Week 13 – The Old Homestead

This week’s prompt is ‘The Old Homestead’. When I hear this phrase, I think of a large, sprawling farmhouse that has housed many generations. Naturally, it doesn’t need to be a farmhouse; that’s just what I picture. I have deep roots in Colonial New England, so I’m sure there’s an old homestead somewhere in my family tree, but I’m not aware of one. I’ve chosen to write about the home of my paternal grandparents.

The three bedroom colonial located in West Warwick, Rhode Island was purchased by my grandmother, Hazel Ellen Hawkins (née Brayton) in 1944. Hazel was born 30 March 1916 in Hope, Rhode Island. She was one of eight children. Her father was a farmer, and her mother was a homemaker. As a child, she took piano lessons and began playing at her church, Fiskeville Tabernacle Baptist, at a young age.

She married my grandfather, Goff Earl Hawkins, on 23 July, 1938. When they were first married, they rented an apartment from Hazel’s spinster aunt for $16 per month. My grandmother was determined to rise above her humble farm girl beginnings, and wasn’t afraid to work hard to achieve her goals. During the war, she was a substitute mail carrier. She saved as much as she could, and when she learned of a house for sale nearby, she had enough for the down payment.

She had already written to my grandfather, who having been drafted in 1943, was serving in the Army. She told him that she wanted to buy a house if something suitable became available. He trusted her judgment and gave his blessing. She was thrilled when she first saw the house. She had always wanted 2 children, a girl and a boy, and with 3 bedrooms, the house suited her plans. With her husband still serving overseas, she took out a mortgage and bought their home. The mortgage payment was $34 per month, and she paid it in person each month. When Goff was discharged from the Army, he returned to a new home. The day after he got home, he wanted to visit his mother. He tried to leave by the back door, but had a little trouble. There were seven doors in the kitchen. One to the laundry room, the second led to the bathroom, the third to the pantry, the fourth door led to the dining room, the fifth led to the cellar, the sixth to the front hall, and the final door led to the back door. My grandparents told this story again and again. Every new visitor heard about poor Goff trying door after door.


The two extra bedrooms were soon occupied by their two children. Daughter Judy and my father, Duane. Judy’s bedroom was papered with a floral print, and my father’s room had cowboy wallpaper. Judy married in the house in 1968, and prior to the big event, the house was remodeled. Green carpeting was laid down throughout the house – even the kitchen. New furniture was purchased, including a gold, vinyl sofa.

My grandmother wanted a good life for her family, and unlike most women of her generation, she worked. When the children were young, she gave organ lessons in their home. While this enabled her to be home with her children, she wasn’t really present. The children would have to be very quiet and were not allowed in the living room during lesson time. I imagine for young children, being so quiet after being cooped up at school all day must have been a bit of a challenge! She took full advantage of the convenience foods that were appearing on store shelves. Canned beans, Spam, frozen dinners, and even boxed cake mixes were served in the Hawkins household. When the kids were in high school, Hazel began selling Princess House china door-to-door in addition to the organ lessons. I’m pretty sure that anyone who ever met my grandmother heard about how she carried heavy sample cases up 3 flights of stairs while going through ‘the change’. She also earned money playing the organ for funerals at her local funeral home. She was never idle.

After my parents divorced when I was 3, I began spending weekends with my grandparents. I slept in what had been my father’s room – still with the cowboy wallpaper. That house was home to me as much as the house I grew up in with my mother and stepfather. When I was young, my grandmother was still giving lessons. If she had a late lesson on a Friday, I remember having to be very quiet until the lesson was over. I still remember one of her Friday night students. Her name was Kelly and she was in high school at the time. She had a boyfriend who drove a car and she wore roll-on lip gloss – so glamorous!

My father and aunt were both married 3 times, and each moved back home for a while when they were between spouses. My aunt was living there when she married her third husband and then relocated out of state. I was renting and not happy with the place, so I moved in to help take care of my grandparents who were now in their late 80’s. I am so grateful for my time living there. Having the chance to spend so much time with my grandparents in their final years was such an incredible gift.

