This year, I ‘ve decided to begin a new project featuring the women in my family tree, beginning with my great grandmothers.
So often, their stories are lost or are just seen through the lives and accomplishments of the men in the family and historical context is often ignored. Four factors influenced the lives of everyone, regardless of when or where they lived – political, social/cultural, economic and religious events impacted lives, whether in small or big ways.
This series will talk about the lives of my female ancestors on both sides of the family tree, as perhaps seen through their eyes, although the posts won’t be written in first person with some commentary about historical context.
What was American life like in the latter portion of the 19th century?
America was at peace, with the Civil War ending and President Lincoln assassinated long before Annie was born. The Spanish-American War was in the distant future for young Annie.
Three of my four great grandmothers were named Anna. Each has a very different life story.
Today, you’ll meet the first of my two maternal great grandmothers, Annie Maude Stuart.
Maria Kacsenyak and Anna Murcko, whose life stories were told in January, represent my paternal Rusyn family tree, and their lives were somewhat similar.
My two maternal line great grandmothers led very different lives from the Rusyns and even from each other, given that one was born in Maine of Loyalist ancestors and the other was born and raised in Copenhagen, Denmark.
My maternal tree is almost exclusively colonial New England, although there is a bit of Danish, Swedish and Dutch mixed in.
Annie Maude Stuart was the youngest of eight children born to Charles Augustus Stewart (later Stuart) and Elida Ann Hicks on 24 June 1874 in the small farming village of Meddybemps, Washington, Maine. Meddybemps was a “suburb” of the “big” city of nearby Calais.
Annie apparently was sensitive about her age, perhaps because she was older than my great grandfather. My grandmother told me my grandfather was unsure of when his mother was born because Annie was quite secretive about it. In spite of Annie’s efforts to hide her age, her birth is recorded in Meddybemps.
As with my Rusyn family, Charles and Elida Stuart had more than their share of heartache, as they buried three of their children when they were just toddlers. Another son, although married, was only 31 years old when he died and a fifth child, also a son and married, died at just 54 years of age. Therefore, Annie’s mother outlived five of her eight children.
Annie would have been unaware of her young siblings’ deaths, given that she was born after the three of them (Permelia, Felicia and Carey) had passed away. In addition, her oldest brother, Wallace, married when Annie was three years old and her second eldest brother, Harry, married when she was just five years old. Therefore, at home growing up with Annie were her sister, Melissa, and brother, William.
Annie’s father, Charles Stewart, was the grandson of Loyalists who fled New York for New Brunswick, while her mother Elida Hicks’ grandfather was a pre-Loyalist, whose family left Rhode Island for New Brunswick, Canada in the 1760s.
Charles and Elida were first cousins, as their mothers, Catherine Carlisle and Abigail Carlisle, respectively, were the children of Loyalist Robert Carlisle, which was not an uncommon event in Canada at the time, but which I’ve rarely seen in Maine records.
Meddybemps was, and remains, a farming community. Its greatest population ever recorded was 297 during the 1860 census. By the 1880 census, it was down to 172 persons and in 2014, there were 151 residents. Its fewest number of inhabitants was recorded in the 1970 census – with only 76 souls living there.
Annie, therefore, grew up on her parents’ farm, doing typical chores, like milking the cows, collecting eggs and working in the house with her mother. Farming life was apparently not for Annie, as she much preferred the Calais city and social life.
She did have an opportunity to attend school, as the 1940 census indicates that she completed 8th grade.
I have no idea how my great grandparents met, but on 21 September 1898, Annie married Charles Edwin Adams in Worcester, Worcester, Massachusetts.
It’s possible that both had left Maine for economic opportunities in the Massachusetts factories. Or, it is possible that they were just very, very short term Worcester residents.
It was a bit unusual for the time, but Charles was 2 1/2 years younger than Annie. He was 21 and she was 24 years old.
I was unable to locate their marriage record, thinking they had probably married in Calais, until, on a whim, I looked in Massachusetts. Charles’ occupation was shoe cutter and Annie was a bookkeeper.
I asked my grandmother why they went all the way to Worcester to get married. I could understand the Boston area, but Worcester was almost 50 miles east of Boston. She told me they went to Massachusetts to marry because Annie was already expecting my grandfather when they married and by marrying in Massachusetts, no one would be the wiser. Given his birth date on 3 May 1899, that would be true.
