Olive LaCross Kennedy

Sunday, February 14th, was Valentine’s Day, but it was also my grandmother’s birthday. Olive LaCross was born, according to her death certificate, on February 14, 1892 in Watervliet, NY. What little I know about my grandmother is contained in this one post. Only two photographs of her survived a house fire in Binghamton, NY, some time in the 1930s. One is a formal portrait that must have been taken prior to the birth of her twin daughters, but after she was grown. Perhaps it was taken around the time of her marriage to my grandfather, which occurred on Sept 26, 1916. But there is no information written on the back of the photograph besides my mother’s note that the photo is a copy of the original photo, made in 1938, more than 10 years after my grandmother’s death.

Although I’ve tried to find a record of my grandmother’s birth, so far I’ve been unsuccessful. The Vital Statistics Office in Watervliet had a record of her marriage, hand-written, a copy of which they sent me, but no record of her birth. If she was married in 1916, and she was 23, according to the record, then she would have been born in 1893, but her death certificate says 1892. This is one of the fun challenges of genealogy — sorting out which pieces of conflicting information are correct and which are not. So, either she was born in 1892 or 1893 or some other year!

Olive LaCross makes an appearance in the 1900 US Census living in Colonie, Albany County, New York, the youngest of 5 children born to Joseph LaCross and Sophia Ducat. In 1900, the census record listed birth year and month for each person recorded, as well as age, sex, race and marital status, plus year of immigration and birthplace of each family member and for the parents of each person, and age at first marriage for each person. And you just wonder what people were thinking when they wrote things down…

Olive was the baby of the family in 1900 at age 10 [so, born in 1890? but what about her marriage & death records?]. She had a brother Freddie age 15,  a 17-year-old sister Josephine, a 20-year-old sister Emily, and a 24-year-old brother Joseph. Olive’s parents are listed as being 40 years old (both of them), both born in 1860 — Sophia in New York and Joseph Sr in Canada. Which would make both of them age 16 at the time of the birth of Joseph Jr. Which I suppose is certainly possible, however, the census data says that age at first marriage for Joseph and Sophia was 25. Ok, whatever. Maybe that’s all true. Joseph supposedly immigrated from “Canada French” in 1872. Census data is transcribed but you have to check the transcription with a copy of the original hand-written form, which you can see online, because there are many errors. And sometimes the hand-written forms are difficult to read, I’ll admit. The transcription page says that Joseph was 50 in 1900 but the original census form clearly says he was 40. I do know for certain that these are my ancestors because the information about Olive’s family matches information coming from other sources. That’s called triangulating your data. So just because the years don’t match… that’s a minor problem.

Olive appears again in 1910 in the US Census, still living in Colonie. Freddie is not there, so perhaps he left home — he would have been 24. However, the other “children” are all still living at home — Joseph is listed as being 33, Emily West [a new last name] is listed as age 29, Josephine is 25, and my grandmother Olive is 19, which would make her birth year 1891. A fourth possibility. And Joseph is listed as having immigrated in 1875, not 1872. Joseph is now listed as being 61 in 1910, and his wife Sophia is 52 in 1910 — even though a decade earlier, they were listed as being the same age. Joseph is a “laborer.”

January 1920, the next Federal Census — very cold and nasty in Watervliet, NY, where Olive LaCross turns up again. By now, she’s 26 according to the census-taker, but would turn 27 in February, putting her birth year back at 1893. The original census form is hard to read, and the transcriber, who must not have been too well-informed, read “Kennedy” as “Henneady” — it’s a wonder we found this census information at all! By 1920, Harold and Olive had been married for 4 years and had the twins, Olive Mary and Rose Mary — my mother and aunt. The family is living in Watervliet, Ward 4, Albany County, New York, a mere 8.6 miles from Colonie. Harold Kennedy is listed as a railroad fireman, which is correct — I have his work records from the Railroad Retirement Board in Chicago.

OK, let’s see…. Olive and Harold were married on Sept 26, 1916, if I’m reading the hand-written record correctly, and the twins were born on July 7, 1917. Just about right. In January 1920, the twins would be about 2 1/2 — mobile, feisty and Dad was traveling around on the train all the time. I can’t imagine how Olive was managing. Interestingly, the twins were born in Saratoga Springs, NY, 28 miles from Watervliet. I wonder how that happened. No records.

There is one more small piece of evidence of the life of Olive LaCross Kennedy, whose original middle name I am still trying to locate. [Perhaps it was “Rose” since she named her daughters Olive and Rose.] My mother had a second photograph, mentioned above, that is a group photo, 3.5 x 2.5 inches — a group of 15 people at a picnic. On the back of the photo, someone [not my mother because I’d recognize her handwriting] wrote “your mother with hand in her mouth”. On the front of the photo, a small X in ink appears on a woman with her hand in her mouth, and in the bottom white margin of the photo, my mother wrote “2 kids Olive, Rosemary ||X Mother”. Over the years before I acquired my mother’s photographs, when I visited her, I would always ask to see these two photographs since they were the only evidence of my Kennedy/LaCross relatives. Sadly though, of the 15 people in the picnic photo, only 3 are identified — Olive LaCross Kennedy and her two girls, who look quite young in that photo. They are small, with dark hair and one appears to be wrapped in a blanket. Both the girls are sitting next to their mother.