My grandfather passed away in 2007, and my grandmother in 2009. My father lived in the house until he passed in 2011. While living there, he made some updates, but not much about the house changed. After my father passed, I made the decision to sell the house. When the house went on the market, it still had the green carpet in the living room as well as the gold vinyl sofa. A few years ago, I saw the house was for sale. The owners had done so much remodeling, I hardly recognized it as the house I had spent most of my life in. I attended the open house, and could not believe the changes! I can only imagine what my grandparents would have thought.

While the house may not technically be an ‘old homestead’, it was owned by three generations of my family, so it’ll have to do! Next week will be the first of the April prompts, The Maiden Aunt.

Week 12 – Misfortune

I’m sure many of my ancestors have had misfortune. Hasn’t everyone? The person I’ve chosen to write about this week is my seventh great grandfather, Corpe Essex. 

Corpe Essex was born 23 July 1752 in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. He was born to Hugh Essex (abt 1725-1808) and Rebecca Corpe (1729-?). His father was a prominent citizen in the town of Warwick. Hugh and his father were clothiers and were involved in all steps of making cloth. They even carded the wool for the family spinning wheel. They also had a grist mill in which they ground grain. The grist mill was located on the Hunt River in the Potowomut section of Warwick. 

I travel that area often – at least 3 or 4 times a week. Until now, I never knew the name of the river, or about the grist mill. The arrow is pointing at the river, but also at Essex Road. Surely that’s named after one of my Essex ancestors. 

Corpe served in the Revolutionary War under Captain Squire Millerd. Corpe married Mary Matteson 27 July 1783. Mr Matteson may have been holding a shotgun on Corpe, as their first child, my 6th Great grandmother Martha, was born not quite 3 months following their marriage… I am only aware of 5 other children, Thomas (1787-1855), Richard (1790-1815), Susanna (1795-1822), Rebecca (1798-?), and John (1800-1821). In her will, Susanna makes bequests to her brother Thomas, and her 3 sisters. Richard and John had already passed. If there were any other children, they must’ve died before 1822

Corpe operated his father’s grist mill, and had a small sloop with which he made trips to obtain grain, or rather, grist for the mill. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!) On 28 December 1821, Corpe and his son John were returning from a trip to Bristol, Rhode Island with their sloop full of grain. Almost at their destination, the boat overturned in what is now Apponaug Cove, Warwick, Rhode Island. Both Corpe and John died.

Corpe’s gravestone reads, “Sacred to the memory of Mr Corp Essex who perished by the sinking of his boat Dec. 28, 1821 in his 69th year. 

If that’s not misfortune, I don’t know what is! 

Week 11 – Lucky

This week’s prompt is ‘lucky’. I’ve given the topic much thought this past week. Which ancestor had good fortune? Which Irish ancestor truly had the ‘luck o’ the Irish’? Thinking about genealogy and luck, it is my own luck that springs to mind. I’ve spent a lot of time and effort researching, but I cannot deny there has been an awful lot of luck involved. When I began researching my family history, I never expected to learn all that I have. I have made some amazing discoveries, through both traditional research and DNA testing. When I started out, I had far more questions than answers. Questions I thought would be impossible to answer. Now, most of them have been resolved, but there are still a few answers out there waiting for me.

My father was adopted. The adoption was closed and we had no information about his birth family. Incredibly, I was able to find my father’s birth family. The first huge piece of luck I had was finding a sympathetic Chief Judge who unsealed my father’s birth record and mailed me a copy. My father was born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1950. I knew the agency he was adopted from, but as it was a sealed adoption, they could not provide any information. I could not even obtain his non-identifying information, despite the fact my father was deceased. Rhode Island gave adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates (OBC) on 01 July 2012. Unfortunately, this did not extend to the adult children of deceased adoptees. One day a woman in one of my social media genealogy groups posted a comment about her mother who had been adopted in Providence in 1910. I asked her how she got access to her mom’s OBC. She answered that she simply sent an email to the Chief Judge of Rhode Island Family Court. 

