Lodgers or Relatives? (Part II)

2011 photograph of St. Jean Baptiste Church in Lynn, Massachusetts.

In a recent post I examined the curious case of young “lodger” George Stepper, who was enumerated in the 1920 census in the home of Joshua and Mary (Craven) Harron in Revere, Massachusetts. As I eventually discovered, he was their nephew, and lived with them for more than twenty years after his young widowed mother died. Further research into the Harron, Stepper, and Craven families revealed that each of these families suffered a rash of premature deaths and other adversities.

Following George Stepper’s descendants exposed another misidentified “boarder” in the 1920 census, as well as many other inaccuracies in official records. Moreover, like the Harrons and Cravens, George’s descendants experienced their own family problems, including out-of-wedlock births, infidelity, divorces, stillborn children, and early deaths.

As related in Part I, George married Miriam Frances Kelley in 1941. Miriam was born in Lynn on 10 November 1912 to Frederick Clifford Kelley (1893-1937) – who appears in various records as Frederick C., F. Clifford, or Fred – and Irene Nora Girard (1894-1968). Their marriage record shows that Fred was 21 and Irene 18 when they wed on 1 August 1912 in Hartford, Connecticut, just two months before Miriam was born; actually, it was Fred’s 19th birthday. Fred’s parents were Frederick A. W. Kelley (1866-1948) and Annie Laura Handren (1859-1954). Annie, born in St. Martins, New Brunswick, Canada, was one of eleven children, three of whom did not survive childhood.

Irene’s baptism record at St. Jean Baptiste Church, Lynn, on 10 March 1895, reveals that she was born to unknown parents and was adopted by Canadian-born William W. Girard (1852-1922) and Holden, Massachusetts native Nora Scanlan Girard (c. 1857-1916). (The adoption record at Essex Probate and Family Court is not a public record.) The baptism register does not include Irene’s birth date, but her SSDI record shows 16 June 1894. Her godfather was her 14-year old half-brother George Henry Smith, son of Nora Scanlan Smith and her first husband John Smith (see below).

Researching these Kelley and Girard families soon led to another “boarder” misidentified in the 1920 census: widowed William W. Girard. The 1900 census enumerates William, Nora, and their two children, Irene N. Girard (age 3, born July 1896) and stepson George H. Smith (age 20, born May 1880) living at 21 Franklin St., Lynn. George’s age and birth date are correct, but Irene, who was baptized in March 1895, was obviously not born in 1896! In 1910 William, Nora, and Irene (16) were living at 151 Broad St. in Lynn. By then, George had married Louise Alice Perry of Hope, Maine, on 5 March 1902, and had a son Walter Hermann Smith, born on 27 June 1904.

Nora died on 7 April 1916 of heart and renal disease (her death record has no informant, and incorrectly names her mother as Mary Gibbons, not Ann(e) Welch). William went to live with daughter Irene’s family in Lynn, and appears in the 1920 census as widowed “boarder” William W. Girard (66) living with Frederick C. Kelley (25), Irene N. (25), and their four young children – Clifford J. (9), Miriam F. (7), Frederick W. (5), and Elinor (sic – Eleanor) Doris (3). Had I not known that Irene’s maiden name was Girard, I would not have suspected that this boarder was her father. William died two years later, on 16 February 1922.

1920 Lynn, MA census record showing William W. Girard living with Kelley family

Digging deeper into the lives of Fred Kelley and Irene uncovered multiple misfortunes. Fred’s parents were from Nova Scotia, Canada; they married in Boston on 21 April 1886 and had son Percy G. seven months later (his first name was not registered). Their fourth son, Arthur Eugene Kelley, born on 21 September 1891, died seven months later of croupus pneumonia. Fred C. was born on 1 August 1893. Three years later, Annie filed for divorce from husband Fred on the grounds of adultery, seeking child custody, the right to reclaim her maiden name, and $500 alimony. In the 1900-1950 censuses, Annie’s marital status is shown variously as divorced or widowed (even before Fred’s death!). After her children were grown, Annie moved in with son Percy and his Nova Scotia-born wife Lena D. Crowell in Melrose, Massachusetts, where she died in 1954 in her 90s. Fred married at least twice more, lived in multiple states, had at least three more children (one of whom was stillborn and another who died as a young child), and died in Providence, Rhode Island in 1948.

