Impressions from Ellis Island

I originally planned on writing more about my Randalls, but I was moved to write the following, while it was still fresh in my mind!

This past Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, my second cousin and I made a trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis island. We were hoping to learn more about our common great-grandparents, whether specifically or experientially.

The Trip

Though it was mid-January, we were fortunate that the weather was sunny and somewhat mild. We had pre-purchased our ferry tickets, so all we had to do was go through security and get on board. It was a really quick trip to both places – you can see your destinations easily from the dock – so we were soon at Liberty Island.

Since we hadn’t bought tickets to tour inside the statue, we just walked the perimeter of the island itself. With the sunny skies, it was worth it! The statue was beautiful, especially with the sunlight shining on her face.

Lady Liberty, always welcoming!  Author's collection

Lady Liberty, always welcoming! Author’s collection

We boarded the next ferry for Ellis Island, which was just a few minutes up the harbor. We had a quick lunch at the cafeteria (which probably had way better food than our ancestors experienced!) and were ready to explore. There was a research room, which we contemplated visiting, but I said, let’s look at the exhibits first. (More about the research room later.)

Exploring Ellis Island

Author's collection.

Author’s collection.

Close-up of the building built in 1900.  Author's collection.

Close-up of the building built in 1900. Author’s collection.

 

Let me say that you would never know that there was any previous storm damage from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. So although many items are in storage and/or are being restored, still there are many exhibits in the main building (listed here), and we didn’t even see all of them. Basically, the exhibits covered different eras of immigration throughout American history, not just immigration through Ellis Island. There are audio components: one through listening to headsets at various stations, and others that activated by either standing near the audio station or by picking up a landline-style phone. Since I’m more of a visual person, I did more reading than listening; my cousin went for the complete experience!

I was really impressed by the breadth of what the exhibits covered. We went to the pre-Ellis Island immigration exhibit first. This covered everything from early European immigration to existing Native populations to the slave trade. And it wasn’t just your standard schoolbook Anglo-only immigration, but that of other countries as well (Sweden, Denmark and the West Indies, for example) and immigration into different parts of what would be the United States (like the Southwest, Alaska and Hawaii).

The biggest exhibit was for the Ellis Island era. Not only did it cover Ellis Island, but other ports of entry as well (like San Francisco). There were photographs, film clips and other media of the immigrants in their homeland, during their trips and what happened to them upon arrival in the US. One room was filled with “treasures from home”, which was ephemera from different family collections. This also included some family papers (not mine, though)! My cousin and I pondered what the immigrants must have thought of the panorama of different peoples and cultures that suddenly surrounded them.

Statue of Annie Moore, the first immigrant processed at Ellis Island.  Author's collection.

Statue of Annie Moore, the first immigrant processed at Ellis Island. Author’s collection.

There were also various rooms where immigrants were processed, medically examined or slept for the night. The most famous, which you often see in photographs, is the Registration Room, which is a large hall on the second floor. As I stood there, I thought of my other great-grandfather who arrived in 1907 (after the current building was built in 1900). I imagined him standing in line, perhaps talking to his brother. I wondered if he, like I was just then, looked at the sunshine streaming through the large windows.

Ellis Island Registration Room.  Author's collection.

Ellis Island Registration Room. Author’s collection.

Probably the most powerful impression, however, was present throughout most of the exhibits: the pro-immigrant vs. anti-immigrant sentiments. On the one hand, some Americans were proud of the fact that the country welcomed and provided opportunity to people from all over the world. On the other hand, some felt intruded upon and threatened by the arrival of so many strangers. It didn’t seem to matter at what point in history it was; both attitudes prevailed. I remarked to my cousin that things really haven’t changed over the years, have they?

