Tag Archives: Philadelphia

Frances McGregor’s Notebook

The old notebook has a scuffed brown cover, but its pages are full of poetry, transcribed in neat handwriting. Clearly, this notebook once belonged to a woman who admired Lord Byron and other early 19th century English poets. Her name was Frances – or Fanny – McGregor, and she may have been my ancestor.

I came across it while searching for the name McGregor in the online catalogue of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The first result to pop up was “Frances McGregor autograph book, 1825.” In response to my query, the society forwarded a digitized copy of the entire notebook.

There’s a note clipped to the front, “Frances McGregor? selections from English poets,” which is a more accurate description of it. The label inside the cover indicates it was given to the historical society by “Miss Mary Forman Day, April 22, 1936,” more than 100 years after the last entry was made in 1829.

the donation plate and first page (page 11) of the notebook

Who was Mary Forman Day? She could have been a friend of one of Fanny’s grandchildren.1 Born in Philadelphia in 1860, and died in 1950 in Washington, D.C., she was probably the person who gave many documents pertaining to her Forman ancestors — early Maryland settlers — to area historical societies.2

As for my three-times great-grandmother Mary Frances McGregor, she was born near Port of Menteith, Perthshire, Scotland around 1792. She usually went by her nickname, Fanny. According to family lore, she finished her education in Edinburgh and then came to America. She married English-born Philadelphia merchant Robert Mitcheson, and the census shows they lived in the Spring Garden district, on the outskirts of Philadelpia. I am descended from her eldest daughter, Catharine, who was born in 1822.

I tried to eliminate the possibility that another Frances McGregor owned this notebook, but that proved difficult. Only the head of the household was named in census records and city directories at that time, making women especially hard to find.

If a title page ever existed, someone tore it out long ago, and the notebook begins on page 11.  Nevertheless, Frances’s name appears three times: she signed “Fanny” on a small botanical painting on the last page, and she wrote “Frances” on the inside back cover.

Her name also appears on page 11, at the bottom of a poem that begins, “When shall we three meet again?” Those words were spoken by the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but this is a different poem, expressing the sadness of friends about to be parted. Perhaps Fanny included this poem because she knew she would be leaving her life in Scotland for a new one in the United States.

Many of the poems Frances included in the notebook were written by Lord Byron. She also included a passage from Milton’s Paradise Lost, a short excerpt from an opera and “A Canadian Boat Song, written on the River St. Lawrence”, written by Irish poet Thomas Moore and first published in 1805. The notebook ends with several poems about England’s Princess Charlotte. In 1817, her baby was stillborn and the princess also died. These tragic events inspired much public sympathy at the time.

Frances seems to have written at least one of the notebook’s entries herself. “A Poem – On Home, written by a Young lady at School in the Year 1814” described memories of a loving mother and a happy childhood, but complained of loneliness and disillusionment as the young author moved toward adulthood.  

Besides poetry, Frances included several “puzzles” such as, “Why are your eyes like coach horses?” and “Why is a washerwoman like a church bell?” and “How is a lady of loquacity like a lady of veracity?” She did not include the answers.

One of the botanical sketches in the notebook.

My other favourite entries are the botanical paintings: simple but colourful images of wild geraniums, wild violets and roses.

Whoever created this notebook, it is clear that she was well educated, probably from the upper middle class, and had a quirky sense of humour. The more I think about it, the more strongly I suspect it belonged to my Frances McGregor, but I can’t prove it.

Photo credits: “Frances McGregor autograph book, 1825,” courtesy the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Notes

1. Grandchildren of Fanny McGregor Mitcheson who could have known Mary Forman:
Joseph McGregor Mitcheson (1870-1926) WW1 navy officer and Philadelphia lawyer;
Mary Frances (Mitcheson) Nunns (1874-1959);
Robert S. J. Mitcheson (1862-1931) Philadelphia physician and art collector;
Helen Patience Mitcheson (1854-1885);
Fanny Mary (Mitcheson) Smith (1851-1937) wife of Philadelphia lawyer and collector of historical documents Uselma Clarke Smith.
Fanny had five other grandchildren in Canada through daughter Catharine Mitcheson Bagg.

2. For example, Mary donated the Forman papers, MS 0403. H. Furlong Baldwin Library., Maryland Center for History and Culture, https://mdhistory.libraryhost.com/repositories/2/resources/49

This article is also posted to https://writinguptheancestors.ca

Social Media – Then and Now

My hitherto unknown relative pulled open an old book of Tennyson poems from the bookshelf and out fluttered a newspaper clipping that had been there almost 100 years.

The clipping was a photo of two small boys posed in their Sunday best from a Philadelphia newspaper published in 1921[1]. The names of my father, Thomas Anglin, and his brother Bill were printed at the bottom.

 

Jenn Garro, who found the clipping, Googled the names and my recent story about Uncle Bill Dear Uncle Bill on the Genealogy Ensemble website was the first hit. She located me on Facebook and sent me a message:

Was I the daughter or niece of one of these boys? My answer – Yes!

The boys’ mother, my grandmother, Josephine Eveline Sherron, married William Wendling Anglin The Stock Broker, of Kingston, Ontario in 1915 in Philadelphia.

Not only do I have a copy of this newspaper clipping, I also have the original photo. My grandmother relished the world of the newspaper social pages and this early photo of her boys was their introduction into that world.