I procrastinated for a while. Surely my circumstances must be different… Maybe she got her record because there was no chance her mother’s parents could still be alive… Eventually, I sent an email. A few weeks later, I received an envelope from the court. Inside was a blank form to complete and return. The form had clearly been designed for another purpose, and most of the questions did not apply. I filled it out the best I could and sent it back, refusing to get my hopes up. I was still afraid that somehow the judge had misunderstood my request, and I would get a response telling me to get lost. It could not possibly be that easy. It was! Within a couple more weeks I had my father’s OBC. The was no father listed, but my grandmother finally had a name – Rita.

My luck continued, and I found an online obituary for my grandmother’s sister. One of her sons still lived in Rhode Island, so one Sunday, I picked up the phone and made my first phonecall to a stranger to request family history information. My new-found cousin so dearly wanted to help, but the sisters had lost touch over the years and he did not have much information about his aunt. He knew my grandmother had remarried, but not what her married name was or even if she was still alive. I left my contact details in case he remembered something, or spoke to another family member who did. I was surprised to see his number pop up on my caller ID a few hours later. It was his wife, calling to tell me that she had once written for a newspaper, and could not let a story lie. She had called her sister-in-law, who knew quite a bit about my grandmother. I furiously scribbled down notes as she talked. By the end of the call, I learned my grandmother’s married name, and the names of her seven (!) other children. My grandmother had been married and had 2 children before divorcing her first husband. She later remarried and had another 5 children with her second husband. Wow! What luck! How fortunate I was that I found people willing to help.

A quick Google search showed a local address and phone number for my grandmother. Before I could even think about what I was going to say, my fingers started dialing the phone. The number was probably disconnected… OMG! Someone answered! I asked to speak to Rita. The woman who answered replied, “My mother is on death’s door and cannot talk on the phone. Can I help you?” All at once, I had more thoughts than could comfortably fit in my head. This is the right number! My grandmother is alive! She’s on death’s door! This is my aunt I am speaking to! Even though the timing was terrible, I could not let the opportunity get away from me. I gently eased into my story. I told my father’s sister that I was doing some family history research and discovered my father was related to her. I told her my father had been adopted, and told her his full birth name. “That’s my big brother’s last name.” I then told her the name of his birth mother. She had never heard about a child being placed for adoption, and was having a hard time comprehending. We talked for a bit, and when I hung up the phone, I felt that she would probably just dismiss me as a kook. I know if someone called me to tell me I had a sibling I did not know about, my first reaction would be to think they were crazy. My next reaction would be to demand proof.

The next day, I made a copy of my father’s birth certificate and adoption paperwork. I wrote a letter telling a little of what my father was like as a person. I also included a few pictures of him at various ages. A few days later, I got a phonecall from another of my father’s sisters. She identified herself as Gail, and then added, “I guess I should say, Auntie Gail!” She said her sister had shown her my letter. From their pride in making homemade tomato sauce, to their love of reading western novels, she could not believe how similar my father was to his mother. She said my father was the spitting image of her older brother. We spent over an hour talking. From her, I learned that my grandmother had suffered a stroke the month before, and was non-verbal. Even though I dearly wanted to meet my grandmother, there was no way I would even think about suggesting we meet. I could not bring myself to possibly upset a sick, elderly woman at the end of her life. 

My grandmother passed away about 6 months later. I continued to stay in touch with Gail. Gail and I finally met about a year after our first phonecall. She had told me that Rita’s first husband was not her father. Rita had told Gail that her father was Rita’s childhood sweetheart. His name was on her birth certificate and he even paid support until Gail was 18. Gail and I speculated about whether or not she and my father had the same father. Fortunately for me, Gail agreed to take a DNA test. Regardless of whether she was my full or half aunt, we were family. It did not really matter, except to show if her father was my grandfather. 

I was immediately welcomed into Gail’s family. From the first day meeting them, it was as though I had known them forever. Once a month, she gathers her loved ones for a family supper. It’s an open invitation, and extends to neighbors, and friends of the family. Everyone shares what has been going on in their lives, and spends the evening eating delicious food and catching up. It’s a wonderful gatheringloud, crowded, and lots of fun. Auntie Gail cooks for days, and everyone leaves with a plate of leftovers. Every time I go, I meet another member of my new family. I am blessed to have found them. 

