The MacGregor sisters and the mystery of Minera, Texas

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Anna MacGregor, Helen MacGregor, and Mary MacGregor (second, third, and fifth from left), in front of Minera, Texas post office, early 1900s.

So you remember this photo from this entry a couple months back on the MacGregor sisters, right? These were my great-grandmother Mary and her sisters; Mary would eventually marry into the Jameson family. The sisters and their parents lived in Laredo, Texas, on the Mexico border. And, as I figured out from studying the photo above closely, a couple of the sisters sometimes visited a nearby coal mining town called Minera,Texas. When you click on the photo and view it at full size you can just make out the name of the town on the sign to the right.

I didn’t know why the girls were in Minera. In the photo albums I have, which I believe belonged to Anna and Mary, there are several photos taken there. Here’s another one:

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Anna MacGregor, second from left, Minera, Texas. Others in photo not known, though the man to right of Anna may have come from nearby Fort McIntosh. (He also looks like he could be the young man in the previous photo)

I had the vague notion that the girls and their friends went there on occasional jaunts, based on pictures like the one below, where the place seems like a playground to them.

But I’ve found enough bits and pieces to make me wonder if one or both of the girls lived at Minera. Or at least stayed there sometimes, in order to teach school.

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Anna at far left, Mary far right.

The key piece of information comes from Helen, the third oldest of the MacGregor sisters (after Anna and Mary). Helen’s papers include a brief autobiographical account of her childhood and teaching career, in which she mentions spending four years after college teaching at the school at Dolores, another small mining town outside of Laredo.

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Dolores Mine (image from Google Books)

In the 1910 census, all the sisters were living at home: Helen was 17 and still a student, but Mary, 20, and Anna, 22, were listed as public school teachers. Going by the clothing, the photos don’t appear to be taken later than 1910, and could have been a few years earlier. If Helen taught school at Dolores during her early twenties, isn’t it possible that one or both of her sisters did the same thing, a few years earlier, in Minera?

I went back to those old photo albums and found these:

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Those look like students all right!

I forgot these were in one of the albums.  I hadn’t photographed every picture in there—I’d mostly been looking at the snapshots of the sisters, taking cameraphone pictures of them so I could get a closer look and make out who was who. But that meant I’d stopped looking in the albums and was missing the wider context.

In the same album pages are more pictures of what could be Minera:

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Minera no longer exists. A 1940s article called The Life and Times of Minera, Texasapparently written by a descendant of one of the mine supervisors, seems to be the most detailed account of the place. It says that Minera was 25 miles from Laredo at the end of a branch railroad line, and that the trip took the better part of a day (in 1895 at least). The article mentions that the superintendent and his wife lived in a “comfortable, roomy stone house” with a broad, flat roof, and that the wife’s presence “made it agreeable for two young ladies to come out from Laredo and conduct a school for the children of the miners.”

A number of the photos that appear alongside the mine pictures show a stone house with a flat roof. Could it be the superintendent’s house? It doesn’t seem to be the MacGregor place (which had a shadier yard and was more clearly in town, with the Laredo post office building visible across the street.)

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Anna (I think, at far right) and friends on roof of mystery building. Fits description of Minera supervisor’s house, the roof of which was said to have been used as an observation deck to see across to the Mexico side of the Rio Grande.

Anna shows up most often in the photos; not sure if that means they were her pictures, perhaps recording her experience at the mine. My theory is that one or both of the sisters and possibly other young women lived at the supervisor’s house during the school year as guest-boarders under the watch of the supervisor’s wife. Helen, on the other hand, describes the Dolores mine as being near her home—it was a shorter distance, closer to ten miles—and by the time she would have been old enough to teach (1911 or so?) the trains were likely faster. Another possibility is that the sisters frequently visited a friend who taught at Minera, but the number of photos—and the fact that Anna and Mary were listed on the census as teachers at around the same time—makes me think otherwise.

Anna, who would later travel to in the Philippines and have her wedding there, strikes me as the adventurous one, the sort who would get a kick out of teaching in a mining camp. According to The Life and Times of Minera, in the early days (before 1900), dances were held in the schoolhouse every Saturday night, “which generally ended in a tequila-inspired brawl during early dawn. On Sundays they held cock-fights, and every payday nearly everybody got drunk at the cantina.” Nice! In the later years, though, the residents were ordered “to refrain from sticking knives into each other at Saturday night bailies in the schoolhouse.” Oh well, Anna and Mary look like they could make their own fun.

