Monday, February 13, 2017

Mystery Monday: Mary Alice

Mystery Monday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers that asks us to share mystery ancestors or mystery records – anything in our family history research which is currently unsolved.  With any luck fellow genealogy bloggers will lend their eyes to what has been found so far and possibly help solve the mystery.

If you work on your family genealogy long enough, you will surely find heroes and scoundrels, tragic stories and joyful ones. The story I found just recently when I did a broad search for “Jollett” at GenealogyBank is one of those Happy-Sad stories.

Girl Missing Since Mother’s Death
Believed in Baltimore Training School

Some time today Charles Jollett of 913 H street, who is scarcely 33 years old, will be told that the daughter he has been seeking for 15 years is being cared for in an institution within 50 miles of where he lives and works.

A search that has been carried on intermittently since 1915 apparently has been concluded with the information that a 15-year-old girl bearing the name of Mary Alice Jollett is being cared for in the Rosewood Training School at Baltimore. John Jollett, father of the girl’s father, and his wife are in communication with the institution and they hoped to tell their son today that his wish to see his child might be fulfilled.

In response to appeals to the Baltimore police and notices published in Baltimore newspapers, Dr. G. W. Keating, head of the Rosewood Training School, advised Mr. Jollett that a child bearing his name had been placed in the home by the mother October 31, 1921. Dr. Keating’s records tally with the facts known to the Jolletts.

Mary Alice Jollett was born to Charles Jollett and his wife in Baltimore February 17, 1914 when the father was about 18 and the mother about 15. At 9 months, the child suffered infantile paralysis which affected body and mind. Husband and wife separated and for seven years the child was cared for by the mother and at times by the mother’s parents. Charles Jollett joined his parents in Virginia and for several years was not in communication with his 

from the Evening Star, Washington DC
7 Jan 1930
wife. When she died suddenly in 1922 he had no knowledge of his daughter’s whereabouts.

Illness in the family prevented John Jollett from making an active effort to locate the child. Some time ago his wife died. He married again recently and he and his wife and son, who lives with them, determined to locate the daughter. Appeals to the Baltimore police and newspapers led to the information obtained.

The condition of Mary Alice Jollett, who soon will be 16 years old, probably will determine whether she will be left in the Rosewood Training School or brought to her grandfather’s home. Members of the family expressed gratification today that they might assist her and at least know that everything possible would be done for her.

(The Rosewood Training School was established in 1888 as The Asylum and Training School for the Feeble-Minded. In 1912 it was renamed The Rosewood State Training School.)

How sad indeed for little Mary Alice, a child born healthy but left mentally and physically disabled due to infantile paralysis. How sad for a young married couple, still children themselves, to lose their way, unable to find the strength to function as a family. I have seen in my own family how a marriage can fall apart under the weight of emotional and physical exhaustion that often accompanies caring for a child with physical and mental disabilities.

While it saddened me to know that Charles lost contact with his wife and therefore did not provide for her or their daughter, he redeemed himself somewhat by intensifying his efforts to find Mary Alice upon hearing his wife had died. I was proud that the search was a family affair too, not Charles alone but with the aid of his father John.

The Charles Jollett of this story was son of John B. and Fannie Bell Griffith Jollett. Born about 1896, Charles was the youngest of five surviving children. His father John was a farmer like most of their neighbors along Naked Creek in Page County, Virginia. The community was known as Jollett Hollow, named for Charles’s grandfather John Wesley Jollett, a Methodist preacher and sometimes post master.

By 1910, John B. had moved his family a few miles away to the town of Shenandoah. The railroad had made Shenandoah a boom town, and there were plentiful jobs in the various repair shops. John himself worked as a machinist. Charles’s brother Hunter worked as a carpenter.

Perhaps it was the lure of jobs with the government during World War I that drove the Jolletts to Baltimore, Maryland. In the 1920 census, John B. was a carpenter with the shipyard and Charles was a riveter.

But wait – what about Mary Alice? In 1920, Charles was living with his parents in Baltimore. He was enumerated as married, but there was no wife listed. Apparently they were already separated at that point. A search for “Mary Alice Jollett” and “Mary Jollett” in the 1920 census produced no match.

Then I recalled the mysterious Mrs. Eliza Jollett from Baltimore. Could she be the unnamed wife in the article and mother of Mary Alice?

I examined the details:
  • She was 24 when she died in 1922, giving her a date of birth around 1898, certainly in the right time period to have married Charles Jollett.
  • They were both in Baltimore, Maryland.
  • She was buried in Shenandoah, again the right neighborhood to have known Charles’s family.
  • There was no mention of a husband in Eliza’s death notice, a strong suggestion that there had to be a good reason, such as separation or divorce.

