Archive for the ‘Ancestral heirlooms and archives’ Category

Violin/clock sculpture   Leave a comment

Granddaddy playing his air violin

Granddaddy playing his air violin

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For as far back as I can remember, Tisolay and I have been playing music together, both on the victrola and on the piano to each other.  And for almost that long, there have been two records we could put on that would make my grandfather, regardless of what he was doing or where he was in the house, come into the livingroom with his arms waving in the air, bowing and fingering the neck of an imaginary violin; the Franck violin & piano sonata and Mendelssohn’s violin concerto.   It was a pretty safe bet, too, that before heading back to his study, he’d slowly growl, “Laura, did you know that your grandfather was the world’s worst violin student?

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One day in 2006, a box was delivered to my house from my step-father who, since the unexpected death of my mother the year before, was packing up to leave New Orleans.  It contained a bunch of small things that had belonged to Granddaddy, odd and broken tidbits that were left behind after most of her things had been donated to the university where she taught. It was a bittersweet delivery, coming on the heals of my mother’s one-two punch: first, her breaking my grandmother’s will in ’04, taking away my half of the estate, and then, after my mother’s unexpected death a year later, her will specifying that everything Tisolay had originally left to me was to go instead to the university.

A box of Granddaddy's things

A box of Granddaddy’s things

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But, coming 2 years after her death, time had lessoned both the shock and the heartbreak, and post-Katrina construction had come to monopolize a great deal of my attention.  So, after the initial moment reliving the loss, I took notice that the main item in the box was Granddaddy’s violin, broken, but both neck and body present.  Also in the box was the silk scarf, given to him by his mother, he used to pad his collar bone as his chin held the violin against it.  Another item that I loved more than my mother realized, I suppose, was a cow horn bugle that had hung over the fireplace by Granddaddy’s chair since before I was born.  Together with his box of chess pieces, an old rope with a clamp hook, his gold belt buckle, Granddaddy’s things began to reconfigure themselves in my artist’s eye, mostly thanks to the fact that the violin’s neck had already broken off.  I saw the body of the violin as a sailing ship, the neck as a mast, and Granddaddy’s scarf, which fell into sections at the barest touch, as sails.  The long handled opium pipe, cut in half (*cringe*, yeah, I know), would serve as crossbeams for the sails.  I saw a few chess pieces as people and horses standing on deck, a leather case of throwing dice as cargo, the curve of the horn as a wave beneath its prow, the rope coiled neatly in seaman’s fashion, and next thing I knew, I was thinking of all sorts of things from my life with my grandparents that lent themselves to a nautical theme, things Tisolay had been sending me home with for several years without my mother knowing about it.  I thought it was a healthy sign that I could find creativity and fun in things that had symbolized such betrayal and emotional gutting only a year before.

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Wynken, Blinken and Nod

Wynken, Blinken and Nod

The Owl and the Pussycat

The Owl and the Pussycat

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There were illustrations having to do with the sea from the children’s books Ti used to read to me.

Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe

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"Laura in Belize" by Tisolay, ca. 1967

“Laura in Belize” by Tisolay, ca. 1967.

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There were drawings that she and I did together that were sea related, like her imaginings of my first trip to Belize when I was 9, drawn in ball-point pen in one of Granddaddy’s unused appointment books from a previous year . . .

Baccarat seahorse

Baccarat seahorse

. . . and my crayon drawing of a crystal seahorse figurine out of a Baccarat catalog, similarly drawn on one of G’s old notepads from his bank.

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Proteus krewe favors

Proteus krewe favors, Granddaddy’s tux and tails cufflinks

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Proteus silver doubloon, 1978, my year

Proteus silver doubloon, 1978, my year

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There were mementoes of their many Mardi Gras balls together, mostly Proteus.  Proteus is the Greek god of the Sea, and Proteus krewe favors usually took the form of either scallop shells or seahorses.

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Mementos of the SS Drance, 1959

Mementos of the SS France, 1959

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There were mementoes of Tisolay and Granddaddy’s trip to Europe on the SS France in 1959, the year after I was born . . . luggage tags and dinner/cabaret reservations, an SS France ribbon, and a map of Florence.

Ti adored Florence, and the 1966 flood broke her heart, especially the damage to the Cimabue crucifix.  She read to me everything she could find on the restoration, especially when National Geographics wrote about it.

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There was a  pamphlet and passenger list from the Munson Steamship Line which took Granddaddy to Brazil in 1928 for one of his first bank jobs, where he also got the aquamarine ring that scandalized his not-yet-mother-in-law, Tiwazzo.

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.Tisolay’s broken Wedgwood coffee saucers make for good rolling waves beneath two French Polynesian island stamps that Ti had squirreled away in a drawer.  The three pottery shards I found on Deer Island on the Gulf Coast, known to be a rich midden-site of Paleo-Indians about 10,000 years ago.  Before Katrina, anyway.

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.     ****  PLEASE FORGIVE THE DELAY.  SHOULD BE COMPLETE BY DEC. ****

.nautical clock

long-handled opium pipe

frame

turquoise jewelry

Chinese cookie form

silver figurehead

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“Tisolay’s Favorite Things” . . . . . . .   Leave a comment

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In 1998, I began the last drawing I would ever do for Tisolay.  I knew it at the time, too.  My sweet girl was finally, at the age of 93, starting to show her age.  Ever since Granddaddy died 12 years before, I had made it a point to involve her in all sorts of projects; initially, right after he died, to fight her desire to follow him, and to give her a reason to stay with me, and then later, just to keep her mind engaged.  Everything we ever did together was fun, so all this was was more of the same, just on a more ambitious scale.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but it wasn’t all for her.  Also around this time, out of the blue and for no reason in particular that I can remember, that I first felt in my gut and my heart, “Oh my God, she’s gonna die and I have no idea how to do life without her.”  I started actively appreciating ever minute with her and telling her so, and thanking her for everything she had meant to me for 40 years.  And I started preparing myself, like a slow goodbye that didn’t have to be acted on for a while, and used our projects toward that end.

"Tisolay's Favorite Things", 1999

“Tisolay’s Favorite Things”, 1999 – © Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved.

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Ever since I was tiny, she’d loved to watch me draw.  We’d go out on the screen porch where she’d set me up at the glass table in my tiny white wicker rocking chair, a pad of paper, and a tin of watercolors.  When I got older, after Granddaddy died, I took over his blue canvas chaise lounge, with the lamp in the corner, and would spread out my Prismacolors across the glass table.  By then, my medium had become colored pencil.  So some time in 1997, I told her I felt like doing a big drawing project, a still life of her favorite things, set up on her piano.

A few things I knew she would pick; the porcelain figurine of the girl dancing in the waves that she always said was me on the beach in Belize, the aquamarine ring Granddaddy brought back from Brazil for her “before they were even engaged!”, much to Tiwazzo’s disapproval (her mother), and Papa Sitges’ incredible Meerschaum pipe, carved with a little boy and his hunting dogs in tow.  I also figured she’d pick a piece of her beloved cobalt Wedgwood, and Granddaddy’s gold pocket watch and chain, a central figure in our inside joke that Granddaddy was born bald, in a three-piece suit and watch chain, fully clad, like Minerva.  I was surprised, though, and charmed when she brought out Mama Sitges’ watch as well, so dainty and more delicately etched.  I hadn’t seen or thought about it for decades.

Papa Sitges' meerschaum pipe, front

Papa Sitges’ meerschaum pipe, front

 Also belonging to Mama Sitges were her little desk clock in its leather case and the mother-of-pearl opera glasses Mama Sitges had given Tisolay when she was still at the Conservatory and Granddaddy was inviting her to every concert and musical event in New Orleans “in furtherance of her studies”, lest any of her other suitors gain a toe-hold.

  Something else I hadn’t seen since I was little, out from a cedar box of her mother’s most fragile things, was Tiwazzo’s old French alphabet primmer, yellowed and crumbling, its disintegrating cover fortified by an old leftover square of blue-and-white toile from the library upholstery.  We held our breaths while we gingerly opened it to the page with “J for jardinier”, using her father’s gold nib pen and his massive gold pocket watch, the heaviest of the three, to hold it open.  Punctuating the gardening theme so central to Tisolay’s day-to-day life was a silver baby cup and saucer that we filled with flowers from the yard.   I don’t remember whose idea it was, but I added at the last minute a pair of Granddaddy’s black mother-of-pearl dress cufflinks from his Mardi Gras tails.

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Papa Sitges’ meerschaum pipe, back

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Adding height to one side was a crystal candlestick the wife of one of Granddaddy’s bank investors had given her, and above it, Mama Sitges’ black lacquer music stand.  And beneath the whole, rounding out the collection, went a whisper-fine, yellow Belgian-lace handkerchief that had been a wedding present from one of her piano students’ mother, Mathilde Gray, who became a Louisiana oil heiress and philanthropist.

A roll of film’s worth of photo studies, then several months of lazy afternoon visits in Granddaddy’s chaise lounge and innumerable pots of tea, and voila, “Tisolay’s Favorite Things” is what came of it.  I had never done an exercise in light before, let alone a piece of cut lead crystal, or done such detail work as with the lace, but the way I figured it, Granddaddy was sitting on my shoulder for this one.

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     __________________________

Like so many things, there is bitter with the sweet.  When we were done, Tisolay insisted that I take everything home with me, in a whisper, as if she were afraid of someone overhearing.   It was her veiled way of telling me that she worried about whether my mother would honor any bequests she made directly to me in her will.   My mother was a strange and complex creature with her father’s sense of duty and a warrior’s demeanor, who had never had the makings of motherhood, yet was forced into it by the expectations of a 1950s society that then turned on her, criticizing her every move as a mother.  After an idyllic childhood marked by an only-child’s limitless ambitions and a valedictorian’s success at everything she did, I became the symbol of her failure as a mother, and later, daughter, and Ti and I both understood that her gratitude and guilt over our relationship was tinged with bitterness and denial.    I never doubted that she knew how magical her mother was, but something in her early adult years put up a wall that shut her off from engaging in it.   Years later, I would be blindsided by how right Tisolay had been in her fears, but I still believe what I told her then, that the real treasure was something no one could take away from me, the wealth of experiences and memories she had given me, that for whatever reason my mother had closed herself off to.  And in this case, I would not only have a wonderful memory but a drawing of it as well.

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Thanks for letting me hand the memories of Tisolay over to you, to carry forward after I’m gone.     ______     © Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved.

