Thursday, October 27, 2011

Once Upon A Time - A Century Old Secret

To better understand this story, read:  Amanuensis Monday - Once Upon A Time

There was this century old  family secret. No one could tell. What was the secret?  Why was it a secret.  It was all such a puzzle. What happened to Herbert?  I've known about this mystery my whole life.

When I began researching our family history, I brought my 82 year old Aunt over to my home, to pick her brain; scan the pictures she brought with her and to share my work to date with her.  She asked me, "Maybe you can find out about my mother's brother, Herbert, and what happened to him."   Could I ever solve this century old story?  I thought this was an impossible task.  But that all changed in October of 2010 because of a chance discovery.

My great grandparents, Mary Catherine Wilber Pierce and her husband Carl Z Pierce were separated shortly after their daughter, Mary Ann, my grandmother, was taken away from her by her in-laws. Carl never knew that his wife was expecting another child when she left and moved home with her mother.  Mary, afraid that her in-laws would also take this second child from her, kept this fact a secret.

On April 11, 1900 she gave birth to a son she named Herbert. Family stories indicate that her mother, Nellie, delivered him.  The census taken in June of 1900, just shy of two months after Herbert's birth, shows Mary Catherine still living with her mother.

Her in-laws, Thomas and Mary Besse Pierce had warned Mary Catherine that they would make her life miserable if she ever attempted to regain custody of their grandchild. Why they felt so strongly we will never know for sure. Mary did not forget the threats made upon by her in-laws.   Mary Catherine proved her bravery by moving forward and petitioned the court.

On May 26, 1900, when Mary Catherine was only 19 years old and Herbert was six weeks old, she went to court alone to face her in-laws in an attempt to regain custody of her daughter.  She lost her battle and her life was changed forever.

The outcome of this court hearing changed the family dynamics for the next 110 years. Mary Catherine was not going to take the chance that Herbert would also be taken away from her by her in-laws. She gave Herbert away to her mother to raise in order to keep him. She must have loved Herbert very much to take such drastic action.  She surely felt that this would be the only way to keep her son close.  She was determined that her in-laws were not going to take Herbert.  (His birth was not recorded)

All during Herbert's life his birth mother was always nearby watching over him as he grew.  Herbert never knew he was being raised by his maternal grandmother.  He was always told he was adopted.

Mary Catherine and her husband Carl reunited and had two more children.  But once the cover-up was done, it became impossible to undo and the decision was made to keep this secret forever.  But as we know, secrets are made only to be unveiled.  ( Eventfully the marriage did end in divorce.)  Read:  Rainbows and Flowers, vs. Black Clouds and Weeds


Last October, 2010, a chance discovery of a old picture that was posted on the Town of Middleboro's website gave me the clue I was looking for.  Under the picture of a diner was the owner's name, Herbert Thompson.  Then there it was, a comment by the grandson of Herbert and a facebook logo.  I quickly typed a message and sent it off.  Amazingly, he answered almost immediately.  It took a little convincing that this was not a scam.  He was living on the west coast, I live on the east coast.  The first week in December of that year he flew out to meet me.

You can only imagine the joy we both shared.  The missing branch of his family tree is no longer lost. He in turn told me about his grandfather's life and how he was always told he was adopted and never knew who his parents were.   We continue to keep in touch with him and his family.  And yes, he has met my Aunt and other family members.

This century old secret is now revealed, and the truth has brought peace to many, and to my 90 year old aunt.  Herbert passed away in 1989 at the age of 89.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating story - usually it is an adopted child who is never told that he is adopted!

    ReplyDelete

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