Thursday, June 30, 2016

Genealogical Journey: Cousin Vera

Vera Howe being duly sworn deposes and says: - "I was born February 1, 1897 in the Borough of Manhattan, City of New York under the name Anna Rogers. "  Only she wasn't.  Born in 1897 that is.  The 1900 census had her listed as a thirteen year old, not a three year old.  In genealogy, we are taught to believe church records over civil records.  The census is notorious for having ages wrong.  Vera's baptismal certificate says she was baptized on 13 February 1887.  The New York City birth index has her born on February 1, 1887.  Her obituary says she died at age 85.  I believe that too, was wrong, possibly making her the oldest living relative on this branch of the far.  That contest is still ongoing. 

Vera's baptismal certificate showing her born in 1887.  Old Uncle George was her Godfather. Courtesy of  Drew VanWinkle 

Her legal deposition continues on to say that at the time of her confirmation twelve years later, she was given the name Veronica and thereafter known as Anna Vera Rogers.  "In June 1918, I was married to my husband, who was then in the theatrical business, was known as Samuel Howe, which was his stage name.  As a result, I became known to all our friends as Vera Howe, which is the name I have been using ever since our marriage.  I have, however, used the name Anna Veronica Howe Orchard only in connection with business transactions or in matters of a legal matter.  My mother's maiden name was Elizabeth Sullivan.  At the time of my marriage to my husband, the Rabbi who performed the marriage ceremony and who could barely speak or write English, erroneously spelled my mother's name to read Doliere. This latter name means nothing to me." 

Amendment to Vera's marriage certificate.  Courtesy of  Drew VanWinkle

The above deposition sounds like a case study for a genealogy class on name changes.  Had it not been for this deposition and the living relatives who both gave me this and knew Vera, I would not have been able to make this connection.  I found her so interesting that I momentarily forgot about finding more living relatives.  Although childless, Vera did lead me to more of them.  I guess she wanted some attention first.  So let's give her some as a thank you for helping me communicate with more distant cousins. 

Vera Howe, nee Anna Rogers was born February 1, 1887.  She was the second of four children born to Michael Rogers and Elizabeth Sullivan Rogers.  Vera was my grandmother Mary Sullivan Lagoy's first cousin.  Vera's oldest sibling, George, her only brother, had a grandson named Bob.  Bob provided me with legal documents as his father, Vera's nephew, was mentioned in her will.  Vera was Drew's mother Agnes' first cousin.  She would visit them on Staten Island.  Drew also provided me with many photos and documents of Vera's.  Perhaps because she never had any children, several extended family members ended up with her ephemera.  This turned out to be fortunate for me as a researcher. 

Vera married Sam Howe Orchard in Newark, New Jersey on June 15, 1918.  Vera was a performer in Vaudeville and then later in Burlesque.  Along with her sister Lizzie, she worked at the Hippodrome Theatre in New York City.  There was a pool on the stage of this theatre and one of the acts featured her diving into it.  Her husband Sam, was an actor with his own traveling show.  They probably met in show biz at the Hippodrome like her sister Lizzie met her husband.  Vera fist acted under a stage name of Vera Desmond prior to marrying Sam.  In a show business publication titled:  "Stories of the Play; News of the New Offerings" a photo labeled "Miss Vera Desmond  One of the pretty girls of the 'Wine, Woman and Song' Company at the Gayety" accompanied the following: 

                     "Miss Vera Desmond, one of the pretty choristers in the 'Wine, Woman and Song'
                     Company at the Gayety this week, is the youngest girl in the company as to years, but
                     in stage experience she is older than any of the other female members of the company.

                     Miss Desmond was only recently recruited from the ranks of the vaudevillians, she      
                     having been featured for several years as one of the models in the act of Dida, the   
                     Illusionist.* Before this the pretty little miss was a member of the chorus of a New York
                     musical production.  Later, however, the temptatious offer she received to become a
                     member of the 'Wine, Woman and Song' company caused her to forsake musical
                     comedy and vaudeville for burlesque."

