Sentimental Sunday: Not Just Another Name on a Family Tree

My Mother, Joan Joyce Schiavon (1928 – 1987)


Far from being “just another name on the family tree,” my mother was the reason for my passion for our family history and traditions.  She came from a long line of storytellers and entertained us with her tales of not only her own family but my father’s as well.  She loved history and literature and faith and believed it was important to understand all three in the context of one’s own family if one was to appreciate his or her place in the world. 

A year and a half after she died of lung cancer on September 11, 1987, my bereft father decided to publish her unfinished autobiography.  His introduction, below, shows his devotion  to his wife of 33 years.  

In the preface that follows, my mother shares the passion she had for life, faith, and family, which endeared her to all she met. She also shares a universal hope: that she be remembered.  Though the preface is relatively short, it speaks volumes about the person she was and the mother I miss.

My parents, Gilbert and Joan Huesca,
at my sister’s home, February 1981, Santa Clara, California



          This is a copy of the original preface written by my darling wife, Mrs. Joan Huesca.  She typed it on June 24, 1987, two days after she learned she was terminally ill with cancer.

          She wanted to revise the original copy, but as much as she wanted to, she never again got the chance.  However, I know she could have affixed her signature on this preface.
          Her autobiography was her gift of her heart to her family, and her legacy to the world of the thoughts and high moral values of a true lady.


                                                                                        Gilbert Huesca
* * * * *
I hope that I will not be just another name on a family tree, hanging precariously on some obscure branch.  I am dedicating this autobiography to you, my dear family; my darlings who are here now, and my precious ones to come, who may be able to know me, while I am praying for you in heaven.   I want to share my life with you.  For I have truly lived for you.  To you, my future descendants, I was here, I lived, I felt, I thought, and yes, I acted.  And as happens to all of God’s creatures, I left this earth to join our Lord, Mary, our Blessed Mother and all the Saints in heaven.
I have not been gifted with a literary talent, so dear reader, I do ask your indulgence with my poor attempts as memories or thoughts may not be written in a correct sequence of events, but will be written as they are recalled.  Ideas and life styles may change as you read this, but I beg of you to keep your standards and morals on the highest plane.
In the years of the 1980s, much is said about “woman’s independence.” Remember, my dears, that one cannot ever be independent of another.  To some extent, through our lives, we must lean one to the other. Therein lies our strength.  We must support one another.  My dependence has been on my dearest husband, Gilbert Huesca, the companion and love of my life, and our four precious, darling daughters.  For me, they have all been a very special blessing and gift from God.  My life and my being have been enriched with their love.  Through the experiences that I have lived throughout my life, I pray that you will build your lives about your family.  My prayers are that you, too, will find that same love and enrichment and that God’s blessing will be with you throughout your lives.

                                                                                          Joan Huesca

Copyright ©  2012  Linda Huesca Tully

My Wonderful Mother

Joan Joyce Schiavon (1928 – 1987)

My mother, Joan Joyce Schiavon
Age 26
Chicago, 1954
“So when are you going to write about my Grandmother?” 
A few evenings ago, my son, Michael, asked the question I have avoided for far too long.
I told him I was trying to work toward writing about my mother but struggled with it because we were so close.  The pain of losing her was holding me back, even now.  
Michael pressed for a better answer.  Born in 1988, just eight months after my mother’s death at age 59 from lung cancer, he never had the chance to know her in person, as he had known my father and his paternal grandparents.  Nor, he reminded me, had his younger brother and sister, Kevin and Erin.
Michael added that she was not just my mother, but his and his siblings’ grandmother, their Nana, too.  He wanted to know more about her – the story of how she got lost as a toddler in the Michigan woods; what it was like to grow up during the Great Depression;  her struggles and her triumphs; her sense of humor; her fascination with Mexico; and her passionate love for my father, her daughters, and her grandchildren.
It was then that I realized that this year will mark 25 years – a quarter of a century – since my mother died.  My mother would have smiled at me in her wise and gentle way and said it was high time to move forward.  She would have been right.   Silly me to not have heard her voice in my heart.  It is time to do this.  It is time to honor my wonderful mother and to share her life with my precious children and the rest of the world.  
I will do my best to do that, beginning today.  For Michael, Kevin, and Erin.  For my sisters, my family, and myself.  
And for my mother, Joan Joyce Schiavon, whom I love more than words could ever say and whose warm embrace I still feel, all these years later.  “I knew you could do this,” she might have said knowingly. “Better late than never.”
Copyright ©  2012  Linda Huesca Tully

Amanuensis Monday: A Grand Aunt

[Note:  Amanuensis is an ancient word meaning one who performs the function of writing down or transcribing the words of another.  Derived from the Latin root manu-  manual, or hand, the word also has been used as a synonym for secretary or scribe.]

