Will ever find out where my maternal grandmother went, and why? Helen Lois Palmer was born in Hoosick Falls, NY on 28 August 1891. She was baptized 7 August 1892 at the Methodist church in Hoosick Falls. Helen was counted on the 1900 census with her family, including parents Orlando W. Palmer and Libbie Winn, in Hoosick Falls. She graduated from Hoosick Falls High School 21 June 1907, a year later than her twin sister, Hazel.
Helen has been delicately described to me as a kind of a black sheep, she apparently didn’t fall in line, and didn’t exactly do what her parents expected. In any event, she attended the Troy (NY) Business college, and became a bookkeeper or office worker. On the back of a grade report containing her name, which was tucked into the Orlando Palmer family bible, is a note which says: on Monday March 17, 1919 a son was born to Helen L Palmer Hill, weighting 6 pounds. Edwin Palmer, my mother’s cousin, who owns the bible, said he though it was Orlando’s handwriting. Helen had married George Gardner Hill on 3 July 1918 in Hoosick Falls.
In 1920, Helen and her son, George G. Hill, were counted in the household of her father, back in Hoosick Falls. She apparently divorced Hill within the next several years. That son, know to his family, and the world as Donald William Hill, served in the US Marine Corps between 1939 and 1941, married, and passed away on 4 April 1985 in Lake Elsinore, Riverside County, California leaving 2 daughters. I haven’t been able to find or contact them, and his wife is also deceased. Donald’s obituary is missing from the file at the funeral home, but his death record states his mother was Helen Herrington. That makes sense as the name his wife, who was the informant on the certificate, might have known his mother by.
Helen married David H. Herrington sometime before my mother was born in 1926. In 1929, Herrington, Mrs. Helen L is listed as a resident on Spring Street in the Hoosick Falls directory. In 1930, the family is listed on the census in Bennington, Bennington County Vermont:
Line 48-51, 204 River Street, dwelling 225, family 261
Harrington, David H., head, renting for $12, no radio, male, white, 38, married, first married at age 21, not in school, can read and write, born New York, father born New Jersey, mother born New York, speaks English, houseman hotel, wages, is actually employed, not a veteran.
Helen L., wife, female, white, 38, married, first married at age 26, not in school, can read and write, born New York, father born Vermont, mother born New York, speaks English, no occupation.
Marjorie H., daughter, female, white, 3, single, not in school, born New York, both parents born New York, no occupation.
Hill, Donald, step-son, male, white, 11, single, attending school, can read and write, born New York, both parents born New York, speaks English, no occupation.
On 13 March 1931, Herrington died, apparently of a massive stroke. He was 39 years old. His death certificate states the cause as Cerebral hemorrhage. He was the son of Martin L. Herrington and Catherine/Katherine/Kate Knapp, both born in NY. I have quite a bit of documented information on the Herrington family, but Martin L. is a brick wall, just like his daughter-in-law, Helen.
But Helen, darn her. She farmed my mother out to foster care, some kind of unofficial placement I really haven’t found out much about. Mom mentioned many homes, none permanent, and the one home she left in her teens, striking out on her own. A cousin thinks Helen remained in Bennington, at least for a while. She also remembers a letter, written by Donald to her father, when Helen died. But the letter went unanswered, cannot be found, and no one knows for sure when or where Helen lived and died after 1931.
There are exactly 17 women named Helen, who were born on 28 August 1891, listed in the Social Security Death Index. Of the 17, only 2 seem to have a connection with New York or Vermont. One of those, Helen Potwine, applied for her SS card in Vermont. She was the wife of a soldier named Roy Potwine and is buried with him in a military cemetery on Long Island, NY – her last residence was Essex, NJ. I’m looking for her obituary, or her husband’s, or both right now. Lacking that, I will send for her Social Security Card application to try to confirm her identy. Perhaps I can put the long mystery of Helen’s life in some kind of framework.
The sad part, the breakthrough about Helen comes after my Mom’s death last year. Mom was haunted her entire life by her abandonment at age four. Perhaps it would have given her some peace to have known even a little about her mother.