The Case of the Lost and Found Grandma

A WOMAN OF MYSTERY

Years ago, when I first began documenting my maternal family, I reached out to our matriarch at the time, my Great-Aunt Doris. She spoke for hours, naming the ancestors she knew then sharing stories of their lives.

Although she knew a lot about her mother’s family, my great-aunt was less certain about her father’s family, especially his mother, Alice (Manley) Cole.

What little Aunt Doris knew about her grandma was her name and the fact that she disappeared from her father’s life when he was a child.

Alice was an enigma, a woman of mystery. As a family historian/genealogist, I LOVE following clues and solving puzzles, so off to the records I raced.

MANLEY/COLE MARRIAGE

Since I knew both Alice and Lloyd’s names, I started with the marriage records. On 17 December 1899, Alice M. Manly (as spelled on the marriage license) wed Lloyd W. Cole in Monmouth County, New Jersey. Unfortunately, no other details were noted, including parents’ names. Looks like I needed to do more research.

So I search the first census in which they, as a married couple, would appear. About six months after their marriage, on 1 June 1900, Lloyd and Alice Cole were enumerated living in an apartment at 326 North Willow Street in Trenton, Mercer County, New Jersey. This census shows that Alice was born in August 1877 in New York, while Lloyd, a housepainter, was born in February 1877 in New Jersey. According to this census, Alice’s father was born in England and her mother was Canadian, whereas both of Lloyd’s parents were native New Jerseyans. Yay!  Now, I had an idea of where to look for their parents.

But before I moved onto their parents, I wanted to learn about Alice and Lloyd Cole, the couple. The next record I found for them was the birth record of my great-grandfather, Howard Wilbur Cole, who was born in Trenton on 12 October 1900.

At some point after Howard’s birth, Alice (Manley) Cole disappeared from the records. Supposedly, according to family lore, when Howard was a baby, Alice, who was a very beautiful woman, ran off with another man, never to be heard from again. What happened to Alice?

If she had been murdered or kidnapped, something would have been mentioned in the local newspaper. Heck, at the time, newspapers printed everyone’s business: who’s visiting whom, who’s been hospitalized, and who’s up to no good. However, when it came to Alice (Manley) Cole, the newspapers were strangely silent. Maybe family lore was correct. However, since someone rarely disappears without a trace, I asked myself once again, “What happened to Alice?”

WHO’S YOUR DADDY?

Well, before I could cherchez la femme, I needed to find Alice’s and Lloyd’s parents first. Perhaps in determining who they were, I might locate my 2nd great-grandmother.

Lloyd’s father and mother were easy. Thanks to his WWI and WWII draft cards, I could confirm the date and place of his birth. Plugging those into my search of the 1880 U.S. Census, I found a Loyd Cole (as spelled), age 1, living in Hightstown, New Jersey, whose parents were Francis and Lavinia Cole. Bingo!

Now, to find Alice’s family. When I combed the first census in which Alice would have appeared, I could not find an Alice Manly, born in 1878 in New York, so I broaden my search +/- five years, using born in 1873 through 1883. With this new search parameter, I hit pay dirt. On 1 June 1880, in the city of Oswego, New York, located on the shores of Lake Ontario, lived a Manley family. The father, John Manley, was a boot and shoe dealer from England. The mother, Margaret N. Manley, was from Canada. The couple lived at 169 West First Street with their children Sarah Jane, age 14; John R., age 12; Allie A., age 6, and Maggie N, age 2. Houston, we have liftoff!

WHICH RECORD IS RIGHT?

However, when comparing the marriage license and the 1880 Census, I noticed a disparity in Alice/Allie’s age. According to the 1880 Census, Alice was born circa 1874, but the marriage license shows her birthdate as August 1878. Did the enumerator make a mistake in the census, or did Alice claim to be younger than she was when she married Lloyd. Obviously, additional research was needed.

In the off chance that the 1880 Census was correct, I looked at the 1875 New York State Census. That census shows an Oswego, New York family with the Manley surname: John, a 37-year old boot and shoe dealer from England; Matilda (Margaret?), a 27-year old woman from Canada; Sarah Jane, age 9; John, age 7; Hattie, age 5; and Allie, age 2. So it looks like Alice Manley did fudge her age a bit when she wed. Was she trying to hide the age difference between Lloyd and herself?  If so, was Lloyd even aware that she was three years his senior? Perhaps the year was simply miswritten? Who knows…

MAINLY THE MANLEYS

Anyhow, soon after the 1880 Census, Alice became a sister again. William Henry Manley was born on 2 October 1880, in Oswego. Three years later, another brother, Theodore Peter Grant Manley, was welcomed to the Manley’s Oswego home on 13 December 1883. The final sibling to join the family was Clifford E. Manley, who was born in June 1886, also in Oswego.

