Anna Jean Bennett was born 16 Jul 1854 in Belmont (Allegany County), New York.
Her parents were my great great grandmother, Catherine Yonge, and Catherine’s first husband, who was named either William or Thomas Bennett. Anna Jean’s mother Catherine had three marriages: (1) Bennett, which produced Anna Jean and her brother William Blackstone Bennett, (2) Edward Baldwin, which produced my g-grandfather Edward Baldwin and Harriet Elizabeth (Hattie) Baldwin and (3) Hiram Ross, a marriage that lasted many decades and ended when Catherine died. I suspect Catherine’s first marriage ended in divorce, and the second by the death of her husband, but I have little or no proof.
Anna Jean lived in a rented house with her mom, mom’s second husband, and baby half-sister in 1860, at age 7, as reported in the 1860 Federal Census for Amity (Belmont Post Office), New York. The family’s personal effects totaled $100 – an indication of near-poverty even in that rural community. The stepfather was a lumber planer; there seemed to be several lumber mills nearby.
Of the hundreds of census records I have found relating to my family, this crucial one is probably the sloppiest and most perfunctory. It was impossible to index correctly so I only found it after a page-by-page reading of the entire Amity, New York census.
We can see “Ed Baldin” and “Cate”, both age 27; he works as a lumber planer, property valued at $100, born in Mass. “Cate” is reported as born in New York (although that’s not true; in every other census she reports being born in England) and the children “Anna J” and “Hattie” were born in New York. Anna Jean attends school. Anna Jean’s last name is Bennett but this was not noted.
Missing in this record is Anna Jean’s brother William. Could he have been with his father, or was he just omitted by (arguably) the worst census enumerator ever? Sometimes William and Anna Jean gave their birthplace as Rochester, N.Y. Could that have been true, or was it just a simple approximation for the western section of New York State?
I have not located any birth records for these children and its unlikely I ever will. So I’m dependent on census records, and finding them very frustrating. Even page-by-page perusals of certain Massachusetts and New York state census records reveal nothing in 1865. In 1870, we find, in the Federal Census, mother Catherine married for the third time, in Massachusetts, and living with her new husband and Hattie, as well as my g-grandfather, Miles Edward, born in 1864. I don’t know what happened. The Civil War was going on, but I find no record of Edward’s death.
But where was Anna Jean in 1870? She would have been 17, and part of a now stable, but not wealthy, family that owned a small farm in Sterling, Mass. Three possibilities come to mind: (1) with her father and still-missing brother William, (2) away at school (seems unlikely) or (3) working and living in some other location. Wherever she was, she should be in the federal census but I have not found her yet.
The next thing we know about Anna Jean is very surprising. Let me give some background. In her later life, Anna Jean married well and her husband was a conservative lawyer who became Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. She and the judge were well known persons in our family and one prejudice of the judge’s that was repeated many times in family stories was his antipathy for divorce. My grandfather – always a favorite with his aunt and uncle, the childless Anna Jean and the judge – carefully kept the news of his own divorce in 1929 from the judge who was on his death bed. So imagine me on my hunt through the 1870’s looking for records of Anna Jean’s life and discovering that she had been, during that time, married and divorced.
Anna Jean Bennett married Harrison Gilley on 29 Jan 1873 in Sterling, Mass.
The reason I believe this is truly our Anna Jean is evidence found in the marriage record of Anna Jean and the judge in 1882:
Note that this is listed as Anna Jean’s second marriage. My mother could not have been more surprised. I looked into Harrison Gilley’s life. He was born into an aging sea captain’s family in Marblehead, Mass. He had a twin brother named Henry (their names taken, I presume, from President William Henry Harrison who died in office in 1841, two years before their birth). Harrison Gilley was a Civil War Navy veteran who had served as a nurse and surgeon’s steward, and after the war, worked as a druggist. In the 1890’s he applied for a military disability pension. The records – found on Footnote.org – show him to be a man of small stature who suffered numerous physical complaints. Shortly after the pension was granted, he died from consumption. His records say that he had been divorced and his wife was then living in Rhode Island.
Part of my difficulty with Aunt Jennie is that I have not found her census records from 1870 and 1880, which would fill in some details. When she married the judge in 1883, she was living in Newton, Mass. During the 1880’s and 1890’s, her parents seemed to live both at the farm in Sterling and a rented residence in Newton where Hiram Ross was able to work for his cousin, who managed a cemetery. On both of her marriage licenses, she listed no occupation.
I would like to find:
- birth record for Anna Jean
- 1870 & 1880 federal census for Anna Jean
- record of divorce from Harrison Gilley
- evidence of how Anna Jean met the judge
Next time, I’ll talk more about Aunt Jenny’s life after she married the judge. I will not stop researching her until I know the story of how that little girl near the lumber mill in Belmont, NY built a life for herself that somehow brought her to an acquaintance, love and marriage with a socially prominent Rhode Island attorney, and a wealthy, travel-filled life. And along the way, suffered through a marriage that had such difficulties that the judge didn’t hold the divorce against her. Could Harrison Gilley have been gay? deserted her? a drug user (since he would have had access)?