Dinorah’s Story

Dinorah Metthe, ca. 1933
Dinorah Metthe, ca. 1933

Dinorah Metthe, Grandma’s sister, was one of five women on my mother’s side of the family who were mentally ill and had been committed to a state hospital. Mom had a letter (which I presume she found among Grandpa’s papers) from Kings Park State Hospital in New York. Dated October 11, 1954, it was addressed to Beatrice, with a memo line that read: “RE: Dinorah Metthe: deceased.” The hospital acknowledged the receipt of Dinorah’s divorce papers and some personal correspondence that Beatrice had sent them. How I wish Grandma hadn’t done this! These documents, which were subsequently filed in her patient record, would have revealed Dinorah’s state of mind, and perhaps provided additional details to the family story.

Continue reading Dinorah’s Story

Will Adams, Fiddler of Ken-Gar

Detail from Frank H. M. Klinge, Atlas Of Montgomery County, Maryland, Landsdale, Pa.: 1949.
Detail from Frank H. M. Klinge, Atlas Of Montgomery County, Maryland, Landsdale, Pa.: 1949.

Video of virtual talk from February 15, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GULm_6pTFM

Introduction

In 1953, two people from different worlds met in Ken-Gar. Will Adams was an elderly African American man from Ken-Gar, a predominantly Black neighborhood wedged between Kensington and Garrett Park in Montgomery County, Maryland. Mike Seeger was a young White man from upscale Chevy Chase, the son of two prominent music scholars. His older half-brother was Pete Seeger, the famous folk singer and banjo player. Mike Seeger made field recordings of Will Adams playing the fiddle, and old-time music history was made.

I wanted to know more about Adams, where he came from, and how he might have learned his music. While doing this research, I realized that his ancestry offers a glimpse into African American life in Montgomery County from the final years of slavery into the mid-twentieth century. In addition, the musical legacies of both men – Will Adams and Mike Seeger – live on to this day. Continue reading Will Adams, Fiddler of Ken-Gar

Sanctified Sisters of Colesville: The Hidden History of Commonwealth Farm

"A Sanctified Sisterhood," The Washington Times, April 6, 1902, section three, pp. 1, 4.
“A Sanctified Sisterhood,” The Washington Times, April 6, 1902, section three, pp. 1, 4.

Watch the video: “Sanctifed Sisters of Colesville: The Hidden History of Commonwealth Farm” (YouTube)

Commonwealth Farm was a 119-acre property in Colesville that was owned by a women’s commune formed in the 1870s in Belton, Texas. They were called the Sanctified Sisters or Sanctificationists at first, but eventually became known as the Woman’s Commonwealth. Their beliefs were based on divine revelations received by their leader which espoused sanctification, non-sectarianism, and celibacy. They were economically self-sustaining, pooling their financial resources and living communally. In 1898, the commune moved from Texas to Washington, D.C. In 1903, they purchased the Colesville farm, where they raised dairy cattle, chickens, and pigs, and grew vegetables, fruit trees, corn, and wheat. For over four decades, the commune ran the Commonwealth Farm Inn and restaurant on the property, which became a popular spot for members of high-society and influential Washingtonians.
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Commonwealth Farm, Colesville, Maryland

Stone retaining wall visible from New Hampshire Avenue. (J. Mangin, January 24, 2021)
Stone retaining wall visible from New Hampshire Avenue. (J. Mangin, January 24, 2021)
Watch: “Sanctifed Sisters of Colesville: The Hidden History of Commonwealth Farm” (YouTube)

Introduction

Late last year, stuck at home, my activities hampered by the pandemic, I found myself intrigued by a posting in a Facebook group.  Someone asked if anyone knew the history behind a stone retaining wall he’d seen on the east side New Hampshire Avenue, while heading north toward Good Hope Road. I didn’t know, but having nothing better to do, I set about to find the answer. I knew I had the research skills; for the past few years, I have scoured photograph archives, land records, digital newspapers, and maps to write the history of the Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery. Even so, when it comes to historical research there are times when, no matter how hard one looks, there’s nothing to go on. But this time, I was in luck. Continue reading Commonwealth Farm, Colesville, Maryland

The Reluctant Genealogist – Severance Magazine

An article I’ve written, a micro-memoir, appears in Severance Magazine, which features stories and essays about people who are on a similar journey as mine.   The story I tell is of my family history journey, which includes the history of mental illness in my family. It is also about finding out that my grandfather wasn’t Mom’s biological father, finding out who was, and pondering whether Mom knew. Severance Magazine is the perfect place for my story. I hope you will read the article I wrote and then explore the other content.

https://severancemag.com/the-reluctant-genealogist/

Cousin Jackpot!