Henrietta, Rosello’s tomb and Aunt Nans   Leave a comment

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Henrietta Cox

.     Henrietta     .     In with my grandfather’s papers is an old photograph, a formal portrait, of an elderly woman I don’t recognize as any ancestor I’ve been told about.   My interest in the family history did not arise until my grandfather was already gone, and all my grandmother knew was that her name was Henrietta Cox, and something about her not having any children.  Tisolay always used to say that Granddaddy had been raised by an “Aunt Nans”, though his only aunt’s name was Victoria.  We also knew that the home he was raised in was run by his Aunt Victoria, a widow, and her sister Estelle, his mother, who was like a widow in that her husband spent a great deal of his time in Central America and Mexico where he had several business interests, including a book binding business that printed some of Mexico’s paper money, stocks and bonds.  We didn’t know who Aunt Nans was, but it wasn’t Aunt Victoria, and Tisolay seemed sure that she wasn’t the woman in the photograph.   I found Henrietta’s name, though, years later, on one of the many old family parchments that has survived for over a century to end up in my hands when Tisolay and Granddaddy died, a marriage document from June of 1866 where Henrietta Cox was the mother of the bride.  (So much for her not having any children.)  This didn’t give any hint as to how we were related, though.  What it did was scratch the itch of another family mystery.

.     Pedro Rosello’s tomb     .     The older of our two family tombs, the one that contains Victoria and Estelle, has a name at the top, etched large into the masonry, that none of us has ever recognized.   Pedro Rosello, the tomb says, was born in 1828, on the Balearic Island of Menorca, and died in New Orleans on Nov.12, 1894, age 66.  I knew that the Sitges family had also come from Menorca, but neither Tisolay nor I knew of any relatives with that name, and neither of us knew how we came to be buried in his tomb.  I had always figured that we had bought the tomb from someone who ended up not having any descendants in the city.  Whoever he was, though, Pedro Rosello was the name on the marriage document of the groom who married the daughter of Henrietta Cox, the woman in the photograph.

 

MARRIAGE – June 7th, 1866 – Pedro Rosello and Cecilia Garcia

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“. June 7th, 1866 – Parish of Orleans, Louisiana – Marriage between . . .”

“. PEDRO ROSELLO, son of Pedro Rosello and Anna Pons, and

. CECILIA GARCIA, daughter of Carlos Garcia and Henrietta Cox . . .”

“. . . . a dispensation for…the impediment of affinity in the first degree having been granted, . . . .”

“. Witnesses – Charles S. Garcia . . Juan Garcia y Mora . . Otto Schwaner”

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   Wait.  What?  “An impediment . . . of the first degree”?    He married a woman in his immediate family ??? 

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Okay. . . . So Henrietta had a husband, Carlos Garcia . . . and they had a daughter, Cecilia . . . who got married in 1866 to Pedro Rosello… who was a member of their immediate family?  Cousin, maybe, but what Oedipal twitch in the mind of the notary made his quill pen write out ‘first’ degree, instead of ‘second’ or ‘third’?   Amused no end, I delighted in the scandalous overtones until I remembered that Impediment of Affinity meant relatedness by marriage, not blood, which was called  Impediment of Consanguinity, and that for some reason, the two were equally illegal back then.    Not as much fun, and still no closer to the mystery of who Pedro and Henrietta were to us, it did, however, serve to solve another, that of Cecilia’s death.

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DEATH – March 24, 1865 –  “Mrs. Pedro Rosello(born Garcia)”

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MRS. PEDRO ROSELLO (born GARCIA),

native of New Orleans . . . age 22 .

. . .died on March 21, 1865

. . . corner Bienville and Commercial alley .

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She died in 1865?  I have her marriage document from 1866!   An intrepid girl, our “Mrs. Rossello(born Garcia)” .

And why, when her life was over, was her own name completely taken from her, leaving only the names of the men in her life?   That gives me the creeps.

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.     Ynez     .     The riddle of her death, though, is solved by the riddle of her marriage.  If Pedro and Cecilia’s marriage represented an affinity of the first degree, by marriage, then he would have to have had a pre-existing relationship with someone in her immediate family, and not a blood relationship.  Was this his second marriage into Henrietta’s family?   Did Cecilia have a sister who would have been 22 in 1865, like the girl in the death certificate?

Census records are a wealth of data that breathe life and paint faces onto black and white words on a page, and a click of a button on the Ancestry.com website brought me to the 1850 New Orleans census.  Carlos Garcia, 65, was a cigar maker born in Spain, and Henrietta Garcia, 35, was from Missouri and called Harriett.  They lived in the 1st ward of the 3rd municipality, today’s Faubourg Marigny immediately downriver from the Quarter, and had 1 boy and 4 girls between ages of 13 and 1.  Cecilia was the oldest girl at 11, which means that in 1865, she would have been 26, not 22.  Her next younger sister, though, was 7, which would have made her 22 the year Pedro Rosello’s wife died.  She appears again in the 1860 census, but then disappears from the record.

It is common for records to have been lost to fire or flood, or simply to a misspelling in the records.  But for a person to completely disappear from the record?  This death certificate wasn’t Cecilia’s.  It was hers, the girl with no name, who ceased to be either Mrs. Pedro Rosello or Miss Garcia on that crisp spring day in 1865, on the corner of Bienville and Commercial alley.

Dead at only 22, in March, a little early in the year for the Yellow Fever that routinely took so many lives during the mosquito-ridden New Orleans summers.  Did you die in childbirth?  The census doesn’t tell me.  What it does do, though?  It gives you back your name.    

Hello, Ynez.  .  .  .  .        Did you know that Granddaddy had a cousin named after you?

Below the name of Pedro Rosello on the family tomb are the names of two grown sisters, my great-grandmother Estelle, whose only child was my Granddaddy Percy, and my great great aunt Victoria, whose children were Lawrence Gaetano, Victor Bartolome, John Albert, Charles Lewis, and my mother’s favorite aunt, ‘Aunt Peetie’… Inez. 

I have a holy card of little Inez’s from her First Communion, probably around 1900.

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Inez “Peetie” Pico’s First Communion card, ca.1900

"from Annie Sullivan to Inez"

“from Annie Sullivan to Inez” 

 

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According to the tombstone, Victoria was only 3 years old when Inez “Rosello,born Garcia” died, so she couldn’t have gotten to know her well enough to leave such an impression that she would name a child after her.  We don’t even know if the Sabater family knew the Garcia family.  But then, that’s sorta what we’re looking for… how the Sabaters came to be buried in the Garcias’ son-in-law’s tomb.

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Over 20 years ago, shortly after Granddaddy died, Tisolay and I found a bunch of these First Communion holy cards in an old trunk of Granddaddy’s in the attic, wrapped in wax paper inside a small tin box, each one a masterpiece if intricate lace-like paper.  Most of them were inscribed on the back with varying versions of “To Percy, April 15th, 1909”, some in pencil in a child’s handwriting, obviously from fellow students, and some from adults in penned script, such as those from his Rev. Mother and “Grandma”. The names of the givers didn’t mean much to me at the time.  I knew Granddaddy had a cousin Inez, but didn’t know anything about her, and assumed that since her card was in with Granddaddy’s, that they had made their First Communions together.

Percy H. Sitges, First Communion holy card, April 15, 1909

Granddaddy was not the nostalgic or sentimental sort, and never spoke about memories.  What I knew came from Tisolay, and she spoke as though Granddaddy were the only child in a house run by his mother and his aunt, and that was always how I pictured him growing up, and why he always had such impeccable manners and seemed so peaceful amidst the hubbub of a bunch of women… us (Tisolay, and my mother and me who were both ‘only children’.)  But a few days ago, looking through Ancestry.com for her age so I could guess how old her First Communion card might be, I found out she was only 9 years older than her cousin Percy, and one of the brothers only a year older than that, which meant that they would have lived together for at least a decade, until they married and left the house.  Far from growing up an only child in the house, he grew up the baby in a house full of children until he was 12.

“To Percy in loving remembrance, Nan” – April 15, 1909, First Communion

There was another card  whose significance I didn’t get until now, inscribed in an elegant adult hand, “To Percy in loving remembrance, Nan”.

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   Aunt Nans!

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(I can’t help but smile at the little circle with a line through it, after Nan’s name.  Anyone whose parents drummed Southern manners into them as a child will recognize the code indicating that the required thank-you note has been written and sent.)

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_____(back to Rosello)_____

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MILITARY DISCHARGE, Menorcan Navy – August 12, 1853 – Pedro Rosello

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For a man we knew nothing about, there were certainly alot of his papers in with Granddaddy’s things.

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NAVY DISCHARGE – August 12, 1853 – Department of Cartagena, Province of Menorca

“… PEDRO ROSELLO, son of another PEDRO ROSELLO and ANA PONS, native of Alayor, near Mahon… has graduated from his term of service in the Navy begun March 12, 1845…”

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.     From Menorca to New Orleans 2    .      Pedro’s discharge papers from the Provincial Navy of Menorca describe him as 25 years old, with a ‘regular’ face and body, brown eyes, and thin beard.  He had joined the navy in Menorca when he was 17, and according to his citizenship papers, made his first trip to New Orleans in 1852, a year before he was discharged.  After his discharge date, he made several trips to the Spanish naval headquarters in Havana through what seem to be a couple of short extensions of his service, each documented by a handwritten addendum on the back of his discharge paper.   The last of these gives him leave to “return to his domicile in New Orleans” for good, in a manner that would suggest that he already had a domicile in New Orleans; had been there enough times to set up his new life here.  In fact, when he first arrived in New Orleans, he quite possibly was met by his brother Diego, 6 years his senior, who had sailed from Menorca to New Orleans 5 years before. 

A few online clicks had found me an old ship list where Diego, a merchant of 25, had been a passenger aboard the schooner Primera de Cataluña out of Barcelona that put him ashore in New Orleans on Dec.1, 1847.   Sailing from Menorca to the mainland, he’d caught a ship bound for America together with 35 other passengers who were nearly all from Menorca as well.  The passenger manifest for the arduous 2 month voyage showed that most were in their hardy teens and 20s, a few in the 30s and 40s, with 15 of the 36 being women and children.  Many were single men, but several had their wives and children on board, as well as a few grandparents and cousins.   A 29-yr-old single woman, Marguerita Pons, may have been Diego’s cousin, his and Pedro’s mother being a Pons.  And another  passenger, Marcos Sitges y Mercadal, a 26 yr old carpenter who was my granddaddy’s great uncle, was traveling with 44 yr old Antonio Mercadal, an uncle or possibly an older cousin.  Occupations varied.  There were several tailors, several merchants, a farmer, a musician, a carpenter (M. Sitges), a smith, a hackler (combs flax fibers for spinning linen), a clerk, and 3 teenagers who listed themselves as students.

