Friday, July 25, 2014

52 Ancestors: #30, Mysterious Mary, Part 3: Mary (Murphy) Bowlen Green Bamber – GGG Aunt?

This is the conclusion of the tale of Mysterious Mary. If you haven't read the first two parts yet, you can find them at:
Mysterious Mary, Part 1: Mary (Campbell) Bowlen – Unrelated Stranger?
Mysterious Mary, Part 2: Mary (Campbell) Bowlen Green – Still Unrelated?

I feel just a bit guilty, getting three posts out of one person who is at most a collateral relative (and may not be my relative at all). But she did have three husbands, after all, and her history is complicated enough, I think, to warrant three posts. In any case, if I had tried to do it all in one post, I'd be several weeks behind by now on my 52 Ancestors challenge!

At the end of part 2, we left Mary A. Greene in 1896, still ensconced in her not-always-empty nest at 41 Market Street; close inspection of the Newburyport city directories reveals "Benj. M. Roward" (daughter Sarah's husband Benjamin M. Rowand) boarding at 41 Market in 1882,1 and William F. Decie (daughter Mary's husband) in 1896.2

Which brings us up to 1898 when, on New Year's Day in Lynn, Massachusetts, one Samuel Bamber of Lynn married one Mary A (Murphy) Green of Newburyport. He was 56, born in England, and an (insurance) agent, and this was his second marriage. She was allegedly 60, born in P.E.I, and ostensibly a doctor (!), and this was her third marriage. And – crucially – her parents are given as Michael [Murphy] and Martha (Morrison).3

Marriage record of Samuel Bamber and Mary A. (Murphy) Green, 1 Jan 1898, Lynn, Mass.
Now, it would be easy to dismiss this Mary A. (Murphy) Green as, indeed, a different woman than the widow of Daniel W. Green: not only does she claim a completely different set of parents and maiden name, but she's apparently 5-9 years younger, and we certainly haven't seen any evidence that Mary (Campbell) Green was a doctor (she is not, for example, listed under "Physicians" in the city directory). But further evidence demonstrates that Samuel Bamber's second wife is, in fact, the widow of George Bowlen and Daniel W. Green.

First, there are the Newburyport city directory listings. The last time Mary A. Greene "widow of Daniel W." appears in the directory was 1896, at the same 41 Market Street address where Daniel, and later Mary, had been for over 20 years. Samuel Bamber makes his first appearance in the 1898 directory – at 41 Market Street.4

Newburyport city directory, 1898: Samuel Bamber at 41 Market (top), no Mary A. Greene (bottom)
Next, we have the 1900 census. Samuel Bamber, 58, is head of household at 41 Market Street. His wife Mary gives a birth date of Aug 1936 (which is consistent with her given age in the marriage record) and a birthplace of Nova Scotia (which is not, but she seems to routinely flip-flop between P.E.I. and Nova Scotia). Significantly, she reports having had 7 children, with 4 now living: that fits with Mary (Campbell) Bowlen Green's children (George, Albert, Edward, and Annabell Bowlen, and Sarah, Idela, and Mary Green; Albert and Idela died as infants, and George died in 1884, leaving Edward, Annabell, Sarah, and Mary).5

1900 U.S. census, Newburyport, Mass., Samuel Bamber household
But the most significant information in the census is the rest of the household: daughter Marie and son-in-law William F. Decie with their daughter Viola G., and granddaughter Gretchen "Farina" (daughter of Annabell Bowlen and Nicholas B. Varina). (Of course, the relationships given actual apply to Mary, not to head-of-household Samuel.) These clear links to both of her previous marriages show that the Mary (Murphy) Green who married Samuel Bamber is indeed the Mary "Campbell" who married George Bowlen and Daniel W. Green.

According to the city directories, Samuel Bamber continued to reside at 41 Market St. through 1906. There is no Bamber listed in 1908, and starting in 1910, Mrs. Mary A. Bamber is listed at that address.6 I have found no death record in Massachusetts for Samuel, but I did find one clue to where he might have disappeared. On 9 May 1907, the Cunard liner Ivernia arrived at Liverpool, England, and one of the passengers who had embarked at Boston was one Saml Bamber, agent, age 65, nationality USA.7 (According to the 1900 census, he had been naturalized.) Not definitive by any means, but it at least raises the possibility that he had returned to his native country and died there.

