Monday, September 11, 2017

John Ronald Miller (1915-1952): The Uncle Most of Us Don't Remember

John Ronald Miller, who went by Ronald, was Aunt Ruth's first husband. He died before my younger Lange first cousins and me were born or were old enough to remember. According to Mom, he was born in Britain; never knew who his father was; and was raised by an aunt who had a bit of money but who died of cancer when he was young. As he cared for her in the final stages of her life, he became addicted to the morphine her doctor's prescribed to manage pain. Eventually after a 12-year marriage to Aunt Ruth, he committed suicide.

Not long ago, I looked at the information I had collected about Uncle Ronald (it seems weird to call him that), and realized there were a lot of gaps in the paper trail. So I went digging.

John Ronald Miller (1915-1952*); personal collection

Ronald was born on 16 September 1915 in Grimsby, England, also known as Great Grimsby, a large seaport on the Humber estuary close to where it joins the North Sea west of Leeds. Britain makes birth records available to genealogists and family historians after 100 years. I should be able to find the registration of his birth, but I have not. I am left wondering if John Ronald Miller was his birth name or one assigned to him later.

On 22 March 1930, 14-year-old Ronald boarded the Cunard Line's RMS Antonia along with thirty other boys from the National Children's Home (NCS), which had been established in 1869 by a Methodist minister. By the time Ronald lived at the NCS, the organization operated a number of homes across England, including one in Leeds, which may have been where Ronald lived. There was always pressure on the NCS to find homes for the children in its care so their would be space available for new arrivals and emigration played an important role in achieving that end. Many of the NCS administrators believed the children would have the opportunity for a better future in Canada. Ronald arrived in Halifax on 31 March 1930. He indicated to immigration officials, his foster father was Sidney Rogers of Grimsby and he had been a student in the UK but intended to work on a farm in Canada.

On 27 July 1932 Ronald joined the British Merchant Navy in London. A few days later he signed on to merchant ship Esperance Bay in Southampton. He indicated it was his first ship and previous to that he fished for work.  Ronald served as a deck boy.

Merchant ship Esperance Bay; courtesy of State of Victoria Archive

By 1939 Ronald lived in Montreal and worked as a sales manager. On 6 November he arrived in Burlington, Vermont, by plane. He told immigration officials he intended to reside permanently in the U.S. and his destination was New Orleans where he would visit a friend. Interestingly, the building listed as friend's address is now known as the Maritime Building.

Ronald married Ruth Hedwig Lange on 16 September 1940 in Washington, DC. She was the daughter of Gustav Lange and Wilhelmina Schalin. She was born in Winnipeg in 1916 but had been raised on a farm in Prince George's County, Maryland. At the time of their marriage, Ruth worked in a bakery in Washington. Surpringly, neither Ronald or Ruth were listed in the 1940 census, which was enumerated earlier in the year. A month after their marriage Ronald registered for the Army draft. He was a Canadian citizen, as was Aunt Ruth, and they lived in an apartment in a row house at 1201 C Street, NE.

1201 C Street, NE, Washington, DC; courtesy Google Maps

Ronald worked for the Standard Drug Company, which had been established in 1919 in Richmond by two pharmacists. Stores were later opened throughout Maryland and Virginia and the chain thrived for decades before it was purchased in 1993 by the company now known as CVS. The remainder of the records I have for Ronald are border crossings returning from trips to Canada in 1943 and 1945. He and Ruth continued to live at 1201 C Street, NE, during that time.

Mom said Ronald and Ruth would move around the country frequently so that he could obtain prescriptions for morphine. When a doctor discussed a detoxification clinic, it was time to move. They were in Pelham, New York, when a doctor convinced Ronald to be institutionalized in order to withdrawal from morphine. However, after a few days, he called Ruth and begged for her to get him released. She did after seeing his terrible physical deterioration. According to Mom, Ronald committed suicide in 1952 in Pelham, New York, a few days later. The New York death index for that time period is available and I have found one record that could be Ronald's but have been unable to verify it. If it is for "my" Ronald Miller, he died in 1956 in Poughkeepsie.

Ruth (Lange) and J. Ronald Miller in happier times; personal collection

Ruth married Robert Riffle Meek in a 1960 civil ceremony in Stamford, Connecticut. He was a divorcee with one adult son and worked as a real estate broker. Soon after their marriage they moved to DeLand, Florida, and purchased an apartment complex, which they managed for several years.

I can't help but think after spending several days researching and learning more about Aunt Ruth's first husband that his life began with hardship which continued through much of his childhood. Even though his adult life seemed normal to most casual onlookers, his demon's conquered him in the end.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Altha Alice Queen: Mother of the Largest Family in the District

Altha Alice (Paxton) Queen was my Aunt Katherine's great great grandmother. She was born on 15 September 1807 in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Many public trees indicate her parents were William Paxton and Ruth Ann Sellman, but I have found no source documents which identify her parents. On either 6 February or 2 June 1831 in Washington, DC. They had eight children. Mr. Queen died in 1885 and Mrs. Queen in 1907.

