Just a few images in the spirit of the day. Love these mothers, one and all!
I like my family history tangible. I want to see the places where my ancestors lived, learned, worked, and worshiped. I need to know what their faces looked like, read their very own handwriting, surround myself with their art, and if possible, I want to touch their stuff. Or better yet, wear it!
This month I joined in an Instagram “genealogy photo a day” challenge, and today’s theme was “my favorite heirloom.” Well! I picked one, but it was hard, and left me wanting to share more, so I think I’ll revisit this topic again soon.
This image of my maternal grandparents, Elsie Mills (1899-1993) and Kenneth Oliver (1898-1975), was taken before they were married in Baltimore in 1925, and has always been one of my favorites. He was 26 and a young doctor, and she was 25, a talented painter, and daughter of one of his medical school professors. I remember her regal bearing and sometimes haughty expression, but I don’t ever remember seeing him with such a dreamy expression.
This engagement portrait hangs in my house and Granny’s spectacular jacket hangs now in my closet. The cloth beneath the metallic mesh (which is very heavy!) is gray blue with a black lining. Very 1920s, very Art Deco, and very Granny. My favorite heirloom. At least for today…
Today would have been my Dad’s 85th birthday. I wish I could write about our long years together, the joys we shared, his interests and accomplishments, but at 28 he died in an accident. I was four and a half. That’s not a lot of time to build memories of a parent, and I want to remember more than I do, but here are some random thoughts:
Happy birthday, Daddy. Love you.
William Edward (Stephenson) Hare (1933-1961) – took his step-father’s surname, Hare.
When I visited Baltimore in April, exploring the places where my mother’s family lived, worshiped, studied, and worked, I hadn’t yet discovered the wedding announcement that appeared in the Baltimore Sun on June 1, 1898. What a gem! So today I remember my great grandparents, Mary Carroll Hill and Dr. James J. Mills, married 120 years ago today and return to two of the places I visited last month.
The wedding in the grand Baltimore Cathedral is described in exquisite detail in the article below, so I’ll stick to a few highlights.
Major Nicholas Snowden Hill, father of the bride (my 2nd great grandfather) walked Mary down the aisle. Oddly, there is no mention anywhere of the mother of the bride, Mary (Cocke) (Johnson) Hill.
The large cast of clergy was led by the eminent Cardinal James Gibbons, a close friend of Major Hill. With four priests officiating in red and white vestments embroidered in gold, it must have been quite a spectacle.
I’m loving the detail in this article, with vivid fashion descriptions, down to the orange blossoms fastening the bride’s veil and her bouquet of white sweet peas, a description of the church decorations, and an account of all the music.
Seeing the names of the bridesmaids, ushers, and a long list of guests invited to the wedding breakfast at the bride’s parents’ house got me curious, and I’ve been down the rabbit hole looking up bridesmaids, ushers, and wedding guests. No big surprises, but I found a few entertaining tidbits and a photo of bridesmaid Nanine Brent. Caton Mactavish, the ribbon boy, grew up to become a Baltimore newspaper journalist and close friend of Ogden Nash and H.L. Mencken.
My visit to the Cathedral in April was a thrill. The building, described as America’s first cathedral, is glorious and was beautifully restored not long ago.
Following the wedding ceremony, guests joined the family at Nicholas and Mary Hill’s home just a few blocks away at 813 North Charles Street for a breakfast. I had the thrill of being able to visit this house. The first floor now houses a vintage clothing shop (The Zone), so I popped in and got a look at the parlor, which still retains a bit of original detail.
The newlyweds, James and Mary, returned from their wedding trip and lived here with her parents for the first year of their marriage, which meant that my Granny, Elsie Mills, was probably born in this house.
And the article from the Baltimore Sun, June 1, 1898:
Historic view of the Cathedral and photo of Cardinal Gibbons are from the Library of Congress collections.
This post is a participant in the Genealogy Blog Party.
Major Nicholas Snowden Hill (1839-1912) and Mary Watkins Cocke (1834-1903) – 2nd great grandparents
Dr. James J. Mills, Jr. and Mary Hill (1875-1937) – great grandparents
Elsie (Mills) Oliver (1899-1993) grandmother
I just found this fabulous yearbook picture of my great uncle Damon Willbern (1900-1985) at age 16 at Llano High School in West Texas. He looks just like the successful Kansas banker I remember in his last decades. He was married to my Aunt Margie (Marjorie Miller), sister of my grandmother, and I adored them both.
One of my favorite memories of Uncle Damon was seeing him sitting in his Cordoba red leather reclining chair in their house in Coffeyville, Kansas, with his favorite Spanish peanuts, holding a fussy baby granddaughter in his lap. In his gravelly voice, he’d tell this tiny baby, “Give ’em hell, honey!”
From the yearbook I learned that Uncle Damon was born in a place called Baby Head, Texas, now a ghost town. For real!
