Wednesday, May 6, 2015

My Genealogical Obsession

Ok, some folks refer to stuff like this as the "Family Skeletons in the Closet".
Here's the big one in my father's family.

My father's father, Francis "Frank" Bowman was born 1909 in Bridgeport, CT.
I met the man in 1973 for the first time and he died in 1978 in Virginia while I was away at college in Maryland.
This man came into my life in 1973 and his life story and it's mysteries is my genealogical obsession.

As I've posted before(see HERE)the man who I called grandfather while growing up was "Potty Dave".  He was the man I knew as my grandfather.
Long after "Potty Dave" died in 1966 I was told that my father's dad, Frank, had died years ago and "Potty Dave" was my paternal grandmother's second husband.

Imagine my surprise when in 1973 when my parents sat me down for an "announcement" and said that dad's father, Frank, was alive and well and we were going to visit him tomorrow.

That's the year I got to meet my "real" grandfather.

Here is a photo of Frank Bowman taken during WWII.  He had this taken to send home to his parents and siblings.

As I mentioned in a genealogy post before, I was told by a cousin of my father's a few years ago that Frank ran away from home at the age of 16 to join the military in 1925 or 1926.

If you remember my previous post HERE Frank Foster Bowman, Jr. the oldest son of Frank Foster Bowman, Sr. and Catherine O'Brien was born and raised in Bridgeport, CT.  In 1925, when Frank, Jr. was 16 years old the family had moved to Upstate NY(Orange County).  They may have been other factors at work here but being 16 years old means chafing under your parents rules and being 16 years old and having to relocate from your school and your friends and everything you've ever known means Frank, Jr. may have had a hard time adjusting to all these changes.  Plus when they moved Frank lost his maternal grandfather as well, who had lived with the family while in CT.

1925 was a year of changes for my grandfather.

Here's a photo I have of Frank, Jr. taken 1 year later in 1926.....

The back of the photo notes that this picture was taken at the Saint Helena Training Station Marine Barracks in Berkley Virginia(Berkley no longer exists as an independent town, but is a section of Norfolk, Virginia, where the branches of the Elizabeth River meet).
Frank was 16 or 17 years old in that photo and a long way from New Windsor, NY.

I found the US Marines Muster Roll and it says he enlisted in July of 1925 and mustered out in 1927.
He only served as far as I know for a 2 year hitch(he enlisted during peace time), so he was out by 1928.

The next time I can find Frank Bowman in an official document is 1930 in the Federal Census for that year.  He is married to my grandmother, Catherine McCarthy, and they are living in Manhattan, NYC, and they state they have been married for 2 years which means they got married in 1928.

I have no clue about Frank's movements between the time he left the service and he hooked up with my grandmother.
And this is driving me nuts!
You see, I can't figure out how they were in the same vicinity at the same time and actually met.

My grandmother was born in Cambridge, MA and lived there with her parents until she married in 1928.
The timing of when my grandfather was discharged from the service is right(1928)so he must have made his way to the Boston area shortly after leaving the Marines.
Frank grew up in Bridgeport, CT until his parents moved to New Windsor, NY(Orange County)in 1925, and he ran away soon after that.

If he was discharged and went to the Boston metro area in 1928 and he married Catherine McCarthy in that same year it's pretty clear that my grandparents had a VERY short courtship.
But I didn't even know where they got married until last week when I found this....

The Massachusetts Marriage Index with my grandmother listed as being married in Cambridge, MA in 1928.  My grandfather is listed in the MA Index too as being married in Somerville, MA in 1928.
At first this confused me but Cambridge and Somerville border each other so one of the clerks may have been confused.

So we know Frank Bowman somehow was in the New England/Boston area between his release from the Marines in the Summer of 1927 and the date in 1928 when he married Catherine McCarthy.

And by 1930 they were living together in New York City.  In November of 1931 their first child, my father, was born.

The next record I have found is from 1932.....

In March of 1932, when my father was 4 months old, Francis Foster Bowman Jr. joined the NYC National Guard.  He was assigned to Company M, of the 106th Infantry....or rather the predecessor of the 106th Infantry since this was peace time.