Minera was abandoned around 1915 after flooding in the mine shafts forced the mining operations to move further inland from the river. It’s listed as a ghost town in some guides. Somehow it still shows up on Google maps. Dolores isn’t marked, but the maps I found show it was in the area in the right-hand corner of the page, beneath Highway 255.
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The Life and Times ends with a last look from 1945:

“…the old stone walls of the superintendent’s house furnish a shelter to countless bats … The well-preserved cement floors are barely discernible beneath the blown dry earth that is gradually covering them over, and in another generation there probably will be no witness remaining who remembers the gayety and excitement that once was Minera, Texas…”

UPDATE:  A number of newspaper items confirm that indeed Anna and Mary taught school at Minera.

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Who are all these people again?

If you’ve just recently joined us (ME) here at this blog, here’s a fresh introduction to the folks whose lives I’ve been researching, as well as few I plan to talk about soon.

All of these people are related to me through my mother’s father, Malcolm MacGregor Jameson, known to me as “Grandpa Mac” and to others in the family as MacGregor. He didn’t talk much about his family and the relationship I had to him and my grandmother wasn’t a close one. So some of this stuff I’m learning is very new to me.

On Mac’s dad’s side is my great-great-grandfather Joe Lee Jameson, a Texas bureaucrat who had been bookkeeper at an insane asylum, the State Revenue Agent of Texas, endorser for an adding machine, and had recently become an oil company executive when he died of typhoid fever at the age of thirty-four. He was married to Amaryllis Routh Jameson (whose later married name was Ward and who took the nickname “Jamie”), and at least half the stuff I know about this family comes from her scrapbooks, so she is my hero.

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Joe Lee Jameson, looking very important

They had three children,* all born in Texas:

The eldest, Malcolm Routh Jameson (my great-grandfather), also died relatively young, in his fifties. He had been a Naval officer during WWI and later in life became a science-fiction writer. I’ve built a web site for him and I’ll sometimes call him MRJ for short.

The second child was Vida Jameson (or “Vida I” because MRJ named his daughter after her). She died when she was just five. *There were also twin boys in the family who were born and died (or else were stillborn) in 1901. They’re the ones with unsettling little angel baby jpegs on their Ancestry.com profiles (no, I don’t know who put them there).

A year after the twins, and two years after Vida’s death, House Baker Jameson (named for his father’s mentor, Colonel Edward M. House), was born. He became an actor and worked on stage, radio, TV and film from the 1930s into the late 60s. His first wife was Edith (Edie) Taliaferro, a stage actress who had been a child star and who also had appeared in a handful of silent films, only one of which survives. After she died, House remarried, to actress and dancer Liz Mears. (And while he’s not a blood relative, I’ll tell you about her dad sometime, because… well, you’ll see.)

MRJ was the only one of his siblings to have children of his own: my Grandpa Mac (the second born), and Vida Jameson (aka Vida II), who as a young adult became friends with some Golden Age sci-fi writers her father knew, and eventually published stories of her own.

Vida and Mac’s mother was my great-grandmother Mary MacGregor Jameson (I grew up hearing her referred to as “Nana”), who first met MRJ when they were kids, when both his family and hers were living in the administrative staff quarters of the Southwestern Insane Asylum in San Antonio, Texas, around 1897. If you’re following along, you’ll remember my great-great-grandfather Joe Lee Jameson was the bookkeeper; my other great-great grandfather was the superintendent.

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MRJ and Nana (Mary), 1920s: “Of course we’re crazy about each other. We met at the insane asylum!”

Like MRJ, Mary was the only one of her siblings to have children. She was the second of five sisters, the four others being:

  • Anna MacGregor Collins, the oldest, who was the family archivist and genealogist, and whom I have to thank for saving a lot of this stuff.
  • Helen MacGregor, who never married and became a schoolteacher (oh, but she left some compelling stuff).
  • Margaret MacGregor Morgan, who moved to New York City in the 1930s. Still trying to figure out her story.
  • Kathryn MacGregor Burgess, who along with her sister Anna married military officers stationed in the Philippines.