After an eighteen-month hiatus from blogging due to the chaos of work and family life, I retired last week. So…I’m taking a deep breath and jumping back into blog life and family exploration.
Post-retirement getaway number one will include a quick family history stop in Baltimore next week. No research, but a 24-hour pilgrimage to visit five generations of houses, work, school, and worship places, and a cemetery. I lived in Baltimore until I was five, and with no family there after we left, have never really explored the family sites.
A big part of my love of genealogy (and of history in general) is about putting people in the context of their places–geographical genealogy. I want to be able to visualize where they lived and what they did there. Placing Granny in her childhood home–an urban row house on Park Avenue, Baltimore, full of children; picturing the 1912 funeral of her beloved grandfather, conducted by his lifelong friend, Cardinal Gibbons, at the Baltimore Basilica; walking the Johns Hopkins University campus where my dad studied and my parents strolled with me as a toddler, all keeps their memories alive and vibrant in a way that mere names and dates never can.
And then there’s my inner architectural historian at work. To see these buildings that are so evocative of their time and place–the Italianate row houses in the Mount Vernon and Bolton Hill neighborhoods, the 1920s apartment building near Hopkins, the spectacular, high Victorian Johns Hopkins University Hospital. These places would speak to me even if they weren’t tied to my family, but those connections make them especially dear.
Step one in my geographical genealogy research is to figure out where my people lived, most often through census records and city directories. According to these records and the deeds for the property, my great grandparents, James and Mary (Hill) Mills moved to their home on Park Avenue in 1900 with my grandmother, Elsie, age 1. They had been married two years, and rented the house for five years before Mary bought it in 1905. They remained on Park Avenue for the rest of their married life. James, a physician and medical professor at Hopkins, ran his practice from home, and he and Mary raised their four children here. By the time James died in 1925, the children were grown, and Mary sold the house and moved in 1927.
After identifying the locations of family places, then comes the fun part–seeing what they looked like. Through the wonders of Google maps street view I’ve figured out which of these homes and related places are still standing (happily, most of them), and found current images of the ones that survive.
My pilgrimage will include a few sites from my own early childhood, including a peek at one of my earliest homes.
And for extra thrills, real estate websites have even provided interior views of the Park Avenue house (now apartments, but a few original details survive), and some beautiful 19th century interior features of the Eutaw Place house where my grandfather was a tenant while he attended medical school at Johns Hopkins. Seeing the very rooms where my family lived a century ago takes my breath away.
Of course, public buildings are easy to find, and I’m headed to see a few of those as well. James Mills, my great grandfather, taught at the Hopkins medical school, where my grandfather, Kenneth Oliver was his student in the 1920s. One thing led to another, and Ken married Dr. Mills’ daughter Elsie in 1925.
Elsie was a student at the beautiful, Renaissance Revival style Maryland Institute College of Art, and I’ll be headed there too.
I’ve also found images of buildings that haven’t survived. The two below were both victims of the Great Baltimore Fire in 1904.
Much to see and much to enjoy during next week’s adventure!
Ackworth, Beirut, Brummana, Caithness, Daniel Oliver, Family history, geneabloggers, Genealogy, Lebanon, London, Missionary, Oliver, Quaker, Ras el Met'n, Scotland, Stoke Newington, Thurso, Wedding anniversary, wedding ring, Wright, Yorkshire
My great grandparents, Daniel and Emily, have always been the most colorful and compelling characters in my family history. I am lucky to have grown up on their stories, to have photos of them, and to have found a rich trove of their papers. And yet, there are so many unanswered questions…Today I wish them happy anniversary.
Daniel Oliver (1870-1952), an adventurous young Scotsman, left Thurso in Caithness in the northernmost part of the Scottish Highlands when he was a teenager. He was the youngest of three brothers, and came from a family of farm laborers who moved south to work on the docks in Edinburgh after Daniel left Scotland. He travelled to Morocco, where he did missionary work, and then in the early 1890s to Palestine and Beirut, where he studied Arabic. Soon he made his way to Brummana, Syria (now Lebanon), where he taught at the Quaker mission school that was founded there in the 1870s.
What ever possessed him to leave home so young? How did he become a missionary? His family was not particularly religious. What were those years on the road like? Did he travel alone or with companions? And how did a boy from such a modest family grow into such a commanding figure of a man? He didn’t speak to his children or grandchildren of his background. Did he cut off all ties with his family? Why?
Emily Wright (1865-1954) was born in Ackworth, Yorkshire, and was an adventurous young woman in her own right. She was the daughter of Mary Ann (Deane) and Alfred Wright, a Quaker missionary, and came to Syria with him when she was in her 20s. I don’t know where Alfred went from there, but Emily stayed to teach in Brummana, finding a calling that she would continue for the rest of her long life.
