“To Miss Mary McLay” Calais, Maine, c1890

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the mysterious John Frasial, the subject of a vintage photo, which was part of a small lot I purchased online.

I was excited to see that one of the photos, all taken in Maine locations, was labeled in Calais, Maine, home to generations of my maternal ancestry.

The style of the photograph and the fashion choices of this young man point to a photo date about 1890 or so.

Right up front, I will admit that this mystery might never be solved. In spite of that, I commented to my husband that he put me in the mind of some of my Adams ancestors, who lived in Calais.

This man is not my great grandfather, Charles Edwin Adams, but there are a couple of similarities to Charles. Here is a photo of Charles, a decade or so younger than the mystery man above, taken in the later 1890s:

The shape of both their faces with high foreheads and a bit of a receded hairline is similar. They both have the ears and their eyebrow lines look like an exact match.

Charles didn’t have any brothers, but the Adams clan was large and he had many cousins living in Calais.

Why would I think that this might be an Adams? Well, the back of the photo doesn’t contain the name of this man, but is instead inscribed “To Miss Mary McLay. Calais, Maine.”

That being my only clue, I delved into Ancestry. It seems that Mary McLay died on 8 December 1900 in Calais, Maine, aged about 75 years. The death record said she was born in Maine and she never married.

She does have a difficult-to-read gravestone in Calais Cemetery with a 1900 death date.

Was there more to learn about Mary? Yep, in the 1880 census.

1880 census, Calais, Maine

At 387 Main Street (no longer standing), we see Frederic A. Pike, aged 61 years, Lawyer, born in Maine. Also at home, is his wife, Mary H., 54 years old. There are no children in the household, but Miss Mary McLay, servant, aged 49, born in Scotland (as were her parents, per census data) was live-in help.

Frederick Augustus Pike was born in Calais in 1816 and he passed away in 1886, also in Calais. He was a notable local figure, having served as mayor and served in U.S. Congress as a representative from Maine.

Mary Hayden (Green) Pike was enumerated as an authoress in 1860.

They may have had a daughter, May Pike, but she wasn’t in the home as a child and might be a niece or cousin of Frederick.

Now, look again at the census crop form 1880. The Pikes and Mary McLay lived at 378 Main Street. The next house visited by the census taker was at 379 Main Street, where Robert and Caroline Buntin, Sarah J. Adams and Freeman Hersey all lived.

Who were they? Caroline and Sarah J. just happen to be Adamses by birth and are the aunts of my great grandfather, Charles Edwin Adams!

The Buntins had no children and neither did Sarah. This family group actually eventually moved to California.

However, now I’m again wondering. The Pikes had no son and there were many Adams kin living nearby. It is not inconceivable that Mary McLay greeted the neighbors and performed some kindness that reaped the reward of a photo.

Could this dapper young man actually be a collateral relative of mine or is he a complete unknown?

I’ll likely never know, but it’s quite a coincidence that I told my husband he reminded me of the Adamses and then come to find out they lived next door.


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