The MacGregor sisters’ parents (see how I pivoted and am now going backward through the generations of my Grandpa Mac’s mother’s line?), were my great-great grandfather Dr. William Wallace MacGregor, a physician and surgeon, and Anna Jones MacGregor, my great-great grandmother (whose birth was celebrated in this lovely letter).

Beyond this generation and going backward, Anna Jones’s line is the most well-documented—most of the material I have from the 1880s and earlier is from her side, and she and some of her daughters claimed DAR membership based on her ancestors (the Moores, the Markses, and the Meriwethers). We’ve already had a glimpse of Anna’s maternal relatives, and there are some letters from her father and his people too.

I’ve also started to find out a little more about Dr. MacGregor’s family, who I think came over to the US from Glasgow, Scotland, around 1850. I have a few scraps (and I mean, literally, scraps) from that side.

And then, jumping ahead about a century (oh, the whiplash!), I have some stuff that provides some interesting glimpses of my mother’s very early childhood in New York, when she and my grandmother lived with MRJ and Nana while Grandpa Mac was off in the Pacific in WWII.

I’ve set up a category list in the sidebar to be a sort of index, so feel free to click on those names (or places or details) to see where else they come up. And I’ll be updating the family tree info when I get a chance. Until then, consider this your cheat sheet. Any questions?

The New York City years (Part 1) with bonus House & Edie mystery!

Way back in late 2012 I promised to post my photos from New York, where I’d visited places where the Jamesons and MacGregors (well, Margaret at least) had lived in the 1930s and 40s. So here’s 244 E. 48th Street in Manhattan. The building shows up in a photo album that belonged to (my great-great uncle) House Jameson and his wife. Edith:

2016-02-20 21.51.53 But since there are almost no notes or captions the album (shakes fist at ancestors ) I didn’t know this was the 48th Street place until I went there myself, using an address that I’d found for House in the 1930 census. And as it happened, it looked almost exactly the same:

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Obviously this was an ideal location for House and Edie, who were both performing in Broadway plays on a regular basis at the time (and House’s radio career might have started by then too).

But apparently, for a time, House’s brother and his family lived in the building too. Here’s the 1930 listing for all four of them—Malcolm and Mary (my great-grandparents), 13 year-old Vida, and 11 year-old Mac, my grandfather.

recordWhich is why the row of buildings across the street from the 244 building looked so familiar:

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Malcolm (my great-grandfather) and his mother-in-law, Anna Jones MacGregor (who must have been visiting)

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Mary (my great-grandmother), her daughter Vida, her sister Anna, and her mother.

The family posted for several photos at this spot. When I visited this street, I noticed  those ornaments between the windows on the top story of one of the buildings across the street, and they helped me confirm I was in the right place. Cool, huh?

According to the census record, Malcolm was working as a salesman for International Correspondence Schools at the time. He had retired from the Navy just a few years before for health reasons, and after working various jobs in Texas (I think), perhaps it seemed a good idea to join his younger brother in the city. I also found a brief mention of this time in a journal written in the 1990s by my grandmother (Mac’s wife), who said that Malcolm and Mary had originally come to New York with plans to open a Mexican restaurant. Really?

House had been in the city after graduating from Columbia in the late 1920s (except for the times he toured with theater companies around the US and Australia). I’ve found a couple of other Manhattan addresses for House, but in at least one case the entire block had been razed for office buildings. This block on East 48th is relatively unchanged, although the 244 building has since been rehabbed into a single-family home that sold for over four million dollars a few years ago. (It originally listed for $12M!) But at the time the Jamesons lived there the building had several units, with Malcolm and Mary and the kids in one apartment and House and Edie in another. At least that’s what it seems when you go by the 1930 Census, which visited Malcolm’s place one day, and House’s place a few weeks later.

Which brings me to the little mystery about House and Edie that arose from reading their census record! See below. (I know, it’s hard to read. You can look here, too. And here, and here.)