Excerpt of passenger list of Iberia, 9 May 1907 arrival at Liverpool
... And apparently he had died, according to the 1910 census. William Decie is now head of household at 41 Market Street (the sequence of house numbers runs 39, 43, 43, 45 – the first 43 should be 41), with Mary A. Bamber, 75, widow, noted as "mother-in-law." Her birthplace is now the non-specific "Canada-English," neatly sidestepping the question of P.E.I. vs. Nova Scotia.8

1910 U.S. census, Newburyport, Mass., W. William Decie household
Mary A. Bamber died July 18, 1918, of mitral insufficiency, and was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Newburyport. According to the death certificate, she was born Aug. 5, 1832, in Georgetown, P.E.I. As if her parentage was not already confused enough, here her parents are reportedly William Murphy and Mary A. Campbell.9

Death certificate for Mary A. (Green) Bamber, 18 Jul 1918, Newburyport
The informant is Mrs. Benjamin Varina – that would be her daughter Annabell (Nicholas sometimes used his middle name Benjamin) – and I suspect she dredged up some names out of memory that she thought might have been Mary's parents. It appears she confused the name Mary had used when she married Annabell's father for Mary's mother. Where did the name William come from for her father? Hard to say, but if Mary is in fact my GGG aunt, then her brother William (my GG grandfather) had lived in Newburyport from about 1904 until his death in 1909, and Annabell may have mistakenly believed that was her grandfather's name as well.

So, is Mary my great-great-grand aunt? Which of the names and parents and ages and birthplaces are we to believe?

First, her birthplace. I'm inclined to believe she really was from Prince Edward Island, despite her alternating claims of a Nova Scotia origin. She twice reported the even more specific Georgetown, P.E.I., birthplace (also repeated on her death certificate), but never gave a specific location in Nova Scotia. P.E.I. is a small island and at the time was probably much less well known to U.S. residents than Nova Scotia. Perhaps she simply found it easier at times to say she was from Nova Scotia instead of explaining where Prince Edward Island was. Also, her first husband, George Bowlen, was from Nova Scotia. Why would she have claimed P.E.I. as her birthplace in their marriage registration if she was actually from her husband's province? And why include the detail of Georgetown, when George didn't bother to get any more specific?

Next, her age/date of birth. Again, I'm inclined to believe her initial claim to be 24 when she married in 1853, implying a birth year of 1828-1829. This was corroborated two years later in the 1855 state census, when she reported being 26. This is the oldest Mary ever claimed to be, and was a year older than George. It seems hardly likely that a young woman of that time would admit to being older than her husband by even a year, unless it was true. If any of her later age claims were correct, she would have been no more than 20 in 1853; if she had wanted to appear a little more mature, she would most likely have claimed 21 or 22 to George's 23. After George's death, her progressively increasing under-reporting of her age is understandable when you compare her probable age to that of her subsequent husbands: Daniel's age in 1860 (when they presumably married) would have been 24 to Mary's probable 31, while Samuel Bamber was 56 and Mary was probably 68 when they were married in 1898! Small wonder if Mary was inclined to hack 3 to 8 years off her age.

Finally there is the matter of her parents and maiden name. Here I'm rather stumped. I can think of no plausible reason why she might claim to be a Campbell from her first marriage in 1853 through at least 1870 (daughter Mary's birth record), and then announce that she was a Murphy when she married Samuel in 1898. The fact that Annabell reported Mary's maiden name to be Murphy for her death certificate indicates that the marriage record wasn't just a fluke, a made-up name to go with the (presumably) made-up occupation of doctor; it would seem that Mary must have given Annabell reason to believe that she was a Murphy. Perhaps – and this is sheer speculation – the presence in Newburyport in the late 1800s of numerous other members of the Murphy clan led Mary to acknowledge her true identity and kinship with those other Murphys. But if so, what was she hiding when she told George Bowlen her name was Campbell? I will probably never know.