Was this ocean voyage where the Rosello/Sitges friendship was first forged?    Months of day-in/day-out proximity, sharing experiences of death, disease, hardship and tragedy, as well as friendship and love, every minute, 24/7, could easily forge new families and lifelong friendships.  I could see that.  The Sitges clan was from the port city of Mahon; the Rosellos were from the town of Alayor, 7 miles inland .  Did they know each other before sailing to America together?  Were there already family ties?  . . . .   Are the answers lost to the winds?

.     Menorcans in New Orleans     .      In November of 1854, a year after Pedro had settled for good in New Orleans, Juan Rosello y Pons, a year younger than Pedro, landed in New Orleans.  The 3 Rosello y Pons brothers arrived on a wave of immigration into New Orleans that had already swelled the city to the 3rd largest in the United States and helped make its port one of the most important in the western hemisphere.  Immigrants came from all corners where poverty or religious prejudice or political upset was felt… mostly Catholics… from French Canada and Spain’s Canary Islands, from Haiti, from Ireland and Germany, and to a smaller degree, the Balearic Islands.  It made sense that Menorcans, who were not happy with the fact that Menorca had recently been transferred to the English throne, were more and more drawn to one of the most prosperous Catholic cities in America.  The Menorcan population and culture was not like that of the traditional Spanish, Island Spanish, or even its fellow Balearic Islands.  A Meditteranean island off the east coast of Spain, Menorca is only 25 miles from one end to the other but boasts one of the finest deep natural harbors in the Meditteranean, at Mahon.  And because of this, it had been previously settled by Moors, Romans and Carthaginians around the time of Christ, and before that by the Bronze Age Minoans around 2500-1500 BC, all the way back to prehistoric peoples who left behind the famous Menorcan megaliths.  Its culture was unique and separate from that of mainland Spain, as was their isolated Catalan dialect, and in this strange new America across the ocean, Menorcans sought each other out.

.     Pedro and the Bienville St. cigar shop    .    In 1861, on the eve of the Civil War, a New Orleans city directory was published. Pedro Rosello, by then 33 and in New Orleans for 8 years, is listed as a cigar maker with a cigar and snuff store on the corner of Bienville and Exchange Alley, in the SE corner of the Quarter, near the river and its Canal St. boundary.   Canal St. was the ‘neutral ground’ that separated the squabbling French and Spanish Creoles in the Quarter from the ambitious American newcomers who came flooding into the city after Louisiana became a State.  Refused entry into their insular Creole world, both physically and socially, the ‘barbarian Kaintucks’ were relegated to the relative wilds south of Canal St, which would soon outshine the old Quarter in business and wealth as the elegant Faubourg Ste. Marie.   Such internal feuds and infighting probably didn’t concern Rosello, though, and while the old-line Europeans allowed him as a Spaniard to live and work among them in the Quarter, he listed his first name in the directory in the American style, in both spelling and by dropping the maternal surname of Spanish tradition.

1861, New Orleans business directory, Peter Rosello, listed alphabetically next to John Sabater, owners of cigar and snuff stores

1861, New Orleans business directory, cigar and snuff stores, source Ancestry.com

 Among the 29 cigar stores listed in the business section of the 1861 directory, alphabetically just below Peter Rosello, is John Sabater, whose store is a few blocks south in the American Sector, one block the other side of Canal at 98 Common St.

Sabater was 6 when he came to New Orleans with his family.  Born in Cuba, his grandfather had come from the town of Ciudadela at the northwestern tip of Menorca some 80 years before to settle Florida, a Spanish territory at the time with ties to Cuba’s cigar-making industry.   Sabater’s residence is nearby in the old Quarter, at 19 Old Levee, where he lives with his wife Estelle and two children, Victoria, 3, and Victor, 1.   Mother Estelle is, or soon will be, pregnant with little Estelle who was born in March the following year.  Sabater and Rosello are huddled around the SE corner of the Quarter within 3 blocks of each other.  At 37 and 38, they’re the same age, both married into local families of Spanish background, both cigar makers, and both of Menorcan ancestry.   Do they know each other?  I’ve found no indication of it .

.     Pedro and Exchange Alley’s ‘Menorcan strip’ in 1866     .     By 1866, the year the city directory resumes publication after its Civil War suspension, a Menorcan enclave has begun to form along a 3 block stretch of Exchange Alley.  Pedro Rosello and his cigar and snuff store are still at Bienville and Exchange Alley, his residence above the store which is the architectural trend of the day, but having lost his 1st wife Ynez the year before, he is now newly married to her sister Cecilia, whose parents Carlos and Henrietta Garcia have a cigar-making business at the far back of the American Sector on Claiborne Ave.  Her brother Charles L, now 28, has taken over the care of their parents, now elderly and retired, as well as the family cigar business, and in June of this year, when Cecilia and Pedro get married, he is a signatory witness at the wedding, possibly giving her away.

1868,RosDSCN3041,Ped.Ros, citz'67,imig.'52

Pedro Rosello, US citizenship, 1868

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Shortly after that, Pedro Rosello is granted American citizenship.

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U. S. CITIZENSHIP – January 14, 1868 –  Louisiana, City of New Orleans

“. . . PEDRO ROSELLO, native of the Kingdom of Spain . . .  arrived in the United States in 1852, being then minor, under eighteen years  . . . . .”  [*error* –  no, would have been 24]

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Joining Rosello on his corner is Juan Garcia y Mora, a 55 year old Menorcan merchant from the southeast port city of Mahon.  He had crossed the ocean 5 years after Rosello with his 3 sons Bernardo, Jose, and Francisco who were 20, 13 & 7 at the time, and established residence on Rosello’s corner, opening a tobacco store a block away on Customhouse and Exchange.  By 1866, they have opened a second business, a coffeehouse/saloon next to where they live on Rosello’s corner, which the 21-yr-old Jose is running and paying taxes on as a retail liquor dealer.   Juan and his oldest son are still at their tobacco shop down the street, which will eventually be known as Garcia Bros and expand its interests to include tobacco leaf wholesaling, cigar box making and Cuban imports outside the cigar industry.  The coffee house disappears from the records, though, and Jose is eventually found working in Rosello’s cigar shop.  Whether or not there is any sort of partnership between the Rosello and Garcia y Mora businesses, it is certain that there is a social connection because this is the year that Pedro and Cecilia get married and ask Juan Garcia y Mora to serve as signatory witness.

On the corner of Conti at Exchange Alley, the other side of Rosello, Francisco Sitges, a shoemaker from Mahon, has opened a coffeehouse, moving both his business and residence from around the Old Carondelet Canal turning basin to be closer to the American Sector, much like Henrietta and Carlos Garcia had done.  Francisco, 42 in 1866 and only a few years older than Rosello, has been in New Orleans for almost 25 years, and his older brother Marcos Sitges, with a coffeehouse of his own in the heart of the old French Quarter, longer than that.   Both Sitges brothers had married and had families with a pair of sisters who were also from their home town of Mahon, Catalina and Margarita Taltavull, and both had served during the Civil War in the 5th regiment, European Brigade (Spanish Regt) of the Louisiana Militia.  And both families, within a tragic 5 day span during the terrible October of 1866, lost their mothers, and in Francisco and Catalina’s case, both the twins she had given birth to several weeks before.  Francisco’s youngest surviving child, Jerome Henry, named for the Taltavull sisters’ brother and father, both named Geronimo, was only 4, and he was only 13 when he lost his father.  His big brother Francisco, Jr., only 19 himself, took over the care of the family and his father’s coffeehouse/saloon, and died himself 6 years later.  By then, though, J Henry has left for Vera Cruz, Mex.

A year later, a carpenter from Menorca named Bartolome Pico joins the Exchange Alley ‘Menorcan strip’ on Customhouse and Exchange, the corner where Garcia Bros is performing its varied cigar-related duties.  A few years younger than Rosello, he had arrived in New Orleans at nearly the same time, but spent some time in Texas, paying both income tax as a retail liquor dealer and sales tax on a billiard table in 1865 and 66, before going to New Orleans in ’67 and opening a saloon on Exchange Alley.  He was in Louisiana during the Civil War, though, serving in the 5th regiment, European Brigade (Spanish Regt) of the Louisiana Militia, together with both Francisco and Marcos Sitges.  Again, whether they knew each other is anyone’s guess.

.     Pedro finds Carlos and Henrietta Garcia     .    Not much is known of Henrietta Cox, except that she was born in Missouri to American parents anywhere between 1805 and 1820, and that her name is also listed as Harriett Coze.  In 1866, she could be 46, or 61, or anywhere in between.   What little is known of Carlos Garcia is even more confusing.  Not only does his age on censuses vary even more wildly than Henrietta’s, putting his birthday anywhere between 1770 to 1810, but there are several Carlos Garcias with no distinguishing markers.  It’s not impossible that the Carlos who is listed with Henrietta in the last census of her life is Don Carlos, the elder, her father-in-law.   It is known that he was born in Cuba, that he was a cigar maker, that he married Henrietta who was several decades younger than him some time before 1838, and that they had settled in New Orleans at least by that time.  Also, it is likely that he had been married before and had grown children, several of which may have stayed with him and their step-mother Henrietta on occasion.  By 1850, they were living with 5 children in the Faubourg Marigny, back of town on Rampart St just outside of the Quarter, downriver from the Old Carondelet Canal turning basin, in a neighborhood that would become a residential hub for Menorcans.  He is listed as 65 and Henrietta as 35, but it’s anyone’s guess.   Unlike the  American/European culture clash and social schism between the old Quarter and the American Sector to the south, the Faubourg Marigny population on the north side of the Quarter was more of a homogenous Creole overflow from the Quarter, the cottages smaller, the streets roomier, and certainly a more peaceable cultural mix of French and Spanish Catholics, together with a strong artisan class of Free People of Color.

(Remember – Because New Orleans is on a brief stretch of the river that shoots up before turning back to its downward path toward the Gulf of Mexico, directions seem bass-ackwards.  The north side of the old French Quarter is downriver and the south side is upriver.)

.     Location, location…     .     After the Civil War, however, and the shuffle of power and business dominance associated with it, the Garcias opened up a new center of operations at the far back of the American Sector, on Claiborne where the marshes had only just been drained.  Claiborne Ave, unlike the narrow European-style streets in the Quarter and her lower Creole Faubourg Marigny, was a wide oak-lined boulevard at the back of town that paralleled the line of the river for a while, crossing two canals like a big “H” before disappearing into the swamp in the center of the river’s crescent which had always been, and still is as Katrina made painfully clear, the ‘bottom of the bowl’.  The old Carondelet Canal, whose turning basin was at the back of the Quarter, ran north, connecting with Lake Pontchartrain by way of Bayou St John. The  New Basin Canal, a redundancy barely a mile upriver, was built by the Americans out of exasperation, when the old Creoles’ refusal to let the American ‘barbarians’ use their canal got to be too much.  The two canals accessed, via the lake, an outlet to the Gulf of Mexico that was faster and safer than the circuitous, sand-bar riddled river, and because of this, was the preferred route to Cuba from which all things ‘cigar’ came.  The Garcias left their extended family clustered along Rampart St in the Faubourg Marigny and moved south and set up a Claiborne Ave residential/business compound directly between the two canals.

