Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Elsie Mystery

What is the story Grandma Jones was covering up?

From: Pamela pjhb@motion.net
Our family’s major brick wall is “The Elsie Mystery”.

My maternal grandmother, Elsie (JONES) Hackett was supposedly born 15 October 1889 in Taunton, Massachusetts. This was the story promoted by her mother, Carrie Maria (FRENCH) Jones. [Maiden names appear in capital letters for emphasis only].

However, just days before her own death in 1936, Grandma Jones was overheard saying, “Now no one will ever know about Elsie” as she was seen stuffing papers into the stove. Elsie’s children and grandchildren are now convinced Elsie was adopted because we can find no evidence of her birth. If Grandma Jones had papers, however, surely someone else also had them.

What we’ve found:

  • No birth certificate at Taunton, MA or the nearby town of Berkley, where her mother was born.
  • No evidence of a name change to Elsie Jones in Massachusetts. Tthere was a name change from Elsie Jones, but this person shows up subsequently with her adopted parents.
  • Marriage certificate lists her birthplace as Taunton, MA and her mother’s name as Carrie Reed (should be Carrie French).
  • Her death certificate (May 11, 1940) lists her birthplace as Taunton, MA and mother’s maiden name and birthplace as Carrie M. French, Berkley, MA.
  • Census records list the birthplace of [Elsie] and her parents variously:
    Elsie Mother Father
    1900 NY MA MA
    1910 MA Canada* MA
    1920 MA US US
    1930 MA MA MA
    *Canada is where Elsie’s mother-in-law was born

So far, Grandma Jones was right - no one knows about Elsie. Any suggestions where we could look next are enormously appreciated by her puzzled descendants.

Thank you so much for all of your tree-climbing help. I've picked up all sorts of hints to help with other puzzles.


“Momma’s baby – Papa’s maybe” is a catch phrase in the world of genealogy. Fortunately the law recognizes children born to a specific woman as being legitimate heirs to both that woman and her husband at the time. Heaven only knows how many men erroneously thought they were the father of each child born of their marriages.

Understanding the fact that
people are human
does not make genealogists any less curious.

Elsie’s mother, Gramma Jones, may have been burning letters from an old flame, and not legal adoption papers. Those letters from her former beau might mention his reaction to the news of her pregnancy. The letters could also have been from her dying best friend who asked Grandma Jones to care for her baby as her own. Alternatively, Grandma Jones’ older single daughter could have written begging her mother to care for an out-of-wedlock child rather than place it for adoption outside the family. Perhaps the unfortunate girl, banished to the home of a distant cousin during her confinement, could have been Grandma Jones’ unmarried sister. Maybe to keep things “hushed up” Grandma Jones merely pretended that the child was her own.

These suggestions are purely speculative, but see how your analysis of the paper-burning story has pointed you only to the conclusion of a legal adoption? Aren’t Ol’ Myrt’s suggestions just as plausible?

Check out the “Carrie Reed” as that name has to come from somewhere.

Superstitions and social mores may have played a part in the story.

Pressure to conceive
Women were considered less-than-desirable if they were barren. Of course, a male child was a more honorable gift to the woman’s husband. However, the pressure to conceive could have prompted Grandma Jones to agree to pose as the true mother of Elsie.

Social Ramifications
On a related topic let me share the story of a man with Down’s syndrome, who lived to his early 60s. His name was Bud, and I got to know him because of my good friend Barb Schultz who cared for this man with the help of John Brown, after Barb’s mother passed away. Barb’s mother had become the court-appointed guardian for Bud when his mother passed away when he was in his teens.

Barb’s mother discovered that Bud was shunned by his family. The story goes that at the time, people in the South hid Down’s syndrome children away in attics or sanitariums for several reasons. The story discussed in this family was the odd belief at the time that if you had a Down’s syndrome baby, it was because you had previously had an abortion. Bud’s family were considered “high society” in this small Florida town, his father was a retired Army colonel.

If pressures within families and from society were this strong, then anything could have happened in Elsie’s case.

You are right to look for a paper trail,
but it just may be that you won’t be able to find one.

You’ve done quite a bit of research, but only on the usual and customary records of census, birth, marriage and death. Begin looking at everything else. I’d be reading every issue of old area newspapers, probably on microfilm. This could take years.

Look at every probate packet (not just the wills) for anyone with the surname JONES, REED or FRENCH. Determine & then study every type of record group created on the town, county and state level for:

  • Taunton, Massachusetts
  • Berkley, Massachusetts

Find out about these records and where they are archived by looking at the Massachusetts Research Outline and the United States Research Outline created by the experienced researchers at the Family History Library.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
Your friend in genealogy.

(c) 2007 Pat Richley All Rights Reserved.

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