When I learned my great-grandfather Jacob Agin had married a German immigrant named Tillie, I wondered how I’d ever find her maiden name or who her parents were. But I soon happened upon census records showing that my grandfather Harry Agin and his sister Ada each lived for a short time with a German-born grandmother named Mary Vannote. This was certainly Tillie’s mother. But was Vannote the maiden name?
I know that Mary came to the United States in the 1880s. There are conflicting dates given in the census records (either 1884 or 1888). To make matters even more confusing, her daughter’s census records give her year of arrival as either 1880 or 1883. Did they come to this country separately? Or were their recollections faulty?
In the 1910 census, we find Mary Vannote living with her husband William Vannote on New Road in South Brunswick, New Jersey, in a home they own. Their 15 year old granddaughter Ada Agin lived with them too. William was 60 years old and Mary was 55. But William was born in New Jersey, not Germany. And the couple had only been married for seven years – long after Tillie was born.
So we know that William was not Tillie’s father. The census record says this was a first marriage for both. Either that was wrong and Mary was once married to the man who was Tillie’s father – or Mary had a child out of wedlock.
In the 1920 census, we find Mary as a widow living with her 19 year old grandson (my grandfather) Harry Agin in a house on Aqueduct Road in South Brunswick. Mary owns the house. She is now 65 years old and doesn’t work but Harry brings in money from a factory job. Mary is now a naturalized citizen.
Beyond those two years, I could not find Mary Vannote in any other census. The 1900 census seemed like a logical place to look but what was Mary’s last name before 1903, before she married William Vannote?
Since my search for Mary was stalled, I turned my focus to William Vannote. He does appear in several censuses starting in 1860. From those records, I learned that William was born around 1850 in Princeton, New Jersey, the son of Peter and Margaret Vannote. William’s father worked as a sawyer.
In 1870, when he was 20 years old, William lived with the family of James H. Martin, the keeper of a tollgate in Shrewsbury, New Jersey. He could not read or write. In 1880, when he was 30, he worked as a sash and blind maker in South Brunswick.
I couldn’t find William in the 1900 census so my search came to another dead end – until I did some rooting around in the archives of the Trenton Times, which are digitized and searchable on ancestry.com. Searching for Vannote, I stumbled across an amazing little article, dated October 21, 1903, that cleared up the story of Mary Vannote, provided the missing maiden name for Tillie Agin and tossed in a couple of other surprises.
Where to begin? It was great to have confirmation that my great-great-grandmother had a first husband named Miller who died. This was clearly Tillie’s father in Germany which means I finally had a maiden name for her (which I later confirmed from another source).
Mary’s marriage to George Hendricks was completely unexpected. How long were they together and why did they divorce? And why on earth did George have to retire to a life of seclusion in the mountains afterward? Was this such a big scandal? Was he just a drama queen?
And, finally, what is one to make of William Vannote? Why did people call him a “woman hater”? Was this code for gay? Was he an extreme man’s man? And is it really possible he did not speak to a woman for 37 years?
Mary Miller Hendricks Vannote must have been a remarkable person. I’m picturing a 1903 version of Zsa Zsa Gabor. She clearly made an impression on people. I’d love to know more about her.