.     The Garcia “Hilton”     .     Pedro Rosello and Cecilia Garcia’s wedding document is witnessed by 3 men whose signatures appear on the document, two of whom we’ve met; Charles L. Garcia, Cecilia’s brother, and Juan Garcia y Mora, Rosello’s next door neighbor.    The third is Otto Schwaner, a diversified business man who is listed in various business directories as the proprietor of The Loan Office in the American Sector and a restaurant on Lake Pontchartrain, to name only two.  Otto knew Carlos and Henrietta Garcia from the early 1850s when they were giving room and board to a 17 year old girl from New York named Juliana Wykoff.   In 1854, she and Otto were married, and apparently they stayed friends with the Garcias, meeting Rosello and keeping up enough with the Garcia family’s goings-on to be asked, 12 years later, to act as witness at Pedro and Cecilia’s wedding.          .          Carlos and Henrietta took in many people over the years.  Between the yellow fever that left many children orphans, the Civil War that left many widows and children without a bread winner, and immigration which left young people on the strange wharfs of New Orleans with hopes and dreams but little else, it was common for households to take in boarders.   In the 1860 census, Julianna, now married and gone, is replaced by two young girls, Onela and Alcida Garcia, 12 and 5, and their grandmother Mathilde Devron Abadie, 55.  Their father Nicholas Garcia, who would have been 40, is probably Carlos’ son by a previous marriage, but there are no records to that effect, and both he and his wife disappear from the records by the time the girls and their grandmother come to live with Henrietta.  Big brother Charles L, growing up surrounded by younger sisters, is further outnumbered by his mother’s boarders, some of them extended family, all of them females.  At 22, Charles has married a girl from New York named Emelie and taken her to live in his parents’ home, adding one more woman to the household, but she apparently dies young, and Charles never leaves his parents and the girls, instead taking his place as the head of the household and the family business.
By 1870, these 3 having moved on, a 35 yr old widow and her 3 children are now living with the Garcias.  More women!
Censuses and city directories contain pearls of data that are often not fully recognized at first glance until other records get together to create a context, a discernible story.  Like clues of a murder mystery, the excitement is in that gradual recognition of the bigger picture as you wade through hundreds of documents.  It’s not often that you find a document that makes your heart skip a beat with the first glance.  The 1870 census, the one that showed a 35 year old widow and her 3 children living with the Garcias, was like that.  There on the first two lines were Carlos Garcia and his wife Henrietta, as expected, and below them the three grown children still at home and single, Charles L, Victoria and Emelia.  It was the next 3 people in the Garcia household that knocked me out of my chair… Estelle Pino Sabater(30), Victor Sabater(10), and Victoria Sabater(13).  Estelle’s third child, an 8-yr-old girl with the same name as her mother, has accidentally been left off the census, but as familiar as I am with the kinds of errors that these handwritten documents are riddled with, little Estelle’s absence didn’t concern me at all.
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1870 US Fed Census, Garcia/Sabater

1870 US Fed Census, Garcia/Sabater . . . courtesy Ancestry.com 

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But now the mystery of why the Sabater sisters occupied Pedro Rosello’s tomb in the 1930s had been broadened to include the mystery of why they had been taken in by his wife’s family 70 years before.   Who were these people? 

.     The Sabater Diaspora     .      Simple census and birth records make it easy to recreate a schedule of their life together.  Juan Sabater, brought from his native Cuba in 1835, had lived in New Orleans since he was 6.  He became a cigar maker, was granted his citizenship at 23 in 1852, met a local girl a couple years younger than him, Estelle Pino, from a family who’d emigrated from the Canary Islands several generations before, like his own family, and married her in 1856.    He had a cigar and snuff shop where the 1860 census lists Pedro as both clerk and owner, and had 5 children over the course of 8 years; Victoria, Marie, Victor, Estelle, and Albert.  Their names alone hint to their adherence to the Victorian era’s preference for all things British over he and his wife’s Spanish ancestry.  The city directory pinpoints where this life took place.   He lived in the Quarter a block off the river, a buzzing, vibrant location close to the sounds and smells of the docks and the bustling riverfront.  But it took the cold dry figures of a tax form to bring alive the poignancy of Estelle’s life.  In Dec. ’93, Estelle paid the monthly taxes on her husband’s new business locations, something which, as a woman, was never done, and she did so 5 months running.  Was Juan sick?  Itemization of taxed merchandise showed that 1300 cigars were sold in March of ’64, 1500 cigars were sold in April, but only 250 were sold in May.  And then, there it was, on June 24, 1864, the death of Juan Sabater, and 14 days later, of little 8-month-old Albert.  Little Marie had died some time after she was born, leaving 7-yr-old Victoria, 4-yr-old Victor, and 2-yr-old Estelle.  How, in between 1864 and 1870, did she end up living with Carlos and Henrietta Garcia?  Why were they not able to stay in their own home?   Were they family, or just good friends who were taken in when tragedy struck?  Is boarder the right word to use for someone whom you leave your tomb to, and all your family documents?   In the past two months since I started pouring through Ancestry.com records, I’ve found enough to form something of a picture of the Garcias and the Rosellos, and how they fit into the culture of New Orleans, so why can’t I find anything that points to whether or not they were related?  The Sabaters I know.  The little child of Juan and Estelle’s that was missing from the 1870 census, the 8 yr old Estelle, would grow up to marry Jerome Henry Sitges, son of Francisco Sitges from the Exchange Alley coffeehouse and nephew of Marcos who crossed the ocean with Rosello’s brother Diego.  She and J Henry would have only one child, a son, my granddaddy, the finest man who ever walked the earth and still the standard by which I compare the integrity of every man I meet.
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.     The Garcia-Sabater Household     .     However Estelle and her children ended up in the Garcia household, it would not be long before she would be called upon to reciprocate kindness in a time of tragedy.   Sometime around the time Estelle lost her husband, Charles suffered a string of losses that began with the death of his young wife from New York, Emelie, and his sister Ynez.  In March of 1871, his grandfather Carlos died, according to some at the venerable age of 101, followed by the death of his youngest sister Amelia, only 23, the November after that, until finally, on Feb.2, 1874, with the death of his mother Henrietta at 69, he was left the only remaining Garcia in the Claiborne Ave family compound.   Charles made haste to change his scenery, and within months of his mother’s death, had moved to a house a couple blocks away, still within easy walking distance of the Garcia compound.  And though it had been 10 years since Estelle’s husband had died, plenty of time to resettle as all the other boarders had done, Charles took Estelle and her 3 children with him.   Victor, now 14, got a job as a clerk in a china and glassware store on the American side of Canal St., a job which he would keep and further specialize in for all his adult life.  But this was in no way indicative of things settling back down.
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.     “Musical Households”      .         In 1876, two years after Charles and the Sabaters had vacated the Garcia family home on Claiborne, Pedro and Cecilia Rosello, who at 47 and 36 were still childless after 10 years of marriage, decided to move in, leaving behind the increasingly cramped and dilapidated French Quarter and their life above the corner cigar store on Bienville and Exchange for the greener, more open space of Claiborne Ave.  They opened a new store at 16 Magnolia St., just two blocks from the Garcia compound.         .         Two years later, the Sabaters would begin a 2-stage trading of places with them.  One of the Exchange Alley neighbors the Rosellos were leaving behind was Bartolome Pico, the coffeehouse-turned-saloon owner a block down from Rosello’s old corner cigar store who was now a widower of 45.   Whether Rosello and Pico had known each other well enough for Rosello to introduce Pico to his in-laws and the Sabater girls who lived with them is anyone’s guess, but 2 years after the Rosellos moved into the vacated Garcia compound on Claiborne, Victoria married Bartolome Pico, who was 26 years her senior, and left the Claiborne neighborhood to live with him on Exchange Alley in the Quarter, above his saloon with his grown son and brother-in-law, both named Gaetano, from his previous marriage.   The widow Estelle, Victor and young Estelle bid goodbye to Charles L as well , who after 14 years must have been like a second father to them…. (in fact, Victoria’s fourth son, one of the two who share Rosello’s tomb with her, would bear the name Charles Lewis in his honor).  They moved into what was apparently a temporary apartment while Victoria’s new husband prepared an apartment for his new in-laws above the saloon.   Again, I can’t find anything that proves that Pedro and Cecilia were close to the Sabaters, but the temporary apartment that Estelle and her two remaining children went to was at 16 Magnolia, the address of Pedro’s new cigar store.    By 1880, the census finds all the Sabaters reunited under Pico’s roof which contains 3 households in addition to Pico’s saloon on the ground floor; the first containing Bart, Victoria, and the two Gaetanos, the second housing the Widow Estelle, Victor and young Estelle, 18, and the third being for a trio of men listed as boarders.  Pico is listed as a dealer in liquor while his brother-in-law is a bartender and his son a clerk.  Ordinarily, I wouldn’t imagine this to be a genteel and domesticated household, but Victorian men were traditionally a bit formal and proper, and Spaniards doubly so.  And if you knew my grandfather, who, as I love to say, burst from the womb like Minerva, wearing a 3-piece, suit and gold watch chain like he did every day of his life, and made little country girl Tisolay dress for their “five o’clock drink time, Mrs. Sitges”, followed by their cook’s formal dinner every night, you’d know what I mean.  So who’s to say Pico’s establishment wasn’t a well-reputed gentlemen’s establishment.  In any case, Victoria liked her husband’s son and brother-in-law enough to name her first son Laurence Gaetano, and the Sabaters lived there for 10 years.

In 1890, though, Bartolome Pico died and the Sabaters moved back to the Garcia’s Claiborne neighborhood, finding a double with connecting apartments.

