Friday, February 21, 2014

#5 - Flora G Bancroft Knows How To Live Large

Flora Bancroft Manages to Get Through it All

“Most people are good-natured as long as nothing is bothering them at the moment.” said some sage.
Our ancestors had to take every day as they found it like I do—not knowing the tragedies or the small triumphs ahead. Flora seems to have been thrust into situations beyond her control but to have come out looking like she sailed through life without a worry. That’s what I call living large.

Flora was my mother’s father’s mother, the only daughter of PS Bancroft and Bella Brinker. When I heard my grandfather’s recollection of his own youth, and pieced it together with the facts, I realized she had a long stretch of rough patches.

Early Years, the Farm and Loss
She was born to Isabell S. Brinker (aka Bella)- of old Butler, PA family-and Peter S Bancroft in 1867, just two years after the Civil War.  A brother Earl followed in 1868, and Grove in 1869. 

Unfortunately when she was 7 her mother died, leaving her father with a farm, 3 children too young to work it (Earl was 6 and Grove was 5 ). After the Civil War, her father, PS Bancroft had only one good arm.  With a household and no wife and a sole arm, he was forced to turn from farming to education, and so the family moved to Butler, PA. (Remember the post-war economy was in a severe recession.)

While Butler, PA was a city, it was a city in the country, benefiting from the Plate Glass Company, and other industries that fed into Pittsburgh, the nearest large city.

Butler - Finding Friends and A Husband
Story has it that Flora married her husband William H Tilton (also a relative newcomer to Butler) “on the rebound” from a would-be boyfriend. 

Flora Bancroft Tilton abt 1905

Whether that is true or not, they weren’t very compatible. Possibly Flora knew and liked his parents, the respectable Henry A Tilton and Louisa (Copes). Henry was high up in management, coming from Brooklyn to Butler for his job .
His son (Flora's husband) William Tilton “clerked”at Plate Glass, but was enamored with hunting and fishing. Willliam was not at all like Flora’s father—professor, writer, educator, nor was he  career-minded as his own father.  He was content to fish, hunt, smoke his pipe.

Wiliam H Tilton abt 1908
WH Tilton with rabbits abt 1910
Having no mother (her father never remarried), and no sisters, and no close aunts, Flora seemed to associate with female friends: the McNair sisters (who she would later become related to by marriage).
Flora-far left-with McNairs early 1900s
And she was especially close to her husband’s sister Isabella Tilton Roe. 

WH Tilton's sister, Belle Tilton Roe,1895

Possibly it was Isabella (or Belle) helped her get through when Flora’s 29 year old brother Grove died in 1899 at 29—leaving a widow and a little girl. A year later Flora & William had a baby (Henry Addison) in 1900, but he died in 1901 at less than a year old—a devastating loss.  The closeness of Belle Tilton Roe & Flora Bancroft Tilton can be measured her second (and last) child's name: named after Belle Tilton Roe’s husband, Charles. Charles Bancroft  Tilton was born in 1902.

While the Tiltons and Bancrofts were educated for that era, they weren’t wealthy. My grandfather said "we were the  genteel poor.”  But PS Bancroft kept busy with the newspaper and William Tilton had a job. Still, PS Bancroft was a widower with a small income, so he lived with Flora, her husband, and my grandfather (Charles).  Charles recalls a youth of sitting with his grandfather while his parents sat in a separate room—I get the impression the PS was fine with having an inquisitive little boy around while William Tilton might have wished for quiet to smoke & read the paper….that’s speculation.

William Tilton liked to smoke: pipes and cigars...and did so often.
Then at some point, he got quite ill (I think cancer)—an industry magazine ran this announcement: 

from the: National Glass Budget Weekly Review of the American Glass Industry, July 24, 1915, p. 5

Tilton Leaves Standard Plate 
After 23 years continuous service William H Tilton has resigned his position with the Standard Plate Glass Co at Butler, Pa.  Mr. Tilton was at the head of the invoicing department and is regarded as a very efficient office man.  He is the son of Henry A Tilton, deceased, who was at one time general manager of the Standard company.”
Loss Upon Loss
Less than a year after her husband quit working (due to poor health, I think), her father, PS Bancroft, got sick and died within 10 days in early May 1916.  At the same time, her husband’s health was worsening—a month later on June 16, 1916, William Tilton died.

It was the summer of 1916, not yet World War I, and Flora lost her mother, a brother, a father, a son and a husband. 