Benita Elizabeth McGinnis (1889 – 1984)
From my Grand Aunt Benita Elizabeth McGinnis’ scrapbook – written when she was a mere 92 years young.
Born in Conneaut, Ohio, 5 years after my parents’ marriage and 3 years after the birth and death of an older sister, Mary Margaret, who only lived 3 days.
It is plain even in this infant picture that I was striving for balance.  I suppose this is because I was born under the sign of Libra, the Scales.  I’ll do anything to stay on both feet!
Benita McGinnis, age 3, 
Conneaut, Ohio, 1892
 About 1902*.  The dress I am wearing was a lovely blue.  The goods were given me by my darling grandfather.**  My mother made it.  The aunts gave me the pearls.  I recall that Aunt Deal** carried me in the blue dress to gaze down at my grandfather in his bed.  He had just died.  I cried because he could not speak to me and tell me how he liked my dress.
For my fifth birthday, I got this this lovely blue, brown, tan and gold plaid with a puffed neck yoke of gold silk.  My hair was getting very long and I wore it in 8 curls. Each day Aunt Delia curled it and brushed the curls over her fingers to make them glossy.
Benita McGinnis in her 
birthday dress, age 5,
Conneaut, Ohio, ca. 1894

The words above were written by my Grand Aunt Benita (or Aunt Detty, as my mother, sisters, and I called her) in a scrapbook about her life she created when she was 92 years old.  Aunt Detty was one of the most fascinating persons I have ever been blessed to know.  She was born on September 30, 1889, the eldest of four children born to Thomas Eugene McGinnis and his wife, Mary Jane Gaffney.   Her younger sister, Alice McGinnis, was my maternal grandmother.

Although there was an age difference of 66 years between us, I feel we were kindred spirits who shared a love for and interest in many of the same things:  writing and traveling, faith and family.  She also was a renowned artist (though I missed the boat on that one) who was always trying new media and finding new ways of looking at the world.  We spent many hours together, drinking wine, sharing stories, poring over photographs, and solving the problems of the world.  A loving wife and mother and friend to all, she was my mentor and, in many ways, the role model of the kind of person I hope to be.


*      Though Benita showed the date of her two-year-old self as 1902, it was in fact taken in 1892.  She always did look young for her age!
**   The (maternal) grandfather to whom Benita refers here was John Francis “Jeff” Gaffney, who died on February 28, 1892.
*** Aunt Deal was Benita’s maternal aunt, Delia Gaffney.  Delia went by several nicknames, including Di and Deal.
There will be more – much more – to come about Aunt Detty in future posts.
Copyright ©  2012  Linda Huesca Tully

1940s Radio Days

Welner “Bing” Tully – (1922 – 2007)

This week, the Ambassador program has asked its “1940s Ambassadors” to write about technology, science, or transportation during the decade of the Greatest Generation.

And when the 1940 United States Federal Census is released in a mere 18 days, one of the first people I will look up will be my late father-in-law, Welner “Bing” Tully.

Amelia Tully, about 1940

Bing and his older sister, Vivian, went to live with their paternal aunt, Amelia (nee Tully) Moreno Binning as young children after both of their parents became ill and were no longer able to care for them.

It was middle of the Great Depression.  Amelia and her family lived in East Los Angeles.  Though the newly extended family lived in a poor section of town, Amelia managed to support her family with the modest earning she made from her small grocery store.  She loved Vivian and Bing as if they were her own children, and they were devoted to her in return.  Bing helped her at the grocery store after school and tinkered around the house, always trying to fix things for his aunt and make her life easier.

Amelia gave Bing a lot of freedom to explore new things and learn as much as he could, and she would encourage him read and do his homework when things were slow at the store.  He stumbled on an advertisement one day for a ham radio kit and became intrigued by the idea of being able to talk to others who shared his passion for science and technology.  With no money for luxuries, however, Bing figured out how to build his own radio set, taught himself Morse Code, and obtained a ham radio license to broadcast under the call letters W6RMQ.

Wooden sign crafted by Welner “Bing” Tully

The romance of communications and its many media appealed to Bing, a gregarious and affable young man who was fascinated by the boom of technology.  In 1940, at age 18, he took a job as a messenger delivering telegrams for Western Union, often riding his bicycle across long stretches of Los Angeles to deliver good news and bad to all kinds of people.  Though he never opened the envelopes, he wondered what kind of reaction they would elicit from the receivers – joy or jubilation, shock, or sadness.

Bing Tully’s career as a messenger boy was short-lived when a jealous man had him fired for what he misconstrued as advances on his girlfriend.  He thought the woman had asked Bing to wait while she left the room to get a pen to write down her phone number.  It turned out that she was getting her purse to give him a tip.  Unfortunately for Bing, it would be his last one as a Western Union man.

