My great grandmother Charlotte had two older sisters with whom she was not particularly close. So not close that my grandfather forgot that they existed until I asked him point-blank about them by name (and he remembered nearly everything). When pressed, he recalled that one of them lived in Florida, had been married to the mayor of Gainesville, and had died young, which the surviving siblings kept from their aged mother, writing fabricated letters from Gainesville to keep up the ruse. Charlotte was not particularly close with these sisters because, he thought (maybe), they were old-fashioned, old-worldy and too Jewy, and she used to reprimand their youngest sister Jennie for being “soft” and keeping in touch with them.
At least, this is the story I was told. The real story, insofar as I know it now after over at least 15 years of searching, is only slightly different. There was a sister who lived in Florida, married the mayor of Gainesville and died young, but she wasn’t too Jewy or too haimische for Charlotte. In fact, at her death, she was a member in good standing in the First Methodist Church of Gainesville, the Women’s Society of Christian Service and the Twentieth Century Club, and the wife of a prominent doctor from a prominent family, so very prominent and well-connected that city offices were closed during the hours of her funeral service.
Rose was the oldest of Sam and Minnie Hurdus’s 5 children, all but the youngest of them born in Mir, Belarus. She came through Ellis Island with her mother and 3 sisters (Ada, Charlotte, Jennie) in 1899 when she was about 12 years old. She married her first husband, Albert Neil Eddins, 10 years later and I wonder what her accent sounded like – or if it was gone completely. An article in the Gainesville Daily Sun, Albert’s hometown paper, repeatedly calls her “little” and “charming” and says she is from “the world’s metropolis” of New York City. Intriguingly, it also says that Albert’s return “with pretty bride” in tow was “a great surprise” to “a number of his Gainesville friends.”
Whether or not Rose’s marriage to a non-Jew was jarring to her parents and family (I assume it likely was), it does not appear that she tried to hide her actual origins and identity in the same way as her younger sister Charlotte, at least during her first marriage. The 1910 and 1920 censuses give her birthplace as Russia; the 1930, New York. She and Albert had a daughter, Sonia, in 1911. (Sonia would be married and widowed by two military men; when she died in 1989, her obituary said that she was a Christian Scientist). In 1935, Albert and Rose divorced in Jacksonville, Florida and in July 1938, she married James Maxey Dell, Sr., another Gainesville man with a long CV (doctor, State Senator, Elks Exalted Ruler, Farm Colony Superintendent, Gainesville City Councilman, and, of course, Mayor Commissioner of Gainesville – my grandfather really did remember everything). Dr. Dell was not Jewish either and it is unclear what he thought or knew about Rose’s origin story. After her marriage to Dr. Dell, there are fewer documents by or about Rose, so it is hard to know what story she was telling about herself at that point in her life. Though Rose gave her birthplace as South Carolina in the 1940 census (a favorite pick of her sisters Charlotte and Jennie, who habitually did the same), her obituary does at least say she was born in New York City, which is a little closer to the reality of Mir (kind of).
Regardless of what Rose told or revealed about herself, the tenuousness of her adult relationship with Charlotte seems clear in her obituary, which gives “Mrs. Harold Fleming” as Charlotte’s name instead of Mrs. Harry Fenning. I know from experience that strangers often hear Fleming instead of Fenning, and though a newspaper reporter’s faulty hearing could be to blame, I think it is equally likely that Dr. Dell gave the newspaper the wrong name simply because he didn’t know what the right one was. He only ever heard the name, never met the people. Whether that is because Charlotte just didn’t like her sister or because she disapproved of her much more extreme mode of assimilation into Christian society, I will probably never know. There are very few people left who knew either woman and this isn’t going to be a story I will one day find explained away by a digitized newspaper clipping.
I do hope, though, that I find an answer about the photograph above, of Charlotte seated on the sand with 3 other women, 2 of whom I think look a lot like her. Memories and hearsay and gossip evaporate into the ether over time, but photographs are solid things that stay (more or less). It is not unreasonable to think that another decade of searching could turn up a newspaper with a photograph of Rose (or Ada or Jennie), another great-granddaughter with an old scrapbook and a lot of questions, some kind of confirmation that yes, those faces look similar because, yes, they were sisters.
Rose Hurdus Eddins Dell (about 1889-1943) and Charlotte Hurdus Fenning (1893-1989)