was beginning his second career as a musician (specifically, a cornet player) and perhaps Altie saw him perform. In any case, the two were married in Providence on August 24, 1882.

William seemed to retain his job as a machinist in Providence at lease for a short while. In the 1885 Rhode Island census, he listed his occupation as both “machinist & musician”. According to the Providence City Directories that I could find, William was listed as a printer from at least 1895 to 1898 (what kind of printer, I wonder?). After this, he is listed as a musician in all the records I could find.

The city directories and some newspaper articles have given me the most clues about William’s musical career. He play cornet either on his own or with Atwells Orchestra at various local organizations, such as the Central Falls Fire Department and the National Association of Stationary Engineers. From 1907 to the end of his life, William set up the Atwell Entertainment Bureau, which also housed the “Atwell Society Orchestra” and “Atwell Studios” that featured teaching music. In fact, his daughter Winifred was listed as music teacher here from 1908 – 1909.

"Larboard Watch", a song William performed as part of a duet in 1898.  Courtesy Library of Congress.

“Larboard Watch”, a song William performed as part of a duet in 1898. Courtesy Library of Congress.

As I stated in my last post, William and Altie divorced sometime between 1900 (when they are together on the census) and 1905 (when William re-married). I’m not sure of the reason; perhaps William’s career ramping up was a contributing factor. I did find that Altie’s divorced (though listed as widowed) mother Mary had lived with the family throughout the 1890s. Perhaps her moving out was evidence of strain in the household? Their five living children remained in William’s custody and I have no written record of Altie after this time (more on her and her incredible ancestral line in future posts).

Ethel Emma Fane was born around 1879 in England. Her family immigrated to the USA in 1892 and lived in Providence on Pearl Street by 1900. She was the daughter of John and Alice Fane and had a sister Mary, who was only a year younger than Ethel. While Ethel was employed as a “pearl worker”, her sister was a music teacher. I’m sure that although Mary worked at a different location than William, their paths must have crossed in the course of business. Somehow William met Ethel and they were married on June 1, 1905.

Ethel apparently built a relationship with her stepchildren (or at the very least, my great-grandfather Thomas) and became a mother herself on May 14, 1906, when son Wallace John was born. Happiness in the Atwell household did not last a very long time, however. Eventually William’s health deteriorated to a point where he no longer played cornet. Finally, after a week-long illness, William died at home at 197 Longfellow Street on January 24, 1913. He was buried at Oakland Cemetery in nearby Cranston. Ethel made sure his gravestone was inscribed: “In Loving Memory of My Husband, William A. Atwell, 1860 – 1913”.

William and Altie’s children were all grown up and living on their own once William died, so Ethel and Wallace moved back to her parents’ home. Ethel lived with her son at least until he was married to Mildred G. Stubbs in the 1930s, then she appears as a housekeeper and companion to interior designer Ellen Dwinell in 1940. I don’t have any record of Ethel after this point; I’m not even sure where she is buried. In fact, there seems to be so much more to find out about William and his family that once again warrants a research trip to Rhode Island.

Great-Grandfather Thomas Francis Atwell I: Beyond the Navy

I’ve already touched on my great-grandfather’s life with respect to his time in the navy and partly through writing about his wife (my great-grandmother), Eva Christina Lipsett. Now it’s time to dig a little deeper.

Thomas Francis Atwell I was born on October 4, 1891 in Providence, Providence County, RI. He was the fifth child and third son of William Armstrong Atwell and Altie May Williams. I don’t know much about his childhood, other than that his schooling ended with a ninth grade education and that his parents divorced sometime between 1900 and 1905. I’m told that Thomas’ father William could be difficult to get along with, but in spite of that, all the children seemed to remain with him as opposed to Altie after the divorce. When William re-married to Ethel Fane in 1905, Thomas got along well with her and later his half-brother Wallace.