As we rested our weary feet for a while, we talked one of the earlier exhibits about immigrant influences on music, particularly the banjo from Africa and how it made its way into blackface minstrel shows (which my great-great uncle Albert Pleau took part in). My cousin wondered why such a thing would be so popular. One of the things we came up with was that perhaps people who had been there for a while felt “smarter” and found it funny when they saw others were not so “smart” as themselves. Perhaps categorizing others as “dumber” gave one group a feeling of superiority. My cousin grew up in an area that had many French-Canadians, and the other citizens kind of looked down on them as well. This sentiment was (and is) prevalent all over the country with many different ethnic groups.

The Research Room

Because the museum was so big and there was so much to see, we never got the research room. There were signs there that stated a half-hour consultation was $7 (I didn’t know there were consultations!), and I like to get the biggest bang for my buck, so I felt I needed to be better prepared to use this service most effectively. Later on, I tried finding out more information online about this service, and I found nothing. What I really want to do is write to them for an explanation of their offerings and what to expect from a visit there, so I intend to email them for just that. I will be sure to write up their answer for all our benefit!

* * *

All in all, if you want to research any immigrant experience, regardless of time and place, Ellis Island is the place to go. You can opt to skip the Statue of Liberty, but it is right there anyway and it is something so many of our ancestors saw upon their arrival, so I say: go!

Third Great-Grandparents John Wesley and Mary Elizabeth (Randall) Williams

Normally, I would go on to write about my great-great grandmother Altie May (Williams) Atwell, but much of her story is covered in my post about her husband. I can say that prior to marrying William Armstrong Atwell, she was employed as a boxmaker. She also has the distinction of being doubly enumerated in the 1880 Census: first boarding in Providence with the Denison Reynolds family, then later in June with her own family in Johnston, Providence County, RI. So I will move on to her parents, who may give a better background on Altie’s life.

The only source I have for the origins of John Wesley Williams is the book Randall and Allied Families, which states that he was born on April 25, 1837 in Cambridge, Washington County, NY to Jason and Lucy Williams. The 1840 Census does show a Jason Williams in Cambridge whose household does have a male under the age of six, so I have no reason to doubt this source.

Randall and Allied Families also states that John married Mary Elizabeth Randall on December 5, 1859. This fact, too, is supported by their presence in the 1860 Census, marked as having been married within the year. Mary was the oldest child of Gorton Bailey Randall and Mary Ann Gardiner. She was born on August 7, 1837 in Providence, Providence County, RI. Although the 1860 Census states that John was a painter, every other record I’ve found (directories, censuses) shows him to be a mason. This has made it easier to pick him out from other John Williams in the area.

The Williamses ended up having three children:

  • Altie May, born November 30, 1863 in Providence.
  • Charles Weston, born February 26, 1869; married Mary Elizabeth Pilou (or at least, that is the only spelling I’ve found) on June 19, 1890; occupied as a house painter; died April 21, 1926.
  • Harry Clinton, born January 13, 1874; married Catherine _____ in 1897; occupied as a sign painter.

Sometime between 1880 and 1885, John and Mary separated. The a885 Census seems to indicate that Mary had custody of Charles and Harry (although that census does not list family units – just individual names – Mary is listed as head of household). As I’ve written before, Mary lived for a time with her daughter’s family during the 1890s.

In the 1900 Census she lived with her son Harry and his wife, and her marital status is shown as widowed. At first I thought that John had died, but the 1903 and subsequent city directories show him as living with his son Charles and his family. In fact, the 1910 Census states that he was divorced! (The truth comes out!) I later found out that stating that one was widowed kind of avoided the social stigma as being known as divorced, so that explains Mary’s status.

Just these little bits of information raise so many questions for me: Why divorce after about twenty-five years of marriage (especially in the 1800s)? How did this impact Altie May and her later divorce from William? Since John and Mary each were living with different sons, how did that affect Charles’ and Harry’s relationship?

John passed away on October 14, 1918 (I assume in Providence). So far, I haven’t been able to tell where he is buried. Mary died on June 20, 1919 in Providence and is buried with her parents and other ancestors in Woodlawn Cemetery, Johnston County, RI.

