Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Starting With the Here and Now

There is one bit of advice I've found indispensable when introducing new students to the wonders of genealogical pursuits: start with yourself and move backwards from there. Gradually. That means step by carefully documented step. Never mind that you just know that your French Canadian great grandmother was descended from Charlemagne.

As the old board game once advised: do not pass go, do not collect one hundred dollars. Until, that is, you have followed the rules of proper genealogical research. And those rules do not include permission to immediately jump back centuries to books on the old blood lines of European monarchs. Or any other scintillatingly famous persons. You simply must go, step by step, from what you know through all the documented changes back through the years of history.

In the case of our current chase, however, we will have to modify that hard and fast rule. For in this situation, we are not beginning from our beginning, but from the most recent verifiable documentation of one particular gentleman known as Penrose Hawkes.

Granted, there are precious few things we know about this Mr. Hawkes from the album I found discarded at a local antique shop in northern California. We can't even say for sure that his name was really Penrose Hawkes. But we do know he was called Penrose. And we have observed, from this same book which was likely a family photograph album, that he was at a place in County Cork, Ireland, during the summer months of 1936. And that the woman who was likely owner of the home was named Mrs. P. Hawkes.

Putting this all together, I tried googling several combinations. I tried searching for Penrose plus Alice. Penrose plus Bride Park. Penrose, in fact, along with any other names or terms I could find in the album.

The results brought me several listings—not for Ireland, but for New York. This, as it turns out, is where we need to start with the here and now—Penrose's here and now. For instance, if there were search results showing a Penrose Hawkes in New York, would there be any entry for that name in the closest census record to the time of the 1936 album?

The answer is a solid yes. In an apartment on East Tenth Street in Manhattan, Penrose can be found in the 1940 census, age forty, along with a wife by the name of Marion. She, too, was forty years of age, but unlike Penrose, who was listed as born in Ireland, she was a native New Yorker—as were, apparently, both her parents.

What is interesting about this census entry is that Marion Hawkes happened to win the census lottery for 1940. Hers became one of two entries included in the supplementary questions found on the bottom of the page. There we learn that she was married more than once, that she was first married at age twenty two, and that she had no children.

The puzzling thing is that I find no mention of anyone named Marion in the family album. If, indeed, we do have the right Penrose Hawkes (and really, how many of those can there be?), the likely explanation would be that Penrose was not married at the time of the 1936 visit to Ireland. Of course, we'll have to reserve judgment on that until we find supporting documentation.

Penrose, himself, provided some additional clues in his own census entry. For one thing, it confirmed his birth in Ireland, and the report that he was now a naturalized United States citizen. It also provided his occupation as sales manager for a glass company.

Lest you assume he was a mere mid level manager for some NYC corporate concern, set that notion aside for a while. For in the next few days, we'll discover which glass company Penrose was representing. Even more important, we'll begin following that thread to learn what a long family history intertwined with that glass industry Penrose—and several others in the Hawkes family line—actually had.

Above: Excerpt of the 1940 U.S. Census for Manhattan, New York, showing Penrose and Marion Hawkes; courtesy FamilySearch.org.


  1. Oh please tell me he created the ball that drops in Time Square every New Years.

    1. Interesting you should bring that up, Wendy. While the honors actually go to another company, there is indeed a tiny detail about the New Year's Eve ball that may connect to Penrose's heritage. But we won't get to that for a few days...


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