Photo of Vera Desmond that accompanied the above quoted article. Collection of Drew VanWinkle

Perhaps the first paragraph of this article explains why Vera had to keep up the story of saying she was ten years younger than she actually was.  "Youngest girl in the company as to years, but older in stage experience", yeah, because she really was older!  I believe Vera was a very good actress blessed with the youthful genes our family possess.  Too bad she did not transition into the movies. 

After show biz, Vera continued to earn a living via her love of water and swimming.  She and Sam owned and operated a bath house in the beach community of the Far Rockaway neighborhood of Edgemere in the borough of Queens, New York.  A local community newspaper, The Wave, Rockaway Beach, NY dated Thursday, August 28, 1941, had a photo of Vera listed as Mrs. Sam Howe of Edgemere captioned "Bridge on the Beach."  Jo Carroll of the Queen's Borough Public Library pointed out a possible bid to Vera as other beach going card players looked on. 

Vera, in white.  Found online courtesy of Megan Sullivan.

I believe Vera is still performing her water acts today.  According to her will, she was cremated and her ashes were spread in Long Island Sound so she could swim in eternity. 

Vera had passed on a treasure trove of professional show biz photos to Cousins Drew and Bob.  Decades later, they would share them with me.  My second favorite photo of her is with her husband, Sam.  She is looking at him while he reads a review of his show in Variety.  My favorite photo of Vera is a simple but elegant head shot of her wearing pearls and lace.  It is my favorite not because of its elegance, but because another relative I was trying to get in touch with had the same photo.  When I emailed my copy to her, it gained her trust in me and a flood of wonderful communication opened up. 

* Dida is the illusionist act of having one girl in a tank of water on stage and then another girl suddenly appears.

Vaudeville era professional photo of Vera. Courtesy of Drew VanWinkle
Vera Howe.  Collection of Drew VanWinkle

My favorite photo of  Vera because it put me in touch with Megan!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Genalogical Journey: Cousin Bob (Part 2)

"Which photographer is that, Bob?"  My Great-uncle Jim and Bob's grandfather were first cousins so perhaps he was going to say, "Jim Sullivan, the newspaper photographer."  Instead he said, "Timothy O'Sullivan, that Civil War photographer."  Now I had the same story, unprompted, from three different branches of the family.  I told Bob about "the book" written about O'Sullivan and mentioned a newer one the Smithsonian had put out a few years ago.  Through the magic of Amazon, I sent him a copy.  ( He already had "the book" by James Horan.) 

In a subsequent email thanking me for the book, Bob floored me with the following, "I have a similar photo of O'Sullivan on brittle, albumen paper."  That photo, like the one of Timothy's sister, Ellen, was in our family for over one hundred and fifty years.  My theory was that Timothy sent it to his parents who were our ancestors' aunt and uncle.  As they (sadly) outlived their children, our ancestors inherited the photos or more likely, were charged with the lovely task of cleaning out their house and kept the photos. 

Bob emailed me the photo he had and I recognized it from yet another book, by Joel Snyder titled American Frontiers The Photography of Timothy O'Sullivan, 1867-1874.  Again, through the magic of Amazon, I sent him a copy of that book which explained more about the photograph on page 14.  Photographed by fellow photographer, Alexander Gardner, it was taken in 1868. 

Cousin Bob's photo of Timothy O'Sullivan in 1868 by Alexander Gardner

Bob and I then corresponded about other family members.  He sent me information and stories about our family tongue twister, the relatives with double Sullivan ancestry.  See if you can follow this:  Elizabeth Sullivan became Elizabeth Rogers upon marriage.  She had a daughter Elizabeth Rogers who became Elizabeth Sullivan upon her marriage.  Lizzie, as she was called, had a son named Frank after her husband also named Frank.  Lizzie and Frank met at the Hippodrome Theatre in New York City where they both worked in show business.  Frank was an actor.  Their son, Frank, Jr. was in WWII and then went to California to earn a PhD in paleontology from Berkeley.  He then moved from Carmel, California to Oklahoma to work for the oil companies.  Frank had three sons, but through his wife's obituary, I found that they had pre-deceased him.  The obituary mentioned a granddaughter, Megan.  She seemed to be the only living relative from that branch of the family.  Could I find her?  I wasn't even sure of her age.  If she wasn't an adult, it would not be appropriate for me to contact her.  Would her mother want to answer questions about her daughter's father's side of the family?  My attempts to make contact with her were close but not on track.  I placed a request on my Find A Grave page next to her grandfather's memorial.  One woman wrote back but had outdated contact information.  The letter I sent was returned undeliverable.  Further attempts to correspond with this contact went unanswered.  This was not looking good.  I so wanted to get in touch with Megan because Bob's grandfather George, was friends with Frank who was his cousin.  Bob had photos and legal documents I wanted to share that mentioned Frank and his sons.  We will get back to that part of the research story  shortly, but now we will take a break to hear about Cousin Vera, Frank's aunt and Lizzie's sister who was also in show business in Vaudeville and Burlesque.  It turned out that Cousin Vera was my link to making contact with Megan's branch of the family. 