When the DNA results finally came in, it was confirmed. She and my father were full siblings. I now knew the identity of my paternal grandfather! He has already passed away, but his daughter is still living. I’d love to reach out to her and learn more about him, and I would love to see photos of him, but I do not think the ends justify the means in this case. I can only imagine how she would feel finding out that her father had fathered two other children whilst married to her mother. Maybe it would not upset her, or maybe she already knows, but I don’t think I have the right to potentially destroy her memories of her father. 

Learning about my father’s birth family took a lot of research, but there is no denying there was a large amount of luck. From seeing the right post on social media, a sympathetic judge, people willing to talk to a total stranger about their family, to a wonderful woman willing to spit in a tube, I was truly fortunate. Learning my father’s family origins was only the tip of my lucky iceberg. I’ve also had the good fortune to find an unbelievable amount of information on my mom’s paternal side. And my biggest piece of luck – finding out I have a sister, and having the opportunity to get to know the amazing woman she is. Such a blessing for this formerly only child! So, when it comes to luck, I don’t think any of my ancestors could’ve possibly been any luckier than I.

Week 10 – Strong Woman

This week’s prompt is “strong woman”. I am surrounded by strong women. From my mom and sister to my aunts and close girlfriends – I am fortunate to have such women in my life. The ancestor I have chosen to write about this week is my third great grandmother, Anne Whittle.

Anne was born 27 November 1851 in Dean Mill, Halliwell, Bolton, Greater Manchester, England to James Whittle and Elizabeth Whittle (nee Crompton). There was a mill in Halliwell called Dean Mill that was built in 1831. The mill owners also built housing for their employees. James was a cotton spinner, so it is not much of a stretch to think that he worked for Dean Mill and it seems likely that the Whittle family lived in company housing. Prince Albert visited the mill in 1851. I wonder if James had the opportunity to meet him? Or maybe at least see him walk past?

Anne married Alfred Marsden sometime in the fourth quarter of 1871. Like her father, Alfred worked in a cotton mill. Their first child, James Herbert, was born within their first year of marriage. A daughter, Annie followed 7 years later. I wonder why there was such a gap? Were there miscarriages? Most families of the period were having children every year or two.

Alfred died in 1883, leaving Anne with the two children to raise. James was 10 years old, and Annie was only 3. How Anne must have struggled! It must have been so difficult trying to care for and find a way to provide for her children while mourning her husband. Perhaps James was able to help out by getting work in a mill. Plenty of children worked in mills at that age. Maybe Anne worked in the mill. Though, with a three year old at home, it’s more likely that she took in laundry or sewing to make a little money.

Many women (and men) in that situation quickly found a new spouse. Anne did remarry, but not for another 6 years. Anne married a widower, Edward Houghton Heyes in 1889. Edward had 6 children ranging in age from 10 to 20. Their mother had been gone for 10 years. I wonder how they felt about their father remarrying?

According to the 1891 UK Census, 5 of Edward’s children lived with the couple. One of the daughters had married, and her husband and 6 month old son lived with them as well. Where were James and Annie? James had left the previous year for the United States. Eleven year old Annie was living with Anne’s brother, Robert, and his family. In a previous post, I mentioned that the family story was that James did not get along with his step-father. Did Edward mistreat his step-children? Why was Annie sent to live with her aunt and uncle? I can’t imagine a mother wanting to send her young daughter away while she raised the children of another woman.

In 1901, two of Edward’s children from his first marriage were still living in the household. Anne and Edward had added 3 more children of their own by this time. James was married and raising his family in the United States. Annie was enumerated as a ‘visitor’ in the household of Emma Kay. Emma was Anne’s widowed sister. So, in 1891 Annie was living with her uncle, and 1901 finds her with her aunt. Was she just visiting Emma, or did she get bounced around between her aunts and uncles?

Edward died in 1908, and Anne was once again a widow. The children she had with Edward were 17, 15, and 11. The 1901 census shows Edward was a grocer, draper, boot, and shoe dealer. It also states he was an employer. Presumably, Anne was left in a better financial state this time around.

On 09 October 1913, Anne arrived in Boston, Massachusetts with her youngest daughter, Vera. The ship record shows they were going to visit James and his family in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Interestingly, the ship record also shows that Anne had visited the States before for a period of 3 years. Specifically, she had visited Providence, Rhode Island, where James had lived before moving to Jamaica Plain. In 1920, Anne is enumerated on the US census and is living with her daughter, Edith, in Boston. Her youngest daughter, Vera, is living down the street with her husband and infant son.

