Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Another Marriage for Mary Jane BARBER

I've been blogging a lot about my brickwall ancestor, James W. BARBER (1841 - 1912). But let's fast forward two generations to James's granddaughter, Mary Jane BARBER, who was one of my paternal great-grandmothers. For family members and long-time readers of my blog, you will remember that Mary Jane BARBER was the biological mother of my paternal grandmother. She married young, had my grandmother and her brother right away, then divorced my great-grandfather. He subsequently took the children and was responsible for leaving them in an orphanage across the state of Michigan from where their mother lived. Mary Jane never knew what became of her children. My grandmother and her brother were adopted by two different families in the same small community in Western Michigan. They grew up knowing they were siblings, and my grandmother was actually very close not only to her brother, but to his adoptive mother as well. My granduncle died young, and now my grandmother has Alzheimer's

When I found living family members of Mary Jane, they told me that she had remarried twice after divorcing my great-grandfather. The names of the two husbands they knew about were Archie Louis KELLER and Jay DUNLAP. Archie was the son of Mary Jane's mother's fourth husband; basically Mary Jane's step-brother, although they had not been raised as step-siblings - their parents had married after they were both adults. As an aside, yes, I feel a sense of déjà vu here, because for several years, I kept finding more marriages for Mary Jane's mother (also named Mary Jane; very confusing indeed!). Archie KELLER and Mary Jane BARBER married 14 October 1939 and divorced 12 March 1946. Mary Jane then married Jay DUNLAP and divorced him by 1954 or 1955.

For a while, I thought Mary Jane had married an Arthur KUPSH and lived in Wisconsin for a while (explanation for my theory here). However, a couple of years ago when my aunt sent a bunch of family photos and documents that had belonged to my grandparents, I came across one of the photos my grandmother's cousins gave her of her mother at their first reunion:

Source: Mary Jane (BARBER) YORK CURISTON and dog, c. 1928 - 1933, probably Genesee County, Michigan. Original in the possession of Miriam Robbins Midkiff, Spokane, Washington, 2010.

On the reverse, I noticed this:

"Mary (Barber) Curiston"

When FamilySearch Record Search came out with the Michigan marriages (1868 - 1925), I searched in vain for a marriage record for Mary Jane and a Mr. Curiston. I also looked at marriage records on the Genesee County Clerk's website (1963 to the present). While I did not find one, I did notice there was a Floyd E. CURISTON with a wife, Mary J. (b. c. 1910 - right age) living in the City of Grand Blanc in Genesee County, Michigan. It looked like a very good match, but after my theory of Mary Jane KUPSCH, I was a little hesitant to jump in and declare this Mary J. to be "mine."

Saturday, I received an e-mail from a woman who said that my Mary Jane had married her cousin, Clayton J. ADAMS on 7 November 1933 in Flint, Genesee Co., Michigan. She also had information on Mary Jane's marriage to Floyd E. CURISTON (m. 16 January 1928, also in Flint). To back it up, she linked to the Flint County Genealogical Society's online marriage record index (1867 - 1934). I have visited this site frequently to check records for the many relatives that lived in the area, but apparently had not visited since they updated information in June 2007. There on the page listing the BARBER surnames is my Mary Jane with her marriages to Howard (#1), Floyd (#2), and Clayton (#3). On the same page, her mother is also listed with her third marriage to Fred SMITH.

When I analyzed the information, I realized Mary Jane married Floyd nine days after she divorced Howard. By October of that same year, my grandmother was enrolled in Kindergarten in her adoptive family's community. Nineteen twenty-eight was a terrible year for Mary Jane. She divorced Howard on January 7th, married Floyd on January 16th, and likely had her children taken away from her by Howard--never to see them again--in the spring of that year (more on that here).

My great-grandmother had a hard life. She had all the "typical" experiences in her childhood and youth that led her to live her adult life the way she did. Her father died five days after first birthday. Her mother, originally married to a poor laborer with no property or estate, was probably desperate to keep the family together and having no way to support five children, married three men and (probably) divorced two of them within the next 12 years. This was in the 1910s and -20s, a time when women had little rights and divorced women were relegated to the societal status of little better than prostitutes. It's likely my great-grandmother witnessed scenes of spousal abuse, because there was little other reason for women to be able to obtain a divorce at that time. My great-grandmother then married for the first time only 25 days after her 14th a man who was eleven years her senior (Howard). She had my grandmother nine months after their marriage, and my granduncle 12 months after that. By then, she was separated from my great-grandfather. And then we see a pattern of divorce and remarriage.

Although removing my grandmother and granduncle from their mother was a tragic situation for all three of them, it was something that was probably best in the long run for the children...and the subsequent generations. My grandmother and her brother were raised in loving, stable homes. Although not perfect families (tell me whose family is perfect!), their adoptive parents raised them to work hard in school, be involved in church, and be active members of their communities. My granduncle served in the Navy in World War II, and was married to a sweet lady. Although they eventually divorced, my grandmother remained close to her ex-sister-in-law, who went on to become a personal secretary of Senator Ted Stevens (R, Alaska) in Washington, D.C. during the 1960s. My grandmother was married to my grandfather for 63 years before his death, raised five children, countless foster children, and helped raised some of their grandchildren. She earned her beautician's license and had a successful home business along with my grandfather, an auto body shop owner.

Some records that I will pursue will include all marriage and divorce records for Mary Jane (I have the ones for her marriage to and divorce from Howard only). The upcoming release in 2012 of the 1940 U.S. Federal Census will probably also be revealing.


Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

How very sad that they both had so many husbands. Your grandmother was probably lucky to be adopted into a loving and stable home.

Word Designer said...

Every family has its problems, but that doesn't make it any less sad. My heart goes out to Mary Jane and her children. I can't help but wonder how this will play out in the eternities. Well, I guess it'll all get worked out in the Millenial Rush, as my good hubby-buddy is fond of reminding me.

I do enjoy reading your blog.

Word Designer

Andrea said...

FamilySearch is great for finding Michigan marriages. My husband had a gg uncle who married 4 women five times. I have also used the Flint County Genealogical Society's indexes many times.

Miriam Robbins said...

Yes, Mary Jane (and her mother) had hard lives. But to see how things turned out for my grandmother, I think the adoption was a good thing in the long run. The online resources out there are simply fantastic!

Thank you, ladies, for dropping by.