Saturday, April 26, 2008

Keep Talking, Frances Hellen

So, if you read yesterday's reminder about Fannie, you know how moved Starr Ann was about finding her stone the way we did. In the six months since then, Starr Ann teamed up with Cap'n Dyke to coax some details of Fannie's life from the available records.

They went for the longest time without coming up with anything. Then one evening, Jodie and I were just finishing up supper when Starr Ann came home. She stood in the middle of the kitchen floor, shaking so bad she could barely talk.

"We have her name. We have her real name," was what she finally got out.

Jodie said, "Whose name, Sweetheart?"

"Fannie's. Th'Cap'n and I found her. We found her. Her names, first and middle, are Frances Hellen. Isn't that amazing?"

That's when Jodie and I filled up with so much emotion, we started shaking too.

I said, "Frances Hellen."

Jodie said, "Frances Hellen."

Then Starr Ann spelled it out, told us about the unusual two l's in Hellen. Jodie asked how they could be so sure, and Starr Ann showed us the copy of Fannie's birth record Cap'n Dyke had found. It's actually a listing of births. But Frances Hellen is on it alright, with the correct last name - and same birthdate as is on the tombstone. It's really her. Here's a closeup of the whole document:

The name "Hellen" is interesting.
Hellen (Ancient Greek: Ἕλλην, Héllēn) was the mythological patriarch of the Hellenes, the son of Deucalion (or sometimes Zeus) and Pyrrha, brother of Amphictyon and father of Aeolus, Xuthus, and Dorus. His name is also another name for Greek, meaning a person of Greek descent or pertaining to Greek culture, and the source of the adjective "Hellenic".

And here's a zoom on Fannie's line, which is real clear when it's not digitized like this:

Exciting as it was to finally know Fannie's full name, Starr Ann and Cap'n Dyke said it was knowing Fannie's daddy's name that really got them some traction. If you look real hard at the actual record, you can see that her father was Silas and her mother was Rebecca. Silas, being the father of many children, and being a man, left a few tracks.

Fannie's daddy was a young preacher and stone mason when he came to Kentucky. He fought in the Civil War with the Confederates, and one of Fannie's brothers was also old enough to join up. Her brother was captured by Yankees and held prisoner for a while, but eventually traded back for a Union soldier.

Just think, using the dates 1860 to 1865 for our American Civil War, little Frances Hellen was 8 years old when all that hostility and turmoil came crashing into her life. She'd be 13, with just 8 more years to live, before the war ended.

Fannie shows up on the 1860 Census as 8-year-old Frances, daughter of Silas.

But then something real weird happens with the 1870 Census. There's no Fannie, although we know she didn't die until 1873. Starr Ann and Cap'n Dyke had to do some real detective work to figure that part out, but they did it. After going over and over and over the records, Cap'n Dyke noticed a new name in the family. All of a sudden there was an eighteen-year-old named Harry among all of Fannie's brothers and sisters. That was wrong. There'd been no mention of a Harry before. Checking further, they discovered that Harry was not only the same age as Fannie, Harry was also female, and had the reported occupation of "keeping house for her father Silas and brother Charles." That Harry on the 1870 Census was really our Fannie.

Well, we got all excited, thinking that at some point Fannie, with whom we feel such connection, and whom we suspect could have been lesbian, somehow started getting herself called Harry. But then Th'Cap'n uncovered something else that kinda conflicts with that hope, and is prolly more likely. On the original census document, the one that got copied into the general list, the handwriting isn't very clear. It's easy to see "Fannie," as "Harry." So our Harry may have only been a transcription error. But even if it happened that way, the family may have noticed it and started calling her that. A later child is actually named Harry. Lots of mystery still surrounding the whole Harry part, but Starr Ann and Th'Cap'n are working on it.

April 4th was Frances Hellen's 156th birthday. We all visited the quiet woods where her stone lies, broken off at the base and probably not exactly above her remains anymore. We stood there for the longest moment, each of us lost in private communion with a woman we'll not meet in this life.

Finally, Starr Ann looked up through the trees and said, "Keep talking, Frances Hellen, I swear we're listening."

Cap'n Dyke said, "And you, too, Silas." She figures since Fannie's stone is by far the most elaborate of any around, and since her daddy was a stone mason, it stands to reason that Silas, crushed by what was probably the sudden death of his daughter (the broken rose bud surely symbolizes a life quickly cut short), put all his love and craftsmanship into making her stone. There he was, this grieving father, pouring his heart out onto a slab of rock, declaring to those who would pass this way in the future, that his daughter had once been the joy of someone's life. And there we were, receiving his message well over a century later.

Fannie's stone rests upside down these days, as we attempt to stave off weather damage until we find the proper methods and channels for preserving it. So we laid the rose on its smooth back.

Although there are death certificates for all her siblings, even those who lived just a day or two, there's no record of Fannie's passing. Starr Ann and Th'Cap'n are now on a mission to figure out how Fannie died.