A search for Eliza Jollett in 1920 produced no match. So I turned to her parents, Samuel and Eliza Watson, whom I had already found in 1900 and 1910. This time I looked for them in 1920.

No Eliza Jollett. But lookee there: a 6-year old granddaughter “Mary Joliet”! 

from 1920 census
Baltimore Ward 27, Baltimore, Maryland

No wonder I could not find her. Not only was her name spelled incorrectly but also she is indexed as “Mary Jolest.” Just to rule out “coincidence,” I did the math: a child 6 years old in 1920 would have been born about 1914, depending on date of birth and date the family was enumerated. The child would be about 16 in 1930, the same age as the Mary Alice of the news article.

Apparently a child with physical and mental disabilities was too much for aging grandparents to handle. Maybe putting Mary Alice in the Rosewood Training School in 1921 was Eliza’s decision; maybe it was her parents’ decision. Maybe it was a combination. At any rate, Mary Alice was there in 1930 when Charles and his father finally found her. The news article concludes by saying her condition would determine whether she would remain there or go home with her father and grandfather. One of the questions in the census was whether a person could speak English. The answer for Mary Alice was “No.”

I imagine the sense of obligation mixed with pity mixed with relief at finally being reunited was strong, but it is not likely that Mary Alice went home with her father. In 1940 she was still at Rosewood. At age 26, her highest level of education achieved was 0.

It is much too difficult for me to think about what the rest of Mary Alice’s life might have been. The Rosewood Training School certainly started out with noble intentions, but like so many asylums of its day, too many patients and too few employees compounded by too many needs and too little funding resulted in deterioration of buildings and services. Charges of abuse and dehumanizing conditions spelled the end of Rosewood in 2008. I suspect Mary Alice was there all that time. If so, she spent 80 years in Rosewood. She died 15 December 2001.

Even without a marriage record for Charles Jollett and Eliza Watson, and even without a birth record or death record for Mary Alice, I am convinced I have solved this mini-mystery. It is not the exhaustive search that genealogists say I should do, but I am confident doing so will bear me out. Sadly enough.

© 2017, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. That is a sad story. And Mary Alice lived such a long life! It is hard for parents young enough to still be considered kids themselves trying to raise children, especially children that might have a disability. It is noble that Charles at least went looking for her. Glad this was a mystery you could solve.


    1. That is my favorite part of the whole thing - knowing that Charles and his father John tried many years to find Mary Alice. I just wonder why they didn't contact Eliza's parents. Maybe they didn't know they were in Baltimore too. Of course, they too had died by 1930, I think, but what about before then? That part is still a puzzle.

  2. Wow! What a story you have uncovered. Thank you for sharing.

    Melissa Finlay

    1. It certainly is an emotional story but certainly worth the telling.

  3. A two-hanky story, one hanky for the parents/grandparents and a bigger one for little Mary Alice. At least Charles tried to find her, better late than never. You just never know what you'll find when you search newspaper databases!

    1. I was surprised enough to learn Charles had been married before, but the entire story was more than I bargained for!

  4. Wendy, you have great detective skills to uncover this story! Keep up the terrific research.

  5. Wow - amazing and sad story and good for you to put these various clues together!

    1. I rarely get lucky to have several newspaper articles fall into place like this.

  6. Super Sleuthing! My goodness, what a sad and unfortunate turn of events for everyone in that family. You made this story and the mystery an interesting read. Genealogy Bank is one of the best resources. Isn't it a rush to find publications that lead to solving mysteries and opens up a whole new can of worms. Good job!!!

  7. Oh my, what a story! Do you know where Mary Alice is buried and with whom?

    1. No I don't. I am guessing she is buried at Rosewood -- there is a cemetery there. There are pictures and records at the Maryland Archives if I want to go look. She outlived her parents and half-siblings. I wonder if they even knew her.

  8. Great find, Wendy, such a tragedy for everyone involved. Was there a second granddaughter - Dorothy Jollett - or was this an error on the census?

    1. Dara, I have wondered about Dorothy too. My guess is she was NOT Charles's daughter since he and Eliza lost touch, so maybe a child by some other man. It is also possible she was daughter of Eliza's sister and was enumerated incorrectly. I have searched the census records for Dorothy, as Jollett and as Watson but have found nothing. I wonder if she was adopted later in which case I might never learn what became of her.

  9. Wow, Wendy. That is a heartbreaking story. It's hard NOT to put yourself in the position of that young mother and young father. I do think it is neat that her father and grandfather searched for her so intensely.