Fourth Great-Grandparents William and Ann (Armstrong) Atwell: At the Corner of Bleury & Dorchester

As we go back further in time, the data on the Atwell family becomes less direct and more scant. The following is the best of my knowledge.

William Atwell was born around 1804 in England. Supposedly his father was also named William, who had a brother named Richard. According to Aunt Genie, this Richard lent money to my fourth great-grandfather to immigrate to Canada. There, William met Ann Armstrong (born circa 1807 in Canada) and married her on October 14, 1831 at the Holy Trinity Church Anglican Cathedral in Montreal, Quebec.

William and Ann had at least three children:

  • Richard, born February 9, 1833 (whose life I wrote about here).
  • William, born June 14, 1838 in Montreal and baptized on July 1, 1838 at Christ Church in Montreal. I have no other records naming him (I wonder if he may have immigrated to the US?).
  • Ann (or Anna) Jane, born June 3, 1841 in Montreal and baptized on June 8, 1841 in Memorial Trinity Anglican Church in Montreal. She immigrated to the US and ended up in Providence, Providence County, RI (claiming 1860 as her immigration date, though I can’t find her in US censuses until 1900). She never married and worked as a dressmaker (I wonder if she taught her niece Caroline this trade). Anna Jane died on September 2, 1903 in Providence and is buried in the same plot as her brother Richard at Oakland Cemetery in Cranston, Providence County, RI.

There may have been an additional child, for the 1842 Census indicates six people in William’s household; however, I have no other data as to who the sixth person might have been.

For as long as I can tell, William worked as a grocer on the corner of Bleury (now Park Avenue) and Dorchester (now Rene-Levesque Boulevard), and I assume the family lived in the same building. Today this busy intersection includes modern office buildings, so I have no idea how big the grocery store may have been.

Corner of Bleury & Dorchester today.  Courtesy Google Earth.

Corner of Bleury & Dorchester today. Courtesy Google Earth.

Ann died on November 12, 1850 and William followed on September 7, 1858. Both were buried in the graveyard of Christ Church in Montreal. I can’t seem to locate a graveyard at today’s Christ Church, so I don’t know if burials are underneath the church, have been reinterred, or if the church itself relocated when it was rebuilt in 1859.

Third Great-Grandparents Richard and Margaret (Patterson) Atwell

Richard Atwell was born on February 9, 1833, the oldest child of William Atwell and Ann Armstrong. He was most likely born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, although some later censuses say “English Canada” (implying Ontario). He was definitely christened in Montreal that February 17th at the Cathedrale Anglicane, with Robert and Martha Graham as his godparents.

Although Richard isn’t named in records until his marriage, he grew up with at least a younger brother (William) and sister (Ann Jane). He may have helped his father with his grocery business on the corner of Bleury and Dorchester streets.

Margaret Patterson was born around 1831 in Ireland. Much of my information about her comes from her daughter Victoria Eugenie’s (“Aunt Genie”) 1932 letter to my great-grandfather. Margaret’s parents were named Thomas and Margaret, and the family immigrated to Canada in 1841 on the Marchioness of Abercorn. They lived in Matilda, Ontario, Canada (which is now known as South Dundas).

I don’t have any idea how Richard and Margaret might have met. I believe that Margaret herself may have moved to Montreal (perhaps for work?), based on the fact that they were married at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church there on April 27, 1852. I assume that Margaret was the Presbyterian, since Richard had been christened in the Anglican church.

St. Andrews Church, circa 1852, in the left center.  Courtesy Wikipedia.

St. Andrews Church, circa 1852, in the left center. Courtesy Wikipedia.

