The Lost Ancestor

Being the Story of A


Loie and I have a little saying about things lost and found. It derives from looking for our cats, when it's time to take them to the vet, or when we try to make sure they're inside when we'e going to be away from the house for any length of time. Cats are amazingly good at keeping quiet and still, and ignoring what's going on around them. So they often turn up in places we'e sure we've searched, tucked back in a closet or behind a chair, hiding, as we like to say, in plain sight...

When I was young, my siblings and I were told an intriguing, if distressing, history of our paternal lineage. Our great-grandfather, known to the family as Albert Roswell Edgett, was lost in the mists of time, and we knew nothing of our Edgett family history. It was well known that Albert R.'s wife, Ada Mai Maloy, was the daughter of William Chambers Maloy, a respected Presbyterian minister, Confederate chaplain and patriarch. There were several differing versions of how something went awry between Albert R. and Ada.

Our mother said Albert took the family to New Orleans, but that Ada returned to her father's house with their children. Our father said he heard that Albert ran off, then wrote asking for money. Which version was true, or if both had some elements of truth, or if the real history was yet another story, we never knew. It was certainly the case that Albert and Ada's children were raised by Ada in their grandfather's house in Baltimore. That was never in question. But from some early date, Albert R. was gone, persona non grata to the Maloys, and nothing more was known of his subsequent history.

And, so implacable was their disfavor that all memory of Albert R.'s background and family was expunged from memory. We knew nothing of our patrilineal descent. The name of Edgett began with the scoundrel Albert R. Edgett, and that was that. At least, according to family legend. The truth turns out to be a bit more convoluted.

This story is inextricably woven with the story of the Rescued Papers, so, although that history is written elsewhere, some of it it needs to be repeated here.

When we were teenagers and kids in the 1960s, elderly relatives began to pass away, and a pile of papers and photographs'Maloy and Streett and Baldwin and Ruff papers and memorabilia'accumulated at our family home in Glyndon. My Aunt Elizabeth even sent me a few packets of stuff, which I added to the other materials. Apparently as the eldest Edgett male, I was being elected to be the inheritor of this mish mosh of scrapbooks, disintegrating albums of unidentified photos and notebooks of family genealogy. It may be that I had shown some interest in our odd family lore: the story of how our ancestor John Streett came to be called ‚─˙Colonel John Streett who led the retreat,‚─ the sad story of the loss of the bone handled carving set from the farm in Harford county. So I did glance over the materials piling up on a shelf in our family home in Glyndon, in Baltimore County, wondering if anyone would ever show any concern for them. Our mother was more interested in the old things than was anyone else, and she showed me some of her favorite tidbits: the notebook with the story of the ghostly cavalier, supposedly an ancestor of ours, and the old recipe for liniment another ancestor cooked up.

But missing from all this old stuff was anything about the legend that most interested me: that of our paternal great grandfather, Albert Roswell Edgett. We were told nothing was known of him, other than the fact he had married Ada May Maloy, and then, after fathering our grandfather and great aunts, had disappeared. All knowledge of him was thereafter expunged from family memory, and we knew nothing of our Edgett ancestry. Apparently that was always going to be that.

I of course assumed there would be plenty of time to wangle some older family members into doing something about organizing the papers and notebooks and albums, or thought that perhaps if no one else cared about it, I might not either. After all, if Albert R. and our Edgett heritage was lost, the rest of the old family legends and ancestors were amusing, but hardly important.

Imagine then my surprise when some years ago, my mother showed me a box of heirloom textiles: quilt pieces, embroidery and stitching, each piece having notes pinned to them, identifying the makers as Basheba Edgett and wife of Isaiah Edgett and wife of Horatio Nelson Edgett and the dates of their creation in the early nineteenth century. She had been to Pennsylvania with, as I remember it, our Aunt Elizabeth to get this collection. Aunt Elizabeth had long been the keeper of what family history we knew. My memory is that mother told me they had been to a bank, and gotten the textiles from a safe deposit box. Thinking about it now, that seems a little off, given that the collection fills a plastic tote the size of a smallish laundry basket.