Welner “Bing” Tully, 19 years old
Los Angeles, Calfornia, 1941

Sunday, December 7, 1941, marked a turning point in his young life when, like most Americans, he learned from a radio broadcast of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  Though families had gathered around their radio sets to hear the news and enjoy live music, comedy, and serial programs together for years, they did so purposefully and urgently now, listening to constant updates on the tragedy and on the ensuing American involvement in what was now World War II.  “Stay tuned,” was a familiar refrain that began during radio days and made its way into the culture of the time as a way of letting you know that something important was coming.

And something important came, indeed.  Radio took on new importance for Bing and many young men of his generation as it became a powerful – and potentially dangerous – wartime tool.  In 1940, the United States federal government had passed the Telecommunications Convention, prohibiting the 51,000 American amateur radio operators from communicating with other hams outside the U.S. and requiring all licensees to send their photo, proof of U.S. citizenship, and a set of fingerprints to Washington, D.C.

Once the U.S. entered the war in 1941, the government suspended ham radio operations completely in the interest of national security.  Full operation would not be restored until 1946.

Skilled amateur radio operators now became valuable resources for the U.S. military, and over the course of the war, about half of them – some 25,000 in all – signed up to serve their country.

Bing was one of these volunteers, entering the Army Air Corps at Hammer Field in Fresno, California, on February 4, 1943, as a Private First Class, Service Number V19100848.  Originally hoping to become a pilot, he was rejected some five months into his training when his instructor learned he had fainted once as a child during a Southern California heat wave.

The Army Air Corps reclassified him as a radio operator and assigned him to the 4th Combat Cargo Group in the China-Burma-India theater.  He and his fellow soldiers arrived in Sylhet, India, just after Thanksgiving 1944, where they joined a task force of Canadians and Australians, providing airpower support to the British 14th Army, which was retaking Burma from the Japanese.

CCG aircraft transported reinforcements and supplies for the Allies, moving supplies for the construction of the Ledo Road, carrying men, mules, and boats across the Irawaddy River, and flying soldiers, gasoline, and ammunition over the Burma “hump” to  China.

In May 1945, just a few days after the war had officially ended, Bing and 7 other men were sent to repair some runway lights at  Meiktila, a beleaguered airstrip and constant source of fighting between the Allies and the Japanese.  The lights always needed repair or replacing, because the Burmese liked to take the colored glass and melt it down to make it look like valuable stones or gems.  For some reason, before the men could finish repairing the runway lights, their pilot took off without them, leaving them stranded there for three days.

The war may have been officially over, but the area surrounding the field remained treacherous, with pockets of enemy troops here and there.  Bing tried radioing in code for help, using fake call letters, so as not to alert any remaining Japanese who might pick up his signal.  When his calls went unheeded, he decided to take a chance and used another American’s radio transmitter to radio to Chittagong in English:  “Tully here.”

“Hannan here,” came back the reply. Bing recognized the name as that of his bunkmate.  He could finally relax.  “8 men with runway lights stranded at Meiktila.  Require transportation back.”

A C-46 arrived shortly, and the men continued on their duty.  It would be some nine months before Bing left for Calcutta and departed on the troop ship Marine Wolf for San Pedro, California, stopping briefly in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The 4th CCG was inactivated on February 9, 1946.  Bing Tully was discharged as a Staff Sergeant a day later in San Pedro, after three years of service.  He would always remember his days with the 4th CCG with fondness.

I always thought I knew my father-in-law well, but like many of his “great generation,” he downplayed his role in the war.  He downplayed his life, too, preferring modesty to boasting about himself or his adventures and good deeds.  Perhaps I’ll find out more about him soon in the 1940 Census, which by the way, is looking for volunteer indexers in its 1940 Census Project.  Why don’t you join me?  It should be a lot of fun.

Stay tuned.

Copyright ©  2012  Linda Huesca Tully

Did you know Welner “Bing” and Vivian Tully or their aunt Amelia (Tully) Moreno Binning; or are you a member of the Hoppin, Tully, Moyer, or Moreno, or Binning families?  Were you or was someone you know assigned to the 4th Air Combat Cargo Group in the CBI Theater?  If so, share your memories and comments below.

Talented Tuesday: The Great Gene Sheebo

Francis Eugene McGinnis (1891 – 1961)

Because both Irish immigrants and Irish-American were, in general, looked on with disdain during the late 19th century and even into the early 20th century, many are said to have taken to appearing in vaudeville as a way of gaining recognition and respect. 

It is said that by appearing in blackface, Irish performers “hid” their identity and “became” part of the society and culture that otherwise had no use for them.  

Francis Eugene McGinnis, aka
“Gene Sheebo”

My grand-uncle, Francis Eugene McGinnis, who was known to family and friends by his middle name, Gene, was one of those who dabbled in this form of vaudeville.  Blackface had been popular for nearly 80 years by the time Gene McGinnis adopted the comic persona of “Gene Sheebo,” singing and performing in various venues in Chicago and the Midwest.   (Blackface would die out in the 1950s with the advent of the civil rights movement.)