In 1930, Anne was enumerated with James and his family in East Providence, Rhode Island. Annie was in Beverly, Massachusetts with her husband and children. Edith and her family were living in the nearby town of Haverhill, Massachusetts. Vera and her family were also in Massachusetts, in the city of Worcester. Norman and his family had relocated from Bolton to Queensland, Australia.

Anne died 18 April 1937. She was buried in a plot purchased by her daughter, Annie.

I wish I had the opportunity to know Anne. She seems like she was a remarkable woman. The courage and strength it must have taken for her to uproot her life and move halfway across the world at nearly 62 years of age is really something. I’ve done a bit of traveling, but I’ve never lived more than 20 miles from the place I was born. My mom and I will be visiting England in a couple of months, and are both looking forward to seeing the places Anne lived and spending a couple of days walking in her footsteps.

Week 9 – Where There’s a Will…

This week’s prompt is Where There’s a Will. Another challenge… I wish more of my ancestors had left wills. Far too many died intestate. In some of those cases, there was an inventory of possessions taken. Even without the bequests, inventories can be interesting, and provide insight into the daily lives of our ancestors. 

There is so much that can be learned from wills. Previously unknown names of parents, children, and children’s spouses, locations our ancestors lived, etc. Often we can read between the lines and deduce relationships between the deceased and their heirs.

One of my ancestors was a widower with several sons and four married daughters. In his will, he spelled out what he bequeathed to each of his sons. Three of his daughters received 20 pounds each. The fourth daughter received 3 shillings. Why??? Did she marry better than her sisters and not need the money? Was he trying to make a point that she was not worthy of a bequest? Like someone leaving pennies for a tip to let the waitress know that her tip wasn’t forgotten; the service was just that lousy. 

My 8th great grandfather, Caleb Arnold, was born in Rhode Island in 1725. He died 21 March 1799. His will was written on 1 October 1787.

Caleb first mentions his wife, Susannah. He leaves her his home for as long as she remains his widow. He also leaves her his ‘riding beast’, one ‘milch cow’, and his riding chair. All with the stipulation that she remain his widow, of course. He leaves the bulk of his estate to his three sons Joseph, Samuel, and William. Excepting the sloop built by Thomas Westcott. The will later says that his son-in-law Thomas Westcott “shall have liberty to remove his sloop off my land which he hath lately built”.

A mystery is created by the will. We learn that Caleb’s son Samuel hasn’t been heard from in years, and may be dead.

So, since Samuel is MIA, Joseph and William will split his share. But, I want to know what happened to Samuel! Did he just disappear one day, or did he strike out for another place, hoping to make his fortune elsewhere?

Caleb comes across as a fair man. He leaves his unmarried daughter “as much of my household furniture as to make her equal with what I have already given her other sisters.” He also states she has the privilege to live in his dwellings so long as she remains single.

After he died, an inventory was taken of Caleb’s possessions.

Everything owned by Caleb got listed. Fifteen pewter plates, a metal teapot, 1 old bedpan, 1 copper tea kettle, 2 small skillets, 3 curtain rods, 1 old coffee pot and mill, 7 coverlets, 1 bed quilt, and many more household items.

I noticed an interesting fact when writing this blog post. At the start of the inventory, it reads, “A true inventory of all and singular the personal estate of Caleb Arnold, innkeeper, late of Warwick…” Wait! Innkeeper? The start of the will states Caleb was a yeoman, so I assumed he was a farmer. A Google search of “Caleb Arnold” “innkeeper” generated a bunch of hits. It seems Caleb owned a tavern in the Knightsville section of Cranston, Rhode Island, and when Cranston incorporated in 1754. Caleb’s tavern was chosen by lottery to be the location of the first town council meeting. Fascinating! I’ll have to see what else I can discover about Caleb’s tavern.

Caleb’s will provided some interesting information, but,  WHAT HAPPENED TO SAMUEL?? Did he ever return? Did he get his fair share? Wills can be a great source of information, but sometimes they leave you with more questions than answers.