Her son was 13 ½ and in school. She had no real skills nor job training, no means of support. She had no real property to sell–the farm in Meadville, PA, which had belonged to her fathers’ family, had been a casualty of the post-war recession.

Flora went to her local dress shop – the same dress shop she used to buy her dresses in— and worked there for a time. 

Remarriage and a Setback
When she was a widow, a certain Alexander Patrick Moore (Paddy) courted Flora, persisting till she finally agreed to marry, which they did in 1922 (my grandfather was 19 or 20). 
But the newlyweds didn’t fare well financially  to put it mildly. My understanding is that Flora hoped for some financial security entering into the marriage—and found the opposite.  Family lore says Mr. Moore had business setbacks in the early to mid-1920s from which he never recovered, financially. He was also quite traumatized. 

Charles went away to colleges, going as far away as Penn State (State College) where he had a full scholarship.

After Charles graduated in the mid-1920s, he managed a large dairy farm in PA. He realized his mother and stepfather where in dire straits financially and so he convinced the owner to allow the Moores to stay for free in the very rudimentary house (little more than a shack) on the farm property. (In 1927, her only other brother, Earl Bancroft died in Butler).

Paddy Moore & Flora, NY late 1920s

A Daughter-in-Law & Grandchildren

After this point, for the most part (except for a couple years, possibly) wherever Charles and Elizabeth (Tyson, his wife) lived, Flora (and Paddy Moore when he was alive) lived with them: in their early years in Westchester, NY,  in Philadelphia, and in Biglerville, PA and other places in Adams County, PA.

This is a
n exceptionally rare occurence where the mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law were fine under one roof; it seems there was tranquility in the arrangement.

Flora’s final days with the Tiltons were sunny and bright—despite the financial and social upheavals of the mid-20th century with the Depression of the 1930s, and World War II.

My grandparents had nothing but positive memories of her long stay with them. Flora was absorbed into Elizabeth Tyson's family: she is often mentioned in her daughter-in-law's "Tyson Family News" which was circulated to Tyson family members during World War 2. 

Flora died in Gettysburg,  Adams County, PA in 1949 in her 82nd year. 

Billy Tilton, Chas Tilton, Mardy Tilton, Flora
Ann (with cat) & Mardy and Flora, 1940s, Adams Co, PA

Monday, February 3, 2014

#4- Recent Immigrant Catherine Higgins (Kate) What’s the Truth?

Kate Higgins of Ireland, My Brick wall. 
Research doesn't always yield what you think you might find--and that is one of its pleasures. Family lore: love it, hate it, or somewhere in the middle? I usually like it, it helps me to connect the “whys” and find a trail gone cold. However, when it comes to my father’s grandmother, I lean towards hating it. I’m not saying she lied—but you know what the Irish say about a good story…
She was from County Sligo, Ireland, her name was Catherine Higgins AKA“Kate” (her daughter-in-law was also Catherine).

The doctor who delivered my grandfather put down her name as “Bridget” (as Irish ladies were often called in America at that time, a generic first name). Lore has it her husband was a driver who was killed in an accident when my grandfather was very young. Documentation contradicts this. Her naturalization petition has proved to be most consistent with the truth (more later). She had to get her neighbors to swear that she was telling the truth—and by then she’d been in America for decades.

She was born in County Sligo, when it was still pretty rural and spoke Gaelic, she had several (seven, if memory serves) brothers. She outlived them all, and inherited the family farm. She didn’t deem it worthy to give up what little she had in America to return to the auldcountry.

She was dark-haired and had brown hair. In March 1934 when she was a middle-aged widow, she was 5’6” and 200 pounds. According to my father who ate at her house after school now and then, not a particularly good cook (but which never stopped his brother Joe).

Both records and family lore tell us that she was born on December 28, 1882  and immigrated around 1900-01 (abt 18 years old) to NYC–she says March 1, 1900.  She worked as a cleaner and as a house servant way down town in NYC.

I don’t believe she was ever married my great grandfather. It's my guess is that the father of my grandfather was someone she knew.  She lived like many immigrants of the time—in close quarters on what she could earn as an unskilled laborer. Ethnic groups mingled with each other mostly—even if they were joined by a like religion (as Irish and Italians were). Kate described was dark-haired, while her son Jack (Victor) was red-haired and freckled all over. 

