Tag Archives: Mary Frances (Owen) Charboneau

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.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

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.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

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.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

1900-1920: Frank Owen’s Baltimore family

Sepia Saturday 410: Third in a series about my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh Owen, who married into the Irish Dempsey family in Baltimore, Maryland.

The 1900 U.S. census of Baltimore City, Baltimore, Md., is the first in which I have found my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen and his family — and by then he had been in the country more than 12 years and was married with children.

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2007683533/
Baltimore street scene showing the Lubins Building and business district (circa 1910). Horse-drawn carts, streetcars and hats worn by all the men  — these provided sources of work for my great-grandfather Frank Owen, some of his children and his Dempsey in-laws. Source: Library of Congress

At the time, Baltimore City had a population of roughly 500,000 and was the sixth largest city in the U.S. — a bustling cauldron of opportunity and challenge for a Welsh working-class immigrant with a relatively young family.

The Owen family’s 1900 federal census enumeration is excerpted in the table below. My great-grandparents likely wed in 1888, since they had been married 12 years. Highlighted is the entry of their first-born child — my grandmother Mary Frances (Owen) Charboneau.

1900 U.S. Census Enumeration of Frank and Elizabeth (Dempsey) Owen – 428 Govane Ave., Baltimore City, Baltimore, Md. Source: FamilySearch.org
No. Name Reln. DOB Age Married Job
27 Frank C. Owen Head Dec. 1856 43 M 12 yrs. Clerk, Straw Hat Factory
28 Elizabeth Wife Feb. 1875 35 M 12 yrs. Mother of 6 children
29 Mary Dau. March 1889 11 S At school
30 Arthur Son Feb. 1891 9 S At school
31 Charlotte Dau Jan. 1893 7 S At school
32 Catherine Dau March 1895 5 S
33 Frank Son Feb. 1897 3 S
34 Evan T. Son Jan. 1899 1 S

The next two decades

By the time of the 1910 U.S. census, Frank and Elizabeth were married 22 years and had relocated their family to 1518 Henry St. Frank was a Shipping Clerk at the straw hat factory.

There were also four more children in the Owen household: Dorothy S. and William L. (both born in 1901, apparently twins), Joseph C. (born in 1904) and John, the baby, (born in 1908). Ten children altogether!

During the 1920 U.S. census the Owen family lived at 424 Stricker St., and my great-grandfather Frank, 65, was working as a railroad watchman — perhaps a less taxing job for an older worker nearing retirement.

Elizabeth C. was 52, and only four children — Arthur T., 28, (a street car conductor), Katherine G., 23,  (a men’s hat trimmer), Joseph T., 16, (a grocery clerk) and John W., 12 — were still at home. They also had two boarders, possibly for supplemental income.

In intriguing job

My great grandfather was a clerk for most of his working life — and I have long been intrigued by his job at the “straw hat factory.”

Frank even listed himself as a “hatter” in several Baltimore name-and-address city directories — and the work must have paid enough to support the large Owen household.

Yet his job somehow never sounded like an impressive calling — at least not until I started researching for this blog post.

It turns out that straw hats were a very big deal in Baltimore City for quite a number of years — and my great grandfather Frank Owen was right in there during the hey-day of Baltimore’s straw hat boom.

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

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

1948: Liz (Stoutner) Laurence as mother of the bride

Sepia Saturday 394: Eleventh and last in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.

Mother of the Bride (1948). My maternal grandmother Liz (Stoutner) Laurence (c.) was eye-catching as Mother of the Bride at my parents’ wedding. With her are  (l.) my dad’s brother and Best Man William Francis Charboneau (Uncle Frannie) and (r.) my maternal grandfather Tony W. Laurence, the Father of the Bride. Scan by Molly Charboneau

In November 1948, my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence, 43, appeared at my parents’ wedding as Mother of the Bride in a dress to die for.

Liz never had a bridal gown of her own, since she and my grandfather eloped — so she seems to have compensated by pulling out all the stops for my mom Peg’s wedding with an eye-catching outfit that made her a standout in the wedding party.

My grandmother looked pretty good as a Maid of Honor at her younger sister’s wedding, but Aunt Margaret would have chosen Liz’s dress for that occasion.

This time, the choice was up to Liz — and clearly, she aimed to dazzle from head to toe. She wore a black feathered fascinator hat at a jaunty angle and sported stylish eyeglasses that could be worn today. Subdued accessories — tiny watch, small drop earrings, wedding ring and corsage — meant her dress took center stage.

Stunning in copper and black

Parents of the bride and groom at my Mom and Dad’s wedding (1948). From left: William Ray and Mary (Owen) Charboneau; Norm Charboneau and Peg (Laurence) Charboneau; Liz (Stoutner) and Tony W. Laurence. Scan by Molly Charboneau

And what a dress! Shiny copper-colored stripes alternated with black matte at a bias angle on the sleeves and skirt and horizontally across the torso — so whenever Liz moved, the dress would pick up the light.

Normally, my grandmother wore flats when out with my grandfather since she was several inches taller — but she went ahead and wore strapped heels for this special occasion, which nicely complemented her dress. Long black gloves completed her stunning look.

Not to take away from anyone else in the wedding party. Everyone looked wonderful befitting their own personal styles — and it was my parents’ special day after all. But even among family, my maternal grandmother displayed a certain unique style that was all her own.

A shimmering dream

You may wonder how I know that my grandmother’s dress was copper and black, since the photos are black and white.

The explanation is simple — I actually saw the dress hanging in an attic closet during a visit to her house when I was in my twenties.

I may have asked her about it or recalled the dress from seeing my folks’ wedding photos — but what stays with me is the beautiful iridescence of the copper and the garment’s clean, tailored lines.

Years later, when my family closed out my maternal grandparents’ house after they both passed, I checked in the closet for the dress — but it was gone.

Yet its image still lingers like a shimmering dream — a beloved reminder of my maternal grandmother Liz who set a high bar for family style and lived by it all her life.

Up next: A family holiday get together. Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin