Family Legend Proves True!

In my last post, I noted that we would be coming back to Mercy (Williams) Randall’s line. As I researched the Randalls, I accidentally came across the confirmation of an old family story: that we were descended from Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island. My paternal grandmother always bragged about it, but my mother distrusted the story. When I started my research, I assumed that the connection would be through my ancestor John Williams (makes sense, right?), but I couldn’t get past his parents, who lived in New York State. When I hit Mercy during my Randall research, I quickly found out it was she who was descended from Roger!

Most of what I present here is based on the genealogy presented on the Roger Williams Family Association‘s website, with some help from Find a Grave and Google books. We’ll start with the progenitor himself, Roger Williams.

Roger Williams statue at Roger Williams University (actually fashioned after baseball player Ted Williams!). Author's collection.

Roger Williams statue at Roger Williams University (actually fashioned after baseball player Ted Williams!). Author’s collection.

Roger was born around 1604 in England. He married Mary Barnard on December 15, 1629. (She was born September 24, 1609 in Nottinghamshire.) His theological disagreements with the Church of England led them to leave Bristol, England aboard the ship Lyon on December 1, 1630, arriving in Nantasket, Plymouth Colony (today’s Hull, MA) on February 2, 1631 (some sources say February 5). Roger’s reputation as a separatist and an anabaptist sympathizer did not sit well with the authorities over the churches he worked in (Salem, then Plymouth, and back to Salem again). Finally in 1635, the General Court in Boston convicted Roger of “sedition and heresy” and said he must be banished. This led Roger to a friendship with some natives and the respectful purchase of land from them in 1636. Roger’s family and other followers of his joined him in the new settlement called Providence.

Roger Williams and other settlers are credited with founding what is now known as the First Baptist Church in America. In true Roger Williams fashion, he did not remain long with this church, but did stay in the area, continuing to preach and promote religious freedom. (In fact, the current mission of the First Baptist Church ends with, “What Roger Williams established is still worth standing for.” I love that!)

First Baptist Church of America (current building). Courtesy Wikipedia.

First Baptist Church of America (current building). Courtesy Wikipedia.

Roger’s wife Mary died in 1676 and Roger died on April 1, 1683, and it seems that they are buried in the now historic Williams Family Cemetery in Providence, Providence County, RI. They had six children, the first two of whom were born in Salem and the remainder in Providence.

  • Mary, born August 1633; married John Sayles in 1650 in Providence; died 1681 in Newport (now Middletown), RI; buried at Easton Lot, Middletown, Newport County, RI (the Family Association shows her death as 1684, but her gravestone is clearly marked 1681).
  • Freeborn, born October 4, 1635; married Thomas Hart in 1662 and Walter Clarke on March 6, 1683 in Newport; died January 10, 1710; buried at Clifton Burying Ground, Newport, Newport County, RI.
  • Providence, born September 16, 1638; never married; died March 1686; buried Williams Family Cemetery (there is no gravestone).
  • Mercy, born July 15, 1640; married Resolved Waterman in 1659 in Providence, then Samuel Winsor on January 2, 1676; died September 19, 1705; buried Williams Family Cemetery (there is no gravestone).
  • Daniel, born February 15, 1641; married Rebecca Rhodes on December 7, 1676 in Providence; died May 14, 1712; buried Williams Family Cemetery (there is no gravestone).
  • Joseph, born December 12, 1643…

So far I only can find two interesting stories about Joseph. One is from a letter written by Roger to the governor of Connecticut while Joseph was still a teenager: Roger stated that Joseph was having bouts of epilepsy, which they had treated with tobacco! (Did he become a smoker after that?) The other story, based on his epitaph, was that he fought in King Philip’s War. I don’t know any details of his service, however. (It’s sad to see that the relations with the natives did not remain amicable.)

Joseph married Lydia Olney on December 17, 1669 in Providence. Lydia was the daughter of another original settler of Providence, Thomas Olney. Joseph died on August 17, 1724 and Lydia followed a few short weeks later on September 9. Their clear gravestones are in the Williams Family Cemetery.