.     Jerome Henry Sitges     .     In 1891, a young man of 29 who had grown up above Francisco Sitges’ coffee house on Exchange Alley returned home from a long period of work in Panama and listed his new address as 19 Old Levee, the same house where Juan Sabater and his young family had lived 31 years before.   , Jerome Henry Sitges probably grew up knowing Mr. Rosello and his nice wife, Miss Cecilia, from their cigar store a block down.  Perhaps, having no children of her own, she devoted some of her time and affections to those around the neighborhood.  He knew Mr Garcia y Mora, whose home and coffee business were on the same corner as the Rosellos, and his son Jose Garcia Mora who worked at Rosello’s cigar store.  He’d know Garcia y Mora’s business a block further down, next to Bartolome Pico’s saloon, because his cousin Gerald had worked there for a period, and met his future wife there, Mary Ann, who’d been married at the time to Garcia y Mora’s youngest son, Francisco, until his untimely death at only 23.   J Henry would not have known that Juan Garcia y Mora had stood witness for Mr Rosello when he married Miss Cecilia, since he was only 4, and may not have remembered the occasion at all, considering the trauma that came so quickly on its heals, losing both his mom and his aunt, Gerald’s mom, within a 5 day period.   He probably also knew Mr. Pico and his coffeehouse on the same corner as Garcia Bros., and his first wife and their kids, but may not have known that Mr Pico had known his mother Catalina and aunt Margarita from their sail across the ocean from Spain, and certainly didn’t know that Pico, 30 years his senior, would one day be his brother-in-law.  He may have known the Sabater women growing up, if they came with the Garcia clan to visit the Rosellos, but not from living in the same neighborhood together.  The year that the Sabaters all moved into the Exchange Alley neighborhood was the same year that J Henry turned 18 and left for Mexico to seek his fortune, as was a popular thing for young men in New Orleans to do at the time.

Of course, this isn’t to say that there needed to be a linkage by family, occupation or residential proximity for them to know each other.  It could simply have been their Menorcan-ness that put them on the radar of a social network or benevolent society of some kind, bringing these men together, and their children after them.   In 1866, Marcos Sitges was listed as Secretary for Los Amigos del Orden, a Spanish arm of the Masons, which gathered at the Perfect Union Hall on Rampart, two blocks from his home on St. Philip.   Yet most immigrants sought inclusion in mutual aid societies; that didn’t mean they took whole widowed families into their homes during life, and their tombs after it.

Aunt Victoria's Foucher St house, where Grandaddy grew up

Aunt Victoria’s Foucher St house, where Granddaddy grew up

.     The Sabater’s Rootlessness     .     It is tempting to imagine that the Sabaters were J. Henry’s landlords at 19 Old Levee St, owning the house they had lived in 30 years before, but the circumstances of the Sabaters living in the homes of others for so long would indicate otherwise.  A big change was in the wind when Jerome Henry married Estelle in 1893.  Victoria bought a house in the uptown suburb of Lafayette, just the other side of the wealthy Garden District, and left the old city, taking, in addition to her 5 little Picos, the whole Sabater clan with her, including Estelle’s new husband, J Henry, whose work in Mexico and Central America made it impractical to take Estelle away from her family.  It was a neighborhood marked by large roomy lots with homes set back from the street and surrounded by lush gardens and trees.  The 1893 directory lists Foucher St as the address of widow Victoria and her son Victor Sabater, 34, who is listed as working for Offner’s store on Canal St in crockery and housewares.  And after being the only bread-winner in the Sabater household since Bart Pico’s death, Victor is now joined by J Henry Sitges, his new brother-in-law, listed as a clerk for E. J. Hart, a pharmaceutical wholesaler on Tchoupitoulas St.

The 1900 census shows the Foucher St house as a large household indeed.   There is Victoria, now 42, and her 5 children ranging from 13 to 20, the oldest of employed as a bookkeeper.  There is mother Estelle Sabater at 65 and her son Victor, who at 40 is a safe bet for remaining a bachelor for the duration.  And there is the younger Estelle, with her husband Jerome Henry, a supervisor at a printing company (the one in Mexico?), and their baby son Percy Henry, 3.   And in addition to the Sabaters and in-laws, Cecilia Rosello, 59 and widowed for 6 years, has come to live with them, listed as a dress maker working at home.

Pedro Rosello's tomb, title

Lafayette Cemetery lot 206, square 3, before it was Pedro Rosello’s tomb, April 1, 1868, $45.

The bill for Rosello’s funeral service and the title to his tomb were among Granddaddy’s papers, yet another tidbit of the mystery of how my family is involved with him.  The original name on the title is unfamiliar, and dated April 1st, 1868, 26 years before Rosello would need it, and according to handwritten annotations on the back, changes hands 4 times between ’68 and 1892.  I can only assume that, having run out of space on the back of the original title, the transaction two years later, between the last noted owner and the Rosellos was written on something that has since been lost, because the plot number identifies it as definitely the one Rosello and the Sabater girls are in.

Rosello's tomb, title transfers

Rosello’s tomb, title transfers

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Pedro Rosello - bill for funeral services, Nov.13, 1894

Pedro Rosello – bill for funeral services, Nov.13, 1894

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. “Nov.13, 1894” . . .

. “MRS. ROSELLO . . . . funeral of Mr. PEDRO ROSELLO y PONS”

. “1 Satin lined Rosewood Burial Casket – Finest Hearse and Attendance, $85 . . . “

. “7 Carriages, $28 . . .”

. “Sexton’s fee St. Louis Cemetery . . . ”      [oops, Lafayette, not St. Louis]

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Something else that’s interesting . . . actually, maddening . . . about the 1900 census?  Cecilia lists her relation to Victoria as her aunt, which she can’t be.  She could be a great aunt if she and Juan Sabater were cousins, and Sabater’s mother were Carlos Garcia’s sister.   She could be an aunt by marriage, with Rosello being the one related to the Sabaters, except that Pedro was born in Menorca, while Cecilia’s father Carlos was born in Cuba like Sabater, making him the more likely candidate.   The 1910 census is much the same, though J Henry’s presence for both 1900 and 1910’s censuses belies the fact that he has spent much of the decade in between gone.   Mother Estelle is now 75 and Cecilia, at 68, again lists herself as Victoria’s aunt.

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1900 census – Foucher St household – Cecilia Rosello living in Sabater/Sitges household, listed as “aunt”

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Something happens in 1914, however, that causes Estelle, J Henry and 18 year old Percy to leave their Foucher St home of 21 years and rent another house, taking Cecilia with them, while the elderly Estelle stays behind with her daughter Victoria.    J Henry had been home for good since 1909, which may have been a slow catalyst for him wanting to leave Foucher St and have a place that he could at least feel master of, even if he could not afford to actually own it.    In 1916, Percy graduates college and gets a job clerking at a bank, and by 1917, the Sitges clan and ‘Aunt’ Cecilia have moved again, to a small rental house on Camp St.  farther uptown, this time staying for 16 years.   In the summer of 1919, just before Percy is called into the army, Cecilia Rosello dies at 80, and in 1925, when Percy is 29 and an asst trust officer at his bank, the elderly matriarch of the Sabaters, Estelle, dies at 91.  Soon after, J Henry becomes ill, and in 1929, for a brief period, he gets to know the girl his son had fallen for the previous year, before dying at the age of 67.  Percy then takes his elderly mother to live with him in an apartment on Jeannette St among the dairy farmlands of the Carrollton area at the end of the streetcar line.  Mama Sitges lives long enough to see her son married and have her new daughter-in-law move in with them.  I always knew that Tisolay and Mama Sitges had lived together for the first year of their marriage, and had grown very close, but I’d never done the math.   Mama Sitges died in July of ’33 and my mother was born in October of ’33.   Mama Sitges lived through the first 6 months of Tisolay’s pregnancy with her only grandchild, but died before being able to see her.  Aw, how she must have yearned to hang on, just those few months more.

Tisolay has a group of photos taken of the inside of the Jeannette St apartment, several of which have her standing behind the piano.  She used to laugh, saying she was hiding behind the piano because she was pregnant and embarrassed about it.  She used to point out the many things in the photos that belonged to Mama Sitges… the grandfather clock, the oriental rug, paintings on the wall, this vase, that bust of St. Cecilia.  It never occurred to me, though, that everything in that apartment would have been Estelle’s, the things granddaddy grew up with.  It wouldn’t have made sense for the newlyweds to buy anything for the house when bringing Estelle to live with them meant bringing an entirely furnished home with her.  So, when Mama Sitges died and Granddaddy became the owner of his parents’ possessions, it also makes sense that Cecilia’s things would have been among them . . . including Pedro’s papers!!  So THAT’s how we came to have so many of Pedro Rosello’s documents, and his tomb.  But without being related, would we have really used it?  Wouldn’t we have sold it?  But then, if someone else would buy it and use it, why wouldn’t we?   After all this searching, am I still gonna be left hanging about the mystery of Rosello’s tomb? . . and leave y’all hanging as well?

In fairness, though, and in closing, it’s not like we didn’t solve anything.  Regarding Aunt Nans –  If Granddaddy “was raised by an Aunt Nans”, a third woman besides Estelle and Victoria, I feel safe in assuming that Aunt Nans was Cecilia, the ‘aunt’ to Victoria in the 1900 census and the  ‘Nans’ from Granddaddy’s 1909 First Communion card.  And Henrietta Coze was Cecilia’s mother, mother-in-law to the Pedro Rosello from the family tomb.  Plus there’s one more small discovery I can give you, about the photograph of the 60ish woman that Tisolay and I had always thought was Henrietta.

Henrietta Cox

Henrietta Cox ?

I was curious about the photographer’s stamp on the back, the Baltimore photographer James S. Cummins.

Henrietta?

ca. 1887, not Henrietta, but Cecilia… “Aunt Nans”

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Henrietta wasn’t from Baltimore; why have a portrait done there?  I never found a clue regarding that, but I googled the photographer’s name and the address of his studio, and found out that he only had his studio there for two years, 1887 and 1888.   Henrietta died in 1874!  But guess who was around 60 in 1888 . . . Cecilia!   Cecilia, who was ‘Aunt Nans’, and who lived with my Granddaddy for the first 23 years of his life.   How much more it means to me, how much more of a link to the childhood of my beloved Granddaddy it represents.

I’m sorry Henrietta.  You certainly aren’t forgotten, not after the months I’ve been living in these old records, and all the people out there that I’ve now given you to.  But Cecilia, now we know it’s you.

Perhaps one day the riddle of whether the Garcias and Rosellos are related to the Sabaters will be solved, but for now , I am satisfied by what  pieces of the puzzle I have managed to put together.

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Thanks so much, all of you who have joined me in my search for Henrietta, Rosello’s Tomb and Aunt Nans.     ______________     © Calhoun Rising- All rights reserved.

 

Color study in black and turquoise . . . . . .   Leave a comment

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My grandmother was a little Cajun girl fresh out of high school, studying in the big city at the New Orleans Conservatory of Music, when she met and befriended a young woman artist named Nell Pomeroy O’Brien.  Nell was the artist who painted the many small portraits I have of Tisolay that she was apparently fond of doing, and it was Nell’s husband, an engineering contractor, who had been the one to eventually declare to his bachelor banker friend, my grandfather, with his wife’s friend in mind, “Percy, I’m gonna marry you off.”

