Sunday, October 30, 2011

A 19th Century Boston Family

I’ve been curious about the story of the Ostman family of Boston, Massachusetts, ever since I learned of them a couple of years or so ago.  A cousin of mine, who has been researching the parentage of our mutual great grandmothers (Kate and Hattie Finney), had looked into a George H. Ostman as a possible father to Kate and Hattie.  I won’t go into the whys and wherefores  of why George H. Ostman from Boston (maybe in a later post), but as I read through my cousin’s research, I was struck by the events in the lives of this family.

George’s parents were Peter Ostman and Catharine (or Catherine) J. Beavon.  Peter was born around 1813 in Sweden [1].  At some point, he ended up in Scotland where he probably met Catherine.  Born about 1817, Catharine was the daughter of James and Jane Beavon [2].   (Her mother was probably Janet McKechnie [3].) Catharine was likely born in Scotland but several records say England and some say Scotland.

Catharine and Peter were married on December 24, 1833, in Middle or New Parish, Greenock, Renfrew, Scotland [4].  They had at least one child while in Scotland--Christina who was born around 1835 [5].  They had seven more children:  Elizabeth (1839), Peter (1841), George H. (1843), Jacobina R. (1844), Caroline T. (1847), Louisa M. (1848), and John Thomas (1851) [6, 7].  The only immigration record found so far for the Ostmans is for Catharine and the five older children arriving in Boston in 1846 [8].  No immigration record for the family has been found prior to that, and one hasn’t been found at all for Peter.  According to the 1850 and 1855 census records, their last six children were born in Massachusetts [9].  The 1846 passenger record may be a return to the U.S. from a visit as it says they all belong to the United States. 

1846 ship record
1846 ship record

The 1850 census lists Peter’s occupation as a rigger [10].  According to wikipedia, a rigger worked with the ropes hoisting the sails on ships; they also used their skills to lift heavy freight with ropes.  Several of the Ostmans’ neighbors had jobs in shipping:  two were riggers, two were seamen, one was a stevedore, and one was a shipwright [11].

Several tragedies befell this family in quick succession a few years after they arrived in the U.S.  Daughter Elizabeth was about 11 years old when she died on May 10, 1850 [12].  Just two months later, Peter Sr. died as the result of an accident on July 18, 1850 [13].  Catharine was pregnant with their son John when Peter died; John was born the following January 1851 [14].  Three years after the death of her husband, son Peter died of cancer on August 1, 1853, at the age of 12 [15].  A little over a year later, on September 23, 1854, Catharine married Andrew Swan, a mariner from Glasgow, Scotland [16].  By the 1855 Massachusetts state census, the only one of her children living with her and her new husband is her son John Ostman [17].   Catharine is listed in the 1857 Boston Directory as Catharine Ostman, widow [18].  The marriage to Andrew was either very short lived or he had died by this time.  I haven’t been able to confirm one way or the other.  Either way, Catharine is going by the name Ostman again by 1857.

Catharine Ostman 1857 Boston dir
Catharine Ostman 1857 Boston dir
What happened to the children?  Why weren’t they with their mother?  Daughter Christina was married to Jacob Sherman and had two children by 1855 [19].  Jacobina, Caroline, and Louisa are in what appears to be a children’s home in 1855 [20].  George is probably in a children’s home, too, but I haven’t located him.  However, by the 1860 census, he and Jacobina are living with Christina and her family; his occupation was “seaman” [21].  Caroline and Louisa are still in a children’s home at that time, and now so is John [22, 23].  There is a Catharine J. Ostman in the 1860 Boston census that I believe is the same person [24].  She is listed in the household of James A. and Mary B. Plummer, employed as a “tailoress” with place of birth listed as England (see census image below).  No children are with her.  