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You’ll notice that Edie is listed as head of household, and House is a “roomer.” Interesting! But weren’t they married to each other by then? We thought so, but the census lists “Edith Brown Taliaferro” as married and House as single. Oh my. Of course census records get stuff wrong all the time, and it’s possible that the census-taker didn’t know how else to list two people with two different last names (which House and Edie had for professional reasons) living in the same place. Or perhaps the place had been Edie’s first and her name was on the lease. (She was ten years older than House, after all.) Or maybe House and Edie were having a bit of fun with the census-taker. At any rate it makes me realize that we don’t seem to have a record or even a date for when House and Edie got hitched. Edie’s Wikipedia page says she married House in 1912, but that would have been when House was ten, so let’s assume that was wrong. Perhaps Edie married someone in 1912…maybe that’s where the odd “Brown” in her name in the census record (which I’ve never seen anywhere else) comes from. But I guess I’ll have to add House and Edie’s marriage record/date to the list of things I need to look for.

Stay tuned for more New York photos (at some point), including one photo—the only one I’ve ever found!—that shows Edie with other Jameson family members. And I bet you want to see more House and Edie, too, don’t you?

How’s this for starters? IMG_7477

Flash-forward with the MacGregor sisters

Remember these gals? My great-grandmother Mary and her four sisters.  When we last saw them they were little girls in white dresses in south Texas around 1900. Their mother was Anna Jones MacGregor (whose baby photo we saw in the last post) and their father was Dr. W.W. MacGregor (bearded wonder doctor and one-time superintendent of an insane asylum). It’s been a few years, and now the Sisters MacG have grown up into… young women in white dresses in south Texas.

(They were on the Mexico border, though, and it must have been hot. White probably was a good choice.)

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From left to right: Margaret, Mary, their mother (Anna Jones MacG), and Kathryn.

My guess is that these photos were taken around 1907 or 1908, with Mary in her late teens, Margaret around 13 or 14, and Kathryn around 12. (Was 15 the age girls graduated to longer skirts?)

Here’s Anna, who would have been just out of her teens, old enough to occasionally don black dresses and alarming corsets:

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Anna MacGregor and shadow of unknown photographer (Mary?)

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Anna, on right. (Dear God, that WAIST!)

Continue reading

Letter: Aunt Hannah to baby Anna Jones, 1862

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Letter to Anna Jones MacGregor (my great-great grandmother), who was exactly three weeks old at the time, from her aunt Hannah Moore. It’s one of the first letters I transcribed, and it’s so completely charming that it was worth the effort:

Corpus Christi Texas
May 23 1862
My dear little Niece
Welcome three welcome to this beautiful world of ours  May yours be a life of sunshine and happiness    A blessing all around you.
Grand Pa told us of your arrival as soon as he came. The news was received with many smiles and exclamations from your many Aunts and Uncles.
Uncle Chappie declared he could not sleep for thinking of you. And call himself Uncle Chappie all day. Aunt Nelie says she will nurse you and take the greatest care imaginable of you —If you are pretty. But she seem to doubt that.  She has some things to hand down to you as soon as Mama  can trust you with them.
I fear you will find Uncle John a rough but loving Uncle. Aunt Maggie will be as patient as possible with you.
All the servants from Aunt Peggie down had some comment to make about you, wondering if you looked (like) your Pa or Ma.
We are all very anxious to hear from and see you.
Ask your Pa to write soon and describe you to us.
Perhaps you will wonder what use to make of letters.  The best use to make of mine is to pull them out of your Mama’s hand and tare it to pieces for amusement.
Don’t let Grandma spoil you while she is up there. You had better come down with her and visit the sea shore.
Kiss yourself in the glass for me. Give my best love to Pa Ma and Grandma and accept a large share for yourself from your loving “Aunt Hannah.”

 

Anna’s records show she was born in Montgomery, Texas, about 250 miles from Corpus Christi. “Aunt Hannah” is Hannah Moore, sister to Anna’s mother Mary Ann Moore, who was 23 at the time of her first daughter’s birth.

Down in Corpus Christi, Hannah was 19, apparently still living at home with a passel of mostly younger siblings—all of whom, from the sounds of of this letter, had just become uncles and aunts for the first time and were thrilled to bits. “Uncle Chappie,” AKA Elisha Chapman Moore, who was nine at the time; Cornelia, AKA “Nelie,” who was 11; John, 16, and Margaret, “Maggie,” 21. (There was an eldest sibling, William, who seemed to be elsewhere.)