What must it have been like to leave England at 25 and start life on an unfamiliar continent? The school was supported by Quakers from England and the United States. Did she know any of the faculty when she arrived? Were there friends of her father’s? Teachers from home? Did her father stay there with her for long, or did he continue on with his travels soon?
I wish there were letters or clues to Emily and Daniel’s courtship, but I don’t know of any. In my imagination I see two young, idealistic people with a deep commitment to making the world a better place through their faith and their teaching. Daniel was a strong and perhaps blustery man with an iron will and a powerful ambition. Emily was unwavering. She was his partner for sixty years, first at the school in Brummana, where he eventually became principal, and then at the Daniel and Emily Oliver Orphanage and School in nearby Ras el Met’n. There they supported, educated and provided work skills for hundreds of children through two World Wars and beyond.
On September 19, 1895, one hundred twenty-one years ago today, Daniel and Emily were married at the Friends Meetinghouse at Stoke Newington, London. I wish I knew whether they had any family or friends with them that day. With the exception of Emily’s mother, their parents were all still living at the time. Was Alfred Wright there? Emily was close to her sisters and brothers, so I picture them with her at the meetinghouse. David and Esther Oliver, along with Daniel’s older brothers, John and David, were living in Edinburgh. Did they make the trip?
Daniel and Emily had been married for 57 years when Daniel died in 1952. Emily’s death followed in 1954. They had four children, (including my grandfather, Kenneth), seven grandchildren (including my mother, Celia), at least six great grandchildren, and at least twelve great great grandchildren. They also touched the lives of untold numbers of children they taught and cared for during their sixty years in Lebanon.
Daniel’s wedding ring is inscribed D + E 19th Sept. 1895. My husband wears it now with the added inscription KW to LJB 1-2-82.
And a very happy first anniversary today to another Emily–Daniel and Emily’s great great granddaughter–and her husband Matt!
Happy birthday to my lovely grandmother, Elsie (Mills) Oliver.
There was a news story last week about a woman in Italy, (I think), believed to be the last living person who was born in the 19th century. How can that be? Well…Granny was born on May 23, 1899. She would have been 117 today.
I took this photograph in about 1977 as my mother and I took her to lunch at a waterfront restaurant in Gloucester, Massachusetts. She must have just had her hair done–it looks just the way she liked it–and her lipstick was freshly applied. I know just how she smelled, too. Her favorite perfume was 4711 Eau de Cologne, which had a distinctive fresh smell that I always loved, and it still makes me think of her.
Granny was a talented painter, passionate lover of dogs (I got those genes), fabulous baker, voracious reader, and at her best had an almost giddy enthusiasm about the people she loved.
I grew up on my critter-loving grandmother’s stories about Major Nicholas Snowden Hill, her adored, indulgent grandfather, and most of those stories were about animals. Grandfather Hill took her to the circus, and soon after, he bought her Mars, the circus pony. He told her he had a surprise, and to pick a pocket in his overcoat. There was a puppy in each pocket. Granny’s stories were magical to a granddaughter who was equally animal crazed.
Nicholas Hill was a colorful figure in Baltimore. His family was among the earliest, Catholic settlers of the Maryland colony. He was raised in what is now Upper Marlboro, on one of Prince George’s County’s large tobacco farms. Sadly, his father, Charles, had many enslaved workers there. (A topic for further research). After serving in the Confederate Army in Arkansas as “Commissary of Subsistence,” he worked for many years as purchasing agent for the B & O Railroad, and later was managing director of the Carrollton Hotel and the Merchants’ Club.
I was curious about the Merchants’ Club, and a quick search led to this treasure:
This 1896 article from the Baltimore Sun went viral. It was reprinted in publications ranging from The Annals of Hygiene, a medical journal; to Good Houskeeping, to the Scranton Republican, which expanded on the unappetizing muskrat, “its flesh is fat and greasy unto nastiness.”
Part of my family history search always includes looking for the places as well as the people, and up popped this wonderful image of the Merchants’ Club, site of the muskrat luncheon.
Design for Merchant’s Club Building on German St., Baltimore, MD
J. A. and W. J. Wilson, architect(s). From the American Architect and Building News, August 19, 1882
The Baltimore architectural firm of John Appleton Wilson and his cousin, William Thomas Wilson designed the Merchants’ Club. They were active from the late 19th century through 1907, and designed many private homes in and around Baltimore, many in the Queen Anne style, along with public and commercial buildings.
Baltimore’s Great Fire of 1904 destroyed both the Merchants’ Club and the Carrollton Hotel, and most certainly had a profound impact on Nicholas Hill’s life. To be continued…
The Annals of Hygiene, Volume 11, p. 383
American Architect and Building News, August 19, 1882
Major Nicholas Snowden Hill (1839-1912) – 2nd great grandfather
Mary (Hill) Mills (1875-c.1936) – great grandmother
Elsie (Mills) Oliver (1899-1993) grandmother