The other people in the photo are most intriguing — there’s an older woman in a lace cap sitting in front — perhaps that’s great-grandma Sophie! A younger man off to the left could in fact be my grandfather, Harold Austin Kennedy, or it could be one of Olive’s brothers… who knows. There are no existing photographs of my grandfather. On the right side of the photo, a man is holding a large glass bottle of dark liquid, resting it on the head of a seated boy. There is another young boy off on the left side, but the rest of the people in the photograph are women — 7 of them. One is holding a spoon; another has a spoon raised to her mouth. They are all seated in the grass in a forest with evidence of a picnic visible in the center of the group. The older lady is seated with her back to the back of one of the little girls — I can’t tell which of the two is my mother because one has her back to the camera. I just have to think that the older lady is my great-grandmother Sophie because she looks a lot like my aunt did in her old age.

So, the story goes that on her deathbed, Olive LaCross Kennedy knew she was dying and called up “Grandma Kennedy” who was the second wife of Harold’s father but nearly the same age as Olive, and asked Grandma Kennedy to “come and get the girls” — that she didn’t want them staying with their father. And anyway, he worked on the Delaware and Hudson railroad so who would have cared for them? They were only 9 years old at the time. So, Grandma Kennedy (Edith Champlain Kennedy) drove a couple or more hours up to Watervliet, picked up the girls, and drove back to Binghamton, where she and my great-grandfather William Edward Kennedy ran Kennedy’s Inn. There they lived until their late teens when they supposedly ran off to work in vaudeville, but that’s another story.

There were a few pieces of additional short stories about my grandparents that were perhaps not so savory. My mother remembered virtually no details of her earliest years for reasons I won’t go into here. My aunt claimed that her father drank a lot and was abusive to his wife. She said that her father was boisterous and her mother was quiet. My aunt said once that one time her father tried to push her mother out a window (!) and that she (my aunt) ran at them to try to prevent disaster. My aunt was the scrappy one and my mother was the studious one.  And another time, my aunt said to me, “we really loved our mother and missed her so much after she died.”  Well, of course. How horribly sad.

So, I wonder, too about Harold. In my genealogy searching, I’ve learned that he lost his own mother when he was just 3 years old and his baby brother was only a few months old. In another census record, he turns up as a teenager living with his mother’s brother’s family in Peru, NY. Then, he marries at 21, fathers twins 9 months later, and loses his own wife a decade later. There were no other children born in that Catholic family after the twins. He married twice again but much later in life, and had no other children. My mother never knew what happened to him but I tracked down evidence of his death in Brasher Falls, NY, in 1963 when I located his death certificate and obituary in the late 1990s. I never met him, and I don’t think my mother or aunt ever saw him again after their teenage years. He lived his entire life in upstate New York, working many years on the D&H railroad, followed by 17 years for Alcoa Aluminum in Massena, NY.

In St Jean’s Cemetery in 2007, we found our great-grandmother Sophia Ducat LaCross who died in 1953 [two years after I was born!] and was buried in the same plot with her daughter Emily West who also died in 1953, and another person named Janet Tybush who died in 1988 — probably Emily’s daughter? The 1930 US Federal Census lists a household with Sophia “Lacrass” [who are these transcriptionists?] age 71, daughter Emma West age 40, granddaughter Janet Tybush age 23, little Gladys Tybush age 4, and Edwin West age 20, likely Emma’s son. There is no evidence for Joseph Sr’s life or death after the 1920 census where he and Sophie are living in Colonie with Josephine and Joseph Mayer, daughter and son-in-law. And Sophie and Joseph are not buried together, which is interesting. More research necessary.

Olive LaCross died on March 27, 1927 of pneumonia quite some time before antibiotics were invented/discovered. Her death certificate lists her age as 35 and birthday as February 14, 1892. She was a housewife and the family lived at 1307 Sixth Ave in Watervliet. The certificate says she died at home. I looked the address up on Google maps but there is no longer a house existing at that number. The nearest is 1308. According to the information on the death certificate, she was buried on March 3o, 1927, in St Jean de Baptiste Cemetery, which is now known as St. Jean’s, in Troy, NY. I’ve been there twice, in 2002 and 2007, both times, unable to locate her grave. The Diocese has no accurate records for her burial. They said she probably is there but either there never was a stone, or it’s disappeared in the 80+ years since she died. Olive’s brother Joseph is also buried in that cemetery, not too far from Sophie’s, Emily’s and Janet’s gravestone. There is only one stone for the three of them.

Well, Grandma Olive, how I would like to know more of your story. Where did you meet Harold? And why did you marry this kid? Where were the rest of your relatives when you were sick? Why did the twins not live with one of your sisters, or your mother after your death? Why did you think they would do well at Kennedy’s Inn in Binghamton? Was it because it was prosperous and there was money to care for them? My mother used to say that she and her sister did not have a “normal childhood” growing up around a nightclub and without their parents. She said that Grandma Kennedy was strict but that she took good care of them. She had no children of her own, and she ran the nightclub along with her sister Lucy and the co-owner Frank. The story goes that William Edward Kennedy, father of Harold, also had something of a drinking problem. He, too, lost his first wife within a few years after their marriage.

Every year on Valentine’s Day, I think of my Grandmother Olive LaCross Kennedy, and hope that someday, dabbling at genealogy, I will bump into more of her story. It’s taken me my entire life to appreciate the void in my life created by the untimely death from pneumonia of a 35-year-old woman in upstate New York — a ripple effect through many decades — the effects of loss upon loss reaching across years and families and touching many lives.

Document your photos and tell your story. Someday, it might make a difference to someone.

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