The earliest record of the Atwells living in the United States was the 1860 Census. Aunt Genie’s letter also states that they moved to the U.S. just that year. They were living in Lowell, Middlesex County, MA. There, Richard worked as a machinist and Margaret took care of baby William Armstrong, born on June 11 that year. To me, the eight years between their marriage and the birth of William seems like a really long time for a nineteenth-century couple to go childless. However, I cannot find any records of any previously-born children (yet).

On September 3, 1864, daughter Caroline L. was born. Some records refer to her as “Carrie”. According to Aunt Genie’s letter, Richard was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1867, so Margaret, by virtue of being married to him would have become a citizen as well.

The following year, the Atwell family moved to Ballard Vale, Essex County, MA (which is part of Andover today). This is where Aunt Genie, the youngest, was born that same year. If it weren’t for her letter, I never would have known that the family spent time in Essex County.

Aunt Genie related how the family moved in 1873 to Charleston, Suffolk County, MA, somewhere near the Bunker Hill Monument. They did not remain there long and moved to the Union Market area of Watertown, Middlesex County, MA. The Atwells moved again in 1874 to Taunton, Bristol County, MA. They stayed there for a while as Richard worked as a clerk in a foundry and machine company.

Finally the family moved to Providence, Providence County, RI in 1881, where William would meet his future wife, Altie May Williams. Although the family lived in various homes in Providence, Richard’s job situation was stable, as he worked as a shipping clerk for Brown & Sharpe for the rest of his life.

Brown & Sharp factory, circa 1896.  Courtesy Wikipedia.

Brown & Sharp factory, circa 1896. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Margaret passed away on October 26, 1898, and Richard followed on June 27, 1902. Both are buried in Oakland Cemetery, Cranston, Providence County, RI.

Caroline and Genie never married, but supported each other throughout their lives. Carrie was a home-based dressmaker and Genie, who started as a clerk, became a stenographer. Carrie died in 1927, but Genie lived much longer until January 9, 1940. Both are buried in the same plot as their parents on Oakland Cemetery.

Holiday Break

Yes, I’m breaking a little earlier than usual; but who knows? I could be back earlier than usual!

Despite the longer holiday season, my schedule seems to be more packed than ever. However, I still enjoy it, especially since I take care to focus on the things that are most important to me.

One of my favorite activities before Christmas is attending Norwalk High School’s “Candlelight” concert. This is a tradition for the high school for over 75 years – since the mid-1930’s. There were only a couple of times during World War II that Candlelight was not held. Since then, it has been going strong.

Candlelight concert program.  Author's collection.

Candlelight concert program. Author’s collection.

Over the years, hundreds of students in the music department have performed instrumental and vocal music, along with humorous skits and sometimes even dancing. The music ranges from secular to sacred and spans the common December holidays. What I particularly love, however, is the quality of performance every year, and the spirit of the season that the concert embodies.

Does your community have any unique holiday traditions?

Great-Great Aunt Ida Elizabeth Atwell: On the Move

Ida Elizabeth Atwell was the second living daughter of William Armstrong Atwell and Altie May Williams. She was born on January 20, 1890 in Providence, Providence County, RI. Like her sister Winifred Margaret, she completed four years of high school, then entered the working world. The 1910 Census showed her as a bookkeeper at an “installment co.”. From 1911 until 1914, she worked as a cashier.

On February 11, 1914, Ida married James Garfield Dilworth, a manager from Worcester, Worcester County, MA. I’m not sure how they met; perhaps his business worked with hers? In any case, this was the beginning of their lives together, travelling across the country.

Ida and James remained in Worcester at first for the birth of their first child, Richard A., on January 10, 1915. By 1919, the family had moved to Colorado, first to Denver, then to Aurora, Adams County (which is right next to Denver) in 1920. Here is where their second child, James Garfield, Jr., was born on October 30, 1920.

1923 found the Dilworth family back in Denver, but by 1930, they moved to their final state, California. They lived in various locations in the Los Angeles area throughout the 1930s and in 1940, always in a cute little house. I have to wonder if Ida’s sister Margaret Armstrong was instrumental in getting them to move to this area. Perhaps the sisters had plenty of get-togethers.