Possible Catherine Ostman 1860 cropped

By the 1865 Massachusetts state census, George and Jacobina are no longer living with their sister Christina [25].  George joined up as a Union soldier in 1863 during the Civil War [26].  He seems to just bounce around after the war.  Jacobina and Caroline disappear after the 1860 census. They could have married.  I’ve found a few possibilities.  Catherine Ostman died on October 12, 1866 [27].  Cause of death just says “debility.”  Louisa is living with her sister Christina by the 1870 census, then she, too, disappears [28].  Christina died on July 21, 1873; her husband had died two years earlier [29, 30].  John got married around 1886, and by 1900, he has five children of his own [31].  As far as we can tell, George may never have married.

I don’t know what the Ostmans’ life was like once they arrived in Boston in the mid-19th century, but this family seemed to break down somewhat after the death of Peter Sr. in 1850.  Not able to support her remaining children on her own, Catharine sent most of them to children’s homes, but she had her youngest child John with her and her second husband Andrew Swan in 1855.  Her oldest child Christina was married by that time.  For whatever reason, the marriage to Andrew ended, and Catharine was left to support herself again.  Daughter Christina seems to have taken care of as many of her siblings as she could along with taking care of her own children.  I wonder what Catharine went through after the deaths of her first husband and two of her children.  Was the marriage to Andrew Swan a hasty decision?  Did she marry him for financial support?  Did they divorce or did Andrew die before 1857?  Was Catherine ill?  Is that why it seems she never got her children back?  Were she and her children estranged?  So many questions.