Unlike his older sister, Benita, and his younger brother, John, who had dark hair, Gene and his younger sister (my maternal grandmother), Alice, had bright red hair and freckles that sometimes made them the targets of relentless teasing by their peers.  Perhaps because of the paralysis on his left side and the back and leg pain he suffered as a result of a childhood bout with scarlet fever, Gene also encountered difficulty finding suitable employment.  It should be no surprise, then, that he might have found some comfort in the control he must have felt as he applied burnt cork to his face and hair before going onstage to perform in front of an audience as someone very different, comical and seemingly carefree.

His stint as a vaudevillian did not last past a couple of years.  Afterward, Gene became “Brother Francis Eugene” during a short career as a Trappist monk in Kentucky.  His draft registration cards for World Wars I and II show him later on as a salesman for the National Refining Company in Chicago and then as a senior clerk for the Works Project Administration (WPA).  

My Uncle Gene performing in vaudeville.
Photo by Walinger Studio, Chicago, Illinois

Gene McGinnis never married.  He was a loving uncle to his nieces and nephews, however, and he doted on my mother, Joan Schiavon, often bringing her candy and telling her magical stories.  

My mother, Joan (Schiavon) Huesca, worshipped Uncle Gene.  She often waited at the living room window, watching for his arrival and the wonderful sweets he would bring, always packaged in a white box tied up with a bow, from him, her “beau.”  She would sit at his feet as the family listened to the radio in the evenings and tried to mimic him as he told jokes and sang songs.   Once, her cousin, Jack McGinnis (son of Gene’s brother, John), who was a few years older than my mother, asked her if she would marry him when she grew up.  My mother, who could not have been more than about five or six at the time, replied right away that she would, but added that she would have to marry Uncle Gene, too, because that way he would always bring candy.  

Uncle Gene – with a broken
arm?  Chicago, circa 1950.

Cousin Jack shook his head gravely.  “You can’t do that, Joan, because it would be bigamy,” he said.   My innocent mother replied, “well, it may be big of you, but it’ll be just as big of Uncle Gene, too!”  

As Gene aged, his aches and pains worsened, and he tried in vain to relieve his constant discomfort with medication and, eventually, alcohol.  Shortly after my mother and father married, Uncle Gene’s health deteriorated, and he went to live with them for a couple of years at their apartment on the south side of Chicago.  He became ill in late January of 1961 and entered Cook County Hospital, where he died of a heart attack on February 3, 1961.  He was 69 years old.  He is buried at Holy Sepulchre Catholic Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois, next to his parents.

Some might say that Francis Eugene McGinnis led a sad life.  Though there may be some truth to this, he was also a man of strength and determination who strived in the best way he knew to overcome daunting obstacles with grace, humor, and courage.  And because of that, we, his family, will never forget him as the Great Uncle Gene.

Copyright ©  2012  Linda Huesca Tully

Thankful Thursday: The Wonders of Modern Medicine

Francis Eugene McGinnis (1891 – 1961)

It was one of those trying weeks some years ago, the kind most families experience, when our three children, at the time preschoolers, came down with colds that developed into ear infections and strep throat.   Between calling the doctor and flipping through parenting books to check symptoms, my husband and I fretted over our little ones, taking their temperatures, coaxing eyedroppers of children’s Tylenol and antibiotics into their wiggly little mouths, and rocking them late into the night to soothe their discomfort.

Like parents everywhere, we rejoiced when they bounced back to their sweet and silly selves, triumphantly running around the house with more energy than ever without any sign of having been feverishly sick days before.

A few nights later, after I had put the baby to bed, I opened an old family scrapbook and came across a familiar photograph of my grand-uncle Gene McGinnis as a toddler.  Next to it, his older sister, Benita (McGinnis) McCormick, had written an account of his own illness in 1894, some 90 years after the fact:

My brother Eugene caught scarlet fever and was later paralyzed on his left side, never really regaining full use of his left arm.  He was about 3 – 3 1/2 years of age at the time.

Called “Gene” after his father, Francis Eugene McGinnis was born on September 16, 1891, in Conneaut, Ashtabula County, Ohio, the second of four children, to Thomas Eugene McGinnis and Mary Jane Gaffney.

Francis Eugene McGinnis
1891 – 1956

He was an active, mischievous little boy with the curly, bright red hair of his Irish heritage and a keen sense of the famous McGinnis humor to match.  And he was always looking for the next adventure, as my Aunt Benita continues:

We, he and I, were playing Indians.  We had feathers in our hair and were going to capture our mother and John, the baby, in his playbox beside her sewing machine.

We ran in from the apple orchard, shouting at the top of our lungs. Just as we neared my mother, Eugene fell to the floor.  He was deathly pale.  My mother sent someone uptown for the doctor.

Dr. Upson came at once and put Eugene to bed.  He examined me, too, but said I could stay on the couch in the kitchen.  We had scarlet fever!