The next question I had was did this Manley family migrate from New York to New Jersey? Obviously, the Alice Manley in my tree had to get to New Jersey for the wedding to Lloyd Cole to occur? So I postulated that sometime between the 1880 Census and 1900 Census, this Manley family moved from the Empire State to the Garden State. Now to prove it…

Unfortunately, because most of the 1890 U.S. Census was destroyed by fire in January 1921, I could not ascertain if the move, if it occurred, definitely took place prior to 1890. But when looking at the 1900 U.S. Census, I did prove that the New York Manley family was, in fact, my New Jersey Manley family. On 4 June 1900, they were enumerated in Elizabeth, Union County, New Jersey. Living in the household were John, a 59-year old shoemaker from England; Margaret, a 52-year-old woman from Canada; Sarah J., a New York native, age 34; William H., age 20; Theodore P., of New York, age 17; and Clifford E. Manley. also from New York, age 14.

THE MURDY CONNECTION

I then queried the 1905 New Jersey State Census to see whether the Manley family was still in Union County, New Jersey five years later. They were.

Enumerated on 23 June 1905, were John Manley, an English shoemaker who claimed to still be 59-years-old; Margaret M., a Canadian woman who miraculously only aged three years since 1900; Sarah J., age 39; Theodore P.G., a 19-year-old painter, who only gained two years in five; and Clifford E., a 17-year old. Also living in the household were Alice M. Murdy, age 12; James N. Murdy, age 10; and George C. Murdy, age 8. Who are these Murdy kids, and why are they living in the Manley home?

Trying to determine the Murdy connection, I delved into the 1910 U.S. Census. On 20 April 1910, John, Margarette (as spelled), and Theodore P.G. Manley were living in Elizabeth, Union County, New Jersey. James N. and George C. Murdy, ages 16 and 13, resided with the Manleys. The census then provided an important clue: The two boys were John Manley’s grandsons, both born in New York to parents who were native New Yorkers.

Now, I knew that the Murdy children were Manley grandchildren.  So which of the Manley daughters was their mother?  Further investigation was warranted, so I delved into both the New York and the New Jersey birth records.

IS SHE OR ISN’T SHE?

The first Murdy child for whom I searched was the eldest, Alice. According to the 1905 Census, her birth year was circa 1893, so I entered Alice Murdy, born 1893 +/- one year into the search parameters. Since I had no luck with New York, I tried New Jersey’s records. This time, I got a match, but it was one that I never expected. On 23 September 1892, in the town of Elizabeth, Union County, New Jersey, Alice M. Murdy was born to James and Alice A. Murdy.  Alice?  As in MY Alice?

Before I jumped to unsubstantiated conclusions, I moved onto the next Murdy child: James N. Murdy, who would have been born about 1894. Unfortunately, I had no luck locating James’ birth record. So onto George, I went. As per the 1910 Census, George C. Murdy was 13-years-old, making his birth year 1897; therefore, I looked for George’s birth record using that birth year. I found a nameless Murdy child, born in February 1897, in Elizabeth, New Jersey to parents James and Alice Murdy. Since the date, location, and parents matched, I assumed this was probably George. I will say, for what this birth record lack in first names, it made up for in extraneous information.  According to this record, father James was an undertaker. Also, James and Alice had three previous children, all living. Hmmm… So there was another Murdy child unaccounted for? Great.

Additional child aside, this brought me back to my earlier question: Was this Alice my Alice? The only way to answer that question was to look for their marriage license, and boy did I hit the mother lode! On 4 November 1891, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, James N. Murdy married Alice H. Manley (the H might be an M), whose estimated birth year was 1873.

Just to confirm this information, I looked for the first census in which this couple would have been enumerated: the 1895 New Jersey State Census. On 15 May 1895, residing in Elizabeth, New Jersey were James N. Murdy, a white, native-born male, age 20 to 60; Alice Murdy, a white, native-born, female, age 20 to 60; Alice M. Murdy, a white, native-born female, age 5 years and under; and James N. Murdy, a white, native-born male, age 5 years and under.

At this point, there was no doubt in my mind that the Alice Manley who married James Murdy in 1891 was the same Alice Manley who married Lloyd Cole in 1899. Alice (Manley) Murdy was my Alice (Manley) Cole! Hooray!

STILL MORE QUESTIONS

However, although that question had been answered, I now had several more. First, what happened to Alice’s first husband, and, second, why were her Murdy children living with her parents instead of her?

Let’s start with the follow-up question regarding her first husband. Considering his profession, that of an undertaker, I would assume that James might have been older than Alice’s 17 or 18 years when they married, so perhaps he died between the birth of their final child (February 1897) and Alice’s second marriage (17 December 1899). Or maybe James Sr. ran off? Or perhaps Alice left him instead? Unfortunately, after the 1897 birth record, it seems that James N. Murdy, Sr. fell off the face of the earth. (Seems to be a theme with this family, don’t ya think?) There is a James Murdy who died and was buried in nearby Linden, New Jersey in June 1916. Maybe that’s him? The jury’s still out on that one, though.