[1]  1850 United States Federal Census. Boston Ward 2, Suffolk, Massachusetts; Roll: M432_334; Page: 209B; Image: 424.
[2]  Massachusetts Deaths and Burials 1795-1910 Death record for Catherine J. Beacon [sic] Ostman.
[3]  Scotland Marriages 1561-1910.  Marriage record for James Beavon and Janet McKechnie, 11 November 1811, Middle or New Parish, Greenock, Renfrew, Scotland.
[4]  Scotland Marriages 1561-1910.  Marriage record for Peter Ostman and C. J. Beavon.
[5] See footnote 1 above.
[6] See footnote 1 above.
[7]  Massachusetts State Census 1855, Boston Ward 2, Suffolk, for Andrew and Catharine Swan and John Thomas Hostman [sic].
[8]  Boston Passenger and Crew Lists for Catharine Osman [sic] and children. 2 June 1846.
[9] See footnotes 1 and 7 above.
[10] See footnote 1 above.
[11] See footnote 1 above.
[12]  Massachusetts Deaths and Burials 1795-1910, death record for Elizabeth J. Ostman, 10 May 1850.
[13]  Massachusetts Deaths and Burials 1795-1910, death record for Peter Ostman, 18 July 1850.
[14]  1900 United States Federal Census.  Winthrop, Suffolk, Massachusetts; Roll: T623_690; Page: 9B; Enumeration District: 1577, for month and year of birth for John T. Ostman.
[15]  Massachusetts Deaths and Burials 1795-1910, death record for Peter Ostman, 1 August 1853.
[16]  Massachusetts Marriages 1695-1910, marriage record for Andrew Swan and Catharine Beaven Osman [sic].
[17] See footnote 7 above.
[18]  Boston Directory for the year 1857 Embracing the City Record, a General directory of the Citizens, and a Business Directory.  Boston: George Adams.
[19]  Massachusetts State Census 1855, Marshfield, Plymouth, for Jacob and Christina J. Sherman.
[20]  Massachusetts State Census 1865, Boston Ward 10, Suffolk, Massachusetts for Jacobina, Caroline, and Louisa Ostman.
[21] 1860 United States Federal Census.  Boston Ward 2, Suffolk, Massachusetts; Roll: M653_520; Page: 437; Image: 441; Family History Library Film: 803520, for Jacobina and George Ostman
[22]  1860 United States Federal Census.  Boston Ward 10, Suffolk, Massachusetts; Roll: M653_523; Page: 216; Image: 216; Family History Library Film: 803523, for Caroline and Louisa Ostman
[23]  1860 United States Federal Census.  Boston Ward 2, Suffolk, Massachusetts; Roll: M653_520; Page: 913; Image: 917; Family History Library Film: 803520, for John Ostman.
[24]  1860 United States Federal Census.  Boston Ward 2, Suffolk, Massachusetts; Roll: M653_520; Page: 450; Image: 454; Family History Library Film: 803520, for Catharine J. Ostman.
[25]  Massachusetts State Census 1865, Boston Ward 2, Suffolk, Massachusetts for Jacob and Christina Sherman.
[26]  Massachusetts soldiers, sailors, and marines in the Civil War, Vol VI, page 278 for George H. Ostman.
[27]  Massachusetts Deaths and Burials 1795-1910, death record for Catharine Ostman, 12 October 1866.
[28] 1870 United States Federal Census.  East Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts; Roll: M593_640; Page: 307A; Image: 617; Family History Library Film: 552139, for Louisa Ostman.
[29]  Massachusetts Deaths and Burials 1795-1910, death record for Christina Sherman, 21 July 1873.
[30]  Massachusetts Deaths and Burials 1795-1910, death record for Jacob B. Sherman, 14 March 1871.
[31] See footnote 14 above.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Mama and Daddy wedding cropped copyToday is my parents 58th wedding anniversary.  I wish my dad was here to celebrate it with my mom.  My parents were married on October 15, 1953, at my mom’s childhood home and where my dad proposed—at the Big House (J. T. Roberts House) in Valdosta, Georgia.  After their wedding, an article by Elizabeth Ashley in the Social Activities section in the Valdosta Daily Times proclaimed “Of paramount interest is the wedding of Miss Leona Roberts Redles, daughter of Mrs. William Liming Redles and the late Lt. Col. W. L. Redles, U.S. M.C., to Albert Sidney Pendleton, Jr., son of Mr. and Mrs. [Helen] Albert Sidney Pendleton Sr. of Valdosta.”  (I only have a partial copy of the article with no date or page number.  I found it in the paper piles in my dad’s office.)  My mother’s sister Catherine was maid of honor, and Edith Roberts, Mary Remer Parramore, and Laurie White were bridesmaids.  My dad’s brother Billy (William F.) was his best man, and Charles C. Joyner, Pendleton Little, and Mac (S. D.) McClure were ushers.  Dr. T. Baron Gibson officiated.  The bride and her entourage descended the stairs in the entrance hall and met the groom and groomsmen who were waiting at the satin-draped altar in the parlor.  Uncle Bubba (Leland Roberts) gave the bride away.

In 2003, I flew down for their 50th wedding anniversary party that was held at the Big House.  At that time, my dad was in a wheel chair because of the progression of the Parkinson’s disease that was taking over his body.  He planned for months and had definite ideas of what he wanted for this celebration of their marriage.  I think my mom pretty much gave him free rein.  Hundreds of friends and family attended on that beautiful fall day in October.  I walked across the street and took a photograph while my dad was sitting on the porch.  I think he was taking a breather from the crush of people inside while my mom was still chatting away with guests.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!  We miss you Daddy!

Mama and Daddy 1980s

Love, Catherine

Friday, October 7, 2011

After the Fire

I go by the Big House every time I go home to see what the Valdosta Heritage Foundation has accomplished over the previous year.  Sometimes I just drive by; sometimes I meet my Aunt Catherine there and go inside.  This past March (2011) was different.  The Big House burned on January 26, 2011, and I was dreading seeing the damage.  I had been in Valdosta for several days when I finally decided on a Saturday to go see the house.  It helped that it was a beautiful (hot!) spring day---not a cloud in the sky.

When I got out of the car, I didn't look up at the house at first.  Peripheral vision made everything seem normal, and I wanted to savor it for a few minutes.  Then I looked toward the front of the house; things didn't look so bad, except that some of the windows were boarded up.  I looked up to where the third floor attic should have was gone.  The house, in fact, was just a shell.  I walked around the exterior of the house, taking photographs and trying to be objective about what I saw.  I still just could not believe what had happened.

