I updated the Coombs page.
I’ve been cross-referencing between my Reunion database and my Ancestry.com account. (After that I will go back through my old papers and scan old photos. Such is the joy of a new computer!) Anyway, I found a birth date for my great-uncle Henry Francis Coombs — it was right there in the Social Security Death Index. He was born in 1898.
For years I had believed, and had been told, that my grandmother was the eldest child in her family, and that there was a ten year gap between her birth and that of her nearest sibling. There was a lot of speculation about this. One aunt told me that my great-grandfather had run away to England where he had a whole second family. (But not so, as he turns up in a directory of Harbour Grace, Newfoundland residents.) There was other speculation about how my grandmother had been so much older that she was really a second mother to her siblings and helped to raise them, and perhaps that’s why she was eager to emigrate on her own as a young woman. But finding Frank’s birth date ruins all that speculation, because he was born just three years after his sister, and there is no long gap of a missing husband and a decade-older sister.
The other story about the Coombs family is that it is somehow closely related to England. I can’t find anyone in it who was born in England. The family probably originated in England, but they emigrated to Newfoundland in the 18th century. I wonder now if the emphasis on being English wasn’t really just local politics about distinguishing themselves from the Irish, whether the Irish of Newfoundland or the Irish immigrants of Boston? My grandmother wasn’t always embracing of other immigrant groups. She used to tell me the story of how when she was a young immigrant she worked in a shoe factory in Lynn, Massachusetts, commuting on the train every day from her home in East Boston. She said she hated the commute because the trains were full of Italian immigrant men who groped her and stank of garlic — it made her hate garlic, she said. (I don’t know where the Italian men were headed, maybe to work in the quarries of Essex County?) On a more positive note, my grandmother told me how she learned everything from the woman who worked beside her on the sewing assembly line: the woman told her how to do the job, and where to shop, and how to make cake. She said she brought all her questions to her coworker and was so grateful for her help. But then that raises the question of why she didn’t just ask her aunt with whom she was boarding? Or brainstorm with the best friend with whom she’d emigrated? I think sometimes there was a happy spin put on memories of what were really pretty tough times.
I found some photos of the shoe factories in Lynn, although they may be a bit earlier than when my grandmother was there in the 1920s. The photos are by early woman photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston and are now in the Library of Congress.