Tisoleil in Turquoise and Black

Tisolay in Turquoise and Black ……………………………. © Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved.

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One of those portraits is on a bookshelf in my study, the centerpiece of a small still-life that serves as a divider between sections of books, a black and turquoise grouping of some of my grandmother’s things from my childhood with her, each with memories attached:  her peeking her Matahari eyes out at child me from behind a Chinese fan . . .  giving me a piano lesson, sitting next to me on the teacher’s chair with the lyre back . . . the white wedgwood cream pitcher that accompanied our afternoon tea breaks . . . and later, when she was too fragile to do it herself, my putting fresh sasanqua branches in the ceramic Chinese box vase for her that I think was a gift from one of Granddaddy’s banking friends, though it was just as likely to be a Mardi Gras krewe favor from one of the balls they were always going to.  Probably both.

J. Euclide Champagne and his racing trotter, and Tisolay's turquoise vermeil

J. Euclide Champagne and his racing trotter, and Tisolay’s turquoise vermeil

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There was her father’s gold nib pen, . . .

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. . . the vermeil and turquoise jewelry pieces, a set from China that she never told Granddaddy had been given to her when she was in high school by an enamored Swedish ship captain, . . .

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Tisoleil's shawl

Tisolay’s shawl ………………….. © Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved.

 
. . . and  a daguerrotype of him at the reins of his horse, a racing trotter, taken from the porch of Tisolay’s grandfather’s house around 1900, on the sugar cane farm in Breaux Bridge that’s been in the family since 1763.  It was part of an original Spanish land grant given to his great-grandfather, an Acadian exile from Nova Scotia.   Bayou Teche is out of sight off to the left, but the little tree in the background is the towering giant pecan that is now as big around as a car, a branch of which was the source of two wooden chopsticks an old boyfriend carved for me to put my hair up with.

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There’s the shawl that Tisolay let me dance in, its long fringes twirling around my ankles

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. . . and the exquisite Belgian lace handkerchief that had belonged to Mama Sitges, her mother-in-law.  It was always in her hand on the rare occasions when she consented to leaving the enchanted little house she loved so, like Easter dinners at the Country Club, or a new exhibit at Granddaddy’s museum, or later, All Saint’s Day, when we would go visit Granddaddy at the cemetery and sit with a thermos of strong coffee and a tupperware of crawfish etouffee, a spoonfull of both pushed into the dirt in front of him, and tell him about our year.

Mama Sitges' handkerchief

Mama Sitges’ handkerchief …………………………………… © Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved.

Shenanigans away from home were less frequent in those later years, but made up for it in intensity when it did happen, such as the time we got to the cemetery too late, our hands full of flowers we’d just picked from our gardens.  Rather than acquiesce to the padlocked chains, we hopped the iron-spike fence to the astonishment of the tourists who’d been taking pictures through the bars of the sculpted tombs beneath the magnolia trees.  They burst into an ovation when we finally made it down the other side.  She swept down into a dramatic curtsy, then, for their benefit, grabbed my elbow and skipped a few steps down the row of magnolias, but they probably didn’t see her raise her little 86-yr-old fist up to Granddaddy in the sky and say, “…and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

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Thanks for joining me.       ______________     © Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved.

Color study in red and turquoise . . . . . . . . . .   Leave a comment

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In one corner of my study at home is a red velvet sofa, my reading spot, and in front of it a red Costa Rican snowball cart that serves as a coffee table.  Behind the sofa are two wall hangings, both turquoise with red accents, a Korean obi and a Haitian sequined flag.

The obi was brought home by my first husband around 1990, a professor setting up a college summer-school-abroad program there, a trip that got him in trouble with me when he let slip that he’d been served cat meat at an official banquet which he couldn’t turn down without his host losing face.  Next to the obi hangs the Haitian hanging that I bought at the Festival Internationale in Lafayette the year I went as a performer.  That was the year my marriage ended and I’d joined a local Brazilian Samba band as an inaugural stretching of my newly-freed wings.

Red and turquoise color study

red and turquoise color study ………………………………………….. © Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved

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It has double significance for me since my dad grew up in Haiti on a sugar plantation outside of Port-au-Prince that was run by his dad, a sugar chemist from Cajun country around Bayou Teche.  My granddad was of great value to the New York company that was investing in 1920s Caribbean sugar interests as he was bilingual, much as he had been a few years earlier in WWI to General “Black Jack” Pershing, who made him his interpreter and motorcycle driver in France.  After he moved back to the States, though, he was just the retired knee I sat on, eating McKenzie’s brownies that he knew I loved and savoring the rich aroma of his ever-present Cuban cigar while he rocked in his chair and crooned in a goofy, off-key moan.  “I’m practicing for the Perry Como show.”   My daddy once told me that when he was little, sitting on the same knee while his father listened to the stock market report on the American radio station, he’d listen through the endless names of companies and wait for “any kinda copper”, the curious company with no name.   It was years before he found out it was Anaconda Copper.

day shot

© Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved

I’d always thought that that little reading corner of mine made a fine red and turquoise color study, but when I brought the cart and textile pieces into the livingroom and put them on the black piano in the bay window against the black of night, it spoke to me.

Tisolay’s piano.  It was the Steinway that Rubenstein played on during his 1949 concert with the New Orleans Symphony, and then autographed when he found out Tisolay was buying it.   Almost 70 years later, when the sound board needed to be rebuilt from the humidity damage of Katrina’s floodwaters being under the house for so long, the rebuilders told me that the autograph would be stripped away and that they’d be repairing the bare wood edges of the little shelf to the side where Tisolay’s flowers had pulled away the lacquer, as well as the little half-moons at the foot of the black notes where her fingernails had nibbled through the black.   I smiled and thanked him, but said no, he could leave the finish alone, just as it was.  The ob/gyn who delivered me, Granddaddy’s best friend, who used to write torrid mash notes to Tisolay on open post cards for God and everyone to see whenever he was away at a convention… causing Granddaddy to groan and chuckle before turning them over to Ti… always claimed that, out of jealousy, he too had etched his autograph inside the piano, but I have yet to find it.

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grouping 4

© Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved

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Thanks for joining me with my little photo experiment.     _________________________________________     © Calhoun Rising- All rights reserved.

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Mama Sitges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   Leave a comment

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Mama Sitges'  silver brush and mirror, ca.1893

Mama Sitges’ silver brush and mirror, ca.1893

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The only thing I knew about my grandfather’s mother when I was growing up in the 60s were the things of hers that Tisolay, my grandmother, would show me… beautiful things, things of a fine Victorian woman.  My grandmother would take them out for me to see every once in a while, and to hold if I were very very gentle with them.  She spoke of Mama Sitges, her mother-in-law, with so much love, as though she had been a well of good-natured acceptingness, ever patient with the sheltered new bride that her only son had brought to live with them.   This is exactly how I would describe my Granddaddy, who must have been very like his mother.

 Her silver brush and mirror were like nothing I had ever seen before.  I assumed the beautiful woman with the flowing hair was her, Granddaddy’s mother, the woman with the monogrammed initials “ES”.  Tisolay had a fine repousee vanity set, in Gorham’s Chantilly pattern, which she used every day, but not these.  On those times when she took Mama Sitges’  brush and mirror out for me, she just held them with a special reverence, maybe passed the brush a few times over my long hair, but I never saw her use them herself.

Tisolay said that the “E” stood for Estelle, but that the “S” could have been for either Sitges, or her maiden name, Sabatier (or Sabater, she wasn’t sure, though she always pronounced it like Sabatier, Sa-ba-chay).   She just remembered something about her marrying relatively late in life.  Growing up with these pieces, I often wished that I could picture the face in the mirror when Estelle first sat down at her dressing table to brush her hair, inspecting it in the mirror as she did so, and it frustrated me that the monogram couldn’t help me envision whether the face looking back were that of an young girl, a young single woman, or an older married woman.

I was further frustrated by not knowing whether there were an “i” in her last name or not… Sabater vs Sabatier…, which meant I couldn’t even tell whether Granddaddy’s mother had been French or Spanish.  When I was in my 20s and doing genealogical research at the library, I could not find anything on her.  But that piece of the puzzle, at least, was solved when Granddaddy died, and Tisolay and I found among his papers his parents’ marriage license dated February 15, 1893 with his mother’s name written out; Sabater, a Spanish name.

Henry Sitges and Estelle Sabater – Marriage License, Feb. 1893    © Calhoun Rising- All rights reserved.

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Fast forward 25 years to a few months ago, when I find Estelle in the online archives of Ancestry.com and discover the sad circumstances in her childhood.  Her father died at 35 when she was two (as did her baby brother 14 days later), in 1864, just after New Orleans had fallen to Union Forces, leaving a widow with 3 remaining children under 6 without a breadwinner in a city whose river trade, abandoned crops, jobs and money had dried up like dust in the wind.  Taken in by distant relatives, they never again lived in a home that was their own.   It was hard to envision the “S” on Estelle’s brush and mirror standing for the Sabater of her early life; how could her family have afforded to give her a fine set like this when she was young.

Further helping to paint a time line in my mind for Estelle’s dresser pieces (rightly or wrongly) was a smaller brush in the identical style with a child’s face that I had always thought of as part of the set, but later noted did not share the same unique pointilistic style of monogram.  The “S” on the child’s piece was in the more standard Old English style and seemed more machine made.  This could only have represented the arrival of my Granddaddy, Estelle’s only child Percy.  I could imagine the adult pieces being wedding presents, and the monograms being ordered by the giver in a grand style befitting such.  And I could imagine the child’s piece, bought soon enough afterwards for the same style to still be in vogue and in shops, being ordered by a young family just starting out.   A google of the Art Nouveau style tied it in the proverbial bow for me.   It came into vogue around 1890, Estelle got married in 1893, and she had her son Percy, my Granddaddy, in 1896.   And with that, a few dry bits of archival data breathed life into a 120 year old piece of cold silver, putting a face in the mirror of a 30 year old woman, a newlywed, with the dark hair and eyes of a Spaniard.

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Another thing of Mama Sitges’ that Tisoleil used to show me when I was little, carefully unwrapping it from a box of old yellowed tissue, was a set of lace pieces.  She told me it was Belgian lace, but at  4 or 5, I knew nothing about the hundreds of little bobbins that were woven under and over to create something like this.   She told me it was a collar and cuffs, which puzzled me, being out of context from what they were supposed to go with.  It made more sense to my young mind to see them as works of art in and of themselves, like the beautiful things we saw on our visits to Granddaddy’s museum.  Such a staple of Victorian womanhood, they seem to me now.