Below are some of the photographs that I took in March 2011 after the fire.  I've also included some photos from 2001, before restoration of the exterior by the Valdosta Heritage Foundation was in full swing.  (Click on each photograph for a larger view.)

Here is the Big House at Christmas 2008 after restoration of the exterior. (I know I keep showing this same photograph over and over, but the house looks so good in it!)

The Big House in March 2011 after the January fire, looking at the southern end of the east elevation (front of the house) toward the living room on the first floor and the bedroom on the second floor where my grandmother, mother, and aunt slept.
Looking at the east elevation (front of the house).  March 2011.  The boarded up windows keep us from seeing the extent of the damage of the first floor, but I was told that the interior was gutted.

The above photograph was taken in 2001 before much of the restoration had begun.  This is looking toward the tower that sits on the northeastern corner (the front of the house is to the left).  The parlor is through the first floor window, and a bedroom is above.  

The above photograph is the same view as the previous one, taken in March 2011 after the January fire.  The roof and attic are gone.  At least the beautiful stained glass parlor window survived!
Looking at the western end of the north elevation (side facing the neighbor), March 2011.  The dining room window is in the center of the photograph on the first floor hiding behind the bushes, and the kitchen is to the right.  You can see sky through the second story bedroom window. 
Oblique view of the north elevation and the kitchen of the Big House, March 2011 after the fire.  A ramp for handicap access was added by the Valdosta Heritage Foundation.

The Big House in 2001 before restoration was completely underway, looking at the west elevation (the back of the house).  The kitchen is on the left, and a first floor bedroom is on the right.  The back porch is in the center.
The Big House in March 2011 after the January fire; same view as the above photograph.  Notice the charred center of the house.
The Big House in 2001 before restoration, looking at the south elevation (facing the side garden).  On the first floor, the living room is to the right, a bedroom is in the center, and another bedroom is on the left.  On the second story are the sleeping porch on the left, a bedroom in the center, and the bedroom where my grandmother, mother, and aunt slept on the right.
The Big House in March 2011 after the January fire; same view as above photograph.  You can see the gutted second story.  The attic and roof are gone.  Look at that beautiful blue Georgia sky!
To show it's not all bad--the flowers in the Big House garden are still blooming.  These are azaleas and wisteria.  March 2011.
A white camellia with just a glint of sun in the Big House garden.  March 2011.
I don't have any photographs of the Big House restoration between 2001 and 2011 (that I can find anyway).  I didn't always take photographs when I visited, but you can see in the first photograph above just how beautiful the house looked after the exterior was restored.  Unfortunately, the house went up in flames like a box of matches.  The fire department was there within minutes, but the fire spread too quickly, and the high winds that day were making it even more difficult to put out the fire. The Valdosta Daily Times has an article about the fire and one about the history of the house.  A few months ago, the Valdosta Heritage Foundation decided to rebuild the house, and as of September 1, 2011, reconstruction had already begun. I'm looking forward to seeing what they've done with the place the next time I visit.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Big House

I loved the Big House (called the J. T. Roberts House but more properly known as the Wisenbaker-Wells-Roberts House).  I felt such a great loss when it burned on January 26, 2011.  The photographs in the Valdosta Daily Times showed flames leaping up in the air as they devoured the roof.  A Valdosta Daily Times article on the day of the fire called the house a total loss.  I couldn't believe it.  In my mind, I pictured it being a pile of rubble once the fire was over. 