Just three short months after the 1940 Census, James died on July 21. Eventually, Ida made her way to San Diego. There she remained until her death on December 3, 1970.

Having lived so recently, I don’t know whether Ida’s sons ever got married or had children. I do know that Richard died on May 7, 1991 in Prescott, Yavapai County, AZ. James, Jr. died August 7, 1990 in Pacific County, WA. He is buried at Fern Hill Cemetery in Menlo, WA.

So why did the Dilworths move around so much? It’s hard to tell, as James, Sr. held down a variety of jobs, such as manufacturing, sales, insurance and real estate. Perhaps he was simply taking opportunities as they presented themselves.

The Dilworth's moves spanned the continent!  Courtesy Google Earth.

The Dilworth’s moves spanned the continent! Courtesy Google Earth.

Honor Roll Project: Norwalk, CT – World War I (part 1)

In recognition of those who have served our country in the military, Heather Wilkinson Rojo of the Nutfield Genealogy blog started the Honor Roll Project. It’s an opportunity to publicly document the names on military memorials around the world, thus making them easily searchable on the internet for people who are looking for them!

This post is the beginning of several I’ll post over time regarding the World War I memorial on the green in Norwalk, CT. There are eight panels with hundreds of names on it. Here is a shot of the whole memorial:

WWI Memorial on the Norwalk Green. Author's collection.

WWI Memorial on the Norwalk Green. Author’s collection.

And below is the first panel and its transcription:

First panel of memorial. Author's collection.

First panel of memorial. Author’s collection.

THIS MONUMENT IS ERECTED
AS A TRIBUTE OF HONOR TO THE
CITIZENS OF NORWALK, CONN.
WHO DEVOTED THEMSELVES TO THE CAUSE
OF FREEDOM IN THE SERVICE OF OUR COUNTRY
DURING THE GREAT WORLD WAR, 1917 – 1919
AND AS A MEMORIAL TO THE MEN
WHO MADE THE SUPREME SACRIFICE

ABBOTT FRED E GROTTY WILLIAM JAMES GEORGE L. PARADISO ANTONIO
AMUNDSEN FRED W. DAVENPORT CHARLES R. LEONARD JAMES P. RICCO GIOVANNI
BATES CHARLES FERRIS FRANK H. LARSEN ALBERT C. SCHULTZ GILBERT O.
BENNETT EDWARD GODFREY FRANK C. LOUDEN CLARENCE A. SHEEHAN FREDERICK
BIRDSALL CORTLAND V. GOLDSTEIN PETER LUEVINE SAMUEL SHEEHAN MARCUS
BLAKE MORTIMER G. GOODROW WILLIS MOORE FREDERICK SMITH RUSSELL I.
BLOOM CHARLES H. HALLWATER KENNETH MOSCARIELLO THOMAS SMITH WALTER J.
BURWELL JOHN C. HALL ROBERT S. MULVOY ANTHONY J. SNIFFEN CHARLES H.
CAFFREY THOMAS P. HAYES ARTHUR NICHOLS CLAYTON W. TARLOV AIME
CANTONI JAMES G. HOLSTON ANSLEY H. O’BRIEN JEREMIAH F. WEED DAVID JONATHAN
CIFATTE STEPHEN HUNT FREDERICK OWENS PATRICK ZOELLER WILLIAM
COLEMAN JAMES E.

 

THE CANNON THAT SURMOUNTS THIS MONUMENT WAS USED BY THE FRENCH
ARMY DURING THE WORLD WAR. IT WAS CAPTURED BY THE GERMAN ARMY AND LATER
RECAPTURED BY THE FRENCH AND PRESENTED TO THE
CITY OF NORWALK, CONN. JULY 16, 1921. BY THE REPUBLIC OF FRANCE