A member of the Stuart branch of my mother’s family was Melissa Stuart Findley. She was my great grandmother’s older sister. I have written about Meliss’, as she was known, in passing, but I don’t know a lot of her story to tell.
Meliss’ was born on 4 August 1859 in Meddybemps, Washington County, Maine, the fifth child of Charles and Elida Ann (Hicks) Stuart. I had lost track of Meliss’ for quite some time because of the lack of records and the missing 1890 U.S. census.
Meliss’ married Frederick Austin Findley on 22 November 1882 in Melrose, Middlesex, Massachusetts. I have no idea what Meliss’ was doing in Melrose, but I imagine she left Maine to seek work, perhaps in the Massachusetts mills.
By 1900, Meliss’ was enumerated in the census as a widow. She apparently told everyone she was a widow – even her death certificate with her sister Annie as the informant states that she was a widow. That wasn’t true, but perhaps with the Victorian values of the time, she wasn’t about to admit to anyone that sometime between their 1882 marriage and 1890, they went their separate ways. I say that because they might have divorced, but if so, I have not found the record. In any case, Fred was remarried by 1890 and in 1900 was living in Louisville, Kentucky with his second wife.
Meliss’ and Fred had no known children and Meliss’ is a head of a Boston household in 1900 that enumerates her as a housekeeper, but there are rental tenants living with her. By 1910, she is a boarder in a rooming house in Brookline, Massachusetts. She is last found in the 1920 census, living with a cousin’s family in Watertown, Massachusetts. She died of bowel cancer in Chipman Hospital in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada on 10 May 1921.
One of the only stories that I’ve heard about Meliss’ is that she loved to entertain the theater crowd. That would likely involve hosting elaborate dinners and inviting guests to share stories about their lives as actors. That would fit with one of the two things I’ve inherited from Meliss’:
I have a mostly complete 12 place setting set of Theodore Haviland china which belonged to Meliss’. Pieces are stamped with a mark from a Boston department store and a Haviland expert told me that this pattern was top of the line and not much of it was sold. It doesn’t come up for sale very often because, like in my family, it has been passed down through the generations. I’ve added to the set with eBay purchases over the years, but I have seen this pattern for sale maybe five times in twenty years. I do use it during the holidays and when we spent Christmas with my grandparents in Massachusetts, my grandmother always served dinner on this china.
Here is a better view of the pattern on a salad plate:
I inherited one other item from Meliss’, a small perfume jar. It has a sterling silver cap inscribed with the letter “M” and a stopper under the cap.
I don’t think many extended family members know anything about Melissa, but I treasure the last of her worldly goods.
Now, back to the original question posed at the start of this series – what possessions would I want to pass on? Come back tomorrow for the answer.