There is a family story that says that things were so bad at home that Thomas lied about his age to join the navy. However, from what I can tell, he enlisted in 1909 when he was eighteen, so I don’t know about the part about lying about his age. Perhaps joining the navy was Thomas’ best option for leaving home once he turned eighteen? In any case, he seems to have begun his naval time at the academy in Newport, Newport County, RI.

We already know that Thomas married Eva on June 30, 1920 in Salem, Essex County, MA. I would love to know how they met; perhaps he had some shore leave in Boston and ran into her somehow? Whether he had any prior relationships, I do not know. I’m sure it would have been difficult to maintain a relationship for very long, being stationed on a ship for great lengths of time. In any case with Eva, it was love; this was obvious in the way my great-grandfather spoke of her even after her death.

Eva + Thomas Atwell in Swampscott, MA, 1959. Author's Collection.

Eva + Thomas Atwell in Swampscott, MA, 1959. Author’s Collection.

As I’ve written before, Thomas and Eva started their family in the 1920s. After a brief time out of the navy in the 1930s, he worked as a superintendent in an office building. Then after his time back in the navy during World War II, Thomas again returned to civilian life and began working for the Lynn Institute for Savings (a bank) in 1947 and continued there until retirement in 1967. Since Eva had died in 1963, the house on Timson Street in Lynn must have seemed too big for him, so he put the house on the market in November 1964 and bought the tiny home on Bulfinch Road that I remember. A few months later, the house on Timson Street was sold.

Although he was retired and downsized, Thomas in no way checked out of life. He still drove around town, and attended Christmas and other family parties that his daughter Eugenie threw. One thing that I discovered was that during the 1970s, he wrote a few letters to the editor of the Boston Herald-American. (I suppose that he also must have written to the Lynn Daily Item, but those archives are not yet online.) Many of the short, pointed letters had a political bent to them, such as properly addressing the President of the United States and anti-union sentiments. One outlined eight ways to “save the U.S.A.”, which would be seen as very conservative (and probably politically incorrect) today. He also wrote about his beloved Boston Red Sox, who he often watched on the TV set in his living room. Mind you, this was deep in the years during the “Curse of the Bambino”.

Thomas lived on his own for many years, but spent the very end of his life in a Lynn nursing home, passing away at the very respectful age of 96. He is buried with Eva at Pine Grove Cemetery in Lynn.

Atwell-Pleau grave, Pine Grove Cemetery, Lynn, MA. Author's collection.

Atwell-Pleau grave, Pine Grove Cemetery, Lynn, MA. Author’s collection.

Vienna Fingers and Ginger Ale

Vienna Finger.  Courtesy Wikimedia.

Vienna Finger. Courtesy Wikimedia.

What in the world does this strange snack have to do with genealogy? To me, everything!

I was lucky to grow up knowing my great-grandfather, Thomas Francis Atwell I; in fact, I was 23 years old when he died (though sadly I did not see much of him after we moved away when I was 11). When we lived in Massachusetts, my family would often visit with Grampy Tom. Inevitably, my sister and I would ask him for a snack and he’d give us what were probably the only sweets in the house: Vienna fingers and ginger ale.

Grampy Tom’s house in Lynn was very small, only four rooms as I recall, but that was all he needed after the death of his wife, Eva (Lipsett) Atwell. Besides the kitchen (where the snacking occurred), we spent most of our time in the sparse living room. Grampy would always sit in a fanback Windsor chair (I don’t think it even had a cushion!) as he spoke with my parents. I don’t remember much of the decor, but I do know he had some pieces of the USS Constitution from when it was refurbished in the late 1920s.

Grampy Tom was partly deaf; whether it was from age or some other reason, I don’t know. We always had to shout to be heard, and even then, it was difficult for him to understand (he never did get my youngest sister’s name right, despite numerous corrections). Another thing that made Grampy unique was the tattoo on his arm. I don’t even remember exactly what it looked like (an eagle?), but I remember staring at it, wondering how old he was when he got it. If memory serves me correctly, he got it sometime during his navy years.

