“We Never Talk About It”

Many months ago, I was looking over some old family photos with my aunt, Janey. There was a woman I didn’t recognize in a few pictures, and on the back of the photo, she was identified as “Beatrice”. “Who was Beatrice?” I asked Janey.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Oh, wait. Maybe she was Ralph’s first wife?”

“Ralph’s first wife?” I said.

“Yeah,” she said. “We never talk about it.” My family seems to have a lot of stuff that we never talk about.

My father has a brother named Ralph. That’s not who we’re talking about. The Ralph we’re talking about would be my grandfather’s brother, James Ralph Holmes. My grandfather was the youngest of three children. Abbie Estella Holmes was the oldest, but she died at the age of 20, due to complications from pregnancy. Ralph was the middle child, closer in age to Stella. When Ralph came of age in the midst of the great depression, he moved to Detroit to find work. My grandfather, Vidal, ultimately took over the family farm and raised his own children there. Ralph and Vidal both died about a month apart in 1968, shortly before my second birthday.

Beatrice is not, in fact, Ralph’s first wife. I still have no idea who she is. One possibility is that she was a nanny that briefly helped out with child-rearing duties.

The idea that Ralph had a first wife has remained stuck in my head even though I had nothing further to go on, there.

But this weekend, I did figure out who Ralph’s first wife was because I stumbled upon the Michigan marriage registration between J. Ralph Holmes (with parents John Holmes and Matilda Boothe) and Charlotte C. Jones (with parents Alfred Jones and Charlotte Peacock). They were married June 21st, 1936. The marriage document additionally tells me that Charlotte was born in England, she was living in Detroit at the time of the marriage, and that she was working as a clerk. She was 25 at the time of her marriage, indicating a birth year of around 1911.

Once I found the marriage record, it was fairly straight-forward to also find a divorce decree between “Charlotte Holmes” and “Ralph J. Holmes” on April 24th, 1942. I can’t see the original record (although I’ve just now ordered a copy from Michigan Vital Records), so I can’t see what’s listed as the cause of divorce. I merely know that they only managed to stay together for 6 years.

Those records have lead me to a bunch of other records: the 1940 U.S. Federal Census includes a record for Ralph and Lottie Holmes in Detroit. They’re living at 1724 Halcomb Avenue. Ralph is now listed as a Warehouse Clerk for the Steam Railroad, and Lottie is a housewife. Ralph is recorded as being born in English Canada, and Lottie was born in England around 1911.

There’s also a border crossing record for Nov 4th, 1936. I’m guessing that at some point a few months after their wedding, they went to visit Canada, and as they returned to the US, they were recorded as entering the country. The border crossing gives us a couple more pieces of data. Charlotte’s middle name is Caroline. She lists her nationality as Welsh, but indicates that she was born in Marylebone, London, England. Birthdate is still about 1911, and her father is still listed as Alfred.

Here’s the next interesting piece. The Jones family appears in the 1911 England Census. The date listed for this page of the census is Apr 2nd, 1911, and the family resides at 12 Osborne Buildings, Horace St, St. Marylebone, London. The parents of the family, Alfred and Charlotte Jones have several children, including a two-month old daughter, Charlotte. I’m pretty sure that this is Charlotte’s family in England. And, if I’m right, then I can trace her ancestors back a couple of generations. That same family appears to be living in Kensington in the 1901 England Census. Every indication I have suggests that the parents of this family died in England (Alfred in 1933 and Charlotte in 1914).

I’m much less certain about the 1930 US Census record in Detroit for Lottie Jones. Lottie lives as a boarder at 3334 National Ave, Detroit. (I initially failed to find National Ave in Detroit, but found some of the nearby streets, Sycamore and Ash. Those streets are near the intersection of Rosa Parks Avenue and Martin Luther King Blvd. Could one of those have been called National Ave in 1930? Answer: no. But the street that’s now called Cochrane Street in honour of Mickey Cochrane of the Detroit Tigers is the renamed National Ave.) 3334 Cochrane St. now appears to be an empty lot, according to Google street view.

The 1930 Lottie Jones is listed as 18 (born about 1912), works as an office worker in a gas company, was born in England and immigrated in 1921. The fact that she styles her name “Lottie” the same as with the 1940 census and the other details make me think that this might be the same person, but there is a bit of guesswork. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any 1921 record of her arrival in the US that I’ve been able to find. But if she did arrive in 1921, she’d have been 10-years old. And if our findings about her parents are true, she’s traveling without them (her mother would have been dead well before 1921). Perhaps she was brought to the US by some of her older siblings?

I also don’t know what becomes of her after 1942. Publicly-available records become more sparse after this, and she doesn’t show up in any public Ancestry trees that I’ve been able to find. Her ultimate fate is a mystery.

So here is Ralph’s first wife, who we don’t talk about. I might get a bit more data once I get the divorce record, but at the moment, this is as far as I can go.

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