In any case, astounded at having some link to a supposedly unknown past, I asked her about the story of Albert R. and the family name. She simply said, "Oh, yes, there are Edgetts in Pennsylvania." As if we'd known that all along. I didn't press her on the confusion. She seemed a bit defensive about being called out on telling two conflicting stories, and I thought back then there would be plenty of time to get it all straightened out. We never did.

As these things often go, other chores and projects intervened. In time, I eventually just forgot about it, and our mother passed away without my getting the "zact words" about Pennsylvania Edgetts or the trip to pick up the inheritance.

When the family home in Glyndon was being emptied, I brought home the textiles along with the rest of the ancestral memorabilia, assuming I'd call Aunt Elizabeth for the story of how we got the textiles. I was dismayed to hear Aunt Elizabeth deny having had anything to do with it. Of course by then she was in her last illness, and may have forgotten, but she was perfectly lucid and very definite: she knew nothing of a box of Edgett ancestor needlework. Calls to friends of our mother, Dottie Hammond, Ebba von Saleski and Barbie Carr, were all answered the same way. No one knew anything about the alleged trip to Pennsylvania. Dottie Hammond doubted it could have been Aunt Elizabeth who had gone, because Elizabeth was so frail. But while I can't now remember how long ago the box was acquired, it's been enough years that I think Elizabeth would have been well enough back then to have made a car trip to somewhere not too far away in Pennsylvania.

Now that I had lost the trail of the textiles, and remembering the materials gathered up at Glyndon were of no help, I assumed the whole concern about the Edgett name to be a wild goose chase. I took the textiles and papers and photos to the Maryland Historical Society, to preserve them for others to see. The very helpful people there said that as I thought the textiles probably had a Pennsylvania provenance, they were really not of interest. But the papers were, and I promised to get what help I could from Father in identifying the photos, as I knew we had copies of the most important ones at home.

But the whole thing now bugged me: the differing stories, the uncertain provenance of the needlework, my lackadaisical failure to find out about Edgetts. I decided to do some digging, and without any real hope of finding out at this late date why we, of all people, had gotten the textiles, I thought perhaps I could find out about Pennsylvania Edgetts and perhaps great-grandfather Albert R. I had tried to do this some years ago without success, but this time, with more people and sites on the Worldwide Web, I found our Edgett ancestors.

I found a Patricia Edgett, a distant cousin, who provided the bulk of the genealogical information I began compiling. In particular, Patricia's information included names matching those pinned to the textiles. Her information ran from a John Adsit, immigrant to Connecticut in 1706, through the Edgetts named on the textiles, to an Albert R. Edgett, and ended there.

I also found three important pieces of confirmation of Albert R.'s story: his name listed with those of his parents on the 1870 census, and that information matched Patricia's; an Albert R. Edgett and Ada M. listed as spouses living in Baltimore on the 1900 census, listing two children: Lucile and Ujean [sic]; and Ada May listed as living with her parents on the 1910 census. I still had no record of Albert R. and Ada May's marriage, but I was so much further along than we'd ever been and was satisfied I'd found our lost Edgett ancestry.

My success at that led me to feel a bit guilty about having given away the papers so soon. I had expected; or let's say, hoped; that I would spend a day or two at the Historical Society copying some of the more interesting tidbits among the papers. That never happened. It was unrealistic of me to think I'd get to spend much time downtown. My Cousin Larry had expressed an interest in seeing the material. Loie was disappointed in not ever having copies of the good bits she remembered seeing and hearing about. And, I wondered if perhaps there might be some overlooked little bit about Albert R. I didn't really think there would be, but at any rate I thought we should have some copies of the other information I knew was there: the Streett family, the Maloys; the story of the ghostly cavalier; the picture of the old Beckwith castle. So I very apologetically, more than a year after having left them off, retrieved the memorabilia from the Historical Society, and was off an adventure through time, place and family legend.

