In the late 1980s, when I was in the early clutches of my genealogical addiction, I often made copies of old pictures by photographing them through a microfilter screwed onto my Canon AE1. I spent an afternoon at my great-aunt Julia Allen Maclin’s house, sifting through a box of faded sepia-toned prints and gasping with delight as she identified Holmeses and Allens. Two of the many I copied that day were small oval portraits of the same woman. In one, she faces the camera nearly head-on, her hair puffed into bouffant tied with a dark bow. In the second, she has donned a great fluffy disk of a hat and tilts her head to the right. Strong side-lighting revealed a tiny feature I recognized immediately – an epicanthic fold at the corner of her left eye. My grandfather (her nephew) had them, and my mother does, and I do, too, though mine are a mere suggestion of her prominent flaps. This was Julia Ellen Holmes, my great-grandmother’s sister and the woman for whom my great-aunt was named.
I don’t know a lot about Julia. Though just a child at the time, she is not listed in her parents’ household in the 1880 census of Charles City County, Virginia. The first record of her that I’ve found is a deed of transfer filed 30 December 1899, at Charles City County Courthouse, from the estate of Jasper Holmes to Mary H. Allen and her husband John C. Allen and Martha H. Smith and her husband Jesse Smith, all of Newport News VA, and Julia E. Holmes, unmarried, of Charles City County, Jasper’s heirs at law.
Just months later, Julia (or a woman that appears to be her) is listed in the 1900 census of Manhattan, New York City, at 208 W. 72nd Street. There, Virginia-born Julia Holmes (born February 1880, which is not accurate if this is the right woman) lived in a boarding house that included three other servants, two waiters and a cook. Headed by 39 year-old Mary A. Phillips, the tenants included blacks, whites, southerners, northerners, a Cuban and an Irishman.
(Or is this my Julia? In the 1900 census of Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania: Julia Holmes, 17, Virginia-born servant, in the household of ice company treasurer Josiah A. McKee at 1838 Mount Vernon Avenue.)
The Holmes sisters sold off their father’s property over the next ten years, filing deeds of sale in 1905 and 1910. In the final transaction, on 10 Jan 1910, Mary Allen of Newport News and Julia Holmes of the City of New York, children and only heirs of Jasper Holmes (Martha Holmes Smith had died) filed a deed of transfer for property sold to James Clark for $300.
In the 1910 census of Manhattan, on Washington Square (North), Virginia-born Julia Holmes is listed as a servant in the household of Philo Hager, who worked in wholesale dry goods. By 1920, she had moved across the river to East Orange, which is where my great-aunt remembered her living. The censustaker found Julia Holmes at 1 Waters Avenue, listed as a servant in the household of B.C. Fenwick. Her birthplace is given as New Jersey; her parents’ as Virginia; her age as 29. Only the middle statistic is correct.
I have not found Julia Holmes in either the 1930 or 1940 censuses and assumed that she died sometime before World War II. Certainly, my great-aunt never spoke of her as if she had lived a long time.
When I found my great-grandmother’s obituary in a March 1961 edition of the Daily Press, there, among the survivors, was “sister, Mrs. Julia Jackson of Orange NJ.” And then, when my cousin M., daughter of my great-aunt Nita Allen Wilkerson, sent me scans of a bunch of photos she found in an album that had belonged to Julia Allen Maclin, I found this:
I can’t see the flaps, but I’m certain: great-GREAT-aunt Julia.
(So, when, in fact, did she die? Where was she buried? Who was Mr. Jackson? Did she have children?)