Category Archives: Owen

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 was a child when Frank stayed at her house. She told me that 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 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? Come 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.

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1930s-1940s: Frank Owen’s later years

Sepia Saturday 414: Seventh in a series about my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh Owen, who married into the Irish Dempsey family in Baltimore, Maryland.

After the 1922 death of his beloved wife Elizabeth C. (Dempsey) Owen, my great-grandfather Frank H. Owen, 59, lived for more than twenty-five more years — finishing up his working life, then residing with his children during his retirement.

In 1920, Frank was working as a railroad watchman and four of his adult children — Arthur, Katherine, Joe and John — still lived with him and Elizabeth. By 1930 — the start of the Great Depression — his circumstances had changed significantly.

Francis Hugh Owen in his later years, on the porch of the Otter Lake Hotel in New York’s Adirondack region. My great-grandfather spent summers there with my grandmother — his daughter Mary “Molly” (Owen) Charboneau — when it was her turn to house him. That’s where my dad Norm got to know him. Photo by Norman J. Charboneau

The 1930 U.S. Census of Baltimore City, Maryland (10th Ward), enumerated on April 9, shows Frank as the head of a household that only included his daughter Katherine, 32.

They lived at 1215 Preston St. — likely in an apartment of a multi-family dwelling, because two other households are listed at the same address.

Katherine, single, was working as a operator in a tailoring shop. Frank, widowed, was not working — so presumably retired.

They were paying a monthly rent of $25 (about $355 today). The census gave Frank’s year of immigration as 1883 and indicated he was naturalized.

Living with one child, then the next

Around 1930 seems to be when my great-grandfather Frank began living with one child, then the next — which he continued to do until the end of his life.

A 1930 City Directory of Baltimore lists Frank renting at 803 n. Payson — again with his daughter Katherine, who is listed as an “operator” at the same address.

Frank Owen’s sons Arthur and Joe with their wives (undated). From left, Nettie and Arthur Owen, Joseph and Alma Owen. My great-grandfather took turns living with his children as he aged. Photo courtesy of Jane (Owen) Dukovic

Six years later, a 1936 City Directory of Baltimore shows Frank renting at 2830 Clifton Ave. —  the same address as Arthur T. and Nettie M. Owen (his son and daughter-in-law). Arthur is listed as a salesman for the Baltimore Sales Book Company.

By the time of the 1940 U.S. Census of Baltimore City (9th Ward), enumerated on April 3, Frank was living at 607 E. Thirteenth Street with yet another son and daughter-in-law — Joseph C. and Alama P. Owen. Joe was a mechanic at an appliance factory, and they had four children under the age of 10.

From the Adirondacks to Illinois to New York City

During 1930s and ’40s, Frank also spent summers in the Adirondacks with his oldest daughter — my grandmother Mary Frances “Molly” (Owen) Charboneau, who with my grandfather Ray ran the Otter Lake Hotel. That’s where my dad Norm got to know him.

From Otter Lake,  my great-grandfather traveled by train to Illinois, where his daughter Charlotte and her husband James Wilson also hosted him for periods of time. Then he would camp out with my Aunt Kate (his daughter Katherine), who by the 1940s lived in New York City.

Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen had come a long way from Wales — and he continued to venture a long way from his Baltimore home town as his children took turns housing him in his old age. Fortunately, his vagabond existence led to some correspondence and passed-on stories about him, which I will share in the next post.

Up next: Family lore and unanswered questions about Frank Owen. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1922: A death in the Owen family

Sepia Saturday 413: Sixth  in a series about my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh Owen, who married into the Irish Dempsey family in Baltimore, Maryland.

MRS. FRANK H. OWEN.

Mrs. Elizabeth Owen died suddenly yesterday at her home, 1519 West Franklin street. She leaves her husband, Frank H. Owen; three daughters, Mrs. James J. [Charlotte] Wilson, of Kansas City, Mo., Mrs. Ray [Mary] Chardoneau [sic], of Utica, N.Y., and Miss Katherine Owen, and five sons, Arthur, Evan, William, Joseph and John Owen. The funeral will be held at 8:30 o’clock Friday morning from St. Martin’s Catholic Church. Burial will be in New Cathedral Cemetery.