I can’t recall that John ever got it, but Eugene became paralyzed before he was better of the fever.  My mother’s hair was blue black then.  Before (Eugene) was better, her hair had turned pure white.

19th century parents worried about their children just as parents do today, but the stakes back then were higher.  Illnesses such as scarlet fever, diphtheria, and whooping cough claimed the lives of many children and left long-lasting effects on others.

My husband’s and my efforts to coax flavored antibiotics into our children paled with the treatments most 19th century parents faced.  A family medical guide of the time prescribed home treatment according to severity.  My great-grandmother, Mary Jane, would have given her mildly ill Benita a recipe of Epsom salts and acetate of ammonia, along with a diet of mutton tea, toast, and barley or rice water for the first few days.  Luckily, Benita seems to have recovered fairly quickly.

Gene, however, worsened over the next few days.  It is likely that he became bald – not because of the fever itself, but because his parents had to shave his head, for fear that the presence of hair could cause brain affliction and eventual death.

In the cases of severe throat ulceration, parents were supposed to use a camel’s hair brush to apply a solution of nitrate of silver to the throat, “morning, noon, and night.”  If you ever have had to hold a sick child still while the doctor swabbed his or her throat to check for strep infection, you can only imagine what a trial this must have been – not only for the worried parents but also for their terrified children!

But this was not the worst of it.  For the sickest children, doctors prescribed bloodletting from the head or the arm.  Applying two to six leeches to each side of the head, just under the ears, was thought to relieve the brain of undue symptoms and presumably prevent death.

No wonder my poor great-grandmother’s hair turned white.

Though we do not know whether Uncle Gene had to endure the latter treatment, it is certain that scarlet fever left an indelible mark on him.  He was partially paralyzed on his left side for the rest of his life and suffered from physical and emotional scars as a result of his left leg being shorter than the right.  His classmates teased him because of his deformity.   My mother, who was very close to him, said he never complained of his afflictions.

A self-effacing man, he tried to mask his pain in various ways, performing in vaudeville for a few years and later, living for a short time as a Trappist monk.   He had never quite recovered from his childhood disease, and as his health worsened, he came to live with my parents shortly after they were married.  He died in 1956 at the age of 65 and is buried with his parents at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois.

Thanks to modern medicine, scarlet fever today is not only preventable but highly treatable.  We have ready access to doctors, advice nurses, and antibiotics, all of which make it easier for children to be healthy and carefree and parents to breathe a little easier.  And that is something for which we all can be thankful.

Copyright ©  2012  Linda Huesca Tully

Did you know the McGinnises, or are you a member of the McGinnis or McCormick families?  If so, share your memories and comments below.

Mystery Monday: The Railway Men of Orizaba, Part 2


Edward Joseph Organ (1859 – 1893)

“To Dear Mrs. F. Perrotin, Mater in Mexico”

Looking over the collection of photographs that belonged to my great-great grandmother, Catherine (O’Grady) Perrotin, I found one that was especially compelling and have been wondering about its subject for some time now.

Though he was not my ancestor, he certainly was related to someone, and it seems only fitting to honor his memory, out of respect for the friendship he shared with Catherine and her family.

Edgar Joseph Organ dedicated this cabinet card photograph to Catherine Perrotin on February 27, 1893.   Taken at the Lucio Diaz Studio in Orizaba, Veracruz, Mexico, the photograph is addressed to her as his “Mater in Mexico.”

Catherine, who would have been about 51 at the time, might indeed have been a mother-like figure to many of the expatriate railway men in Orizaba at the time.  Most likely, many of these young men, originally from England, Ireland, France, and the United States, had embarked on their great adventure working on the fledgling Mexican railway, Ferrocarriles Mexicanos, as bachelors, while others may have left wives and children behind for several years.  Catherine already had been living in Mexico for at least 25 years.  She would have been able to offer wisdom and counsel to these young men on the local customs, manners, and language.

In this portrait, Edgar strikes a somewhat casual pose.  His broad hands appear strong from years of physical work.  He is dressed either as an engine driver, leaning against a half column on top of which are stacked three or four books.  Perhaps these were to indicate that he was an educated man and enjoyed reading.  This seems to be borne out by his strikingly beautiful handwriting on the reverse of the cabinet card.  He also seems to have had some artistic talent, evidenced by the flower, leaves and feathers he incorporates gracefully into his capital letters.

Edgar Joseph Organ


The great care that Edgar took to dedicate this to my great-great grandmother aroused my curiosity about him.  Documentation varies, but he was born in the southwest region of the United Kingdom in about 1859, in either Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, or Monmouth, Wales.  Cheltenham lies some 22 miles east of the village of Ruardean – where Timothy Bennett lived with his own family – while Monmouth is about half that distance to the west.

According to the England and Wales FreeBMD Marriage Index: 1837 – 1915, he and Elizabeth Maria Woodward registered their marriage in Gloucester between October and December 1879.

