Sunday, November 21, 2010

When the Pieces Fall Into Place -- Toppling the Brick Wall

I first became interested in my family history nine years ago.  Recovering from hip replacement surgery, I was frustrated with my temporary lack of mobility and was suffering from “cabin fever” due to the cold, gray days typical of Cincinnati in December.  My daughter suggested that I “do something” with the family information my mother had left me as a way of coping with my confinement. My husband picked up on the suggestion and had some genealogy software he had not yet used.  I started entering the information and within a month, I was hooked.

Anyone who has taken that first step can identify with the social aspects that naturally arise from this hobby.  Soon I was contacting aunts, uncles and cousins for help in understanding the material I had and seeking additional information for the material I was missing. The first person I contacted was a cousin who is 16 years older.  She offered to send me some documents, but then told me “not to be surprised if the person I had always been told was the father of my grandmother was NOT her father.” What??

Norine Dailey Cronin
My father’s mother was Norine Jones.  Norine, who I referred to as “Jan” was known to be a bit secretive. She never discussed her age or the date of her birthday or wedding anniversary.  There were even whispers that perhaps my grandparents had never married.  A trip to the Hamilton County Court House in Cincinnati was all it took to verify that my grandparents had been married for 59 years!  So why the secrecy?  

Family records have always identified Norine’s father as John Cronin.  Norine was the youngest of six children born to John Cronin and Lucy Probert.  John, Lucy and their four oldest children are living in Mt. Sterling, Montgomery County, Kentucky and are listed in the 1880 Census. Another sister, Addie, was born in November 1880. 

Norine was not born until 1884, a time when birth registrations were not yet required.  As all genealogists know, there are no 1890 U.S. Census Records to consult.  There was other evidence, however.  John Cronin was listed as Norine’s father on her Death Certificate.  Her maiden name was “Cronin” in the Death Notice published in the newspaper.

With all of this evidence, I waited anxiously to see what kind of contradictory evidence my cousin would provide.  She sent me two documents.  One was a copy of her mother’s baptismal record.  Norine’s last name was recorded as “Dailey”.  Later, when my aunt got married, her mother’s name was listed as “Norine Dailey”.  I reviewed her application for a Marriage License and was surprised to find out that my grandmother listed her name as Norine Dailey Cronin but then listed her father as William Dailey – not John Cronin.

I was able to get a copy of the marriage record for St. Rose Church.   Their record claims that the wedding was between Jones and Dailey.  A little understanding of Latin proves that once again, her father’s name was listed as William Dailey. 

Thus began a nine-year quest to solve this mystery.  Why would she use both Dailey and Cronin as surnames?  There had to be a simple explanation.  My first breakthrough came when I was able to verify that Norine’s five older siblings were placed in an orphanage in northern Kentucky.  I was able to get a copy of their intake record and found that their father’s status was listed as “dead”.  They were placed in the orphanage in 1884, 22 days before Norine was born.  My theory went something like this – John Cronin died sometime between 1880 and 1884.  Her mother remarried William Dailey.  Norine, however, chose to use the last name of her older siblings when she moved to Cincinnati as a young adult, at times living with her half-siblings.

To confirm this theory, I needed to do one of two things:  1) prove that John Cronin was already dead at the time of Norine’s conception, or 2) find a marriage record for Norine’s mother, Lucy, and William Dailey.  For years I used all of my research skills to prove one or the other.  Unfortunately, Death Certificates were not required in the 1880s and deaths were only generally recorded in the larger cities.  In addition, I was not able to locate a marriage record for Lucy and William.  Multiple visits to the Montgomery County Court House, the Mt. Sterling library “Kentucky Room” and the Kentucky Archives in Frankfort did not help solve the mystery.

Only fellow family researchers can understand how frustrated I was at not being able to trace my paternal line beyond my grandmother.  Was my great-grandfather a Cronin or a Dailey?  Which path should I follow?

William Dailey was a resident of Mt. Sterling.  According to Census documents, he didn’t live far from the Cronins.  He was living with his older sister, Ellen.  The Cronins and Daileys appeared to be close friends.  Ellen was listed as the Godmother in the baptismal record for Charles Cronin, John and Lucy’s third child.  My theory seemed to be more and more plausible.