  • Joseph and Lydia’s children were:
  • Joseph, born September 26, 1670; died before November 10, 1673.
  • Thomas, born February 16, 1671/72 in Providence; married Mary Blackmar circa 1700; married Hannah Sprague after 1717; died August 27, 1724 in Providence; buried Williams Family Cemetery (there is no gravestone).
  • Joseph, born November 10, 1673 in Providence (more on him below).
  • Mary, born June 1676; married Obediah Brown(e).
  • James, born September 24, 1680 in Providence; married Elizabeth Blackmar (Mary’s sister) circa 1703 in Providence; died June 25, 1757; buried Williams Family Cemetery.
  • Lydia, born April 26, 1683; died 1717 (and as far as I can tell, never married).

The younger Joseph (born 1673) also married a woman named Lydia – Lydia Hearnden (also called Herenden or Harrington). We will call her Lydia H. to avoid confusion with her mother-in-law. Joseph died August 15, 1752 in Providence and Lydia H. in March 1761 in Cranston (since Cranston was formed in 1754, I assume this was not a move). They are listed as buried in the Williams Family Cemetery.

Joseph and Lydia H. had a large family, and their children were:

  • Mercy, born circa 1700 in Providence; married William Randall on April 14, 1720 in Providence.
  • Jeremiah, born April 10, 1698; married Abigail Mathewson, December 24, 1735 in Providence; died April 30, 1789 in Cranston.
  • Mary, born 1702 in Providence; married Francis Atwood, circa 1722.
  • Lydia, born circa 1706 in Providence; married Joseph Randall on March 17, 1726 in Providence.
  • Martha, born circa 1708 in Providence; married John Randall circa 1725.
  • Barbara, born circa 1712 in Providence; married Benjamin Congdon, circa 1731/32; died 1786 in Cranston.
  • Patience, born 1714; married Samuel Dyer in Johnston; died 1774.
  • Freelove, born circa 1719 in Providence; married John Dyer, November 23, 1739 in Providence; died April 1775; buried at what is now St. Ann’s Cemetery in Cranston.
  • Jemima, born in Providence; married Benjamin Potter on December 25, 1735 in Providence; died November 1796.
  • Meribah, married Jabez Brown on October 5, 1730.

And so the Roger Williams connection has been made. I just wish I knew as much about his descendants in my line as I do about him, but that is for further research, I guess!

The Randall Line: From Immigration to George

Now that I have less information on my Randalls, I thought I would give a quick fly-over of the generations between the first Randall in the new World up to George W. Randall, who I covered in my last post. I will just be covering my direct line, not the collaterals. Here we go!

The first Randall was William Randall born circa 1609 in England (thought to be in London, though that may be just where he sailed from). He was the son of Simon Randall and Jane Stephens. When William was 26, he immigrated aboard the ship Expectacon on April 24, 1635. The ship landed in Providence, RI, but William ended up settling in Scituate, MA.

It was in Scituate around 1640 where William married Elizabeth Barstow, daughter of Matthew Barstow and Isobel Hill. She was born around 1619 near Halifax, Yorkshire, England. (Some sources believe that William’s wife’s name was Elizabeth Carver; if anyone has proof arguments in this case, please let me know!) Elizabeth died on December 24, 1672 and William on October 13, 1693, both in Scituate.

William and Elizabeth had a son named William, who was born December 1647 in Scituate. This William moved to Rhode Island and settled in Providence, in the area that is now Cranston, RI (which did not become a town until 1754). He had a grist mill on the west bank of the Pocasset River. He married Rebecca Fowler circa December 1674 or 1675. Rebecca was the daughter of Henry Fowler and Rebecca Newell and was born 1656 in Providence. William died April 11, 1712 and Rebecca on March 23, 1730. It is interesting to note that on October 24, 1702, William freed ” his negro slave” named Peter Palmer for his good service, “to be his own man at his own disposing.” This is my first knowledge of any slave-holding ancestors in my family. I’m glad that William freed Peter, and I wonder whatever became of him.

William and Rebecca were the parents of a son named William, who was born on September 10, 1675 in Providence. It seems that he, like his father, was a miller. He married Abial Wight (who was born on October 8, 1675) on October 8, 1693 (what a birthday present!). William died on July 8, 1742 and Abial on September 2, 1753. Both are buried at St. Ann’s Cemetery, which is located in Cranston. St. Ann’s is obviously a Catholic Cemetery and it was established in the 1850’s. It is a very large cemetery and abuts, among other things, Randall Pond. Perhaps William owned this portion of land and it had become the family cemetery (several generations of their descendants are buried here).