On 25 July 1922, a sad event took place in the household of my great-grandfather Francis Hugh Owen — the death of his beloved wife Elizabeth C. (Dempsey) Owen, 57.

Brief details are contained in the accompanying transcription of her 26 July Baltimore Sun obituary. I have added the first names of Elizabeth’s married daughters and highlighted my paternal grandmother.

The Owen family’s third loss

Sadly, Elizabeth’s death was not the first loss for the Owen family. My great-grandmother was predeceased by two of her ten children — her son Francis, 12, who died in 1909, and her daughter Dorothy, 17, who died in 1918. Elizabeth was laid to rest alongside them in Baltimore’s New Cathedral Cemetery.

Alas, I have no photographs of my great-grandmother to post. However, one of my dad’s Owen cousins shared a photocopy of a beautiful memorial to Elizabeth from my great-grandfather Frank.

Memorial to my great-grandmother Elizabeth C. (Dempsey) Owen, possibly for a headstone that was never placed or for a mass card or other printed piece to be handed out to mourners. Photo by Molly Charboneau

I don’t know if this was a design for a headstone that was never placed — or if it was intended for a mass card or other printed piece to be shared with mourners who attended Elizabeth’s wake and funeral.

http://www.geocities.ws/parrothead_21228/BaltoCatholic.html
St. Martin’s Catholic Church in W. Baltimore. A High Mass of Requiem was celebrated at this church for my great-grandmother Elizabeth C. (Dempsey) Owen, 57, who died on 25 July 1922. Photo: Baltimore’s Catholic Churches

What I do know is that Elizabeth’s passing was celebrated at a High Mass of Requiem at St. Martin’s Catholic Church in West Baltimore — likely attended by her extended Dempsey family as well as her surviving Owen children (then in their 20s and 30s) and their families.

A life spanning an era

Elizabeth was born at the end of the U.S. Civil War, and her life spanned an era in which women entered the modern age.

Many, like her daughter Katherine, became independent and self-supporting — while women in general took a more direct part in civic life after winning the right to vote. I am sorry my great-grandmother did not live longer to witness these historic developments.

After his wife Elizabeth’s untimely death, my great-grandfather Frank H. Owen soldiered on as a widower for more than two decades without her — leaning on his children for support during his later years when he was no longer able to work.

More on Frank Owen’s later years in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1889-1922: Frank Owen’s Baltimore homes

Sepia Saturday 412: Fifth in a series about my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh Owen, who married into the Irish Dempsey family in Baltimore, Maryland.

One disadvantage of having an urban ancestor like my Welsh great grandfather Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen is the difficulty of doing a door-to-door search in census records when his name can’t be located in an index.

Fortunately, the year after his 1888 marriage to Elizabeth C. Dempsey (the daughter of my Irish immigrant ancestors), Frank started showing up in an alternative urban source: Baltimore city directories — the name-and-address catalogs that predated phone books.

http://mdhsphotographs.tumblr.com/post/75071603938/pratt-street-after-the-great-baltimore-fire-of
Pratt Street after the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, looking west from near Commerce Street (1904). My Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen and his family lived on West Pratt Street, in the far distance, at the time of this calamitous fire. Source: Maryland Historical Society

West Baltimore residents

Frank’s first Baltimore city directory entry in 1889 gave his address as 642 Portland Ave. and said he worked as a clerk.

This would also have been the first home of Frank and Elizabeth’s oldest child — my Welsh-Irish grandmother Mary Frances (Owen) Charboneau, who was born on 22 March 1889.