Mama Sitges' lace collar and cuffs    © Calhoun Rising- All rights reserved.

Mama Sitges’ lace collar and cuffs © Calhoun Rising- All rights reserved.

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Curiously, there was something else that Tisolay said belonged to Mama Sitges that she must not have liked, a mantle clock and two side statuettes.   I was barely aware of their existence.  The two statuettes were kept on top of the kitchen cabinets, way up near the ceiling where they got coated in kitchen grease, and the clock, which she said was broken, was in the attic.  I never took a close look at it until after Granddaddy died and we were up there cleaning stuff out.  It was heavy in both weight and appearance, and I could see why Tisolay, a lover of delicate things, didn’t like it.

I did, though, and recently I sent a picture of the set to the online site of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors and found out a little about it.  It’s stamped Nich.Muller’s Sons.   Nicholas Muller was from Koblenz, Germany, and in his 30s when he started a clockmaking business out of New York around 1850.  He died in 1873, and from then to 1890 when they went out of business, the business was known as Nicholas Muller’s Sons, which dates the clock between the years 1873 and 1890.  The center figure is Ivanhoe.  Another clockmaking company, often affiliated with Muller, was Ansonia, and I think the Fisher and Falconer figurines were made by them to go with Muller’s clocks.   In 1893, when it might have been given to Estelle Sabater as a wedding present, it cost between $28 and $40.  As today’s salaries are roughly 100 times what they were then, this clock would cost, today, $2800 to $4000.  Just the clock, not including the side statuettes.  If they went out of business in 1890, would their clocks still have been in stores in 1893?   Did J. Henry Sitges ever make the kind of money that would permit him to buy such a clock for Estelle, when he could never buy her a home of her own?  I have other evidence that pointed to Granddaddy’s “Aunt Nans”, whose parents had taken in his mother when she was only 2, leaving many of her things to Mama Sitges.  She was very close to the family, living with them since before Granddaddy was born, and dying while still with them when Granddaddy was 23.  She and her husband, a successful cigar maker, had never had children, or the expenses associated with raising a family.  Had the clock been hers?   Had her family been well-to-do?

Alas, all I know is that at the end of Mama Sitges’ life, in the early 1930s, it had been hers, and had gone to her son Percy when she died.

Mama Sitges' "Ivanhoe" mantle clock, with side pieces "Fisher" and "Falconer"

Mama Sitges’ “Ivanhoe” mantle clock, with side pieces “Fisher” and “Falconer”

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Recently, when I found Estelle in the archives, my love of ancestry caused me to celebrate what I found to be a rather unique Old World Spanish Island heritage. Her mother, Estelle Pino, was from a family of Canary Islanders who’d immigrated to Louisiana two generations before in the 1780s.  The Canaries being in the Atlantic off the African coast of Morocco and Western Sahara, they were the last supply stop for Spanish ships bound for their New World colonies, important for their easterly winds.  Her father, Juan Sabater, a New Orleans cigar maker born in Cuba, was from a family who’d immigrated to America around the same time as the Pinos from the Balearic Island of Menorca.  Situated in the Spanish Mediterranean just about due east of the coastal town of Sitges on the mainland, which is of course my Granddaddy’s name, it boasted a port city which had been colonized all the way back through the Carthaginians to the Bronze-Age Minoans.  I had already traced Granddaddy’s father’s line to Menorca as well.  So when I saw not only that both Granddaddy’s parents had Menorcan ancestry, but that they’d both arrived to New Orleans in the same year, 1835, it painted a picture of immigrant strangers finding each other and forming close-knit social circles and commercial networks that kept their shared Old World culture alive.

But nothing Granddaddy ever said about his mother or his childhood had anything to do with being Spanish in their day-to-day life; no language use or anything, either on her part or his own, so I couldn’t help wonder how much that heritage played a role, if at all, in how Estelle saw herself and the world around her.   Just as before, though, the archives I recently found shed light on circumstances that could be of relevance.

While Estelle’s father’s family, the Sabaters, stayed within the Spanish influence of first Florida, then New Orleans, her mother’s family, the Pinos, had settled the ill-fated town of Galveztown upriver, whose surviving settlers eventually dispersed into the part of Louisiana ceded to England, around Baton Rouge, a British-settled, English-speaking, Protestant town.  Two generations removed from her Old World Spanish roots, she gave her children names that tell more of which culture might have held sway in the Sabater household had her husband’s death not disrupted things so suddenly.  Her first child, born 2 days before Christmas in 1856, she named Victoria.  Victor followed in November of 1858.  Her second girl she named for herself, Estelle, born on March 9 of 1862, but it was back to the British royalty 19 months later for her second son, named Albert, born in October of 1863.  Mother Estelle was widowed, however, the following year and did not get to head her own household after that.  Her husband’s Menorcan network of family and friends, which she and her small children were swept up by, must have been all around them, because at least one of the grown daughters of the Garcias who took them in was married to a Menorcan immigrant, Pedro Rosello, and her own daughter Victoria grew up to marry a Menorcan, Bartolome Pico, both of whom had lived and worked only a block from where Juan Sabater had made a home for his wife and children.  Eventually, of course, little Estelle herself would marry the son of another Menorcan immigrant, Francisco Sitges, my great-grandfather Jerome Henry Sitges.  I can’t find the Garcias’ origins, but I’d be surprised if they weren’t Menorcan and somehow related to the  Sabaters.    Tight-knit bunch indeed, the Menorcans of New Orleans.  Let’s hope that this helped buffer little Estelle and her family from the politics, corruption, and racial violence of the times, because Estelle’s first 15 years of life put her smack in the middle of Louisiana’s vicious Reconstruction era.

Still, nothing Granddaddy ever described about his mother hinted at a Menorcan awareness or Spanish ethnicity of any kind, or sounded like anything other than what a traditional English/American Victorian woman would be.

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Estelle Sabater’s mother-of-pearl rosary and missal, published 1884    © Calhoun Rising- All rights reserved.

Except, of course, her Catholicism.

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One of those days after my Granddaddy died, when Tisolay and I were up in the attic going through the things in an old trunk of his, we came across a small tin box.  In it, together with some holy cards from when he made his Confirmation at 13, in 1909, each one wrapped in brittle yellowed wax paper, was a scapula which was dated 1877, no doubt his mother’s when she would have been 15.  It was traditional for Catholic women to pin a scapula to the inside of their clothes, and it’s easy to see where this one had been pinned..

Sabater scapula – “THY KINGDOM COME – 100 Days Each Time – June 14, 1877”    © Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved.

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Also in the box belonging to Estelle was a small missal with silver initials “ES” that were attached to the cover, something which took my breath away when I unwrapped it, but nothing compared to when I got it out of the dark attic and into the sunlight.  The cover was of abalone mother-of-pearl, one solid piece, and judging by how slight the convex bowing of the shell was, the abalone would have to have been of a size like we don’t see too much anymore.  It was published in 1884, when young Estelle was 22.

Estelle’s missal, cover page    © Calhoun Rising- All rights reserved.

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“APOSTLESHIP OF PRAYER – IN LEAGUE WITH THE SACRED HEART”    © Calhoun Rising- All rights reserved.

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Mama Sitges’ rosary was also mother-of-pearl, but Tisoleil used it regularly and, sadly, it had been cleaned with something it shouldn’t have, sanding off the polished finish.

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Estelle Sabater – High School diploma, June 11, 1878    © Calhoun Rising- All rights reserved.

diploma, close-up    © Calhoun Rising- All rights reserved.

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Estelle graduated high school in June of 1878, which was a time of change for the Sabaters.  Four months before Estelle’s graduation, Victoria got married, and after a year or so, took her mother and siblings with her to live in her new husband’s home.  Estelle had grown up in the Garcia household, first in the big family compound on Claiborne and Common St., where the widow Henrietta Garcia and her oldest son Charles, head of the family cigar-making business, took care of 100 yr old patriarch Carlos and the last of Henrietta’s unmarried girls who were roughly 10 years older than the Sabater children, and then later in 1874 when little Estelle was 12, after the elder Garcias had died and the last of his sisters had married and gone, Charles had taken the Sabaters with him when he left the family home for a smaller place a few blocks away.

Soon after Charles and the Sabaters vacated the Garcia house, Henrietta’s oldest daughter Cecilia and her husband Pedro Rosello, a Menorcan cigar maker who’d immigrated nearly 30 years before, decided to move in and open a new store closer to the Garcia house.  At 36 and 47, still childless after 8 years of marriage, they left behind the cramped and noisy French Quarter and their life above Rosello’s corner cigar store on Bienville and Exchange, little suspecting that they would soon be trading places with the Sabaters.    One of the French Quarter neighbors that Cecilia and Pedro were leaving behind was Bartolome Pico, a carpenter also from Menorca who’d immigrated the year after Rosello had and opened a coffee house one block from Rosello’s old corner cigar store.  It would have been on the first floor of a several-story brick building with residential apartments above the store,  typical of the architectural style of the day.   Both Pico and Rosello had lived and worked a block from the Old Levee St address where Juan Sabater and his young family had, making what may have been a little Menorcan enclave at the southern corner of the Quarter.  Pico and Rosello had both immigrated around 1853, and all 3 were nearly the same age, but whether they knew each other is anyone’s guess.  Two years after the Rosellos moved out of the French Quarter, 21 yr old Victoria married Pico, who was by then a widower of 45 listed as a “dealer in liquor”, and went to live with him above his coffeehouse-turned-saloon in the Quarter together with his grown son and brother-in-law from his previous marriage.

The widow Estelle, with Victor and young Estelle, bid goodbye to Charles L as well, no doubt with heart-felt thanks… (in fact, one of Victoria and Bartolome’s sons would bear the name Charles Lewis in his honor)…, and then moved into a temporary apartment while Victoria’s husband prepared an apartment for his new in-laws above the saloon.   Whether Pedro and Cecilia were close enough to the Widow Estelle to have played a role in introducing Pico to the Sabater family living with her brother Charles a few blocks away is also unknown, but the temporary apartment the Sabaters went to was the same building as Pedro’s new cigar store.    By 1880, the census finds the Sabaters back together again, this time in the French Quarter, one of 3 households living above Pico’s saloon; the first being Bart, listed as a dealer in liquor, Victoria, and his grown son and brother-in-law from his first marriage, clerk and bartender respectively; the second being a trio of men listed as boarders, and the third being Widow Estelle, young Estelle and Victor.  I can’t imagine this being a very genteel, civilized household, but Victorian men being very formal and proper, and Spaniards even more so, who’s to say Pico’s place wasn’t a fine gentlemen’s establishment.  Certainly nothing like the wild bars of Galatin Alley down by the French Market at the docks where fighting Irishmen and river boatmen, with fresh paychecks from the long haul down the Mississippi, looked for women and trouble with a whiskey in one hand and a gun in the other.