Just as I was becoming content with my explanation, I found the Death Certificate for William Dailey.  He was 65 years old when he died in 1921 of tuberculosis and liver cancer.  His occupation was “Dancing Teacher.”  His marital status was single, never married, and his body was returned to Mt. Sterling for burial.  That shot part of my theory – he and Lucy had apparently never married.  At the time of his death, he was living in northern Kentucky.  Norine would have been 36 years old.  Did he not have a relationship with his daughter?  How could my grandfather, in his role as “informant” for my grandmother’s death certificate, be confused about who her father was?

The answer would not come easily – but the answer would turn my theory upside down!

About a year ago, I was able to make a connection with a third cousin through Ancestry.  We share the same gg-grandfather, Thomas Probert.  Thomas was Norine’s grandfather, but he was not alive at the time of Norine’s birth.  We were comparing notes on this family when she asked me why I had not considered traveling to Lexington to see what clues might be available there.  

In the family notes passed on to me by my mother, it said that Norine was born in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky but that she went away to school in Lexington because her mother (Lucy) had been “sick a long while.”  I had always assumed that Lucy died not long after Norine’s birth and that Norine, like her older siblings, had been placed in an orphanage.  I felt there was little hope of finding some kind of information on a child and was already aware that there was no death certificate for Lucy.  Lexington was, however, the one place I had not searched for information.

Imagine my delight when a search of the 1890 Lexington City Directory had a listing for Lucy Cronin, widow of John!  Finally!  For the first time I could verify that Lucy had relocated to Lexington and that my grandmother’s mother was still alive (but perhaps ill) when Norine was six years old.  It was her address, however, that confused me.  Her residence was listed as Madame Sue Green’s.

A second search of the City Directory for Sue Green found her listed in bold print as a “business”’ Sue Green was a widow, residing at 35 Megowan.  I called the librarian over for her interpretation and she did not want to share with me that Megowan was the well-known “red-light district” in Lexington, often referred to as “The Hill.”

The Lexington Public Library has a wonderful collection of digitized old newspapers from the area.  A quick search of this collection came up with the following article published in the Press on February 2, 1895.

Wow! Things were certainly turning out differently from what I had anticipated! 

After letting this new information sink in, I returned home and started searching the newspapers to read everything I could about the “resorts” and “bawdy houses” of the time.  One name kept recurring.  Belle Brezing was a famous Lexington Madam with a national reputation.  She ran a very “high-class” house.  Newspaper articles referred to both a book and a play that had been written about Belle.  The Friends of the Lexington Library were offering a copy of the currently out-of-print book for sale.  I ordered a copy. 

Several parts of the book held particular interest for me.  Belle had a little girl by the name of Daisy May.  Belle arranged for Daisy May to live with a woman in the neighborhood, Mrs. Barnett.  When Daisy was about six years old, Mrs. Barnett and the family doctor had the unpleasant task of getting Belle to accept that her daughter was “retarded” – a fact Belle had refused to accept.  Although the doctor suggested an asylum for Daisy May, Belle would not agree.  

Finally, from the church, she (Belle) found out about a school and institution run by nuns in Newport, Kentucky, where Daisy would be taught what she was capable of learning.  And so, when she was about six years old, Daisy May was sent to northern Kentucky to live in the school where Belle was assured she would have love and care and be with other children her age. She was enrolled under the name Daisy Barnett.  Since Belle was widely known by then, it is quite possible that Mrs. Barnett took the child to Newport and used her own name and to avoid any connection to Belle.