They appear two years later in the 1881 England Census, living at 18 Salisbury Street in Cheltenham, with a six-month-old infant daughter, Elizabeth.  By this time, Edgar is identified as a 22-year-old railway fireman. Both he and his wife are noted as born in “Gloster” – the abbreviation for Gloucester.

Did Edgar and Timothy Bennett know each other before they went to Mexico?  It seems likely, especially as both had been railway firemen before they advanced to engine driver.  They probably trained together on the double Fairlie steam locomotive in Bristol, down the River Severn, where the Avonside Engine Company manufactured some 53 of these for Ferrocarriles Mexicanos to navigate the steep grade from Cordoba to Orizaba, Veracruz, until the railway converted to electric engines in 1920.

Though it is uncertain when both men left for Mexico, we know that Timothy married Maria Dolores Perrotin at the railway station in Orizaba in September of 1885.  A year or two after Dolores’ father, Francois Perrotin, died of meningitis in 1891, she and her husband and their two children left Mexico for England to join Timothy’s mother and family in the Forest of Dean.  Catherine would join them in 1895.

Two months after dedicating his portrait to Catherine Perrotin, Edgar appears as an engine driver on the passenger manifest of the ship Aurania, arriving in Liverpool, England, from New York on April 25, 1893.

Tragically, he died some six months later on November 28, 1893, in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England.  He was only 32.  The entry in the National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1861 – 1941 does not list the cause of death, but it does indicate that he left a widow, Elizabeth Maria Organ, who received his effects in the sum of £178 when the will was administered on December 23, 1893, just two days before Christmas.

Was Edgar ill before he left Mexico?  Did he become ill after arriving in England?  Or did he die accidentally?

Where was Edgar and Elizabeth Maria’s daughter, Elizabeth?  Unless she died before her father returned to England, she would have been about twelve years old in 1893.  The other possibility is that she could have been living with relatives during this time.  In any case, I cannot find her after her initial mention in the 1881 England Census and wonder whatever became of her.

Any extra money that Edgar might have brought home from his adventurous sojourn working on the Mexican Railway would have come in handy for Elizabeth Maria, though it could have not lasted long after she became the sole breadwinner.  In a sad turn of events, she reappears in the 1901 England Census in Barnwood, Gloucestershire, working as a storeroom servant at Barnwood House, formerly an estate that was later converted to an insane asylum.   Listed as a widow, Elizabeth was 39 years old.  Had she not only lost her husband but her daughter, too?What happened to her after that?  I only wish I knew.


Copyright ©  2012  Linda Huesca Tully

Mystery Monday: The Railway Men of Orizaba, Part 1

The photograph above, taken at the Lucio Díaz Studio in Orizaba, Veracruz, Mexico, is identified as an “Instant Portrait.”

Who are these men?

These two cabinet card photographs are part of a larger collection of “mystery pictures” that belonged to my great-great grandmother, Catherine (O’Grady) Perrotin.

From the dates on the back, it appears she received the photographs while living in Orizaba, Veracruz, Mexico, perhaps as she was preparing to move to England in 1895 to join her daughter, and son-in-law, Maria Dolores and Timothy Bennett.  At that time, she would have been about 53 years old.  Of course, it is also possible that the pictures were sent to her after she arrived in England.   Both pictures were taken in Orizaba, at the Lucio Díaz studio.

The men appear to have been friends or co-workers of my great-great grandfather, Charles Jacques François (“François”) Perrotin, who was a mechanic for Ferrocarriles Mexicanos, the Mexican Railway System, at Orizaba Station. (François died in Orizaba on May 25, 1891, of meningitis.) Timothy Bennett, Maria Dolores’s husband, also worked for Ferrocarriles Mexicanos as a train engineer.  All appear to be either American or European, perhaps British, French or Irish.  This is especially plausible, given that these groups engineered and built the Mexican Railway line from Veracruz to Mexico City.

In the first picture, the two gentlemen appear to be dressed in conductors’ uniforms, wearing ties, pocket watches, and pinstripe suits.   The bowler hats they are wearing would suggest that these are not their official portraits, as they would be wearing conductor’s caps instead.  There is no identification or dedication on the back of the card, except for the name of the photography studio.

The second picture, below, is dedicated to Catherine:

Le endorso a la Señora Perrotin este retrato en prueba del cariño que le profesa su amigo, Cook.”

 “I dedicate this portrait to Mrs. Perrotin as proof of the affection of her friend, Cook.”

The dedication is dated June 29, but the year is illegible.  Cook appears to be wearing the uniform of a railway worker, perhaps a conductor, but we cannot be sure.  I am not good at guessing ages but would estimate that he was somewhere between his late thirties to early fifties – a wide range, to be sure.

