Who was Marjorie’s Mother?

I was asked recently to look at some problems with my documentation of the Block Island (Rhode Island) Steadman families. Most of the research that I had was done 10-15 years ago. In my copious free time over the past month, I have been updating the details of that family and they have been significant. Some mistakes have been corrected. Many people and details have been added. And I admit I am still not finished.

Let me share a little history of Block Island. It was discovered early in the American Colonization. Early on, it was administrated by Newport County in the Colony of Rhode Island. The settlement has never been large and the most prevalent family surnames from the 1700s have been Dodge, Sprague, Ball, Littlefield, Dickens, and several others. About 1815, the Rev. Enoch Stedman (1762-1833) was called as the pastor of the local church. Several of his children also went to Block Island. His two youngest sons, Samuel and Richard, became Deacons of the church.

Richard’s son Enoch Steadman (1836-1910) was also a Deacon, and it is through his line that this posting was prompted. Enoch married Anna Celinda Tourjee (c. 1835-1877) in 1858 and had 5 known children. In 1880, he married Mary Maria Dickens (1853-1928) and had an additional son Enoch Milton Steadman (1889-1956).

Enoch Milton Steadman married Jennie Henderson, daughter of Samuel Henderson and Mary Love. The had a daughter Isabelle Rose Steadman (1910-2003) who married Julius Herman Gates who is descended from the immigrant Stephen Gates of Boston. They also had a son Enoch Milton Steadman, Jr. (1912-1968) who in 1944 in New Orleans, while serving in World War II, married Marjorie Ellen Clark (1922-2013).

Marjorie Ellen (Clark) (Steadman) Dressel (1922-2013)

As some of you know, I am always trying to document the parents of the spouses of the members of my study in case there is a link to what I call a hidden cousin. Towards this end, I tried to discover Marjorie’s parents.

Who were the parents of Marjorie Ellen Clark?

According to her 2013 obituary, her parents were Stephen McNiff and Mildred Nourse. This was easily shown to be false. Stephen McNiff could not be her biological father as Stephen and Mildred (Nourse) Bushee (1904-1990) were not married until at least the mid-1950s, and Marjorie was born in 1922. Mildred might be her biological mother, but no documentation exists to show that she was ever married to a Clark.

Here are the facts.

According to the 1930 census, Mildred Nourse was first married at age 17. That would be about 1921. However, when she married Burton Bushee in 1924, she gave her name as Mildred Nourse and that it was her first marriage.

Her mother Ellen (Shattuck) Nourse had divorced her first husband Charles Oliver Nourse and married George D Clark in 1921 in Lancaster, New Hampshire. He died in 1929.

Marjorie Ellen Clark was born in 1922 in Littleton, New Hampshire.

In 1930 census, Marjorie was living in the Burton Bushee family in Bennington, Vermont. She was listed as a Step Daughter which would imply that she was a daughter of Mildred by a former partner or husband. Please note that she was recorded with the Clark surname up through her 1944 marriage to Enoch Milton Steadman, Jr.

In the 1940 Bennington census, Mildred was listed as the head of a household consisting of her mother Ellen Clark and SISTER Marjorie E Clark. Mildred and Burton had separated by the time of the census and were granted a divorce in Bennington in early 1943. Ellen Clark had moved to Providence, Rhode Island, by 1947 when she died there. Mildred remained in Bennington through early 1950s and moved to Rhode Island sometime after she married Stephen McNiff.

Enoch Steadman died in 1968 and Marjorie married David Dressel in 1973.

There are still several records that I have not located: 1920 census, Birth record for Marjorie (NH birth records are sealed for 100 years), Marriage records for Mildred with Stephen McNiff and Marjorie with David; obituary for Mildred McNiff. They might add some details to the story.

I think there are three possible theories about Marjorie’s birth.

1/ Marjorie is actually the daughter of Ellen and George Clark.

2/ Marjorie is daughter of Mildred with some short marriage with a man named Clark.

3/ Marjorie is daughter of Mildred with some unknown partner. Ellen and George raise Marjorie initially as their daughter and give her the Clark surname.

Based on the evidence, I tend to think that the third option is the most likely. That would explain moving her age at her first marriage back to 17 (c. 1921) to call her a step daughter. As she was unmarried and young, her mother and step father might be called on to raise her as their child and give her their surname. Because they had moved from New Hampshire to Vermont, few people in Vermont might have known the truth. And as George Clark had died before 1930 census, it might have then been reasonable that Marjorie was raised by Mildred and Burton. The fact that Marjorie’s family acknowledged Mildred as her mother in her obituary is also highly suggestive. But nothing proves the biological parenthood.

I welcome your comments.

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