Mrs. Barnett and the doctor were the only ones other than Belle who knew where Daisy May went. A story of Belle’s choice was leaked to explain Daisy May’s departure.  “Belle Brezing’s girl is in an expensive girls’ school in the East.” (p. 46)

When Madam Sue Green (mentioned earlier) was charged in 1888 with “running a disorderly house” and fined $300, several letters were sent to the governor by irate men who considered this a “travesty of justice.”  One such letter stated:

She (Sue Green) has two children, a boy eleven years old, that is off at school and a daughter at the convent, being educated, and I am reliably informed that she is raising them as they should be – It necessarily takes a good deal of money to maintain and educate them, and she has a hard struggle to do this and to support herself. (p. 60)

Daisy May was now eighteen, and her mental condition was obviously not going to improve.  Once again through the church, Belle arranged for Daisy’s transfer to the House of the Good Shepherd on Fort Street in downtown Detroit, Michigan.  The home had 345 inmates.  Its stated purpose was to “restore fallen women to the path of virtue and to protect young girls who are liable to temptation from unfavorable surroundings.” (p. 73)

With these clues, I started investigating the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.  Sure enough, they had a home for girls in Highland Heights, Newport, Kentucky.  This particular order of nuns takes an additional vow in addition to the usual poverty, chastity, and obedience.  Their fourth vow is “zeal” which was defined as making every effort to convert or save the souls of the women and girls they rescued.

Once again, I searched the 1900 Census for Norine.  I had never been able to find her in the census even though her name was not common and she was 16 years old and should have been listed.  This time I noticed something that had been meaningless to me in previous searches.

There it was – the Highland House of the Good Shepherd, Campbell, Kentucky!  The book about Belle Brezing cited several cases where the daughters of these women were sent “away to school” or were living in a convent.  All of the information within the census document matched what I knew to be true about Norine.  The only discrepancy was the first name of this 16 year old.  My grandmother was not named Augustine. Was it possible they changed her name? Once again the book about Belle gave a clue.  “In order to protect the girls from identification and possible embarrassment, they were all given assumed names.” (p. 73)  Although I felt I had solved the mystery, I still wanted official confirmation.

I contacted the archivist for the Diocese of Covington to see if they were in possession of any records that would answer my questions.  The archivist confirmed for me that they had a baptismal record for my grandmother and offered to send me a copy of the microfilmed image and a transcription.  I had provided him with both the names “Norine” and “Augustine”.  Unbelievably, the record contained both names.  Most importantly, the record listed the parents of Norine as William Dailey and Lucy Probert!

"Cronin: Norine Cronin, aged 7 years, Daughter of William Daly & Lucy Cronin was baptized in the Convent of the Good Shepherd on the 1st of  December, 1891. Sponsors Rev. Father Meyers & August Garn. She received  the name Augustine (maybe Augustina).  Baptized by Rev. Father Meyers."

The archivist went on to say, “I'm only making a good guess at the names Norine & Augustine because you gave me those names, but what is written on the record looks like those could be the right names. It looks like the first name of one of the sponsors was August (Garn is just a guess at his last name), which would seem to confirm that her baptismal name was Augustine if she was named after him. Also, the month is probably December since this was the last entry for 1891.”

Lucy Probert Cronin
I still have a few questions.  How old was Norine when she went to the House of the Good Shepherd?  What happened to her mother?  Why did her biological father not marry her mother?  But the answers have been many.  My grandmother was a devout Catholic all of her life.  In hindsight, no surprise there.  As mentioned earlier, she was secretive.  I can see where it would serve no useful purpose for her to be forthcoming about her difficult family past.  She loved to sew – a skill acquired by all girls in the convent as part of an effort to provide them with employable skills.  A family record lists her name as “Norine Augusta” in contradiction to all other records that listed her name as “Norine L.”, the “L” most likely for her mother Lucy.  Augusta probably referred to the name given to her at the time of her baptism.

I do not stand in judgment of my great-grandmother, Lucy.  The reading I have done over the past month has provided me with insight into the limited choices women had at the end of the 19th century. 

“There were a number of roads that led to prostitution.  Some women found themselves without money or the skills to earn it.  Some were left stranded by husbands who died or deserted them.  Others were turned out of their homes for transgressions.” (p. 96) 
Lucy’s husband died leaving her with five children.  Her parents were both dead, her mother dying at the age of 29.  She eventually became pregnant by a man who for whatever reason did not marry her.  A woman who was able to find employment could expect to make 10 cents an hour and work a sixty-hour week – hardly conducive to raising children.  The choices Lucy made resulted in my very existence – and so I am grateful to her. 