In an intriguing coincidence, a father and son with the last name of Cook appear  in the 1860 United States Federal Census, as neighbors of the then-newly married Perrotins in Shreveport, Louisiana.  Thomas Cook, age 74, appears to have been a gardener (though the writing on the census form is unclear) who came to America from his native England in 1808.  His son, Robert Cook, was 18 years old and a native of Indiana.  Interestingly, he is listed as a “Gin Maker.”

Perhaps the Cooks and Perrotins were good friends.  Could the son (and possibly the father) have gone to Orizaba with the Perrotins?  If Thomas Cook did go to Mexico, even at his advanced age, it is unlikely that he worked there.  But Robert, who was about a year older than Catherine, would have been young enough to embark on such an adventure, either working on the Mexican railway with the others, or in another profession…

If anyone reading this has any thoughts on the identity of these men or suggestions for where to look next, I’d love to hear them.

Next:  The Railway Men of Orizaba – Part Two

Copyright ©  2012  Linda Huesca Tully

Sentimental Sunday: “Do Not Give In”: Part 2

José Enrique Florentino Huesca (1847 – 1919)
María Angela Catalina (Perrotin) Huesca (1893 – 1999)
Gilbert Cayetano Huesca (1915 – 2009)

Full Circle

Second in a two-part series – Continued

My great-grandfather, Enrique Huesca (about 1850 – 1920)

Jose Enrique Florentino Huesca, known as “Enrique,” lost his wife, Maria de la Luz Merlo, whom he called “mi Lucecita,” or “my little light,” some time before 1912, about three years before the death of his young grandson, Gilberto Huesca.

My father, Gilbert Cayetano Huesca, and his brothers and sisters recalled hearing stories of their grandparents’ unwavering devotion to one another, so it would not be unlikely that Enrique was still grieving for his beloved wife even as he was consoling his daughter-in-law.  Upon reading these tender and feeling words, however, one wonders whether he ever really recovered from the burdens of his own crosses.  He was about 70 years old when he died in Cañada Morelos, Puebla, on August 20, 1920.

Enrique’s son, Jose Alberto Gil Cayetano “Cayetano” and Catalina Huesca welcomed a baby son on November 1, 1915, in Tierra Blanca, Veracruz, seven months after the death of their beloved toddler Gilberto.  It is possible that the new baby reminded them of the child they had recently lost, and that may be why they gave him the same first name:  Gilberto.

Gilberto Cayetano (his middle name was given for his father) Huesca – my father – was called by his middle name, “Cayetano” (or “Tano” for short) by all.  Perhaps his parents decided not to call him by his first name because it might remind them of the tragic loss of the first Gilberto.  This may be the reason my father never learned of his first name until he was in his 40s, when, living in Chicago, Illinois, he obtained his baptismal record for his naturalization application to become an American citizen.  Upon seeing his full name for the first time, he asked his family and friends to call him Gilbert from that day forward.

Enrique Huesca’s words to my grandmother came full circle some 82 years later.  It was 1997, and my father, by then 82 years old, was still mourning the loss of my mother, Joan (Schiavon) Huesca, a decade earlier.  Like his grandparents, he and my mother had been deeply in love, and her absence now permeated every aspect of his being.  He used to tell my sisters and me that he thought of her “every fraction of a second,” and we never doubted this.

My father was visiting us for dinner one Saturday evening when we called my grandmother Catalina at her apartment in Mexico City.  She was 104 years old but was as sharp as ever and would continue to reign as the respected matriarch of her large family until her death in 1998.

I turned the speakerphone on so we could hear each other, and after the usual greetings, she asked my father how he was.  My father, in an emotional voice, told her of the profound sadness he still felt without my mother.

Catalina and her son, Gilbert Cayetano Huesca
Mexico City, about 1948

My grandmother initially expressed her sympathy but then stopped abruptly.  “Hijo mío – my son,” she admonished him in Spanish, “ya basta – that is enough.  Of course you love her and of course you miss her.  But what has happened is done.  You had a beautiful life with my daughter Joan, and she left you four beautiful daughters.  The time of mourning is over.  If I had done that when your father died at such a young age, I would have dishonored his memory and done a disservice to our family.  I still had so much to do, and so do you, my son.  You must not give in to the pain, but live for the living.  You must not forget Joan, but it is time for you to live for your children now.”

It would be inaccurate and unfair to say that my father turned his sadness around right after that.  Yet his mother’s heartfelt wisdom reverberated within him in the coming years as he began to live more fully for his children and grandchildren until his own death in 2009 at age 93.

His brother Gilberto had, in a strange way, given my father his name.  Maybe in another roundabout and mysterious way, the memory of the first Gilberto also gave his younger brother and namesake a renewed lease on life, even in his final years.