On 4 June 1905 a Washington Times page 2, full-page article and photo spread about Mrs. Queen entitled, "A Queen in Name and a Queen of Mothers" was published.

Page 2 of The Washington Times, 4 June 1905; courtesy of Chronicling America

Washington Woman 98 Years Old Has 153 Living Descendants and Mourns 51 Dead

Mrs. Alice Queen, Mother of Largest Family in the District

Four People Needed to Tabulate Her Many Descendants

Feels Young and Expects to Live Many More Years

In an old-fashioned country home near Tenleytown, surrounded by a splendid growth of flowering rose bushes, nestling between hills sown with sweet-scented clover and timothy, and undisturbed as yet by the rapid growth of the city's streets and buildings, lives Mrs. Alice Queen, ninety-eight years old , the mother, grandmother, great grandmother and great great grandmother of descendants so numerous and increasing so rapidly that it took four members of her family hours to properly tabulate them. Even now the four express fears that they have overlooked a number of them.

Of children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren, as far as she and her offspring are able to discover, there have been 204. The living of these, of which the oldest is seventy-three, are at least 153.

A Times reporter found this remarkable woman sitting on the wide piazza of her old-fashioned house. It is her custom to spend many hours to spend many hours in this shady corner these warm days quietly enjoying as it were the secret of eternal youth. From her place of vantage she watches over her numerous progeny and descendants, noting carefully their comings and goings, giving advice, always shrewd and to the point, and backed up with the experience of years, giving sympathy those that need it, and giving love to all.

A Mother to Them All

She has been a mother to them all in turn, even down to the fifth generation, and the absolute mistress over their lives. For she is a woman of much force of character and has always been looked up to as the head of the house, her husband having died many years ago. She is familiar with the daily habits of each and every one of her huge family, the clothes they wear, the money they earn and spend. She does not allow her grandsons or her great grandsons to drink, smoke or stay out late at night. Her granddaughters and great granddaughters may remain away from her but a short time without giving an account of themselves.

When The Times reporter called upon her he found her in her usual comfortable seat on the veranda, talking to her grandson, Dorsey Queen; her granddaughters, Mrs. Grigsby and Mrs. Harry, surrounded by a number of her great grandchildren. It was Mrs. Queen who welcomed him to her home first. When she discovered his mission she seemed greatly amused. She took the matter with much more tranquility than the rest of her family.

"Will I let you take my photograph and write me up?" she asked. "Certainly, if you like. There is no harm in a photograph, and if people want to know of me I am quite willing they should. I believe I'm rather old and my family a rather remarkable one."

It was in this remark, as in other things, this wonderful old lady showed the strength of her mind and character. The timidity of the others over what seemed a trying ordeal vanished at once.

"Grandmother thinks she's a little girl again," said her grandson, smiling, "And why not? She is younger and has more sense than any of us to this very day."

Expects to Live Years Longer

"I certainly do feel young," said Mrs. Queen, "and if your readers wish to know how long I will live , just tell them it will be another fifty years, or at least until I hold one of the sixth generation on my knee." And she laughed.

"She will live until that time, too," said the grandson, "and she will treat the sixth generation just as strictly as she treated us. We all depend upon her so much more that we often wonder what will become of us when she is gone."

"Rightly, too," said the grandmother, with a note of scorn in her voice, "because you do not know how to live. It takes the old folks to teach you."

The snow-white head shook slightly as she made this emphatic assertion. She did not say that she thought young people are too much accustomed to think that they know everything under sun, but she left the impression that she spent much time convincing two hundred odd boys and girls that there were many things they did not know. Mrs. Queen looks twenty years younger than she really is. Her hair, which has been white for many years, is growing thin over the temples, and there are scores of wrinkles in her fine old face. Her slate-blue eyes, uncovered by glasses or spectacles, are bright and quick. Little goes on about her escapes her keen glances. Perhaps it is her mouth that betrays her true character more than any other feature. It is a large, kind, humorous mouth, showing, too, much strength of character. She is neither very tall nor very short. A slight sloop, the result of the last few years, it is the only clue to her great age.

Active as a Girl

Mrs. Queen is remarkable in more ways than one. Her mind is as bright as that of any of her descendants; her memory is even better than theirs; and until recently, when, in chasing a runaway granddaughter across the fields, she slipped and fell, she was as active on her feet as any of her grandchildren and never had a day's sickness in her life. She has never used spectacles, and sees as clearly as the best to thread a needle and sew. Suffering from rheumatism now as a result her recent fall she refuses to take what would be the first medicine for her, and defies her children boldly with the statement that "patience is the best curative." Patience she must have had all these years, to be the splendid old lady she is. Meantime, she uses a cane.

"First, of a Second Dozen"

Alice Paxton, afterward Mrs. Queen, was born 15 September 1807 in Emmitsburg, Frederick county, Maryland.

"Ours was a large family," said Mrs. Queen. "But those were the days of large families. I remember a story which was told of an aunt of mine that lived in New England, and reared a large family. Her husband was a lawyer, and when a judge of that circuit stopped at their house for a night's lodging he found my aunt in the garden with a small baby in her arms. Seeing the pretty woman, a flush on her face and graceful as a girl, and wishing to compliment her, the judge congratulated her on her fine baby and by chance said:

"Your first, Madam?"