From 1889 to 1922, despite numerous moves, Frank and his family remained in the general area north/west of Baltimore’s inner harbor. Frank’s addresses for that time period, from Baltimore city directories and one federal census, are marked on the map below

MAP INSTRUCTIONS: Click on the icon to the left of the map title for a description, sources and addresses/residence years. Click on the colored pins marking each address to see  Frank’s Baltimore city directory details. The northernmost pin is his address in the 1900 Baltimore federal census. Building icons mark the big three straw hat factories where he may have worked.

Where did Frank work?

In the last post, I discussed Frank’s job as a clerk in a straw hat factory. So I wondered whether this map might help me figure out where he worked — at least geographically.

There were many small hat shops in Baltimore during my great-grandfather’s working life. However, Baltimore’s three main manufacturers of straw hats likely provided the bulk of the jobs:

  • Brigham-Hopkins — 413-421 W. Redwood Street
  • M.S. Levy — Paca & Lombard streets
  • Townsend-Grace – 209 W. Fayette Street

So I added these company addresses as building markers to the map above — and Frank really could have worked at any of the big three. All were in reasonable commuting distance from most of his Baltimore homes.

More research ahead

More research would be needed into hat company archives to determine Frank’s exact employer. Are there rosters on which he might appear? What about payroll and other employee records?

However, mapping his addresses and those of the large straw hat manufacturers has given me a place to start.

More on the Owen household in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Frank Owen and Baltimore’s straw hat boom

Sepia Saturday 411: Fourth in a series about my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh Owen, who married into the Irish Dempsey family in Baltimore, Maryland.

According to the 1900 U.S. census of Baltimore City, Baltimore, Maryland, my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Frank Owen worked as a clerk in a straw hat factory.

And this was his career for much of his life according to Frank’s listing in the Baltimore name-and-address city directories that predated phone books.

A sea of straw hats at the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore (1912). The demand for straw hats in the hot, humid Mid-Atlantic region fueled a manufacturing boom in Baltimore that supported my great grandfather Frank Owen and his growing family.  By: The Library of Congress

“What kind of job is that?” I thought. “How could the manufacture of straw hats possibly provide a substantial enough income for my ancestor to raise a family on?”

Well, soon enough I discovered that straw hats were a very big deal in Baltimore during Frank’s working years.

Straw Hat Season

Anyone who has lived in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. knows that summers can be brutal — unbearably hot and maddeningly humid for months on end.

Now imagine a city like Baltimore with lots of people, traffic, large buildings retaining heat and, in the late 1800s, no air conditioning or sunscreen — and its not hard to see how the straw hat craze began there soon after the end of the U.S. Civil War.

A congressman and delegate shake hands at the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore (1912). These two men, and a third behind them, wear the types of hats produced in the heyday of Baltimore’s straw hat boom. My ancestor Frank Owen worked as a clerk at a Baltimore straw hat factory.  By: The Library of Congress

Soon enough, May 15 became known as Straw Hat Day — opening an annual season that lasted until Sept. 15. Hot felt hats were packed away and out came lighter, well-ventilated headwear to stave off the sun’s penetrating rays (see photos here).

Turns out my great grandfather Frank Owen — who appears as a clerk, shipping clerk or hatter in federal censuses and city directories — was right in the thick of the Baltimore straw hat boom.

“But where exactly did he work?” I wondered.

The Big Three

In a 1997 Baltimore Sun article, reporter Fred Rasmussen wrote that, “During the 1870s, three concerns, which came to dominate local straw-hat making, were founded in Baltimore.”

They were Brigham-Hopkins Co., M.S. Levy and Townsend-Grace Co. — the big three in an industry that employed thousands of workers, according to Rasmussen:

The straw-hat business boomed from 1890, when 1,100 people were employed in hat making, until the mid-1920s, when more than 2,300 workers turned out 3 million straw hats annually. It was common for several generations of the same family to work in the same hat-making factory.

I wondered whether Frank’s home addresses in Baltimore city directories and censuses — along with the locations of the three largest hat manufacturers — might help me narrow down which firm he was employed by.

So I plotted them on an interactive map — which you will see in the next post.

Up next: Frank Owen’s Baltimore homes. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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