As to the children, did the Manley grandparents raise their Murdy grandchildren to adulthood? And where was Alice during this time? I moved forward to the next census, the 1915 New Jersey State Census, to find out. Residing at 362 Morris Street, in Elizabeth, New Jersey were 76-year-old John Manley; 66-year-old Margaret N. Manley; their 50-year-old daughter Sarah J. O’Donnell and her significantly younger husband Bernard; their 33-year-old son Theo P. Manley, his 21-year-old wife Florence E., and their one-year-old son DeWitt B.; their 20-year-old grandson James K. and 18-year-old grandson George C. Murdy; and their five-year-old grandson (through their son Clifford) Clifford E. Manley. So two of the three Murdy children were still living with their grandparents.

SURPRISE, SURPRISE, SURPRISE

Although I now had the answer to the extent of the Murdy/Manley relationship, out of curiosity, I wanted to keep following the paper trail on the Manley family. The next source I consulted was the 1920 U.S. Census. Sadly, the head of the household was now listed as Margaret Manley, a 72-year-old widow. John Manley was dead. With John’s death, Margaret moved one-half mile southeast to 1175 East Grand Street, where she ran a boarding house. Margaret had three lodgers staying with her, as well as her daughter and son-in-law Sarah J. and Bernard O’Donnell; and her 22-year-old grandson George C. Murdy. Margaret also had a surprise guest residing her home, her 46-year-old daughter Alice Murdy, a widow.

After 20 years of being “lost”, Alice (Manley) Murdy Cole was found, at least temporarily. Unfortunately, after the 1920 Census, Alice disappeared from the records again…this time for good. Looks like I should have titled this The Case of the Lost and Found Then Lost Again Grandma. Sigh.

Categories: Brickwall Ancestors, Cole-Marriner Line, Everyday People | Tags: , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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18 thoughts on “The Case of the Lost and Found Grandma

  1. Carol Lee

    So interesting….your super sleuthing is amazing! When I would ask about my “other grandmother “ when I was growing up, the questions were always promptly dismissed and the subject changed. (We don’t talk about that. Don’t ask again!) The truth is, they didn’t have the answers, but you finally answered my questions asked so long ago. Thank you so much!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am so glad to have provided some answers to questions asked long ago, Aunt Carol Lee. Love you!

      Like

  2. great story, thanks for that!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Friday's Family History Finds | Empty Branches on the Family Tree

  4. Linda Stufflebean

    Sometimes, it seems the ancestors’ lives took too many twists and turns. They certainly never imagined that a century of more later, descendants would be trying to piece together the details. I sometimes wonder if they would be horrified or pleased. A little of both, I suspect. Great sleuthing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Linda. It was fun sleuthing. Although I would hope that my 2xs great-grandma would be happy that someone cared enough to “find” her, considering that she worked so hard to get “lost”, I suspect that she probably wouldn’t be thrilled. Oh well…

      Like

  5. Oh my gosh, how this sounds like a story from my own family–who was my great great great grandmother, whom my mother thought was named Margaret O’Hegan? Long story short, through a whole lot of record perusal and sleuthing, I found her, Mary Elizabeth Hegan, (1853-1875) the youngest child of John and Jane (Swords) Hegan, Irish immigrants in Boston. Mary was very young when she married my great great grandfather, George Alfred Davis, and bore him two children, Warren Hegan Davis (1873-1874), who died at the age of 1 of cholera, and my great grandfather, Alfred Warren Davis (1874-1955). Mary died of typhoid fever not long after her eldest son died of cholera, and the family story is that her husband, my great great grandfather, George Alfred Davis, had previously died in a mining accident in Colorado, where my great grandfather Alfred Warren Davis was born, prompting Mary to bring her surviving child back to Boston. When Mary died soon after, my great grandfather was raised by his father’s two sisters. Now, I know the family story is that my great great grandfather died in a mining accident in Colorado–I can’t seem to find any death record for him there (it was a territory then, not a state, and things were kinda wild) or in Boston, but I found a George Alfred Davis on the voting rolls in California several years after 1874, and I still wonder, in the absence of death records, did he really die in a mining accident? Or did he abandon his family and go on to California for the work there, prompting his still very young wife to take his surviving child back to Boston and her family? The search goes on!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, Bobbie! What a merry chase your great-grandfather has led and continues to lead you on! Best of luck on your ongoing search. Maybe I will read all about it on your blog soon? 🙂

      Like

  6. Climbing My Family Tree

    What a long and winding road to the conclusion of your search! Have you had a chance to look in newspapers for some clues? Thanks for sharing your step-by-step thinking on this challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great bit of sleuthing. I have been doing a series on my 3rd great-grandparents’ 1860 separation (and ultimate divorce), and finally located my 3rd great-grandfather at the end of his life — but it took a genealogy road trip to the area where he lived to nail down the last bit of info I needed. My advice is to keep at it — new records come online all the time, and there are always those local records waiting to be discovered in repositories all over.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Molly. I will keep looking for my lost granny… maybe someday I will find her.

      Like

  8. Pingback: *Press it* The Case of the Lost and Found Grandma #95 | Its good to be crazy Sometimes

  9. This was intriguing to read! Don’t give up, hopefully sometime something down the road will turn up! Thanks for sharing the story with us!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. KTC, you are a great storyteller! This is just so fascinating! I really love reading your stories about researching your family tree!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: The Case of the Lost and Found Grandma – Tales of a Family

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