My grandfather, Vernon Tarbox Adams, was the only child of Charles and Annie Adams.
It is also possible that Charles and Annie had lived and worked in Worcester, a big city, married and then returned to Calais, since Charles wasn’t any more inclined to continue in the family boat building business than Annie was to spend her life on a small farm.
In any case, Annie and Charles were back home living in Calais in 1900 with extended family members. In the house were Charles’s parents, Calvin and Nellie Adams, Charles’ younger sister, Pearl, Charles and Annie and my grandfather, Vernon. Charles was again working as a cutter in a shoe factory, but Annie was at home.
Annie, from family accounts, loved her mother-in-law, Nellie, and was very close to her.
By 1910, the extended family was a bit different. At home were Charles, still a shoe cutter, Annie taking care of the house, my grandfather Vernon and Elida Stuart, Annie’s widowed mother.
In 1914, Annie’s mother, Elida, died, and by 1920, Charles and Annie were once again sharing a home with Charles’s parents, Calvin and Nellie.
Although Annie was fond of her in-laws, I tend to think she was a bit of a social climber, too. She most definitely wanted nothing to do with farming but there’s also no doubt that she was a hard worker and enjoyed the finer things in life.
Calais was in its heyday in the late 1800s. The harbor was busy with boat building and lumber shipping. Stores in town were flourishing and there was a lively interaction with Canadian friends and family who lived across the International Bridge.
Annie would have had an active social life. She was a member of Calais Congregational Church and likely spent time calling on friends, as they would have done at her home.
Annie’s and Charles’s economic circumstances had changed dramatically by the advent of World War I. They were now living in their own home on “The Avenue,” the most prestigious street in Calais and it was due to Annie’s business acumen.
Annie had opened her own ladies’ accessories shop and Charles was the store manager.
Annie is the lady in the dark dress behind the counter. On my own visit to Calais, I was on Main Street, trying to figure out which storefront had been home to Annie’s shop. A woman was walking along the street with her elderly mother.
We chatted a bit and I asked her mother if she knew which store had been Annie’s. She not only remember the shop, but had fun memories of looking at all the beautiful items for sale when she was a teenager. That made my day!
Annie’s life was soon to abruptly change. Although my grandfather was her only child, and her marriage to Charles was precipitated by her pregnancy, they appeared to love each other and my grandfather grew up in a happy home.
Annie likely worried as World War I dragged on and Vernon, her only child, turned 18 years old in May 1917. Vernon did enlist in the U.S. Navy, but was at boot camp in Massachusetts when the Armistice was signed.
With the war worry long behind her, Annie was quite in shock when Charles got sick one day, rapidly worsened, and died of a strep infection the next day on 24 January 1922. Charles had just celebrated his 45th birthday a couple of weeks earlier. the discovery of penicillin was still several years away and Annie was suddenly a widow.
Annie was very fond of her mother-in-law, Nellie (Tarbox) Adams and I believe they continued to live together until 1927, when Nellie also passed away.
Annie closed her business before 1930 and also sold the house on Calais Avenue. By 1935, her health was failing and she left Maine to live in Ridgewood, Bergen, New Jersey with my grandparents, aunts and mother.
Annie died in Ridgewood on 10 September 1940, but she was laid to rest with Charles, Calvin and Nellie Adams in Calais Cemetery. She was enumerated in the 1940 census, even though the census taker didn’t arrive until 24 September. His directions must have said “Who was living in this house on XXX day?”
Charles, Vernon and Annie Adams
Annie was remarkable for her time. While she grew up in a self-reliant farming family that was in comfortable circumstances, she wanted a different life for herself. She extended her 8th grade education enough, likely by self teaching, to be working as a bookkeeper at the time of her marriage. Annie later had the skills to set up her ladies’ accessories shop and successfully manage the business, with Charles’ help. Remember, his stated occupation was shoe cutter in the local factory – a shoe cutter cut the leather needed to shape the shoe – so he didn’t necessarily have the knowledge to run a business,
Not many ladies owned their own business in the 1920s. Annie was a remarkable woman.