Annie Oakley and her mom

My grandmother’s on my mind today, as this was the day she died twenty six years ago. Her name was Anne, which I’m sure is one of the reasons St. Anne feels so grandmotherly to me (that and, you know, the fact that she is The Grandmother of God. Nbd). 😂

Not only was her name Anne, but her married name was Oakley. Yes indeedy, my grandmother was Annie Oakley! I had this book growing up:

annie_oakley

And my grandmother was similarly blond and blue-eyed, so she and Annie Oakley were always intertwined in my mind! 😄 I called her Mimi, and we were quite close.

Her last birthday card to me. 💕 I always loved her handwriting.

Anyway, I was thinking about her today and thought I’d enlist you all in helping find out more info about her mom. My mom and I have been looking for a long time and haven’t come up with much, and you all have so much life experience and relationships that could lead to the info we’re hoping to find! So here’s her story as we know it:

She was brought to what is now known as New York Foundling, an orphanage founded in 1869 by the Sisters of Charity, in August 1910 by a woman who said she was her mother. My grandmother was about two weeks old, and her mother signed a paper saying she’d return for the baby in one year (she never returned). She signed her name “Mary Ferguson” and gave the baby’s name as “Anne Lewis,” and said that the baby had been “born at home,” giving the address as 112 West 62nd Street. The Sisters had her baptized by a Dominican priest, Fr. Wilson, O.P., from nearby St. Vincent Ferrer church. All this info was given to us by the NY Foundling from their records.

Mom and I decided to find 112 W. 62nd St. on a trip to the City, only to discover that Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus is now on the site. I did some more research and determined that the Twelfth Regiment Armory was on that site in 1910 (between west 61 and west 62 on the west side of Columbus ave; built in 1886 and demolished in 1958), so I don’t know what that means — a bogus address probably? I did look at the census for 112 EAST 62nd St., just in case, which was a residence, but no Mary Ferguson or anyone by the last name Lewis living there. There were a bunch of apartment hotels close by 112 W. 62nd St., the Century Theatre was a block away on the same street, and several houses of prostitution in the surrounding blocks, all of which paint a picture, to me, of an area in which a girl could easily find herself unmarried, pregnant, and alone. Thank goodness she knew to go to the Sisters! My grandmother was adopted at the age of two and went on to have a life that led to my grandfather. 💕

I’ve spent countless hours online, both on Ancestry.com (I have many many times gone through the 1910 census records looking for any Ferguson or Lewis at that address [doesn’t exist in the census] or surrounding streets) and doing internet searches of various kinds. I’ve looked at census and immigration records for Mary Ferguson — it doesn’t help that it’s got to be one of the most common names in NYC at that time! I even looked at the signatures on a bunch of immigration records, trying to match them up with the the signature Mary Ferguson left on the document she signed at the Foundling (no luck).

One fun bit of info is that I hired a professional genealogist who found that there was a 22-year-old named Mary Ferguson living at the Foundling, listed as a servant, when the census was taken in 1910! Could be a coincidence, but maybe not! I never thought to look at their census records, I love knowing that bit of info. So if she was 22 in April 1910, she would have been born in 1888 or 1889. The genealogist didn’t find any other info, but did confirm that the 12th Regiment Armory was at that spot, though its address would have been Columbus Ave. as its front faced that way.

It would be amazing if any of you read this and thought, “Hey! That sounds like this story I heard from my family tree!” Or maybe you’ll think to mention it to someone in casual conversation who will perk up and say, “That’s my great-grandmother’s exact story!” You never know!

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17 thoughts on “Annie Oakley and her mom

  1. Wow, what a touching story. Good luck in your search for more information about your family. My grandmother’s been on my mind this week as well. Her birthday was February 24.

    Liked by 2 people

      • My grandmother would have been 113. Her name was Catherine Antoinette but like all of her siblings she went by her middle name. I believe that she didn’t even know that her first name wasn’t Antoinette until adulthood. Her parents were German immigrants so I have no idea why they picked the French Antoinette. I do know that my great-grandfather had a devotion to St. Anthony and if she were a boy she would have been named Anthony. Her family called her Nettie. Since naming my own children I’ve wondered if perhaps they went with the French Antoinette because they liked the nickname Nettie. I understand that her husband didn’t care for Nettie and always called her by her full name which I believed he pronounced without a hint of a French accent so it was more like An-ton-ette. My middle name is Antoinette after her. When she received that news, she apparently told my mom that they should have used Ann! Antoinette is a mouthful.

        Grandmother’s are the best! I credit her intercession with my parents return to the Church and my conversion. All of which happened in the years following her death in 1996.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. A lovely telling of a story of a sweet little baby whose Ancestors never, in this life, had the blessing of knowing what a wonderful woman, wife, and momma she grew up to be! Thank God her descendants enjoyed that blessing! Sacred Heart of Jesus, please bless Annie!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Have you and your mother tried DNA testing? 23andme or Ancestry.com would probably put you in touch with genetic relatives and give you an idea of family surnames. I have a similar family mystery about a great grandfather who disappeared in 1923. I am still hoping 23andme will turn up a long lost relative in Finland who will tell me more about him. The rest of my family tree is pretty well documented and the genetic relatives I’ve found at 23andme are often connected back as far as 10 or 11 generations.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Did you ever try to research the military units that resided at the Armory at that time period? A quick search shows it would have been the 12th infantry residing/stationed there at that time.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I would also recommend a DNA test through Ancestry. I had all four of my grandparents take DNA tests a few years ago, and it only becomes more rewarding as you find more cousins to share stories and pictures with. The ethnicity profile can also be fun, especially when something shows up you weren’t expecting!

    If any of your grandmother’s children are available to test, I would start there. Say your grandmother has a half-sibling out there who’s taken a DNA test. The match between a half-aunt/uncle and half-niece/nephew would be stronger, and the connection will be easier to figure out. Good luck searching! DNA testing has reunited so many families, and I’m sure there’s something good in store for your family too. 🙂

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  6. I’m so touched by this story. Praise God for the strength of your great-grandmother to put her child in the Sisters’ hands when she could not care for her. From what I know of the history, most of the parents who left children at this and like institutions did so deliberately for the good of the child and had the intention of reclaiming the child, even when that did not end up happening.

    I wonder what the DNA testing would turn up, just on the possibility that one or both of the names could also have been false. Perhaps the mother was in such a bad situation that she did not want to be findable at the time and gave a false name for herself. Maybe it would lead you to other related names.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I don’t know if you ever watch Finding Your Roots on PBS but it is super interesting. Ll Cool J went on the show and did the DNA testing and learned that his mother was adopted! He grew up knowing his grandparents and they never told his mother that she was adopted. They were able to use his DNA to find the mother’s family (I actually can’t remember anything about the mother’s mother, but I do know for sure they learned about the father and his family). They also ended up meeting one of his mother’s siblings – that she never knew existed. Wouldn’t it be so awesome if you had the same good results?! Please keep us posted. I love ancestry type things and have done lots of research. I am an adult convert but I have been able to take my family history back to the New France colony in Quebec. It was so neat to see my great grandmother × 10 left money with her will for masses to be said for her soul. Makes me feel connected to her, even across 350+ years ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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