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.
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 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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