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!

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