However it was, though, such was what greeted young Estelle, together with her mother and brother.

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The year after graduation, young Estelle went on to get her primary school teacher’s certificate, and by 19, could relinquish the title of youngest in the family to Victoria’s little 18-month-old, Lawrence Gaetano Pico.  I can’t find anything about where Estelle taught, and the 1890 census, with its wealth of data, is missing.  All I know is that she continued to live with her family.

Estelle Sabater – Teacher’s Certificate, September 9, 1879

Estelle Sabater – Teacher’s Certificate, September 9, 1879           © Calhoun Rising- All rights reserved.

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The year 1893 was not only the year Estelle married my great grandfather J. Henry Sitges, but the year the Sabater/Pico clan is first listed in the directory as having moved to Foucher St which was, in effect, in the suburbs, just up river from the elegant Garden District.  It represented a real change of pace for them, where homes were set back from the street and surrounded by open expanses of trees, yards and gardens; a more pastoral neighborhood that had once been the separate town of Jefferson City before being annexed by New Orleans.   In 1894, Pedro Rosello died, and Cecilia came to live with them, making 3 widowed women running a household together; her sister Victoria at 37, “Aunt” Cecilia (as censuses from this period listed her) at 54, and her mother Estelle at 63.   Estelle had married a man whose business interests, being in Mexico and Central America, would take him away from home for long periods of time, so for safety and company, it came to be that she never left the house of these women and would never be mistress of her own household.

The Sabaters lived with the Picos in the French Quarter for a decade until late 1890, when Bartolome Pico died and the Sabater/Pico women moved back to the Garcia’s Claiborne neighborhood with Victoria’s 5 children in tow, and brother Victor, a crockery salesman who never married.  The following year, a 30-yr-old New Orleans businessman who had just returned from a long period of work in Panama listed his address as 19 Old Levee, the house where Juan Sabater had spent his last years with his young family 31 years before.  His name was Jerome Henry Sitges, and on Feb.8, 1893, he married Sabater’s youngest daughter Estelle, who was also 30; a late marriage for both of them.    It is interesting to me, this convoluted mystery of who knew who when, and trying to figure out the extent of any pre-existing relationship between the Sabaters and the Sitgeses.  If Mother Estelle had been financially strapped enough after Juan’s death to have to live with relatives, is it likely that Mother Estelle would still own the 19 Old Levee property, and meet her daughter’s future husband by being his landlord?  I wouldn’t think so.  Perhaps she did still own it, rented it for income, and went back home to live with her mother and brother simply because she had a baby son that her mother wanted to help with.   Did they meet for the first time as landlord and tenant of the Sabater house at 19 Old Levee?  Or did they already know each other?  Back in 1852, Bartolome Pico had immigrated to America aboard a ship that also carried two Taltavull sisters from Menorca, one of whom would become J Henry’s mother.  The Taltavull sisters would each marry Sitges brothers, Marcos and Francisco, J. Henry’s dad, and all 5 of them, counting Pico, were from Menorca.  Had the Sitges and Sabater families known each other before J.Henry and Estelle were married?   If the Widow Estelle did own the house, was it too small for her to take in boarders for income?  Or was it just sublime coincidence that these two men, 31 years apart, rented the same property?

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The scope of this blog page is supposed to encompass only the unmarried years of my great-grandmother Estelle’s life, ending in 1893, the year she married and the year the extended Sabater family moved out of the French Quarter to the Foucher St house.  But since I don’t have a picture of her before her marriage, I will leave you with the earliest photo I have of her, my favorite of the several that I found among Granddaddy’s papers after he died.

That patience and calm that Tisolay had seen so much of in Mama Sitges, and I have always seen as so central to the nature of my sweet Granddaddy?  The face in the mirror, with 11 years added to it?   I think this wonderful portrait captures it; nails it to a wall!

Estelle Sabater Sitges, age 42, with Percy Henry Sitges, age 8 – 1904    © Calhoun Rising- All rights reserved.

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Daddy’s Bell   Leave a comment

PETRVS – “Peter” . . .    © Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved.

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Daddy always had this brass bell somewhere on a livingroom shelf.  The story was he and a school friend had found it in a cave when they were kids looking for voodoo stuff in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  They shared ownership of it as they each grew up and got married, my dad returning to his family’s native Louisiana and becoming a lawyer, and Eddie going back to his native Honduras with Standard Fruit, switching it between their homes until Eddie’s wife, superstitious of it, wouldn’t let it in the house anymore, at which time we got it permanently.

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GHEINEVS   –   “of Ghent” . . .  © Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved.

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It is bronze, and quite thick, a hand bell about 6 ½ inches tall with raised letters around the base, PETRVS GHEINEVS ME FECIT 1583, which is Latin for “Peter of Ghent made me – 1583”.  Several specialists have told us that the repair of the handle, most likely wooden originally, was done with a ship’s nail around the same time period, and actually adds to its interest.  My dad must have tried to get into Aintiques Roadshow with his bell, because I found the provenance he wrote up for it.

 “Eddie and I were exploring the lower foothills of a mountain range behind his home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in about 1944-45.  We were about 12-13 years old.  We discovered a small cave, deep in bat dust, and inside we found several miscellaneous items, including this bell.  The bell was totally encrusted with hardened foreign matter.  My mother had the housekeeper’s son spend several days chipping away the matter and cleaning the bell.  Since that time, the bell has been in the possession of Eddie or myself.”

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Me Fecit

ME FECIT – “made me” . . .    © Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved

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Eddie’s version brings the story a bit more to life.

“… We paid the little kid on Tourgeau [up in the hills above Port-au-Prince], whose only garment was the shirt he had been clothed in at birth, cinquant centimes to guide us to a cave where voodoo paraphernalia was hidden.  The cave was so full of bats that every stone shot from a slingshot dropped one of the bats clinging to the roof of the cave.   Initially, I had remembered that I had stayed outside “to stand guard” since I was scared of bats, but then remembered that I used to get up on a chair to knock down bats that flew into the house with a tennis racquet – so I must have gone in too – how else would I remember the bats?  We dragged the flour bags containing voodoo gear out of the darkness of the cave and into the sunshine, and selected to take with us the bayonet, the Petrus Gheinvs bell, the mustache cup, the little ouanga dolls (ribbons of white cloth folded and tied at the center to look like little human figures – to stick pins into, I imagine), the backbone bracelets (rats, bats?) and necklaces and I forget what else.  We took all this stuff to our house on Tourgeau and my mother made us throw everything away that was not metal or clay (i.e., the bell, bayonet & cup) because she was afraid the other stuff might infect us with Yaws.  Billy claimed the bell because “my mother collects antiques”, but after 20 years, Billy told me to keep it for the next 20 years.   Lydia hated the bell (she was scared of it, she says) and told me to give it back to Billy but for the next 50 years – not 20.   …..  The caves were up in the steep hills above Port-au-Prince, where there was never any standing water and consequently no flies or mosquitoes (but then what did the bats eat?), so the houses had no screens or glass windows, only big shutters that you pulled in to lock at night.  All the soapy bath and kitchen water got flung out, flowing out into the streets and down a little trough next to the sidewalk.  Algae grew in the troughs and made them very slippery, and you could ski down the troughs to the bottom of the hill.  Those were fun years!”

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1583.      © Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved.

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The morning after Katrina hit, the 17th St canal broke 3 blocks from my dad’s lakefront 3rd story condo.  When I found where he had been evacuated to, his first words painted an amusing picture of him – 84, blind, stubborn, and aiming a loaded shotgun at people banging on his door from a boat below who turned out to be  a Coast Guard rescue team, then being ‘adopted’ by a San Antonio church group that was treating him like a king.  His second words were that he’d heard there was a terrible looting problem, and to please break into his condo and take two things home with me.  He said he didn’t give a hoot about anything else, so long as those two things made it home with me.  One was a heavy crystal vase that had been his mother’s.  The other was this bell.

Daddy died 15 months after Katrina, and Eddie’s condolence letter prompted me to Google the name Petrvs Gheinevs, and what followed was a wild 6 hour ride on the internet across sites about Pieter van den Ghein, the bronze bell foundry that generations of his family in Belgium were famous for, the church carillons that were prized all over western Europe, Belgium’s conquest by Spain, Spain’s exploration of Hispaniola, the island that is today’s Dominican Republic and Haiti, etc.

Willem van den Ghein (1450-1533) established himself as a bellfounder in Mechelen, Belgium in 1506.  He was the ancester of a long series of bellfounders under the name of Ghein or Gheyn until 1813, when a Gheyn daughter married a van Aerschodt and her sons continued making bells until 1943.  Nearly 500 years.  By 1583, Willem being deceased 50 years, his grandson, Pieter II, was running the foundry and Pieter’s son, Pieter III, was working with him.  Daddy’s bell was made by one of those two but I don’t know which.

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There is no mention of them making small bells like mine; only of carillons, sets of 23 or more bells in bell towers played on a keyboard from below, sometimes weighing as much as 100 tons!!  So, I thought, why make these small bells?  I never found a direct answer, but I found out that the Catholic king of Spain invaded Belgium in 1556, 27 years before Daddy’s bell was made, to stem a rebellion from its predominately Protestant population which was against converting to Catholicism, and kept it as a Spanish colony for 150 years.  Belgians were known across Europe as the finest bell makers, and Spain would have ordered their church bells and carillons from there as a point of prestige.  Small hand bells would have to have been of particular need on Spain’s ships, which were so heavily into exploring the New World.  Like proto-cell phones.  I can almost see a guy on a hill, one of a relay string of bell ringers stretching into the interior, ringing Daddy’s bell to call everyone who was off wandering the islands to return to ship, and then having it slip out of his hand down into the mouth of a cave.   Cool, huh?

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GUEINVUS figure close-up

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Those two boys had no idea what it was they’d found when they’d gone hunting for hidden voodoo stuff in that cave, and my dad died before I could tell him anything of the history behind those lone numbers, 1583.   Last year was the first year that I applied to Antiques Roadshow.  It seems their drawings are random and blind, without any knowledge of what people are bringing in to them, and I was turned down.  But I’ll apply next year and every year.  They can’t turn down my daddy’s bell forever.

fecit

fecit

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Thank you so much for joining me.  If anything is of particular interest to you, leave a comment and we’ll chat.

© Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved

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