The fact remains that, on the one hand, I can find no record of a "George and Martha Campbell" in P.E.I., while, on the other hand, I do have records of a Michael Murphy and Magdelen Morrison (my GGG grandparents) having kids in exactly the right time frame. I'm not too concerned about the discrepancy of Magdelen's first name; one of their children's baptismal records reads Matilda, and records of the other children (known and tentative) variously say Martha or Margaret. The common link is always the unique combination of Michael Murphy and M___ Morrison, and it doesn't seem likely that Mary would have pulled a relatively uncommon surname like Morrison out of thin air. It's also easy to see how a first name might mutate when recalled by descendants who had never know the grandmother whose name they were reporting on a death certificate (Magdelen > Maggie > Margaret > Mattie > Martha > Matilda).

For now, Mary (Murphy?) Bowlen Green Bamber will remain marked as "tentative" in my family tree – but on the whole, I am inclined to believe that she is my great-great-grand aunt, who inexplicably presented herself as a Campbell between the ages of 24-40.

(Note: This post is in response to Amy Johnson Crow's "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks" challenge at No Story Too Small.)

  1. The Newburyport Directory, 1882... (Boston: Sampson, Davenport, & Co., 1882), p.111, entry for Benj. M. Roward; database and digital images, "U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989," ( : accessed 20 Jul 2014). 
  2. The Newburyport and Amesbury Directory, 1896... (Boston: Sampson, Murdock, & Co. 1896), p. 57, entry for William F. Decie; database and digital images, "U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989," ( : accessed 26 Apr 2014). 
  3. "Massachusetts Vital Records, 1841–1910," database and digital images, New England Historic Genealogical Society, American Ancestors ( : accessed 14 Feb 2014), Newburyport, Essex, Mass., vol. 478, p. 403, marriage of Samuel Bamber and Mary A. Green, 1898; citing “original records held by the Massachusetts Archives”. That "second marriage" for Bamber is suspect; the record of his 1892 marriage – identifiable as the same Samuel Bamber from his parents' names – indicates that that was his second marriage (ibid., Methuen, Essex, Mass., vol. 424, p. 454, marriage of Samuel Bamber and Alice (Hartley) Fitton, 1892). Perhaps he had a previous wife in England.
  4. The Newburyport and Amesbury Directory, 1898... (Boston: Sampson, Murdock, & Co. 1898), p. 30, entry for Samuel Bamber (accessed 26 Apr 2014), p. 75, no entry for Mary A. Greene (accessed 18 July 2014). 
  5. 1900 U.S. Census, Essex County, Massachusetts, Newburyport, ED 421, sheet 8-B, dwelling 171, family 191, Samuel Bamber household; digital images, ( : accessed 18 Feb 2014).
  6. The Newburyport and Amesbury Directory, [year]... (Boston: Sampson, Murdock, & Co. 1900-1916), entries for Samuel Bamber (1900, 1902, 1904, 1906), for Mrs. Mary A. Bamber (1910, 1912, 1914, 1916); no entry for Bamber in 1908 (accessed 26 Apr 2014).
  7. "UK, Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960," database and digital images, ( : accessed 18 Jul 2014), entry for Saml Bamber, age 65, arrived Liverpool, England, 9 May 1907, aboard the Ivernia
  8. 1910 U.S. Census, Essex County, Massachusetts, Newburyport, ED 434, sheet 7-A, dwelling 163, family 173, W. William Decie household; digital images, ( : accessed 18 Feb 2014). 
  9. "Massachusetts, State Vital Records, 1841-1920," database and digital images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 19 Jul 2014), Newburyport, death certificate #220 (registered #152), Mary A. (Green) Bamber, 18 Jul 1918.

1 comment:

Bree B said...

Thank you for doing all this research. It's incredibly fascinating. Michael Murphy and Magdelen Morrison are also my GGG grandparents. And the mysterious Mary Murphy is a maternal GG grandmother via Daniel Green. She's an interesting one, no doubt. I have photos of Mary's and Daniel's daughter Sarah Worthen Green (my great grandmother), and others. I'm going to start posting those to And thanks again. —Bree Burns