Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Letitia Olive Nelson (1880-1941) lived abroad

You learn so much from reading old newspaper death notices. Often, they fill in blanks that you had for one or more ancestors.

Recently, I asked the Halifax Public Library to check for newspaper death notices for my grandmother's four siblings. Unfortunately, they found a notice for only one of them, but what great information it revealed.

I had been able to find no record of Letitia Olive Nelson after the 1901 census, when she was recorded as living with her parents in Truro, Nova Scotia.

I knew years ago from an aunt and uncle that Letitia had never married, and that she had a strong personality. Okay, I recall the words battle axe being used. This was all that I knew.

The newspaper notice that was in my mail this week reveals that like my grandmother, Letitia was also a registered nurse, and that she had worked in the U.S. for 30 years. Armed with this new information, back I went into research mode. I quickly found city directories and census listings showing that she had lived in Washington DC since soon after the 1901 Canadian census. I also found passenger lists recording her ship passages between Nova Scotia and New York through the years, as she returned for family visits.

According to censuses, Letitia was a nurse "on her own account", perhaps what we call today freelance. Did that mean she was a private nurse?

Clearly, Letitia was an independent woman, something still unusual for that time. What drew her to Washington? Were there relatives? Many Nova Scotians went to Massachusetts or Maine for work. 'Twas ever thus. These were closer to Nova Scotia than Washington. It was unusual to settle in Washington.

What sort of life did Letitia lead? Did she have adventures? Washington must have been an interesting place to be, through the First World War and then the Roaring Twenties and Prohibition. Despite spending 30 years living there, Letitia decided to return to Nova Scotia when she retired at the relatively early age of about 52.

I wonder why Letitia chose to be buried in Wolfville, rather than Truro, with her family. Perhaps this was because she predeceased both her parents, Charlotte and Elias, like her sister Loie (Lophemia) Nelson Purdy (1891-1930).

I always feel a sense of satisfaction with finds like these. It is like finding a missing relative and bringing them back among family.

You'll note that the notice here identifies my grandmother as Mrs Joseph Dougherty. This was because for reasons unknown to me, my grandfather John James Dougherty (1879-1953) had always been called Joe.

The never ending story continues....

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