In 1997, I wrote a paper titled "Portrait of a Family" for the Local History class that I was taking at Valdosta State University.  The majority of the paper is about the J. T. Roberts family (my maternal great grandfather) that I will share later, but the house, of course, is a prominent feature in my paper.  Below in italics is what I wrote about the Big House.  It's a bit "wind in the trees" kind of writing, but hey, it wasn't supposed to be a technical report.  Keep in mind that this was written before the house was donated to the Valdosta Heritage Foundation (who worked for a number of years restoring it) by my Aunt Catherine and one of our cousins.  They bought the house from the people who purchased it from the estate (that's a whole other story).  Also, my Aunt Catherine has been tending the gardens since that time, so they are no longer overgrown as I state below.

The large, white, two-story Victorian house at 206 Wells Street in Valdosta, Georgia, stands empty now after having passed from my mother's family's estate, the J. T. Roberts estate, to the hands of a stranger almost two years ago.  The Roberts family had continuously occupied the house for nearly one hundred years.  Three generations had lived there, my mother's generation being the last.  I had always been told that the house was older than Valdosta.  We called it "the Big House" which is what it had been known as for years.  Next door on the corner is my Great Aunt Kathleen Winn's house which is now owned by Harry Hamm.

The Big House undergoing restoration, 2001.  Sorry about the photograph quality.  This is a scan of a 35mm photo.

Red brick steps lead to the front porch which runs from one side of the Big House to the other.  There used to be two porch swings and several rocking chairs on the porch.  Through the double wooden doors is the large entrance hall which contains the staircase to the second floor.  

The front door to the Big House.  Christmas 2008.

The living room is on the left, and the parlor on the right.  Past the parlor is the dining room and then the pantry.  Passing through the pantry is the kitchen, which at the time the house was sold still had the old wood-burning stove.  Through the side door of the kitchen is the back porch which can also be accessed from the entrance hall.  I remember lots of flower pots and one or two broken chairs being on the back porch.  Past the living room are two bedrooms and one bathroom.  Upstairs are four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and the sleeping porch.  The house had at one time gingerbread trim on the outside, and in a copy of an old photograph of the house, it looks as though the trim had been painted contrasting colors.

In the entrance hall looking toward the back door to the porch beyond.  Restoration had started on the interior.  The original wall paper had been removed and new light fixtures installed.  Christmas 2008.
The parlor fireplace.  You can see the stained glass of one of the windows reflected in the left hand side of the mirror above the fireplace.  The parlor was no longer a dark and dreary place.  Christmas 2008.

As a child, the furnishings of the house seemed to to be be old, dark, and faded.  Some of the furniture was Mission style, some Victorian.  My great aunts and great uncle each had their special place to sit and you did not dare sit there.  I remember sitting in Great Aunt Margaret's chair when I was about nine years old, waiting to have my picture taken with my new baby sister, Helen.  I was so afraid that Aunt Margaret was going to come in and catch me in her seat.  The woodwork in the house was stained a dark stain which had probably darkened even more over the years.  The curtains and shades on the windows were faded and fragile, but the house had a comfortable, lived-in feeling, with loads of character and it gave me a sense of roots.

There are extensive gardens surrounding the house, although they are now partially overgrown.  There are camellia, azalea, cast iron, and liriopie plants, and camphor, chinaberry, and mimosa trees.  There is a sycamore tree and some pecan trees in the back.  In spring there are narcissi and snow drops.  The remains of a potting shed are in the side garden.  There was a lumber mill shop out back where cabinets were made and lumber was sold.  My Great Uncle Redden Parramore kept bird dogs out back.  There used to be an old barn where my grandmother, Leona Roberts Redles, kept my grandfather's military papers and letters in trunks.  The old smoke house had been made into a play house for my mother, her sister, and their cousins, and this later became the pack house.

Google Earth aerial showing location of the Big House.  I've drawn the approximate original property boundary which encompassed the land where the Kathleen Roberts Winn house is to the north.

As children, my brothers, sisters, and cousins, and I would swing on the huge front porch swing while eavesdropping on the adult conversations through the tall windows of the living room.  In the summer, the windows would be opened to let in the breezes and then we could hear the family gossip more clearly.  Sometimes Great Uncle Bubba, Leland Roberts, would swing with us.  He would tease us by telling us that we had better hope that the swing did not fall down, which, considering the age of the house, was probably true.