Lucy’s daughter, Norine, married, had five children, 19 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren by the time of her death.  (Pictured is the family before the fifth child was born). She was a “soul mate” to my grandfather who obviously knew her history and was able to protect her.  I am thankful that in the 21st century, most women in the United States are not confronted with such difficult “non-choices.”


  1. Wow Kath, it is amazing the detail you are able to verify in your why did we call her "Jan"?


  2. We called her Jan because that's what Rose called her -- and she was the oldest grandchild. She spells it "Gan". The Scardinas called her Gi or GiGi.

  3. Kathy, your research is amazing! I love reading your blog.

    Julie (Breving) G.

  4. Aunt Kath,

    This was amazing! I never knew any of this (or much about your side of the family) until I started reading this blog here and there. This is so exciting!


  5. Thanks, Rian. I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. Convince your Dad to read the latest post.

  6. Kathy finally sat down to take a peak I loved it I felt I was reading a Hallmark Hall of Fame book or a Lifetime movie scritp. Cant wait to get into my own family history Take care enjoy that grandson over the holidays!!

  7. What a story! I love it that the "brick wall" came down after some hard research and your refusal to give up. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Fabulous work! I'm sure you were stunned as you worked through this, but your research and telling of Norine and her mother's stories was so focused and on point. Great read, great lessons. Thank you for writing this - and congratulations.

  9. This is one of the most engrossing stories I have read among all of the family research stories. This was a hard case to crack, but your persistence paid off.

  10. Kathy..this was a fascinating story! Good thing you stuck to it as your persistence paid off. Very good reading, I enjoyed every minute of it!

  11. Very interesting story. I have the same story in my family and his name was Daly also and did not marry my great grandmother. But Andrew is his first name and he is my brick wall still.

  12. Kathy,

    What a fascinating story! I'm so glad you linked your blog at mine. It's tales such as yours that make genealogy such a fun hobby. It's not just names/dates!

  13. The tenacity and creativity it took to pursue the answer to this family mystery is impressive, and you must be thrilled to have pulled it off. Congratulations on incredible sleuthing and a fulfilling ending! And I concur with your conclusion. Women must have the right to equal pay and equal work as men. It's our generation of women that made that possible (and it's still not ideal). And we, too, stand on the shoulders of giants who laid the groundwork for decades before us. Excellent job!

  14. engrossing and had a victorious ending. The way I see it, is that, I couldn't lay judgement on the mother either. I could say that she carried responsible actions toward her daughter. If it took prostitution, she did it. She provided for a daughter in a way she could knowing that the child would not be able to support herself ever.

  15. thank you soo much! i think you may have just helped me crack a 50 year odd mystery in my own family involving the house of the good shepard.... my g. grandmother lived there (in mass) from the age of 12 to 21, when she left and got married. her husband was always very secretive about her and her family and when she died, my grandmother was only about 1. thus begain the mystery... thank you for sharing your story! - carrie croteau

  16. Carrie,
    I'm so excited to hear this. You can see my email address on the cover page of this blog. If you want to, email me and maybe we can compare notes offline. Was your great-grandmother in the northern Kentucky Home of the Good Shepherd?
    I'm going to a genealogy conference the next three days, but I'd love to follow up.

  17. Carrie,
    I reread your comment and now realize your g-grandmother was in Massachusetts. The first time I read it, I misunderstood. I'd still love to compare notes.

  18. wow! thank you so much, that would be GREAT! i'd also love to hear about the conference... always looking for new stratagies!! ;) - carrie

  19. Hi Kathy,

    I linked to your blog while trying to find information on the Home of the Good Shepherd in Cincinnati. I just found out via the 1900 Census that my great-grandmother spent time there (along with her sister) as teenagers and I've spent most the night trying to find information about these places. Even found a doctoral dissertation on the Home of Good Shepherd(s) history in my searching!
    Would you happen to know much about the home in Cincinnati?
    What's amazing about genealogy,by the way, is how it can shed light on family relationships as we dig deeper and deeper----helps us understand what influenced our parents and grandparents.

    Thanks for your story---impressive sleuthing!
    Laura in Arizona


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