William and Abial had their own son named William (the last one for this line – I promise!), born circa 1695. He married a woman named Mercy Williams (also born around 1695) on April 14, 1720. Her parents were Joseph Williams and Lydia Hearnden (or Herenden or Harrington), and we will be revisiting them in a later post!

I have no idea about William and Mercy’s deaths and burials, but they had a son named Joseph (I assume named after Mercy’s father) circa 1728 in Knightsville, which is a section of current-day Cranston. He married Abigail Westcott (or Westscott) (born circa 1732) in 1750. They eventually moved to Johnston, Providence County, RI where Joseph died on November 25, 1775 (I don’t have a death date for Abigail). As I stated in my post about their son George, their place of burial was moved to Woodlawn Cemetery in Johnston, where generations of Randalls now lie.

Fifth Great-Grandparents Gorton Bailey Randall and Mary Ann Gardiner: Daughtering Out

Gorton Bailey Randall was born on September 5, 1813 in Johnston, Providence County, RI, the fourth son and seventh child of George W. Randall and Betsey W. Keene. On December 15, 1836 he married Mary Ann Gardiner (or Gardner) in Providence, Providence County, RI. Mary Ann was the daughter of Benjamin and Elizabeth (“Betsey”) Gardiner and was born on March 18, 1814 in North Kingstown, Washington County, RI. Sadly, that is all I know about her family.

Gorton and Mary Ann lived in Johnston through about 1852 when they moved to Providence. I assume they must have done so to be closer to Gorton’s work at Peck’s Wharf on the Providence River, which flowed into Narragansett Bay. Gorton worked as a cooper, which is a barrel maker. For a period during the early 1860’s, Gorton also worked with his older brother James. From what I can see, Peck’s Wharf had a variety of businesses that must have had need of barrels for shipping out from the wharf.

Stereoscope of the Providence River with wharves.  Courtesy New York Public Library.

Stereoscope of the Providence River with wharves. Courtesy New York Public Library.

Gorton and Mary Ann ended up having a large family – a total of eight daughters! It seems that each one had faced their fair share of tragedy or difficulty:

  • Mary Elizabeth, born August 7, 1837, who I’ve written about here.
  • Catherine June (“Kate”), born March 2, 1839, married Harvey T. Cooley on June 10, 1860 in Providence. They had two children: Minnie Emma, born 1860, and Charles B., born 1863. Harvey passed away on August 20, 1874 and little Charles sometime before 1880. Kate and Minnie were able to live with Gorton and Mary Ann, but not for long: Kate died on February 20, 1883 and Minnie on June 11, 1887. Kate, Harvey and Minnie were buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Johnston. (I don’t know where Charles is buried.)
  • Harriet, born May 6, 1840 and died February 20, 1842. Her grave is in Woodlawn Cemetery.
  • Abigail (“Abby”), born December 7, 1841; married Charles G. Hendrick (sometimes listed as Kendrick) on February 12, 1870 in Providence. For some reason, Abby lived separate from Charles with her parents that following June 20th. They were back together, however, by the 1885 Rhode Island Census in East Greenwich, Kent County, RI. (There is an entry in Find-a-Grave, stating that Abby was married to Robert T. Kenyon; however, based on various census data, that was a different Abby Randall.)
  • Harriet Sanford, born June 4, 1843; married May 27, 1863 to Benjamin F. Brown. They had five children, the two oldest of which died as young teenagers. Harriet died in 1924 and is buried with Benjamin in Woodlawn Cemetery.
  • Georgiana (“Anna”), born December 24, 1844; married Albert Eddy on May 7, 1864 in Providence. They appear to have separated by 1880 and were likely divorced at some point. Anna supported herself as a dressmaker and later lived with her single younger sister Nellie. She died on April 19, 1927 in Providence and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery.
  • Emma E., born circa 1848 and died before 1860. The only evidence I have of her life is her presence on the 1850 Census.
  • Nellie Gorton, born February 1, 1861. [Yes, this was a long time after Emma was born, but as far as I can find, Nellie was Gorton and Mary Ann’s daughter.] According to Aunt Genie (whose sister-in-law Altie May (Williams) Atwell apparently boarded with Gorton’s family at one time), Nellie was “tall and pretty”, but an invalid later in life. Perhaps Georgiana helped care for Nellie. Nellie died on September 4, 1932, supposedly in Stamford, Fairfield County, CT. She, like the rest of the family, was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery.

