Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Before Eloise Disappeared

Given all indications provided us by the pedestrian records genealogists typically rely upon, Eloise Lyon had a fairly routine childhood, growing up in rural Indiana. Sure, hers was a lifetime spanning the Great Depression and a world war, but other than that, indications—at least on paper—were that she had a stable household, growing up in an average American community.

Eloise's dad, Waldo Emerson Lyon, had been born a few years before the turn of the century, and until the time of his marriage to Bessie Mullennix—William F. Riley's great-granddaughter—he had lived in the same place where he had been born, Blackford County, Indiana. After their 1913 wedding in Muncie, the newlyweds settled in New Castle, then a small town of fourteen thousand residents, where Waldo obtained work as a machinist, and Bessie gave birth to their firstborn in 1918, a son they called Harry.

By the time Eloise arrived, two months after the 1920 census was taken, the Lyon family was still in New Castle. Likewise during the arrival of Eloise's younger brother Robert and, apparently, a child who did not survive, who had been born in between those two births. It was only upon the 1926 arrival of the Lyon family's youngest—a daughter they named Nina Lucille—that we have any reference point upon which to pin the family's move from Indiana to Detroit, Michigan.

Perhaps it was for the sake of a job for Waldo that the family moved from their native Indiana to the rapidly growing Detroit. How the family fared, once the effects of the depression became severe, is hard to tell, though the 1940 census showed that they had moved by then to a suburb of Detroit. Waldo was employed as a tool and die maker, and his oldest son joined him as an apprentice in the same line of work.

There, the regular snapshot of life in the Lyon family ended, except for the occasional digitized record of marriages and moves. Soon after that 1940 census, apprentice Harry felt confident enough in his success at work to marry Doris Renshaw, who had moved to the Detroit area with her mother and stepfather from Ohio. Eloise's younger brother Robert was of an age to serve in the military during World War II, and set aside his opportunity to marry and have a family until long after the end of the war—long after even their baby sister Nina had married.

By that point—perhaps because the family had followed Robert west during his military service?—almost everyone in the Lyon family had moved to California. Robert had settled there, and his two sons were born there. Though older brother Harry had married in Michigan, he and his wife eventually settled in California, as well. Baby sister Nina was married there. And nine years after her husband had died, Bessie, the mother of them all, passed away in 1969 in southern California.

For each of these events, documentation was available to substantiate each location. I have found records for Waldo, for Bessie, and for their children Harry, Robert, and Nina. But what about Eloise? The Lyon child who was born two years before the ill-fated infant whose untimely death hit the family seemed to have disappeared from the record after her mention in the 1940 census, back in Michigan.

If it weren't for the fact that Eloise had applied for Social Security benefits, I wouldn't have guessed that she had moved from Michigan. I certainly wouldn't have guessed that she moved in the opposite direction from the rest of her California-bound family.

But if I have the right Eloise Lyon, her Social Security record showed her last benefit was mailed to a location in the zip code 10025. If zip codes are basically the same now as they were in the 1980s at the point of her passing, hers would lead us to the west side of the northern reaches of Central Park, almost up to West 111th Street and Morningside Park on the island of Manhattan.

How did Eloise end up in New York City?

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