Monday, June 22, 2015

Mystery Monday: Women, Who Art Ye?!

Update: I've made progress on this mystery! Click here and here for details.

So, there are these three women. They all have the same maiden name. They are all from the same state. Their parents’ names are eerily similar. And they all appear connected to one woman in my family tree. But I don’t know how – or even if – they are related to each other!

The line of the Social Security Number Application my Great-Grandmother Katherine completed listing her mother's name.

Let’s start with the clear connection: my Great-Grandmother Katherine Shepherd. Her mother’s name is Rose Anne (or Rose Anna or Roseanne or Rosa Anne) Shepherd. But what is her maiden name, according to several records Katherine and others completed? Rose Allen. And where is she from, according to the 1910 Census and other records? Virginia, as are both of her parents.

1910 Census (Salem, New Jersey) for Samuel, Rose and Katherine Shepherd.

Katherine has a “cousin” (we don’t know yet if it’s a biological cousin or a play cousin, precisely because of this mystery) named Eleanor Kilson. They both grew up in Salem, New Jersey and they appear pretty close – in Katherine’s apartment after her death were several pictures of herself with Eleanor, plus lots of papers and photos of Eleanor’s brothers and sister. Eleanor’s mother’s name is Bertha Kilson. What does her marriage certificate say her maiden name is? Bertha Allen. And that she’s from Orange County, Virginia.

1912 Marriage Certificate for Bertha Allen and Waymon Kilson

Katherine moves to Washington, DC between 1918 and 1920, and into the household of Oswald Petite and his wife, Eleanor Petite. And what is this Eleanor's maiden name, according to her marriage license? Eleanor Allen.

Segment of 1912 Marriage License App, License and Return for Oswald Petite and Eleanor Allen

In the 1920 Census, Katherine is listed as Oswald’s niece (he’s the Head of Household). In the 1930 Census, after Oswald has passed and Eleanor is Head of Household, Katherine is listed as Eleanor’s cousin, and Katherine’s son, my grandfather Louis, is listed as Eleanor’s nephew. The 1920 and 1930 Censuses both list where each person and their parents are from. Eleanor (and both parents) are from Virginia. Katherine’s mother is from Virginia.

1920 Census showing Eleanor Petite and Katherine Shepherd's birthplaces and those of parents

1930 Census showing same as above

Oh, and that thing about their parents’ names? Records suggest that Rose’s are Jannis Ellis and Robert Ellis, that Bertha’s are Roberta Allen and Robert Allen, and that Eleanor’s mother is Elenor Ellis. And, just for kicks, there’s a Luke Ellis – also from Virgina, as are his parents – living in Eleanor’s household in 1930. He, like my great-grandmother Katherine, is listed as Eleanor’s cousin.

To Summarize, here's what we know based on census and vital records:

Are they sisters? Are they cousins? Are they mumble mumble no guesses?

Alright, so how am I going to solve this mystery? Obviously I need to do some more census digging. I’ve done many an online search for various combinations of these men and women living in family groupings in Virginia, with no luck. Perhaps birth records in Virginia will be useful – I have Orange County as a starting point. Obituaries, if I can find them, would likely be very helpful!

I'm also tracking Luke Ellis - the "cousin" living with Eleanor and Katherine in DC in 1930 - back through as many records as I can, and then fleshing out the households and families to whom he’s connected. (When researchers tell you organization is key, believe them!) One tantalizing tidbit from this line of digging is that in 1900, there’s a Luke Ellis living in the household of James Stearns and Charlotte (Ellis) Stearns in Orange County, VA. He’s listed as their grandson. Also in the household? An Ellen Allen, also listed as their grandchild! And both she and Eleanor Allen – the one living in DC by 1910 - are born about 1890; we may be on to something here!

So, do you have any recommendations for ferreting out the answer to this mystery? Or do you have information that may help us figure out what the relationship is between Rose Ann, Bertha and Eleanor Allen? Please leave your comments below!

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