The Girards fared no better. Just three months after William Girard and Nora Scanlan married in 1889 in Lynn, Nora’s unmarried sister Anastasia died of lung congestion at age 27. In November 1892 the Girards had a daughter, Annie Louise, who died five months later of meningitis. Their unmarried 16-year old adopted daughter Irene Nora gave birth to Clifford J. Girard on 6 August 1911. His birth record left the father’s name blank, and when he was baptized on 25 August as Joseph Clifford Girard, the priest annotated the register “illegitimate.” As noted above, a year later, Irene married Frederick Clifford Kelley. I suspect that Fred was the father because Irene named the baby Clifford, and Clifford’s surname was Kelley in all subsequent records. Irene also had a second child, Miriam Frances, on 10 November 1912, three months before marrying Fred, but this time he was named as father in Miriam’s birth registration. In the meantime, Nora’s unmarried sister Louise L. Scanlan, also living in Lynn, died of kidney disease on 17 October 1911, at age 41.

The Kelleys soon had two other children – Frederick William, born 10 August 1914, and Eleanor Doris, born 17 November 1915. After having four children in rapid succession, Irene and Fred divorced in the mid-to-late 1920s, and the children dispersed. The 1930 census shows that Fred had moved to Salem and was a policeman for a steam railroad. Irene was a “roomer” in a Lynn boarding house, working as a cook in a tea room, and her 15-year old son Frederick was listed as a “roomer” nine lines down on the form. Here again, had I not researched this family, I would not have recognized their relationship. Daughter Miriam was at the Industrial School for Girls in Dorchester, a group home and school founded in the 1850s for destitute girls. I have not found Clifford/Joseph or Eleanor in the 1930 census. On 3 November 1937, Sergeant Fred Kelley of the Boston and Maine Railroad Police died suddenly of a heart attack in his early forties while servicing his car at a garage in Lynn. His death notice mentioned surviving daughters Miriam and Eleanor, but not sons Clifford or Frederick. Irene lived for three more decades, dying in December 1968 at age 74.

Miriam Kelley was enumerated twice in the 1940 census: as a 26-year old single “lodger” living at the home of Frances H. Hurley (Mrs. John J., daughter of Joshua and Mary Harron, whose story was related in Part I); and as a 27-year old living with the family of her younger married sister Ellonor (sic – Eleanor) Fawcette. Perhaps she lived part-time in both homes? Regardless, both entries showed her employed as a clerical worker in an electrical appliances factory where she earned $936 in 1939, confirming her identity. (As reported earlier, Miriam married George F. Stepper in 1941, and their story was recounted in Part I .)

Returning to the Scanlan family: Nora Scanlan was born c. 1857 in Holden, Massachusetts to Irish immigrants Lawrence Scanlan (c. 1817-1905) and Ann(e) Welch (c.1831-1892). On 19 May 1880, at age 22, Nora married Brookfield, Massachusetts native John Smith, son of Irish immigrants Robert Henry and Joanna Smith, in Lynn. One week later, their son George Henry Smith (1880-1963) was born. John died of consumption on 19 June 1888; Nora had to find employment, and when she married William W. Girard on 3 July 1889, at age 32, she was an “operative” (factory worker?). Nora’s mother, Ann(e) Welch Scanlan, died on 4 September 1892 at age 61, of intestinal infection. Two months later, Nora and William Girard had their first child, Annie Louise, who died within five months. Nora’s widowed father Lawrence went to live with his married daughter Ellen (Mrs. John S.) Hand in Worcester; on 13 September 1905, approaching his 88th birthday, he was found dead in the barn of heart disease.

Nora’s son George H. Smith married Louise Perry in 5 March 1902, and six weeks later had a stillborn unnamed son. Their second child, Walter, was born two years later. Louise died on 21 August 1918, at age 38, after surgery for a fallopian tube obstruction. George then married Charlotte Avery (née Thompson) Ramsdell, on 12 June 1921, only two months after her husband Charles Edwin Ramsdell had died. Charlotte had married Charles at age 16 in Cambridge, in 1895, the same year that Charles’s father died, and the following year they too had a stillborn son.

Researching and writing about these families underscores some foundational best practices for genealogists. We have no choice but to rely on extant records from the past, and are always grateful to find them. But, as related above, contemporary sources need to viewed critically and cross-checked whenever possible. Don’t overlook lodgers, boarders, and roomers—these terms can cover a variety of relationships! Finally, tracing extended families backward and forward, rather keeping to our own ancestral lines, pays off handsomely by revealing the wider social and historical contexts that defined the lives of those who came before, in good times and bad.

About Joe Smaldone

Joe Smaldone and his wife Judy Warwick Smaldone have been researching their family’s history for 20 years. Their research has taken them to many national, state, and local libraries, archives, court houses, churches, cemeteries, historical and genealogical societies, and other research sites across the United States, and abroad to Ireland, Italy, and Sweden. They are members of NEHGS, the New Hampshire Historical Society, and the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. Joe is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, where he created and taught a course entitled Your Family in History. He is a Genealogy Research Consultant at the Family History Center, Annapolis, Maryland, and has published several genealogical studies, abstracts, and indexes.

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