Week 4: I’d Like To Meet

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I have a lot of interesting ancestors. Not famous ones, but some of the stories I’ve discovered make me wish I could go back in time and have a heart-to-heart conversation with them.

Like my great-great-grandfather who, at the tender age of 15, enlisted in a Massachusetts regiment for the Civil War by claiming to be 19. He was either big for his age or the enlistment officer was blind as a bat. Or like my great-uncle Harry who, seeing as his last name was Lehman, solemnly told his grade school teacher that “tomorrow is a Jewish holiday, so I can’t come to school.” Unfortunately for him, his siblings weren’t the deceptive sort and showed up to class, causing the little truant to be discovered and punished.

But when I look at the 30 people on my pedigree chart, the one I’d most like to meet is my great-grandmother, Ada Louise Armstrong Elwell. The secrets this woman holds are legion.

From verification of her parentage and ancestry, to the questions around the infant deaths of four girls: her daughter, two of her granddaughters, and her niece, Ada Louise knows the stories, the facts, the answers.

Not only did I never meet her, neither did my mother, her granddaughter. Ada Louise died when my grandmother was a young mother of two; my mother was born years later. She lived during a time when stillborn children weren’t spoke of, especially ones who were illegitimate. All I have are three death certificates and a mysterious census entry as clues to these four little girls.

In addition to that, a conversation with her would go far to breaking down my brick walls. I have names listed on my pedigree chart for her parents, but nothing solid. And “Armstrong” isn’t an uncommon name, so I’m hesitant to rely too heavily on census records.

But more than anything, I want to hear her story of immigrating from England to the US in 1903. Her husband left a few months before her, so she sailed with her infant son and her teenage sister. According to the passenger list, they sailed from Liverpool, England on November 4th, and arrived in New York City on November 11. Eight days on the ocean, in steerage, with an 11 month old baby.

The ship was the Oceanic, built by the White Star Line in 1899. Yes, the same White Star Line of the Titanic fame. The Oceanic had a capacity of 1,000 third-class passengers, so Ada Louise and her small party had plenty of company. According to a 1907 White Star Line brochure, the third-class area of the ship included a dining room, lounge area, and cabins that slept either 4 or 6 passengers.

All in all, the stories Grandmother Ada Louise could tell me are myriad. To have the chance to sit down with her and listen would be priceless.

Who would you most like to meet?


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