Thursday, June 9, 2016

Genealogical Journey: Cousin Bob

Still drunk on the accomplishment of having found out that Timothy O'Sullivan was my Great-grandfather Charles' first cousin, I then wanted to take the genealogy research in two different directions.  First, I was having so much fun finding and connecting with distant cousins, I continued to research my ancestor's siblings in hopes of finding more of them.  After all, now I could definitively tell them how we were related to Timothy O'Sullivan.  With a little co-operation, I would be able to put together a family tree of all relatives to date descending from my great-great-grandparents Denis and Elizabeth Sullivan.  Second, I wanted to continue researching ancestors beyond Denis and Elizabeth Sullivan.  If any of my distant cousins didn't know who they were, perhaps the information that Great-great-grandpa Denis had a brother named Jeremiah could lead me to their parents.  Jeremiah was Timothy O'Sullivan's father Timothy's grandparents are also my ancestors; three times great-grandparents. 

I started with relatives that Drew knew; he had met them as a child.  George Rogers was the oldest son of Elizabeth Sullivan Rogers and Michael Rogers.  I chose a male to trace because even though "Rogers" was a common last name, it would stay the same if George had a son.  He did and it did.  Through census and military records, I was able to determine that I had the right George Rogers ( 1885-1950) but I needed to pin down his spouse's name to find children.  I asked Drew if he knew her name, as there were several military records with the name George Rogers.  Drew couldn't answer my open ended question except to say, "That is a good question, what was his wife's name?" Then I asked him if it could have been Corie or Coralee as I found records with those spouses' names connected to men named George Rogers.  There are often several sets of records with a couple that has the same first names, no matter how unusual you think it is.  That was the case with Coralee and George Rogers.  I had to narrow them down by location.  He said he thought so, "Coralee, that was it"!  Drew knew they lived in the Washington, DC area so I had three place to check:  the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.  I had lived in Washington, DC prior to moving to California, so my familiarity with the area helped in the research.  The Find A Grave website and online obituaries led me to learn that George and and Coralee had a son also named George and a daughter named Helen.  Helen married a man with a very distinct last name and I actually found her living descendants first.  However, he kept mentioning Helen's husband's line of the family and I could not seem to get him to understand that that I was related to him through Helen, not her husband.  So I returned to Helen's brother George, hoping to find his descendants.  George had two sons, one named George and the other named Robert or Bob.  I found this out from their mother's recent obituary.  It is always bittersweet finding and obituary.  I am sorry for the family's loss and that I didn't get to meet the relative that had passed; so much family history knowledge goes with them.  The sweet side of the obituary is that living relatives were mentioned.  I called both Bob and George and left messages on their answering machines saying who I was and that I hoped they would call me back.  Several weeks had passed and just as I was beginning to think I wouldn't hear from them, Bob called. 

He was away on one of his trips ( he had the travel gene, another sign I had the right person) and recently returned home.  He recognized the name Sullivan and seemed interested in the genealogy.  We talked about present day family, and how he came to live in Minnesota ( job).  I asked if he had blue eyes.  He said yes, confirming in my mind anyway that they came from the Irish Sullivan genes.  I immediately recognized by good when I asked him if he had a big head.  He laughed when he heard that and said he had been told that at times.  I meant to ask if he had the stereotypical big Irish head that some men have.  We chatted a bit longer before he said a now familiar sentence to me: "You know we are related to that photographer."