This record goes on to say that Francis(using his nickname of Frank)was honorably discharged in March of 1935 after 3 years.  He reenlisted for 3 more 1 year terms, finally separating from service in 1938.

He was living at 4108 8th Ave. Brooklyn, NY when he enlisted in 1932 and had a change of address to 236 51st St. Brooklyn, NY sometime between leaving 8th Ave. and moving to 5920 5th Ave. Brooklyn in 1935.

The move from 5th Ave. to that 8th Ave. location close to Sunset Park was 1.4 miles.
4108 8th Ave. was the midst of what is now Brooklyn's China Town.......

Their apartment was in the building with the green awning.
 The move from 8th Ave. to 51st St. was another 1.3 miles and closer to the docks on the Hudson River.

Their apartment was in the building with the blue doorway to the right of this photo.

The move in 1935 to 5920 5th Ave. Brooklyn is where the Frank & Catherine Bowman family seems to have stayed long term......if you can call 6 years long term.

There is also this record

Frank Bowman was awarded a service medal in 1935 for Recruiting.  He went on to be awarded 2 Bars on this in 1937.
He is listed as holding the rank of 1st Sargent in Company M of the 106th Infantry National Guard.

The 106th Infantry National Guard was based at the Bedford Atlantic Armory in Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.

Today that building is owned by the city of Brooklyn and serves as a men's homeless shelter among other functions.

And I recently unearthed this photo of my grandfather taken in the 1930's in what I suspect is his National Guard uniform.....

In the next Federal Census, for 1940, Frank Bowman, his wife Catherine and their two children are still living at 5920 5th Ave. in Brooklyn, NY.  Frank is working as an electrical foreman at a Construction Company, Catherine is keeping house, my father, Frank Junior is in second grade and my father's little sister is 5 years old.

World War II started in 1939 in Europe the year before the US 1940 Federal Census.
By late 1941 American knew she would be joining in the fight directly.

On December 7th, 1941 the Japanese attacked the US base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaiian Islands.
On December 8th, 1941 the US and Britain declared war on Japan.
On December 11th, 1941 Hitler declared war on the US.
And on December 31st, 1941 my grandfather, at the age of 32, the sole support of a wife and 2 kids, enlisted as a Private in the US Army to go fight in World War II.

As you can see on this index page of WWII enlistments he says he had 2 years of high school(he left school when he ran away to join the Marines back in 1925)and he says he has NO Dependents(Single without Dependents).

He obviously lied.  I don't know if it was because at his "advanced" age and being with dependents they might not have let him enlist OR if he told them no dependents so they didn't hold part of his service pay to send to his wife(which would have been a mean and unconscionable thing to do in my humble opinion).
We will most probably never know his motives here but the record clearly states what he said and did.

On January 26th, 1942 the 1st US troops began arriving in Great Britain.
I can bet you my grandfather was among those first troops sent to England being as he already had a history of military service and he enlisted 3 weeks after the US declared war on Germany.

At some point in my youth, after the death of Potty Dave, the man I thought was my grandfather, I had been told in an offhand way that my "real" grandfather was dead.

Then back in 1973, when told that the real grandfather was alive we children where also told that, like the old clique, "Your grandfather went out one day for a pack of cigarettes and never came back."

The story my father told was he just left one day without explanation and never came back.  Now my father had just turned 10 years old the month before when his father left to go into the war.
So I am sure it felt to him like his dad had abandoned him.  And in reality, after the war was over, Frank Bowman never went home to his wife and kids and he actually DID abandon them.

My father had great anger over what his father did and I don't blame him for feeling so hurt and angry and wanting nothing to do with him after that.
He wasn't around to be a father when my father was a teen, and show him how to grow up and be a good man.

Later on I found out third hand that while my grandfather did leave his family, his wife and their children did see/have contact with my grandfather's parents and siblings back in NY.

I don't know if any of my grandfather's family supported my grandmother and their kids but I do know that for as long as I was aware my grandmother worked.  Even after she remarried to my step-grandfather, she worked.
She was a strong woman who had basically been on her own with 2 small children since the very beginning of 1942.