Mary Ann died on June 7, 1887 in Providence, just four days before her granddaughter Minnie Cooley; perhaps they had the same illness? Gorton died on August 25, 1891. Both he and Mary Ann were buried at Woodlawn Cemetery. One of these days, I need to visit the cemetery and pay my respects to this big branch of my family.

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.

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.

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.

Great-Great Uncle William Gorton Atwell: Enigma

William Gorton Atwell is one of those family members who has just enough information to get me interested, but not enough to get a full picture of who he was.

Most sources say that William was born on July 18, 1888 in Providence, Providence County, RI. His World War I Draft Registration card stated the same date in 1887–but I believe he may have had a reason to state this (more on that later). He was the oldest living son of William Armstrong Atwell and Altie May Williams.

Being just a child, William doesn’t show up in records again until the 1900 Census — and this time it’s twice! On June 9, he is enumerated with his family in Providence; but on June 12, he is enumerated in nearby Cranston, Providence County, RI at Sockanosset School for Boys. I am certain both records are for William — all the census information is identical. Also, June 9 was a Saturday and William could very well have been home from school for the weekend.

My research revealed that Sockanosset was basically a school for juvenile delinquents. The greatest number of admissions were for theft, but there were many other reasons, including truancy and even “incorrigibility”! Why was William there? Did he do something wrong; was he a difficult child? I could find nothing in on-line newspapers about any possible crimes. In any case, Sockanosset was known for its work in rehabilitating these wayward boys, providing them with schooling, a chapel and a gymnasium. The boys were also taught various skills, such as carpentry, masonry, and printing. I highly suspect this is where William developed the skills for his future occupation in working in the printing industry.

William’s 1917 Draft Registration card indicated that he served four years in the Navy. The big question is: when did he serve? I suspect it must be sometime before 1910, when he next shows up in Providence. Maybe he was the one who lied about his age to join the Navy (rather than my great-grandfather), which may be why his birth date on the card isn’t the same as every other record. His time in Sockanosset indicates possible unrest at home and I cannot find him in the 1905 Rhode Island Census.

Despite me not being able to find him on the 1910 Census, William was living at 100 Sheldon Street in the 1910 and 1912 Providence City Directories. On June 28, 1913, he married Mary Cecelia Downey (who was about five months pregnant) in East Providence. After this point, he shows up consistently in various locations in East Providence and Providence, working as a paper cutter or printer. His World War I Draft Registration card gives even more information, saying that he worked as a bookbinder at C.H. Fryer & Co. at 11 Pine Street in Providence.

William and Mary’s children were:

  • Thomas Francis (was he named after my great-grandfather?), born November 7, 1913; married Edith Hill, then Beatrice ____; died Jan 3, 2002; buried at Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Exeter, Washington County, RI.
  • Dorothy Mary, born Feb 10, 1915 in East Providence; married John Michael Cronin; died August 20, 1970 in Oxnard, Ventura County, CA; buried in Santa Clara Cemetery in Oxnard.
  • William J., born April 14, 1916; died March 1992; buried Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Providence.
  • female stillborn, born & died on May 8, 1917.
  • Richard J., born Aug 13, 1918; died Jun 19, 2003 in Bristol, Bristol County, RI; buried Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Exeter, Washington County, RI.
  • Virginia F, born Dec 1, 1920; married ____ Brightman; died November 1978; buried Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Providence.
  • Norma Cecelia, born 1923, died February 3, 1924.

The most mysterious thing to me about William is the fact that he died on July 9, 1923 in Providence at the age of 35. I have no idea why, but only have a feeling that it was very sad. This, coupled with their youngest child’s death only seven months later must have devastated Mary and the other children. Of course, Mary had the support of her mother and siblings who they lived with until Mary’s remarriage to Edward Joseph Berry between April 24, 1925 (where she is still widowed in the RI Census) and April 10, 1930 (where she is remarried).

The final mystery of William is where he is buried. Nor could I find Mary or Edward’s burial information anywhere.

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.