I’d blame Lottie for this obsession, if she wasn’t a total stranger. And dead.
You remember Lottie. She was the name on the headstone at Mt. Hope Cemetery, the lonely headstone in a field of weeds, no dates, no last name, just “My Lottie.”
Bandit and I had started walking at Mt. Hope, and I’d already been captivated by the stories on the graves, especially by the stones that listed several children who had died. I’d done a little digging at the library, but it wasn’t until I met Lottie that things took a serious turn.
“Met” being a relative term; like I said, she’s dead.
On the day I met Lottie, I’d been exploring among a section of the cemetery that plays host to some impressive obelisks and monuments, each appearing to outdo the other for prominence, much the way the souls who rested beneath may have done in life.
In particular was one monument that stands almost as tall as a two story house with the name Filon boldly emblazoned on it. I had no clue who Michael Filon was, but apparently he was some hot stuff, at least in his time.
Around the corner from Mr. Filon is the family plot of Susan B. Anthony. Understated and reserved, it doesn’t begin to hint at the significance of the woman buried there. Other than the marker and two small American flags, you could walk right by the plot and not realize you’d just passed history. (*There’s more about Michael Filon this at the end of this blog post.)
And then there was Lottie.
There are a lot of famous people buried at Mt. Hope, people who made significant contributions to American culture, politics, society. There are also a lot of people who thought they made contributions and so honored themselves with grotesquely huge monuments.
But my heart is for the nobodies. And with no name or dates or other identifying marks on her headstone, Lottie was as nobody as nobody could be.
As you might remember from an earlier blog post about some of the headstones I’d been investigating , I learned that Lottie is Charlotte Harcourt, who died at the age of 15 on 29 Sept 1861 of neuralgia of the stomach.
I know nothing else about her, but I know that at least she is not forgotten.
This obession might have ended there had a librarian at the local history section of the Rochester Public Library not said something that has changed my life: “Why aren’t you researching your own family tree?”
I’m pretty sure I told her that there wasn’t anyone famous in my family, that we hadn’t made any significant contributions to the world, that while I’d done some research a few years earlier I really didn’t think it would be that interesting since we were just nobody.
I know, did you see the light bulb go off over my head, too?
Here I was, spending time and effort to ensure that the name of this total stranger, My Lottie, wasn’t lost forever. If I liked to champion nobodies, well, my family tree is full of them.
And so it began. I pulled out the old folders. The library edition of Ancestry.com became my new best friend. I started taking notes, bugging the librarian, and before long I was knee deep in names, dates, questions and a whole lot of fascinating stuff about regular people. No inventors or politicians (at least not until the 21st century; on the Italian side, I found a cousin of my mother’s who recently ran for mayor in her town) or world changers. Just people who were born, lived, married, worked, played and died.
Just like millions of other Americans.
The truth is that the people who make headlines are few and far between. I think we forget about that in our media-driven, celebrity-obsessed culture. We revere singers and actors and politicians and people who manage the once-in-a-million achievement while the garbage men and factory workers and construction flag men and secretaries and Walmart greeters and other working class Joes do the bulk of the labor, and keep the country and economy moving.
A bunch of nobodies. Just like me!
Good grief, that makes me feel good.
See, I turned 48 a few weeks ago, and have been wallowing in my “I’ve done nothing with my life” self pity, lamenting my lack of contributions to the world while my clock is slowly ticking down. But I’m beginnig to realize that I’m not “nobody.” I’m actually everybody.
(As I typed that, the Beatle’s song “Nowhere Man” came onto the radio. I am not kidding. )
So for much of the last few months – and by “much” I mean almost every waking minute – I’ve been meeting my ancestors and even connecting with living relatives.
I thought that as I researched I’d share some of the stories I’m finding. Aren’t you excited?
I told you a few weeks ago about relatives who came from Ireland as the America was on the brink of Civil War. I was surprised to put my own family into the history of America – they immigrated here before Abraham Lincoln was president.
I’m even farther back in my research – when my great, great, great, great, great grandmother, Bridget Eagen Touhey, was born in Ireland in 1805, Thomas Jefferson was President of the U.S. We’re talking recent post-Revolutionary War. I’m so ignorant of world history that I don’t even know how Ireland even fit into British rule of the American colonies – but you can be sure I’m going to find out.
The sister of my great, great grandmother was a member of the Third Order of Franciscans; I don’t even know what that is – yet. But I think it might explain why she never married.
What about women’s rights? From what I’ve seen, women pretty much held the family together in my family, raising kids and working crappy jobs. But they weren’t given any rights to their own property or money.
And what about the unusual number of women in my family who never married? Or married for the first time very late in life, in their 40s or even 50s? Was that the norm or unusual?
And then there are the family mysteries. In 1870, for example, my great, great, great grandparents Michael and Catherine Touhey Larkin and their children are listed on the census living in Dalton, MA; living with them were Bridget Touhey, aged 65; Martin Touhey, 20; Ann Touhey, 30; Henry Hunt, 40; and Martin Daly, 14.
I’ve been able to confirm that Martin and Ann are the brother and sister of Catherine, and that Bridget is their mother. In 1871, Ann married Henry. But Martin Daly? That last name doesn’t have any connection that I can find.
In 1880, Martin Daly is listed on the census as residing in the Berkshire County Prison. But I got one more clue from that: he was born in Galway, Ireland. With his birthday and that information, I found the birth record for a Martin Daly, born in 1856 in Galway. His parents? Patrick Daly and Catherine Touhey.
Now there’s a head scratcher.
Normally, I wouldn’t give that a second thought. The last name Touhey – and its various spellings – is more common than you might think. And the name Catherine? A dime a dozen.
But since our young Martin is living in the household of our Catherine Touhey, who immigrated from Ireland in 1857 with a daughter named Mary Ann Larkin and a husband Michael – a year after young Marin was born – it makes me wonder: who is Patrick Daly? How is another Catherine Touhey related to my Catherine Touhey so that young Martin ended up in their household 14 years later? Is it possible that my Catherine Touhey is the mother of Martin Daly? And if that’s the case, was she married and divorced or widowed? Was he born out of wedlock? Or is this just one of incredible coincidences that Martin Daly’s mother Catherine Touhey is no relation and he just happened to end up staying with this Cathrine Touhey when he came to the U.S.?
And so it goes, on and on. Ancestors who worked on the railroads in the 1870s, who worked in the woolen mills for a hundred years, who came to America before America even knew who she was, but who apparently thought it was better than what they left behind.
If you’re bored, I’m sorry. But if you’re interested, then stay tuned for more stories and tidbits of history. And I’d love to know what interesting stories you’ve found as you research your family tree!
* Random historical facts: Michael Filon was a succesful businessman and mayor of Rochester, NY for one year. By all accounts he made a lot of money but didn’t win the affection of very many people. When Sibley, Lindsay & Curr department store burned down in 1904, the owners went to Filon to purchase land for a new building. He agreed, but only if they would put his name on the building. They agreed, but put it on a small plaque placed where no one could see. He wasn’t happy but I hope they laughed themselves all the way to the bank.
According to some sources, the monument that marks Filon’s grave would have cost about $3 million to build today.
Susan B. Anthony, on the other hand, was an abolitionist and suffragist who worked tirelessly for the civil rights of women and slaves. She literally changed the course of human history. You tell me who deserves the bigger monument.