Until 1973 and his visit to us in Virginia, my father had been estranged from his father since he deserted his family back there in Brooklyn when he was a 10 year old boy.  That's 32 years of hurt and anger.

I came to find out in 1973, when I was finally told of his existence, that my grandfather at some point had tried to get back in touch with my father but my father had refused any contact with him.  But my mother had, behind my father's back, been in contact surreptitiously with my grandfather for at least 6 years to that point in 1973.  My mother is the one who pushed my father to let his father, our grandfather, back into our lives.  And in 1973 my father acquiesced.
My grandmother, Catherine, did not have contact with her now ex-husband Frank, but my Aunt(my father's sister)did as her father, Frank, had also attempted to renew their relationship.

I recently found a letter that my grandfather had written to my mother, among the papers my brother found and gave to me back in January when I was down in Virginia visiting him.
It's dated 20 October 1967.  I was 8 years old at that time.  I was thinking about perhaps what prompted my mother to write to my grandfather behind my father's back(which was a very dangerous thing for her to do due to my father's control issues over her).
My mother had just lost her own mother the month before this in September 1967.  It's possible she was feeling that life is too short and it was time to build a bridge?  I can't be certain but I like to think this was her motivation.

Anyway,  Frank, my grandfather wrote a 7 page letter back to my mother, written on Department of the Navy, Naval Air Systems Command, Washington, D.C. letterhead.  From the "gist" of the letter this was the first time my mother contacted my grandfather and had sent him some photos of his grandchildren(me and my brothers).  Frank said he had some photos of us already he had been given by my Aunt(my father's sister)and by Frank's youngest brother, Bill.  My grandfather enclosed a photo of himself taken in 1966 on a trip to Carmel, CA inside the envelope with the letter.

Frank goes on to mention he was glad we had stopped to visit his brother Bill and his family while we were on Summer vacation.  This is a trip I have vague memories of, where we stopped for a night somewhere in upstate NY at some family relations house on our way to New England to camp-out.
Now I know who exactly we were visiting and when!

He talked a bit about my Great Grandfather, Frank Foster Bowman, Senior and how he was not doing well physically and had been living with his daughter Mary Bowman Brown in Staunton, VA.
He also talked about his active life, still working at 59 for the Army and traveling the world to such places as the Aleutian Islands, Kodiak Alaska, Iceland and Midway Island.

Near the end he got to the "meat and potatoes" of the letter for me when he said.....

"Carole, I know this isn't any of your concern but I must say it. Twenty seven years ago I made the biggest mistake of my life, I abandon(ed) my family.  I've paid for that mistake ten thousand times over....."

The tears just starting rolling down my face when I read that.

He goes on to say that it took real courage to write those letters to his 2 children 2 years ago, which means he wrote my father asking for forgiveness for what he had done back in 1965.
Evidently my father never responded nor initiated contact with his father after that but my mother had gotten my grandfather's address and probably prompted by her own mother's death the month before replied to my grandfather 2 years after he first tried to reach out to his grown children.

Years later, after I was grown, my mother told me that there had been many letters in the 6 years between her first letter to Frank in 1967 and when we were told of his existence in 1973.
They had also met during the day for lunch while my father was at work and we were in school, all without telling my father about this contact.   We lived near 2 large military installations, Norfolk Naval Base and Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, VA so he was often in the area for work.
I still have this little figurine my mother gave me at some point back around 1970.

I found out 3 years later that it was from my grandfather and not her.  Mom couldn't tell me because my father would have flipped out had he found out she was seeing and contacting my grandfather behind his back.

I'll continue this missive next time because there are even more secrets to tell!




  1. My goodness, that was a lot, and I admit that I didn't read every last word (but a lot of them!) I'll leave a simplistic comment:

  2. What a great post! I am pretty sure every family has a skeleton or 2. I know mine does!

  3. Ahhhh family secrets! I was dealt a huge blow last year .... after being an only child my whole life (and HATING it) I was told I had a 1/2 brother. Whaaaaaaaat???

  4. What an interesting story. A real life soap opera.


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