Rita and me, on the day we met, February 28, 2013

Genealogists sometimes come across cousins they didn’t know they had.  The person maybe helpful and friendly or maybe they won’t.  In my case, by finding my cousin, Rita Hoadley, I hit the cousin jackpot.  She had photographs, stories, and even knew some of the family secrets.  And to top it off, she was a delightful person, beloved by her entire family. Here’s the story of how we met and what she meant to me. Continue reading Cousin Jackpot!

Researching the County Home

Postcard, ca 1935, New London County Temporary Home, Norwich Connecticut
Postcard, ca 1935, New London County Temporary Home, Norwich Connecticut

In 1935, at the age of ten, Mom was sent to live the New London County Temporary Home. Grandma had been committed to Norwich State Hospital and Grandpa was not considered suitable for raising Mom on her own. When writing my family story, I couldn’t find much about this institution which she always referred to as “the county home.”

Fortunately, there is now a resource for genealogists who want to know more about their ancestors who were residents of the New London County Temporary Home. Cheryl and Chris Klemmer have compiled their research about the county home in the form of a reference book available at the Connecticut State Library in Hartford and the Otis Library in Norwich. New London County Temporary Home: History, Residents and References contains a history of home and the names of residents that were found in records. While they are not selling their book, Cheryl and Chris are willing to provide guidance about searching for former county home residents if you contact them at CTCountyHomes@gmail.com.

Family Myth Busting – Virtual Talk

Genealogical Tree, published by Daughaday & Becker, Philadelphia, ca. 1859. From the Library of Congress, LC-DIG-pga-01537.
Genealogical Tree, published by Daughaday & Becker, Philadelphia, ca. 1859. From the Library of Congress, LC-DIG-pga-01537.

On May 9th, I gave a virtual talk for the Enoch Pratt Free Library called, “Family Myth Busting.”  In it, I traced the steps I took to resolve the discrepancies in the stories my mother had always told me about her family. I share my strategies, in which I used maps, newspapers, and patient records from Norwich State Hospital to stitch together a narrative of my family story which was more connected than the one my mother told.  I also share my thoughts on the benefits of knowing one’s family history and how it has the potential to empower and to heal old wounds.

A recording of the talk is available through the Crowdcast platform at  https://www.crowdcast.io/e/virtual-genealogy-circle, or on Facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/theprattlibrary/videos/286558142501891.

Norwich State Hospital and My Family, Part 7: Family Secrets

Grandma Beatrice, ca. 1944
Grandma Beatrice, ca. 1944

[This is Part 7, the last of a series on Norwich State Hospital and its effect on my family. To start at the beginning, go to Part 1.]

In 1931, the delicatessen failed. Mom always said that it had failed due to the Great Depression, but Beatrice’s patient record from Norwich State Hospital told a different story.

Beatrice told the hospital social workers that while she was living with her aunt’s family,  her uncle by marriage forced her into a sexual relationship. She claimed, “He said it was nothing as we were relations and I felt it was the only way out.” Continue reading Norwich State Hospital and My Family, Part 7: Family Secrets

Norwich State Hospital and My Family, Part 6: Beatrice’s Story

Azilda Davignon Bonneau was my great-great-grandmother. In this studio portrait taken circa 1911, she is accompanied by two of her grandchildren. On the left is my grandmother Beatrice; on the right is her younger sister, Dinorah.
Azilda Bonneau, ca. 1911. On the left is my grandmother Beatrice; on the right is her younger sister, Dinorah.

[This is Part 6 of a series on Norwich State Hospital and its effect on my family. To start at the beginning, go to Part 1.]

Until I pieced together the family history through genealogy and patient records from Norwich State Hospital, I never knew how unsettled my grandmother Beatrice’s childhood had been. She spent her early years in poverty, with a mentally ill mother. She was seven years old when Graziella, was committed to Norwich State Hospital. Her father, Philippe, vanished after her mother died at the hospital in December of 1910. Beatrice was then raised by her grandparents, Azilda and Pierre Bonneau. But the losses kept coming.

Continue reading Norwich State Hospital and My Family, Part 6: Beatrice’s Story