"The first, yes," my aunt laughed and blushed, and added, "of the second dozen."

When she was only nine years old Mrs. Queen's father and mother moved to the District of Columbia and settled on a farm not far from her present home. She remembers the events of those days almost as well as she does those of the past year. Her father was drafted for the army in the War of 1812, but he was unable to go to the front because his wife and young children demanded all his care. But Mrs. Queen remembers distinctly the march of the United States troops past her father's house on the old Baltimore pike during this war, and how she was thrilled by the sight, and how occasionally a tired soldier would stop to ask for a drink of water.

Her Early Life

She has kept an exact account of everything of importance which has happened in or about Washington ever since those old days, and she can tell perhaps better than anyone now living of country life in the District of Columbia when Washington was in its infancy, and it was thought that Georgetown would always be the great city. The old lady laughed as she told how as a girl she carried her stockings and prunella slippers in a bag almost to the church door on Sundays and then sat herself down, and taking off the coarser homespun brown stockings and heavy shoes, pulled on her finery. Such was the custom of all country belles in those days of muddy roads. She can tell of the quilting and spelling bees and the country parties.

She remembers well the long winter nights when her family and friends sat about the great open fireplace and cracking nuts or told stories while the wind whistled down the chimney and the snow fell about the home that stood in what was then an almost trackless wilderness. Or she can tell the curious inquirer of the long summer days when the young girls rode behind their lovers on horseback, going to picnics or country fairs. She can tell too, of the radical changes which have occurred in Washington and of its interesting early social and political life.

Girls Outlived Boys

While still a young girl Alice Paxton married Electurus Queen, a young farmer living near her home. It was a happy marriage and for years the Queens led a quiet happy life in the country. Eight children were born of the union, four boys and four girls. It is a strange fact that today all of those boys are dead while all of those girls, old women now, are still alive. Mrs. Queen has outlived her husband by twenty years, the one regret she has in her young life. Not that she wishes she were dead for she is a most optimistic soul and expects to live for many a year longer, but she is sorry when she thinks that her husband is not here too.

It was immediately after their last son's death that Mr. Queen died. He had often declared that he would not survive his sons. The four living daughters are Mrs. Emily Burroughs, Mrs. Abne Stauff, Mrs. Sarah Harry, and Mrs. Rosina Barnes. Mrs. Harry is now living with her mother.

Mrs. Queen is not the only member of the family who is long lived. Two of her numerous brothers, both well on toward ninety years of age, are living in Tenleytown today, and still take an active interest in business. They are Thomas and Joseph Paxton. Strange as it may seem, out of Mrs. Queen's two hundred descendants few, if any, have taken to the professions or have entered the army or navy. Nearly all of the men of the family have stuck to farming in Maryland or Virginia. Mrs. Queen spoke as if she had taken little or no interest in the civil war. Largely through her efforts her sons did not enter either of the contending armies, but stayed on the farm. Consequently, she feels no bitterness now, nor did she lose, as so many other mothers in this section of the country, a son or a husband in the war.

Too Much Worry Now

Mrs. Queen was brought up strictly and according to to the ideas of the old Methodist church. She was never allowed to dance or do many of the things which her own daughters and great granddaughters have done. But she was broad-minded enough to see that merely because she had not done certain things those things were not necessarily bad.

Her life is not by any means centered in the past alone. Her mind has kept young with each succeeding generation, and she has a fund of common sense, wit and humor, that is not surpassed by that of any of her grandchildren, clever though they may be. She has no choice between the old days and the new, but thinks that each has its good points. But she does believe that the people of former generations had stronger minds, better habits, and did not grow worldly-wise too soon, as so many young persons do today. In face, she explains her own youthfulness at such an advanced age by the fact that she remained a girl a long time leading a simple and quiet life. She firmly believes that the world moves too rapidly today and that, though she herself is able to keep pace with it, it is entirely too fast for the younger members of the family.

"They worry too much," said Mrs. Queen. "I have worried, too, but always for others, not myself."

A Family Reunion

Notwithstanding her fears for the present generation, it appears that her line will not suffer as the years go by. The rapidity in the increase in the family is certainly keeping pace with the age. Many of the grandsons and granddaughters have large families, and even the great grandsons and great granddaughters are not far behind. In fact, as Mrs. Queen humorously remarked, the babies are being born into the world more quickly than she can count them.

There has never been a reunion of the Queen family, or rather that branch of it of which Mrs. Queen is the progenitor. Perhaps because of the very number of her descendants such an undertaking as rounding them all into the same house has not been attempted. Some of them meet every year, on Christmas or some other holiday. Usually there is talk of a big reunion, but so far nothing has come of it.

"No house would be large enough to hold us all," the old lady remarked, "and when the reunion does occur we will have to hire a hall big enough for all. We are waiting until we can afford it. But it will come in the next fifty years, I am sure, maybe after I have held a child of the sixth generation on my knee."