Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Surprise First Wife

Sometimes relationships don't work out. This was the case with my great-grandfather, but it was still a surprise to see this unfold in the records. Last week while digging through New Orleans City Directories, I located Harry O'Brien living at 708 Carondelet Street. He appears at this location in the 1907 and 1908 pages, but I have not yet found a City Directory for 1909. After seeing the address, my first instinct was to look for the house on Google Maps. As one can see in the image below from Google Street View, the house is a classic example of a wrought-iron front historic New Orleans building. This is exactly the type of house I had pictured my musician great-grandfather living in.

Once I found the house, I ran another search in the City Directories with just the address. This pulled up a large number of names over the years, revealing the address was for a boarding house. I then narrowed down the year to 1907. Other residents in that year included Clyde Bryant (waiter), Alfred Munsch (foreman), Benjamin Richard, and William Smith (bartender). The 1908 record included Henry Barba (bartender), Mrs. Marguerite Barba, and George Wilkins (collector). I looked at 1906, and the house showed Mrs. M. Barba, "furnished rooms", Henry Barba, clerk, and Mrs. "F." Fuller.

I wondered what the connection might be between Marguerite Barba and my great-grandfather. The next record was a big surprise. In the New Orleans Marriage Records Index, 1831-1920, was a marriage from 10 July 1906 between Harry Edward O'Brien and Marguerite Theresa Barba. I have ordered a copy of the marriage record from the Louisiana State Archives, but additional finds convinced me this was my great-grandfather and an unknown-to-me first marriage.

It turns out that Marguerite's mother, Margaret Barba, ran the home as a boarding house, renting furnished rooms to a diverse clientele. The 1910 US Census confirms the connection between Margaret Barba and the others living at 708 Carondelet. Margaret is listed as head-of-household (widowed), with daughter Leonor Fuller (divorced), son Henry Barba (married 2 years), daughter Marguerite O'Brien (married 4 years, 0 children), with the others listed as roomers. I think Mrs. "F. Fuller" in the 1906 City Directory was Marguerite's sister, Leonora.

If Marguerite O'Brien was in New Orleans in 1910, where was Harry? He shows up in two different places. In the 1910 US Census, Harry is listed as a musician in the household of his parents back in Rose Township, Shelbyville, Illinois (as of 15 April 1910).

Harry also appears in the US City Directory for Indianapolis, Indiana, working as a musician and living at 410 N. Alabama (corner of Massachusetts and Alabama in Downtown Indy, very close to the Murat Theater). Clearly Henry and Marguerite were separated by 1910. It is interesting to see Harry listed as single in the 1910 Census entry but Marguerite was still listed as married.

With this information I turned to to see what the papers in New Orleans and Illinois might have on them. This took quite a bit of digging, but I found two articles in the Decatur Review (Decatur, Illinois), which provided some further information on what might have happened.
Decatur Review, 29 Nov 1911
Decatur Review, 30 Nov 1911
Sometime between 1909-1910, Harry and Marguerite moved from New Orleans to Harry's hometown of Shelbyville, Illinois. The top clipping says Marguerite "deserted him at their home in this city." I am currently checking with the Shelby County Court to get a copy of the divorce case file.

Harry and Marguerite were married when they were 21. In the 1910 US Census, Marguerite is listed as an actress, working in Vaudeville shows. I suspect Harry returned to Shelbyville in March 1909 after the death of his younger brother Guy O'Brien. Perhaps Marguerite and small-town life in Illinois were not a match.

Two months after the divorce, on 18 February 1912, Harry married my great-grandmother, Blanche Lamon, in Indianapolis. I've previously covered where Blanche was living at the time. Maybe Harry met her in Evansville, while playing music in one of the clubs or on a riverboat there. In any case, it is a quick turn around, and I wonder when and how they met.

There's a bit more to the story on Marguerite and her siblings. I thought it was only fair to be thorough. My search through the newspapers uncovered a few amusing stories on Leonora, which I'll have in a subsequent post.

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