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Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Unattached Aunt

I have been sleuthing around to figure out where Fannie Ginders fits in the family picture. She sparked my curiosity when I was studying this photograph of a family group in Rockford, Illinois in 1931 with her in it. The others are some of the descendants of three Andrews brothers: Charles, Harry, and Ernest. Harry and Ernest are in the center row with their wives; Charles had already died but his widow, Cordelia, sits at the right side. Mamie Ginders is married to Harry, and to the left of him sits Fannie. Mamie must be my link to Fannie.

I look them up in the 1930 US Census. There is Harry, the head of the household. His wife is listed as Mary S. Mamie must be a nickname. Their daughter, Mae, a librarian, lives with them (in the picture, Mae is sitting on the grass second from right). Their son, Charles F., lives there too; although he is 24, he has no profession, but the education column has a tick mark in it. I assume he is attending the university, because 11 years later he is a partner in his father’s law firm (in the photograph he is standing in back, third from right).

And there is Fannie. She is a secretary at the knitting factory. She is the sister-in-law of the head of the household. She is the younger sister of Mamie. The sisters report that their father was born in Illinois; their mother in Canada.

I look back through the same family in 1920, 1910, and 1900. In 1920 Fannie was a bookkeeper in the knitting company. In 1910 she was a stenographer there. Same for 1900. Their father’s birth place changes to England in all the earlier censuses. Their mother’s birth place remains Canada.

I see that Fannie must have come to live with Mamie and Harry early on in their marriage—she might even have lived with them from the outset—and she lived there apparently until her death, but I cannot find any record of her death. Even with all that employment, she is not in the Social Security Death Index. Did she die before getting a Social Security number? Most working people in those years did not get one until after 1940 and many not until after 1950, although they were available from the mid-1930s. I have no death date for Mamie either. I know they both were living when Harry died of a heart attack in 1941.

Their mother, Julia Ginders, lives with them in Harry’s household in 1900, eight years after the marriage of Harry and Mamie. Julia reported that she had been married 29 years and was widowed, but after going through the censuses thoroughly, I realize she meant that she had been married 29 years before the census was taken—because her husband was dead by 1880, when the girls were still small.

She says she immigrated to the U.S. from Canada in 1878, 22 years previously. How can that be? She had two little girls by 1878, both of whom always reported that they were born in Illinois. I see from comparing all the census records that nobody in the Ginders family bothers much about getting their dates and ages consistent from census to census. It makes a genealogist’s life a little tougher! I’m going to assume that Julia came from Canada to Illinois in 1870 or before.

In 1880 Julia lives with her father-in-law, Henry Ginders, and her two little girls. I now have a grandpa, but I do not know Julia’s husband’s name. I find Henry in 1870 with his wife, Sophia, and a 30-year-old son, Joseph. Maybe this is the missing husband and father!

I look for Henry Ginders’s immigration record (he reported he was born in England). I find him and Sophia arriving in New York on April 19, 1851, aboard the Blue England. (I think that is the name—it was hard to read.) In addition to young Joseph, they have a son two years older, George, and a daughter two years younger, Fanny.

Then I find them in the 1841 England Census in Billingborough, Lincolnshire, minus Fanny. Little Joseph is age 1, George is 3. The census that year was taken on the night of June 6, 1841 (unlike the U.S. censuses which go on for months and months).

I look for them in the 1851 England Census because it was taken on the night of March 30, 1851, 20 days before they left England for America, but they were missed. I know they left from England—the port of departure was Liverpool—but where did they stay before they left? Hm.

Now I have two possibilities for the missing Ginders husband and father: George and Joseph. I search for George in later U.S. censuses, and there he is with his own wife, Mary, on a farm a few miles from his father’s in 1880. They have four children of their own. So our man must be Joseph. He disappears after 1870, completely. He must have married Julia about 1871, had Mamie in early 1872 and Fannie in late 1873, and then he must have died within the next six years. His mother, Sophia, must have died in that same time too. I wonder if there was a plague or something in that part of Illinois in the 1870s.

The early life of Mamie and Fannie Ginders becomes a little clearer. Their father dies when they are quite young, and they live with their mother and their grandfather. Perhaps Mamie becomes used to taking care of her little sister Fannie from very early on; maybe their mother is busy nursing a sick and dying husband. Maybe she also nurses her mother-in-law, who dies in the same time period. In any case, it all makes the Ginders sisters inseparable.

Otherwise, this is another chapter in a long story of the unattached woman who needs to be given a home by kind relatives because she is not in the position of gaining her own. Fannie is probably a role model for her niece, Mae, who never marries either and who becomes the city librarian in Rockford.

Here’s to the unattached aunt. She is often the one whose life forms those puzzle pieces that go missing all too soon, but I will not give up. I will rescue the Unattached Aunts from obscurity! May they regain their rightful importance and may we never ignore them.