The Rescued Papers, which I had apparently inspected in a rather cursory manner, contain a typewritten genealogy of the Edgetts, beginning with Albert R.'s parents, listing him and giving the place and date of his marriage to Ada Mai [sic]. This typescript originally comprised a record of three generations: Albert R.'s parents, his siblings, and Albert's children (our grandfather and great aunts.) A handwritten note at its beginning directed "Lucile," whom I can only assume was our great aunt Lucile, first of Albert R.'s children, to fill in the subsequent generations, which either she or someone else did. It looks like someone who knew the Pennsylvania Edgetts asked Lucile to tell them about the Maryland Edgetts. Here was a bit of the mystery solved. It must have been Lucile whom our mother took to get the textiles: great Aunt Lucile was in contact with someone, at some point, who knew there was a connection between the Pennsylvania and Maryland Edgetts!

I can't remember when great Aunt Lucile passed away. I'll have to ask Father. But it seems pretty safe to assume the textiles came (somehow) to her, and she immediately turned them over to our mother, so that they would pass down to us siblings along with other things Aunt Lucile was distributing from her household: china and milk glass and so forth. I equally obviously misremembered how long mother had had the textiles, making me assume it must have been Aunt Elizabeth‚ who only passed away recently‚ rather than great Aunt Lucile, who passed away some years ago, who had gone to Pennsylvania. The reference to "Lucile" on the Pennsylvania Edgett Typescript, isn't perhaps what a scrupulous historian would call proof it was great Aunt Lucile Yo took somewhere to get the textiles. But its good enough for me.

Also among the Rescued Papers are four scrapbooks, all alike, obviously made for some siblings or family members of the Maloys. They contain pictures and handwritten notes on the ancient Maloy family history, some of it a bit pretentious, documenting some pretty distant English ancestors. Well, someone was proud of their lineage. But the best thing is that, contrary to what I'd thought on looking over these scrapbooks long ago, they are not all identical.

One has some extra pages at its end: more family tidbits and on its last page two pictures, identified in old-fashioned copperplate handwriting as Ada Mai Maloy, and the other as Ada Mai Maloy, her husband Albert R. Edgett and their daughter Margaret, taken on a business trip to Savannah in 1909.

When I saw that last picture, I sat bemused for a quarter hour, just looking at it. It's a fine formal portrait, clear and in very good condition, of an apparently prosperous and happy young family. Albert R., wearing a dark suit and vest, stands behind Ada Mai. His reading style glasses are clearly visible above his neatly trimmed thick mustache. The family allegedly posed for this picture only a year before the 1910 census, where Ada Mai (as I now know to spell it) and her children were listed as living with her father. A long typescript copy of the information in the scrapbooks is identified as being of Ada Mai's book; the typescript matches the information in the book with her pictures. It's Ada Mai's book, ending with that picture taken in Savannah.

So there he was, hidden in plain sight all those years since 1909, patiently waiting to be rediscovered in 2006.

What could have happened in 1909? Sadly, there doesn't yet seem to be any record of that last bit of still lost family history. There are still a few papers I just found in the box of photographs. Perhaps...

Now we have some questions about the old family legend.

It seems clear to me that great aunt Lucile knew about her father's ancestors. And thinking about it, it's not possible that Albert Roswell Edgett was truly forgotten. He just wasn't talked about, or admitted to; he was persona non grata. But why would the story be that no one remembered where he came from, or who his ancestors were, or anything about Edgetts? Was that easier than trying to explain the truth? For that matter, what was the truth? Why were Albert and Ada and their daughter on a trip one year, and separated the next? If Albert was so reviled, why keep some record of him, why be answering a request for family information about his descendants? Was this link to the past a secret of great aunt Lucile's? The Pennsylvania Edgett Typescript's handwritten note directs Lucile to return it after filling it in. Yet it is in The Rescued Papers, all of which came from our older family members. Was it not returned? Did it go to some family member who then added it to the family's papers?

The legend was wrong in one great respect. Was any of it true? I suppose some of it was, in that my parents had no knowledge of the Edgett genealogy when I was younger. Yo learned something of it when she went to pick up the textiles. I'll always be disappointed that I never inquired about that, but feel that if she had learned anything other than that Lucile knew about Edgetts, Yo would have told me.

We'll probably never know about Lucile and the Edgetts, but I'm still hoping something more can be learned about Albert R.'s subsequent history, and about Albert and Ada's separation. In the meantime, The Lost Ancestor great grandfather Albert Roswell Edgett has been found.