Kate had Jack in the Maternity Hospital of New York Mothers' Home of the Sisters of Misericorde which was at 531 East 86th Street, New York, NY—a charitable hospital for unwed mothers. You could say she was a widow, that’s why she had her baby there—but her son’s birth certificate says UNKNOWN where the father’s name would be. That is telling-and other support is in a 1927 document. Victor (AKA Jack)'s birth certificate:

1905 Birth Certificate of Victor Higgins to Bridget Higgins

Why she named him doesn't matter--he only ever called himself Jack and so did everyone else. So, he was born in 1905. Now back to Kate:
The census of 1910 puts her in Ward 9, Manhattan, NY at 28 years old, with a child not quite 5 years old and no husband. She had to work and to care for her son, she had no close relatives.
I have to supplement this with information from Jack’s life: the 1915 census has Jack at age 9 ½  living as a boarder quite possibly because Kate worked and she could bunk where she worked—but couldn’t keep him with her. Being a boarder doesn’t mean he had his own room, possibly a bed (or shared bed). It may sound irresponsible, but she likely had an arrangement with friends she could trust—and the arrangement worked out for both parties.

How long he was boarding I can’t say. Less than 3 years later, when she was 35 ½, Kate married Patrick Devaney in Feb 1918 and all three of them had a proper place to live.

Two years later (the 1920 census) has them living at 305 West 147 St, NY, NY: Patrick (& Catherine, now 38 years old) Devaney’s stepson Jack is listed as living there with them as well as sons Joseph and Tom. (Slightly confusing because Jack also has a parallel life at 84 West 147th St, NY —but that’s the census!).

Devaneys as adults-my father John Higgins-between them. Taken in Sullivan County many years later.

Her husband Patrick was naturalized two years after this in 1922 (He was Irish, too). Four years later when he was 42 years old he died -- it was 1926. She had been married for 8 years and she's back to being alone with children to care for. By then, Jack was living on his own but stepbrothers, Joe and Tom, were with their mother (though he was too young, too, he had been independent since infancy).

Kate was not in the best of health, being diabetic (a common ailment in the Higgins family). As an immigrant she was still not entitled to state support, and what means she lived on, I’m not sure. She determined to remain in America and made an Application for Naturalization in 1927 (she was 44).

However, the process stopped. It was not till another 6 years later in 1933 that her petition is properly put up. My most detailed and information of her comes from the application for this. In her petition for naturalization Catherine identifies her son Victor (Jack, my grandfather) as illegitimate.

Kate's Petition for Naturalization in 1933, granted in 1934.

At the time she applied she lived at 1887 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY. My grandfather married in 1927 to his 15 year old wife (my grandmother). Alice is born in 1928 but dies before she was a week old. My father is born slightly less than a year later. He and his parents live on Amsterdam Avenue in Harlem, as well. Quite possibly with all together?
The final time Kate appears in a census in New York City is 1930 when she was 48. 

By the April 1940 census (at 57), she is now a US citizen living in Neversink in Sullivan County, New York.
About 1933 my grandfather began to work for the NYS Dept. of Corrections (prison) as a guard. First in Dannemora (now "Clinton") then in Woodbourne, in Sullivan County. His transfer to Woodbourne precipitated a migration from NYC of his wife and children and his mother and half-brothers to Sullivan County. (Half-brothers, Joseph and Tom Devaney). Dannemora was called "New York's Little Siberia" because it was so far north and isolated. But Woodbourne is about 100 miles by car from New York City, so it seemed more civilized.

For a short time they all—the Higgins family and Devaneys lived in one house till the Devaneys found a place to live. Kate eventually was able to draw a small sum of state support.

She attended St Peters Roman Catholic Church 1950-1960 in Liberty, NY (records say). She died in December 10, 1960 in Liberty, NY in Sullivan County at 77 years old.

Kate was buried in Hillside Cemetery in Liberty, NY. My memories are few and far between—I was young, we had to go see her. When I did see her it was in Woodbourne, NY  (though I may have a vague recollection of a stop-in in Liberty on the hill). I can recall her Irish brogue—and that she seemed to be a big woman.

There is a good reason to have a family tree AND do a DNA test. In 2015, my father (eldest grandson of Kate Higgins), had his DNA done (as did I).

That same year, a 1st cousin, 1 generation removed contacted us about being related. We now know my grandfather's father. As it turns out, my father's and my paternal grandfather's name, would be "Cassidy" and not "Higgins" had Kate wed the father! 

And, we know he was also an immigrant from Ireland. 

If you did DNA but didn't post a tree, do it! If you haven't done a DNA test, do it! You'll be glad.



1 Petition to naturalize, her photo, etc from
2 DNA test -  Ancestry DNA
3 Data - Ancestry 
4 Verbal history: John Higgins Sr