Another photo, taken six years later, captured the boys lovingly looking over their mother’s shoulder while she read to them. It was first published in the Philadelphia Inquirer in December, 1927[2], and then again in the June 1930 issue of Mayfair Magazine.[3]

 

Josephine began modeling from an early age. She modeled hairdos, hats and fashions of the day, and the photos were widely distributed. One such photo, published in the December 11, 1915 issue of the Philadelphia Evening Ledger[4], featured her wearing a black lamb’s wool hat and muff with matching coat. The caption announced that her marriage had taken place that day.

 

Like many other people at that time, her mother and sister contributed regularly to the newspaper’s social pages, with announcements of teas, luncheons and bridge parties. Special events, such as the 1924 June Ball at the Royal Military College near Kingston, provided eager readers with short descriptions of the ball gowns that the “distinguished guests at the social event of the season” were wearing: “Mrs. Wendling Anglin, rose georgette beaded.”[5]

Most surprising, however, were detailed announcements of the comings and goings of the family.

“Mr. and Mrs. W.W. Anglin, Westmount, Montreal, Canada, will be the guests over this week-end of Mrs. Anglin’s mother, Mrs. William Thomson Sherron, in Germantown.  Mr. and Mrs. Anglin will leave by motor on Sunday for a several weeks’ trip to Florida.”[6]

Then, a short while later:

“Mrs. Sherron has as her guests over the week-end her son-in-law and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Anglin, of Montreal, Canada, who arrived in this city Friday from Florida, after spending several weeks in the South.”

IMG_0006

One visit from her sister was followed so thoroughly that it was announced on four separate occasions!

To begin with, it was announced twice in her local Germantown paper:

” …will leave next Wednesday for a visit of several weeks with her brother-in-law and sister, Mr. and Mrs. W.W. Anglin, of Westmount, Montreal, Canada.”

And then,

“…has left for Montreal, Canada, where she will remain for several weeks as the guest of her sister…”[7]

Again, on the receiving end of the visit, in the Montreal Daily Star:

“Mr. and Mrs. W.W. Anglin have as their guest, Mrs. Anglin’s sister …of Philadelphia, Penn.”

And finally, home again:

“…who has been spending a month with her brother-in-law and sister, Mr. and Mrs. W.W. Anglin, in Montreal, Canada, taking part in the winter sports, recently returned to this city.”[8]

Any decent burglar could have seized these well publicized opportunities to plan the perfect theft!

These newspaper articles from 80 years ago are very similar to posts that enthusiastic friends might share on today’s social media networks. Nowadays, anyone can share family activities and photos with the whole world in a similar fashion. Nevertheless, I wonder whether any family photos will flutter into a distant relative’s inbox 100 years from now.

Meanwhile, my newly discovered relative Jenn lives in Bolivia, and we are keeping in touch by messaging on social media.

Note: 

On the inside cover of Tennyson’s Poems is written the name “Lizzie Gould”. Lizzie (Elizabeth) Gould was the sister of Harriet Gould (Josephine’s mother-in-law and my great grandmother, Mrs. W.G. Anglin Surgeon and Mentalist). Their brother Harry (Henry) Gould was the father of Pearl, who was Jenn Garro’s great-grandmother.  It appears Lizzie kept the clipping of her sister Harriet’s grandchildren in the book of poems. Jenn inherited the book and the clipping.

 

 

[1] Public Ledger – Philadelphia, Sunday Morning, July 3, 1921

[2] The Philadelphia Inquirer – December 19, 1927

[3] The Mayfair Magazine – June 1930

[4] Evening Ledger- Philadelphia, Saturday, December 11, 1915

5  The Kingston Standard – June 17, 1924 

[6] Local newspaper, January 28, 1938

[7] Germantown local newspaper, January 4, 1935

[8] Germantown local newspaper, about February 4, 1935

Mapping the Mitchesons of Philadelphia

This 1875 map from the HSP.org website shows the Mitcheson property in Spring Garden.
This 1875 map from the HSP.org website shows the Mitcheson property in Spring Garden.

I’ve been researching the Mitchesons, my 19th century Philadelphia ancestors, on and off for a couple of years.  One of the things that most intrigues me is to find out where they lived. Was it rural, or in the heart of the old town? At the top of a hill, or in an unhealthy swampy area? And how did the area change over time?

The best way to find out is to look at old maps. The modern ones help you to get your bearings, but studying historical maps of the areas where our ancestors lived and worked is crucial. They show transportation corridors and distances and indicate population density and land use.

The Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network (http://www.philageohistory.org/geohistory/) has an excellent collection of old maps of Philadelphia.

My three-times great-grandfather Robert Mitcheson bought a large piece of property facing Coates Street (later renamed Fairmount), between 11th and 12th, in the Spring Garden district, north of the city. Looking at it on this 1831 survey plan, it is clear that this was a rural area and that new roads were being laid out: http://www.philageohistory.org/rdic-images/view-image.cfm/083-1_HP

Zoom in on Spring Garden (the long, narrow pink section) on the1843 survey map at http://www.philageohistory.org/rdic-images/view-image.cfm/ellet and you’ll find the street grid is in place and the State Penitentiary is located nearby, as is the city’s famous Fairmount waterworks. The Mitchesons were becoming urban residents, and Robert took advantage of it. He built boarding houses on his property that he hoped would provide an ongoing source of income for his children.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (http://hsp.org.) is another good source for maps. Its digital project PhilaPlace (http://www.philaplace.org) invites users to write about the histories of their favorite spots in the city. (As I write this, the site seems to be having technical problems.)

To read about Robert Mitcheson’s wife, Fanny MacGregor, see my blog post, writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2014/03/fanny-in-philly.html