Friday, April 4, 2014

52 Ancestors: #14, The Not-So-Honorary Aunts

Today's entry in the 52 Ancestors challenge doesn't actually involve direct-line ancestors, but you do get two for the price of one:  Hazel Mae (Kirk) Clark and her daughter Helen Margaret Clark.

When I was a child, there were aunts, and there were "honorary" aunts. Now, my mother didn't hold with the notion of having her children call non-relatives "aunt"; we addressed her adult women friends and neighbors either as Mrs. Smith or – in a few very special cases – by their first names. As far as my mother was concerned, the title of "aunt" was reserved for our "real" aunts or great-aunts. The only exception was for godmothers.

At my maternal grandmother's (and real aunt's) house, however, things were different. Grammie would have us call certain friends and neighbors "aunt." I didn't find this confusing; I knew perfectly well that Aunt Geneva was really my aunt and Aunt Sadie was really my great-aunt, while "Aunt Fanny" (the next-door neighbor lady) and "Aunt Betty" (Aunt Geneva's schoolteacher friend who boarded with them during the week) were just "honorary" aunts and not related to me. (Oddly, this habit didn't extend to calling male friends and neighbors "uncle"; "Aunt Fanny's" husband was always Mr. Parent.)

So when another of my (real) aunt's schoolteacher colleagues was introduced as "Aunt Helen" and her mother as "Aunt Hazel," I assumed they were no more my relatives than were Aunt Betty and Aunt Fanny. After all, I knew "Aunt Helen" wasn't my father's sister (as Aunt Geneva was), and "Aunt Hazel" was almost as old as my father's mother, for heaven's sake. So of course they had to be honorary aunts, who were unrelated to me.

Except they were related to me... and they weren't honorary (well, one wasn't, and the other was only semi-honorary). You can see I was more confused than I had thought.

Hazel Mae (Kirk) Clark, date unknown11
What I didn't understand until many years later was that my grandfather, Chester Kirk, who died a dozen years before I was born, had been 25 years older than my grandmother; he had been married previously, and had had a daughter and son who were, in fact, almost as old as my grandmother. (To be more precise, he had been married four times previously, and there were several other children, but that's another story or four....)

So it turned out that Aunt Hazel Clark really was my aunt, or at least my half-aunt, having been born 9 Jan 1887, in Bristol, Connecticut, to Chester F. Kirk and his second wife Charlotte "Lottie" Martin.1, 2 After Lottie's death in 1890, Chester acquired a third wife and then returned to Maine; Hazel and her brother Kenneth went to live with their grandparents, Silas and Sarah Kirk. (Kenneth died two years before his father, so he wasn't around for me to call Uncle Kenneth, which might have either alleviated or exacerbated my confusion.)

On 8 Sep 1907, Hazel married a Lewiston, Maine, shoemaker named John H. Clark,3 a widower with four children under the age of 10. They had five children of their own:
  1. Helen Margaret Clark, b. 11 Nov 19074
  2. Raymond Lesley Clark, b. 1909
  3. Ralph Malcolm Clark, b. 1910
  4. Robert Moore Clark, b. 1912
  5. Francis Beecher Clark, b. 1915
This makes Helen my half-first cousin, which is why I said she was only a semi-honorary aunt: while she wasn't really my aunt, she was a close relative and got the honorary "aunt" title because she was older than my real aunt (Geneva) and therefore not to be addressed by her first name alone. I suppose if I had known any of her brothers, who of course were also my half-first cousins, I probably would have known them as semi-honorary "uncles" – which again might have either alleviated my confusion or made it worse – but it's a moot point since I have no recollection of ever meeting them.

Francis Clark, Hazel Kirk Clark, Helen Clark, Ralph Clark (l-r), New London, Conn., 5 Apr 1953 (Easter Sunday)11
Helen, who never married, was a schoolteacher for 44 years in the Lewiston school system.5 After her father died in 1935, she continued to make her home with her mother until Hazel's death on 10 Nov 1962.6, 7 I visited them once with my Aunt Geneva; I couldn't have been more than 9 or 10, and about all I recall of the visit is that they had an exceedingly geriatric, blind dog named "Major". Helen retired in 1972, and died 9 Sep 1995 in Auburn, Maine.8, 9 Both Hazel and Helen are buried in the Kirk family lot in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Auburn, Maine.10

Kirk family monument, Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Auburn, Maine10
(Note: This post is in response to Amy Johnson Crow's "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks" challenge at No Story Too Small.)

  1. "Hazel M. Clark" obituary, photocopy of 10 Nov 1962 clipping, probably from Lewiston [Maine] Evening Journal, Kirk-Murphy Family Collection, privately held by the author, Virginia Beach, Virginia.
  2. Certificate of Death for Hazel Mae Clark, 11-10-1962, State of Maine Department of Health and Welfare, undated photocopy of typed certificate stamped "NOT FOR LEGAL PURPOSES", Kirk-Murphy Family Collection, privately held by the author, Virginia Beach, Virginia.
  3. “Maine, Marriage Records, 1705-1922,” database and digital images, ( : accessed 30 Apr 2012), John H. Clark-Hazel M. Kirk marriage, 1907.
  4. “Maine Vital Records, 1892-1922,” digital images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 22 Jan 2014), Margaret Clark birth, 1907.
  5. "Helen M. Clark" obituary, photocopy of 10 Sep 1995 clipping, Lewiston [Maine] Daily Sun, Kirk-Murphy Family Collection, privately held by the author, Virginia Beach, Virginia. 
  6. "Hazel M. Clark" obituary.
  7. Certificate of Death for Hazel Mae Clark.
  8. "Helen M. Clark" obituary.
  9. Certificate of Death for Helen Margaret Clark, Sept. 9, 1995, State of Maine Department of Human Services, photocopy of original certificate (issued 11 Sep 1995), Kirk-Murphy Family Collection, privately held by the author, Virginia Beach, Virginia.
  10. Mount Auburn Cemetery (Auburn, Androscoggin County, Maine), Kirk family monument, read and photographed by the author, 13 Aug 2012.
  11. Portrait of Hazel Mae (Kirk) Clark, date unknown; snapshot of Hazel Mae (Kirk) Clark and her children Francis, Helen, and Ralph Clark, 5 Apr 1953, New London, Conn. These prints appear to be made from scans of photocopies of the originals, and were provided by Betty Clark, daughter-in-law of Raymond Clark, to the author's brother Marshall Kenneth Kirk in 2003. Whereabouts of the originals are unknown. Copies privately held by the author, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

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