Frank Owen: Family stories and lingering questions

Sepia Saturday 415: Eighth and last in this series about my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh Owen, who married into the Irish Dempsey family in Baltimore, Maryland.

My great-grandfather Frank Owen’s late-in-life travels to stay with his children generated correspondence and stories about him from those whose homes he stayed in — yet some lingering questions remain, which point to future research.

A letter from Pop

I am fortunate to have a letter penciled by Frank, 82, while he was staying with his oldest child (my grandmother Mary Frances “Molly” (Owen) Charboneau) —  which mentions my father’s return from Navy service during WWII.

Letter from Frank Owen to his daughter Charlotte (Owen) Wilson (1946). Click image to enlarge. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Dated 17 June 1946, the letter is written to his daughter Charlotte (Owen) Wilson and is signed Pop — which is what the family called him.

Dear Charlotte, Well here I am at Otter Lake once more + thank you very much for your help. I got a through car + stood the trip very well + I am certainly glad to be here. All are well up here. Mary’s boys are back from the wars with the exception of Norman [my dad] — his last letter from Pearl Harbor, but hopes to be home by July. Sorry to hear that James [Charlotte’s husband] has not been well — glad he is better. I cannot see to write much. Love, Pop

Family stories about Frank

Stories shared with me by my dad and some cousins paint a picture of Frank as somewhat fastidious and a creature of habit.

My paternal great-grandfathers at the Otter Lake, N.Y. hotel (circa 1946). From left, Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen, with a hotel guest and Willard “Will” Charboneau, enjoying the Adirondack summer. Scan of a family photo by Molly Charboneau

My dad knew Frank from his Otter Lake Hotel stays and considered him quite a character. “Every day he would put on a World War I pith helmet and march across the street and up the hill to Norton’s store, near the railroad tracks, to pick up the mail,” Dad said. (Perhaps Frank was hearkening back to his job in straw hat manufacturing?)

One of my cousins visited the hotel as a child. She told me Pop also drank a daily glass of Epsom salts and took cold baths as a constitutional.

A cousin of my father’s, who was a child when Frank stayed at her house, told me he was very particular in his eating habits. “Everything had to be just so,” she said, “And we children were told to be quiet by our parents while Pop ate alone, because the noise we made bothered him.”

Lingering questions: A new chapter

After settling in new a country, working hard and raising ten children, my Welsh immigrant great-grandfather Francis Hugh Owen, 85, passed away in New York City on 25 July 1949 while staying with his daughter Katherine (Owen) Negri.

Yet even as this series about Frank ends — having hopefully shed some light on his life — the following lingering questions mark the start of a new research chapter to see what more can be learned.

Did Frank immigrate twice? My dad told me the first time Frank arrived in the U.S., he couldn’t make a go of it, so he went back to Wales. But that didn’t work out either. So his family collected money to send him to the U.S. again, telling him, “This time, don’t come back.” This may explain the variations in his immigration years on federal censuses — and possibly two ship manifests to discover.

Was Frank naturalized? Some of Frank’s census returns said he was naturalized — and the 1940 U.S. Census said he was “naturalized at birth.” Yet my dad said that at the start of WWII, “Pop was furious that he had to go to the post office in New York City and register as an alien.” I wrote to the U.S. National Archives seeking his alien registration papers — but they found nothing. So his status remains a mystery.

What was his middle name? I was told that Frank’s name was Francis Hugh Owen. However, over his lifetime he appeared with a  range of middle initials — from Frank C. to Francis E.to Francis W. — in city directories and federal censuses. He also frequently appeared as Frank H., so maybe these were informant errors. Or were they?

What were his parents’ names? My dad told me Frank’s parents were Evan and Sarah. But on Frank’s death certificate (his daughter Katherine was the informant), his parents were listed as Thomas Owen and Mae Edwards. “That can’t be right,” said my dad. “I never heard those names mentioned before.” So which names are correct?

Up next: Fourth blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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16 thoughts on “Frank Owen: Family stories and lingering questions”

  1. Thank you for introducing Frank to us.
    Putting on his hat & walking to the Post Office seems a fitting finale to your series…though, I suspect, we shall be hearing more. I hope that’s the case. Thank you for sharing some of his life with us.

  2. I came in on the middle of your series, but have enjoyed it. My great-grandparents also had to register as aliens at the post office and I was also unsuccessful at finding any records. I know they were never naturalized, but hoped to find a ship name and other information. Good luck with your continued research!

    1. Interesting to learn that you had difficulty finding great-grandparents alien registrations, too. I wonder if those post office records were saved somewhere other than at NARA?

  3. This has been a wonderful series. I love the porch photo with the men seemingly dressed for the business of a relaxing summer day. Answers to questions always lead to more questions. I suspect Kristin got it right about an anguished event leading to misleading family information. Those middle initials were so important for identification in the olden times. Could Frank have had more than one middle name?

    1. Thanks, Mike. I, too, like the porch photo — particularly the difference between Frank’s citified shoes and Will’s upcountry boots 🙂 The middle initial definitely has me stumped. It’s possible there may have been more than one name. I need to brush up on my Welsh naming traditions.

  4. I’m leaning towards your father knowing their names and your aunt being distraught when she filled out the death certificate. Maybe one day you will find his birth or baptismal record and then you will know. And those changing middle initials!

    1. You may be right. My dad was descended from Frank’s oldest child, my grandmother Mary — who might have been in a better family position to learn his parents’ names. Kate, on the other had, was younger and also, as you point out, likely also upset at the time.

  5. There are examples in my family of relatives emigration to North America, then coming back to England, and then going back again a few years later. It was such a massive move to make, I suppose that you had to be sure that it was the right thing to do before settling on, what was, the other side of the world. People of that generation were so brave, so determined to make a new life for themselves and their families.

    1. This story of Frank’s dual migration was passed down in my family as a jocular story with a “go try again” tough love ending. Interesting to learn that other families had similar experiences.

  6. Oh my goodness, now there are more questions unanswered still! Lovely post about the last years of Frank (?) Owen. You have a gift in story telling.

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