Me & Grampy Tom at my first Christmas.  Author's collection.

Me & Grampy Tom at my first Christmas. Author’s collection.

I remember on one of our visits, my mom told me I should really listen to the stories Grampy Tom told; after all, he was in two world wars and he’d seen a lot of history! That sounded like a good idea to me. I liked stories! So I tried – I really tried to sit and listen. But I didn’t understand, and the little girl in me would rather go outside and play. How I wish that I could go back now and absorb some of the things he said!

So now, nearly thirty years after his death, I have to satisfy my curiosity by searching for Grampy Tom’s stories as I’ve done for my other ancestors, as well as talking to the very few relatives left who knew him personally. From here, we will look into my great-grandfather’s life, family and ancestors, based on my findings.

Paine and Bass: Braintree Beginnings

In my last post we looked at the lines of Stephen and Hannah (Bass) Paine. In this post, I’d like to take a look at both sets of parents. In both cases, I’m not sure of their towns of origin in England (though there is some sketchy information on some online trees).

Moses and Elizabeth Paine had three children that I know of:

  • Moses, born 1622/23; married Elizabeth ____; died December 15, 1690 in Boston.
  • Elizabeth, born circa 1625, married Henry Adams of Medfield on November 17, 1643; both Elizabeth and Henry were shot in their own home by natives during King Philip’s War on February 21, 1676. Henry died immediately and Elizabeth died one week later (perhaps this event provided motivation for Stephen to serve his second stint during the war).
  • Stephen, whose information can be found here.

The Paine family immigrated from England and were living in Braintree by 1632. Over time, Moses also acquired land in Mendon, Cambridge, Concord and Piscataqua. In 1641 he became a freeman.

I’m not sure of the date that Elizabeth passed away, but in 1642, Moses had re-married widow Judith (Pares) Quincy. On June 17, 1643, Moses made out his will, leaving Judith with a mere 20 shillings. The authors of the books I’ve read about this fact wonder why this could be. My guesses are perhaps Judith was already well off from her previous marriage, or perhaps Moses’ children had something to say about her inheritance. Regardless of the reason, Moses was close to death at the time of his will, for his date of burial was only four days later on June 21.

Moses and Ann Bass (both born circa 1600) arrived in America about 1632, but first settled in Roxbury. They acclimated quickly, becoming members of the First Church of Roxbury under Rev. John Eliot, who would go on to become “the Apostle to the Indians”. They seemed to have the first two children – Samuel and Mary – in England. Their remaining children (John, Hannah, Ruth, Thomas, Sarah and Joseph) were likely born in Roxbury. (Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of information on most of them.) On May 14, 1634, Samuel became a freeman.

In 1640 the family moved to Braintree and became involved at the First Church there. In July, Samuel was “received into communion” and soon became the church’s first deacon, a position he maintained until his death. In 1653 he became the ruling elder of the church. Before his death in 1694, he, William Veasey, John Ruggle and David Walesby gave a gift of an inscribed silver communion cup to the church, which remains in its possession. (I would LOVE to see a picture of it!)

First Congregational Church of Braintree as it appears today.  Courtesy Google Earth.

First Congregational Church of Braintree as it appears today. Courtesy Google Earth.

Samuel’s position was prominent in civic matters as well. Between 1641 and 1664 he sat in twelve General Courts. He was also appointed for various causes, such as improving the town marsh, settling small legal matters, and looking into the building of a cart-bridge over the Neponset River. I even found that he and Moses Paine were among those who signed an acknowledgement of the sale of a schoolhouse by a Mr. Flint in 1648, so they certainly were acquainted with each other.

Ann Bass died on September 5, 1693 and Samuel on December 30, 1964. His will indicates that he thoughtfully provided for each of his surviving children. Both Samuel and Ann are buried in Hancock Cemetery in Quincy, MA and their headstones remain there today.