The letter is even sweeter when you see this adorable photo (tintype?) of Anna:

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KISS YOURSELF IN THE GLASS FOR ME, YOU CUTE LITTLE THING

This letter was found in a binder that Anna Collins (Anna’s daughter) had put together in the late 1960s. Thank God for the note she left along with it, otherwise I don’t know if I’d have been able to figure out who the hell these people were.

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Based on Anna C’s note I was able to go into Ancestry and link to some family tree info that matched the information in the letter. These Moore kids were all born in either Alabama or Mississippi (!) and show up in Corpus Christi in the 1870 census.

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Aunt Hannah had gorgeous handwriting and she sounds fun. I’ll keep my eye out for photos of her.

 

Three years later…

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Three years later, about 90% of the contents of the Trunk (and its related boxes) are finally here in Chicago after schlepping them back from New Mexico after the holidays. There are far more scrapbooks than I remember. There are a few things I hadn’t seen before. It’s all still blowing my mind.

It may be just as well that it’s taken this long to get everything here (and to get to everything), especially the scrapbooks, since over the past few years iPhone cameras have become even better at capturing images of things that are too unwieldy and fragile to go on flatbed scanners, and there are now plenty of scanning apps too. The lighting on the spread above (from one of Ammie’s aka Jamie’s scrapbooks) could be better, but it’s high-res enough to zoom in and read everything. I’ve been saving most of the scrapbook digitizing for later, though—just organizing all the photos has had to come first.

Here’s what the front room of our apartment looked like this weekend:

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I set up some extra tables. The gray boxes behind the chair are the archival boxes where photos, letters, and various ephemera are filed, most of them in plastic envelopes. So far I’ve filled six of those boxes. Some of the duplicates can go into albums, the nicer photos will eventually be flatbed-scanned for posterity, and for now I’m just taking iPhone shots of anything that I want to study closer (i.e., snapshots) or anything else that looks interesting. You’ll see. (Oh, you’ll see.)

I’ll also be uploading photos to this album on Flickr. Not much there now, and some of it is from 2012, but check back in the next month or two—I’ll be uploading much more (I’ve had an account there for years, and it’s the easiest way to share). And if you look in the corner of this site, there should be an email signup option where you’ll be notified whenever I update.

Sign up now! Our ancestors are standing by!

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Your handy guide to identifying the MacGregor sisters

Meet the MacGregor sisters. All five of them! One of them is my great-grandmother Mary MacGregor, aka “Nana,” my mother’s paternal grandmother. They are the daughters of William Wallace MacGregor and Anna Jones MacGregor.

I think this picture was taken around 1901, most likely in Laredo, Texas.
The tall girl in the back is Anna, the oldest. Then from left to right it’s Mary, Margaret, Helen, and Kathryn.

When we were going through the stash of family photos back in December we were having a hell of a time telling all the MacGregor girls apart. There were so many unlabeled portraits—baby pictures, graduation pictures, all of the girls’ features just a little different. I don’t think it was until recently that I even really knew there were five of them. Mary/Nana I knew about of course, and when I was growing up I’d hear about Kathryn, who was very old and living out in San Francisco. Still, it took a while to get them all straight.

The photo above is one of the few that shows them all together, and someone took the time to label the back carefully and say who’s who. I can tell them apart now, but when I first got this picture from my cousin’s collection it was like the Rosetta Stone.

Here’s a picture from the same day:

Here Kathryn, the youngest, is on the far left next to Anna, I have some of their silver and my engagement ring belonged to Kathryn. Both she and Anna married military officers and lived in the Philippines for a while.

Helen is the one with the doll. She never married and became a high school teacher in Texas. Behind her on the right is Mary, who also became a military wife when she married my great-grandfather. And then on the end is Margaret, who I don’t know much about at all and tend to think of as the Mystery MacGregor. She married and lived in New York for many years but was buried back in Laredo.

There will be a quiz on all this later.

I love their white dresses and their black stockings. I wonder if my mother’s curly hair came from Nana.

This photo kills me because I always wanted sisters but never had them. I was the second child in my family, and the first girl born in my father’s line for several generations. My mom was told that “McClures don’t have girls.” So when I look at this picture from my mom’s side in terms of genetic probability, I like to think these sisters had some kind of hand in my being born a girl.