Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Water, water, everywhere . . .

Water, Water Everywhere . . .
No this is not a commentary on the rain that keeps drenching Northeast Ohio, but a reflection on my attraction to water, or to be more precise, the edges of water.  Unlike most of my friends and family, however, I am drawn, not to tropical beaches, but to the northern shores of the Great Lakes, the rocky beaches off the coast of Massachusetts, and the deep, cool, water of the Pacific Northwest.  It is possible that growing up within a few miles of Lake Erie has a lot to do with this attraction, but the more I learn about my ancestors the more I am convinced that there is some ancestral memory at work here as well.

My last post was a brief sketch about Laura Marsh, daughter of John Marten Marsh and Laura Althea Klapp, two of my great-great grandparents, both of whom were born and raised near the water.  Here is a brief look at this couple.

John Marten Marsh (1835-1913) was born in Dover, Kent, England on the shores of the English Channel.  His grandfather, also named John, owned and managed “Marshes Royal Baths,” where he provided patrons with “bathing machines” and changing facilities for a very complicated and cumbersome, but popular, method of pseudo-swimming.  For more photos and information on this fascinating business see or

In 1849 John’s father, another John (go figure!) and his wife Priscilla Marten, and their five children immigrated to the United States on the ship “Devonshire.”  They lived in Greenwich Village for a couple of years, and then moved to Brooklyn.  John Marten Marsh married a woman from Staten Island (more about her in a minute) he served in the Civil War, and moved to Ohio after the war, first to Akron, then finally to Cleveland where he lived for the rest of his life.  So, John started his life within walking distance of the English Channel, lived his young adult years on two islands (Manhattan and Long Island) and lived his final years within a few miles of Lake Erie, and is buried in Lakeview Cemetery.

John’s wife, Laura Althea Klapp (1840-1920) was born in Port Richmond, a small town along the north shore of Staten Island.  Laura’s lineage includes the Van Name, Van Pelt, Banta and Van Winkle families, among others.  Her Dutch ancestors came from a land that carved itself from the sea.  She grew up on Staten Island when the only way to travel to New York City or Brooklyn was by boat.  Many of her relatives earned their living from the oysters that they pulled from the bay.  They were in love with, dependent upon, and often engaged in a struggle with the water that surrounded them.

(Full disclosure here: while I love being near large bodies of water I rarely go out on the water since I suffer from extreme seasickness!!!  I can handle large ferries and cruise ships but small boats are not my friends.  Unfortunately, I did not inherit sea legs from my sailor ancestors.)

So, the question remains; do the geophysical surroundings of our ancestors leave an imprint that is passed down in our DNA?  Do we feel drawn to particular physical features or terrain because of our ancestral memory?  I don’t know the answers to these questions, but it is an intriguing possibility.  

One final note: my mother’s family hails from southwestern Virginia amidst the beautiful Appalachians.  So, besides the sea, guess what other geophysical features call to me?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Life and Times of Laura Althea Marsh (Aunt Lolly)

This story begins with an anecdote and includes a cautionary tale.
First the anecdote:  when Richard Herrington (1935-2005) got into trouble as a little boy he would run to his Great Aunt Lolly who lived with his family.  Aunt Lolly would brandish her cane at Dick’s mother or father and declare “Don’t you touch this little angel,” regardless of whatever mischief the “little angel” had gotten into.  Every child should have such a champion.
“Aunt Lolly” was Laura Althea Marsh.  Born in Akron, Ohio in 1872 she was the youngest daughter, and the second youngest child of John Marten Marsh and Laura Althea Klapp.  The family moved to Cleveland when Lolly was a young child and she lived there the rest of her life.  Lolly attended Walnut School in the Miles Park neighborhood of Cleveland, and while I have not found the records for her high school years, she would probably have attended Central High School on E. 55th street, since there was no high school in her neighborhood until 1894. 
Aunt Lolly never married; she was a “working girl” of the late 1890s and early 1900s.  I discovered her workplace because of a cache of post cards sent to her “care of” W.A Quinby's in the early 1900s.  Quinby’s occupied an impressive building on Euclid Avenue where they sold material, notions, and Butterick sewing patterns.
 Here's the cautionary tale: somewhere in the vast array of family photos that I have been planning to sort, scan, and file, are fabulous photographs of Aunt Lolly and her friends in Gibson Girl hair and fashions working at Quinby’s and taking a break in the park on Public Square.  I put them “somewhere safe” and cannot find them!!!  So, please, learn from my mistake and scan those precious, one-of-a-kind heirloom photos!!!
Now back to our story.  I never knew Aunt Lolly, she was my great-grandma’s sister, and they both passed away before I was born, but from the few letters and postcards I am able to catch a glimpse of her personality.  She loved to travel, and to take photographs.  Besides protecting her young grand nephew from the wrath of his parents, she wrote encouraging and humorous letters to her various nephews who were serving overseas in the military, including one to a nephew in France in 1918 warning him not to “flirt too much with the French girls.”  Like many other women of her time and position she was involved in club and church activities, serving as secretary or committee member for various organizations. 
Aunt Lolly lived in a time when most women aspired to be wives and mothers; she was neither, but all the evidence points to a life well lived.  She was an intelligent, witty and strong woman who had a large group of friends, siblings, nieces and nephews who loved her.  She lived her last years at the home of her nephew Fred (the father of the young Dick Herrington) and his family on Laumer Avenue in the neighborhood where she had lived her whole life, dying in 1942.  She was buried near her parents at Lakeview Cemetery, but unfortunately with no tombstone.  Since she left no direct descendants to honor her memory, I am happy to perform that task.  In fact it is not a task at all, but a privilege to pay tribute to this special woman.