Copyright ©  2012  Linda Huesca Tully 

Sympathy Saturday: “Do Not Give In”: Part 1

José Enrique Florentino Huesca (1847 – 1919)
María Angela Catalina (Perrotin) Huesca (1893 – 1999)
Gilberto Huesca (1912 – 1915)


Cañada Morelos, April 25, 1915
Mrs. Catalina Perroton (sic)

Tierra Blanca

My Dear Friend,

As I send you my greetings together with all the well-deserved attentions to you and your kind family, I want to send you my deepest sympathies on the death of the Child Gilberto, and you must not believe that it was caused by a Cold, but by the bump he had on his head, which sooner or later would have a sad ending.  It happened…there is nothing you can do but have patience.

Now do not give in to the Pain; but Look at this news with some calm, understanding that it is better to grieve over the dead rather than wish  them alive again; as I did, for I have spent my life in tears wishing they were alive.

The conjugal bond offers us flowers and pleasures…but the cross of marriage, offers us a world of woes.  No matter how much a family may possess, all must go through that world of woes…but all you can do is have a big soul, a Heart that neither denies the truth nor gives in to tears but Sees that this is part of life.

Calm, my friend, calm, do not give in and do not carry this burden around with you.  Give my kisses to all the children.

Your friend who esteems you,

Enrique Huesca

The original letter in Spanish from José Enrique Florentino Huesca to Catalina (Perrotin) Huesca, 1915
The above is my English translation of a letter that my paternal great-grandfather, Jose Enrique

Florentino Huesca, of Cañada Morelos, Puebla, Mexico, wrote to his daughter-in-law – my grandmother, Angela Catalina (nee Perrotin) Huesca, in Tierra Blanca, Veracruz, Mexico, shortly after the death of her young son, Gilberto Huesca.

Gilberto was about two years old when he died.  The exact cause of death is unclear; many of the civil records of the village of Tierra Blanca from 1915 were burned in a fire, and most of those who might have known the details have gone on to their heavenly reward

Maybe he fell or suffered a blow to the head while playing or pulling down some heavy object from above.  Maybe he had a tumor of some sort.  We may never know, but we can certainly imagine the grief Catalina felt at losing her sweet little boy.  José Enrique, or Enrique, as he was known, gently tells his daughter-in-law that she must not believe that her toddler died of a cold and adds that “sooner or later” the lump would have a sad ending.  In what must have been nearly unbearable for Catalina to conceive, he goes on to reassure her that the child’s fate might have been worse had he lived.

His words today might sound terribly fatalistic, but they came during a trying period in Mexico.  The country was in the throes of a revolution, and Tierra Blanca and surrounding areas not only experienced the heavy casualties of that conflict but also lost many people, young and old, to outbreaks of measles, diptheria, and smallpox.

It would have been easy for a young 21-year-old mother to “give in to the pain” of losing her child when she was scarcely an adult herself.  But her father-in-law’s words must have given her the strength she needed to go on and care for her husband Cayetano and their three children, Enrique, Eduardo, and Victoria, even as she was in the first trimester of yet another pregnancy.

Like many of the women of her time, Catalina would prove to be strong and resilient.  She and Cayetano would have 17 children in all, 11 of whom survived into adulthood.

Catalina and Cayetano Huesca and sons (left to right) Gilberto, Eduardo, and Enrique,
in front of their home, Orizaba, 1913.

Enrique’s letter hints at his own trials and tribulations.  We know little about him except that he was born between 1847 and 1850 in Puebla, Mexico, to Jose Calletano de la Trinidad Huesca and Josefa Rodriguez.  A devout Catholic, he followed in the family trade as a carpenter, crafting interior furnishings for the cathedral and churches of Puebla, a city known for having as many churches as there are days in a year.  He taught his children to do good for others but to keep their acts to themselves, often reminding them to “never let the right hand know what the left hand is doing.”  This was a refrain that his children and their children would carry with them all their lives.

Born at the end of Mexico’s civil reform war, Enrique lived through some of the most turbulent eras of his country’s history.  Before he had even reached his teen years, he undoubtedly witnessed the Battle of Puebla between the French and Mexican armies.  He would have rejoiced wildly with his family at the Mexican victory on May 5, 1862, only to be devastated barely a year later when the French regrouped and defeated the Mexicans in a second battle at Puebla and went on to topple and replace the Mexican government with what Napoleon III referred to as his “Mexican Empire.”  He and his parents would have discussed the resurgence of the deposed Mexican president, Benito Juarez, who with the backing of President Abraham Lincoln, reclaimed his government and had the puppet Emperor Maximilian Hapsburg executed by firing squad in 1867.

The uncertainty of the times and their severe impact on the nation would continue for many years as subsequent regimes rose and fell one after the other, culminating in the Revolution of 1910 and indelibly scarring the psyche of the Mexican people with the ironic realization that the only constancy in their lives was that  – save their faith in God and their love for one another – nothing, including happiness, could either be certain or last forever.

Next:  Sentimental Sunday – “Do Not Give In” Part Two

Copyright ©  2012  Linda Huesca Tully