My family went to the Big House every Christmas day for Christmas dinner and to exchange presents with cousins, great aunts, and great uncles.  The Christmas tree was a "small" pine tree that touched the twelve foot ceiling of the living room with heaps of presents underneath.  Cousin Warren Graham (usually known as "Brother") would perform the duty of Santa and pass out the presents to us.

Great Uncle Bubba (Leland Roberts) and me, Christmas 1954.  Notice the "small" pine tree on the right used as the Christmas tree.

In the winter, there would be a coal-burning fire in the fireplace of the living room.  There was no central heat until years later.  I remember how cold the house was in winter.  We would stand in front of the fireplace in the living room until our clothes were hot, and then we would run go sit down on our warmed clothes.  We would sometimes sneak into the front parlor to bang on the old piano.  The parlor seemed like the coldest, darkest room I had ever been in.  My mother used to tell me about having to wear her fur coat in the winter just to talk on the phone in a nook under the staircase.  On the other hand, the house was hot in summer, especially upstairs because of the metal roof.  At night, I remember being told, some of the family would sleep in the screened-in sleeping porch on the second floor.

As children, my siblings and cousins and I used to like to sit on the top stair of the staircase and slide on our bottoms to the bottom stair and onto the floor.  We would do this until one of the adults, afraid we would hurt ourselves, would stop our fun.  We were always reminded not to touch the staircase banister rail because some of the banisters were loose and had never been repaired.  We would twist the banisters just to see.

Every Easter we would go to the Big House for dinner after church.  Then the afternoon would be spent hunting Easter eggs in the large side garden and having a group photo session on the front steps.  Afterwards, we would sit on the front porch in the heavy wooden rocking chairs or the porch swing and watch cars go by.  Sometimes we would play in the field in the back of the house, chase the stray cats that lived under the house, or climb the big tree out back.  We would pick up pecans or watch cousin Mary Remer Parramore work in her strawberry patch, our mouths watering at the sight of the "forbidden fruit."  (We were not allowed to have a taste.)  Great Aunt Midge, Edwina Roberts, would sometimes give us each a box of animal crackers as a special treat.

My Great Aunt Midge wrote on the back of this photo "April 1968 Easter, Some of J. T. Roberts' great grandchildren."  These are the Hart, Pendleton, and Smotherman children.  I'm on the right in the pink outfit.  Some of us don't look all that happy.  It was hard to have to sit there waiting for our photo to be taken.

I remember the smell of narcissus blossoms in the front entrance hall in early spring.  Even now, the smell of narcissi brings back vivid memories of the times I spent at the Big House.  I sometimes have dreams at night where I am back at the Big House.  In some of my dreams, the rooms seem to sparkle with a light that I never saw there in my waking life.  Other dreams are about ghosts, but in those dreams I am unafraid of them because they seem familiar and are part of the nuance of the house.  To me, as a child, the house had seemed so old, huge, dusty, and dark, but yet had a peaceful feeling about it, like a good place to take sanctuary.

[The rest of the paper is about the Roberts family until the last paragraph.]

It makes me sad that the house now sits uncared for and forlorn, like a forgotten elderly aunt.  It appears that the new owner has not made any attempt at restoration, but then, neither did the Roberts family in the last few years they owned the house.  Now the house is up for sale again.  I would love to see the house brought back to her original magnificence as the grand lady of Fairview.
The Valdosta Heritage Foundation worked very hard on restoring the house.  The exterior was done first, and then the interior.  They were nearly finished with the interior and were about to move into the house when it caught fire and burned.  They have recently made the decision to restore the house yet again.

The Big House after the exterior had been restored and painted and work had begun on the interior.  Christmas 2008.

In my next post about the Big House, I'll have a few before and after the fire photographs.