Years ago I wrote a blog post summarizing the life of my second-great maternal grandfather, Henry Bouchy. He arrived in New York City from France as a young boy with his family a week after Lincoln’s assassination. Henry had three wives and ten surviving children. This is the story of his third wife, Anna Buehler Linz Bouchy, and her struggle to provide for her children in the early 20th century.
Henry’s children by his first wife were not fans of the third wife, a widower with a young son. Two of Henry’s older daughters were married by the age of sixteen in order to get away from Anna, although, to be fair, Henry wasn’t a joy to be around either, from all accounts.
Henry and Anna had four children together: Anna (1900, and whom I shall call “Anna Jr.”), Theodore (1902), Edward, (1905), and Frank (1907). The couple moved from Newark, New Jersey to Dayton, Kentucky just before their daughter Anna was born. Anna Jr.’s date of birth was 4 July 1900.
Henry died of an untreated ear infection in March 1909, leaving Anna with six children at home — two from his first wife and four of their own children. The family did not have much and Anna was forced to do the best with what little she had to her name. Where Henry’s children with his first wife went to live after his death is unknown, but they likely went to live with an older sibling.
Anna took her four children (Anna Jr., Theodore, Edward, and Frank) and returned to New Jersey where she was forced to put her children on the mercy of the Hudson County New Jersey Orphans Court on 3 February 1911. The children became wards of the New Jersey State Board of Children’s Guardians. In December, Jean Bouchy, Henry’s eldest son with his first wife, and administrator of Henry’s estate, sent a check to the New Jersey Board of Children’s Guardians in the amount of three hundred and sixty dollars for the care of the children.
The Bouchy boys were put into Hamilton township schools in Trenton and did well; all of them appear on their school’s honor roll in May 1912. By 1920, the boys had been “taken in” by families and were going to school and working on farms. Theodore returned to Dayton, Kentucky at an unknown date. He moved in with his half-sister Bessie Bouchy Ott, and he died at her home on 26 October 1929, at the age of 26 from a kidney disorder. Even in death, Henry’s older children could not bring themselves to even credit their step-mother Anna with the birth of one of their half-siblings. Bessie informed the person filling out Theodore’s death certificate that his mother was Ada Johnson — Henry’s first wife, and Bessie’s mother, not Anna Buehler. Edward made his return to Dayton, Kentucky by 1930. He enlisted in the army, served in World War II, and married. He died without children in 1977. Frank remained in New Jersey and enlisted there in 1942. Sometime after 1947 he returned to Kentucky and died at Cold Spring on 1 October 1990; he never wed nor had children.
By 1915, Anna was working as a factory worker in Jersey City and she and another female factory worker rented a home at 87 Central Avenue. Where Anna Jr. was at this time is unknown; however, the presumption was that she was in the care of the State of New Jersey. The other possibility is that she had been “taken in” by a family in a manner similar to her brothers. Attempts to locate her in the 1915 New Jersey State Census were unsuccessful, leading one to believe she took the surname of the family with whom she was living for that year’s census.
How much contact Anna had with her children after they became wards of the state and later, when they went to live elsewhere, is completely unknown. It makes one wonder if Anna knew her 19-year-old daughter had high-tailed it across the country in 1919 with a 37-year-old married man, who left a wife and four children back in New Jersey.
Anna Buehler Bouchy died on 22 October 1921 in Jersey City. At the time of her death, she’d been working as a tobacco cleaner at P. Lorillard Tobacco Company. Her death certificate states the cause of death as a “syncope due to cardiac disease.” Anna was buried at Bayview Cemetery (aka New York Bay Cemetery) on 27 October 1921. Anna had two life insurance policies totally $315.00 and $405.51 in her bank account. On 12 September 1922, notice was given in the Jersey Journal that the final account of Anna’s estate was going to be audited and that the final settlement was going to the Orphan’s Court of Hudson County on 5 October 1922. Anna had buried two husbands, two babies by her first husband, and given over custody of her four children with Henry to the state of New Jersey. She’d had a short, tragic life, but she did what she felt was necessary. She died alone at the age of 50.
A 100 Year Old Family Mystery
Anna Bouchy Jr. never shared with her family who her parents were, what her life was like as a child or young woman growing up in New Jersey, and she went to incredible lengths to hide the details of her life from her son and grandchildren. She guarded her past zealously. When Anna Jr. died in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1986, she took her secrets to the grave and that’s where they remained for the next 33 years.
Anna Jr. entered the New Jersey State Board of Children’s Guardians in late 1911. Unfortunately, her life from 1900 – 1919 is an utter mystery; where she lived, with whom, and whether she was treated with care and consideration — no one knows. And it is no doubt the events that shaped her life during those early years that molded her into the secretive woman she became with her family.
Anna Jr.’s granddaughter contacted me several years ago attempting to determine if we are related. The French Bouchy name is quite uncommon in the United States, and when Anna’s granddaughter informed me that Anna Jr. was born in Dayton, Kentucky I knew we were somehow related, but not how, as all of my Bouchys were from Dayton.
Anna Jr. never spoke of her early life or family with her granddaughters and as far as they knew, their grandfather was George Burton, Anna Jr.’s second husband. A funny thing happened though when Anna Bouchy Jr.’s granddaughter Diane took a DNA test — there wasn’t a single shared Burton match in her list of matches. There were however, two very high half-first cousin matches, with names that Diane, Anna’s granddaughter did not recognize. Diane knew the matches were not of her mother’s side, so we set out to contact the female half-first cousin. We never heard back. We then contacted the male half-first cousin, whose account was being managed by someone else. The manager of that account reached out to the first half-cousin, who in turn contacted us, and within days we had solved a 100-year-old mystery: what had happened to Anna Jr.?
The first half-cousin’s name is Donn and he was kind enough to chat with me, share his family history with a complete stranger. After giving me the initial names and dates of his immediate family, we still weren’t exactly sure how he and Diane were related, but I had some theories. The second phone call Donn and I shared turned out to be the genealogical jackpot. The missing piece fell into place and we were finally able to get insight into why Anna Jr. was so secretive her entire life.
By 1919, World War I was over, but it was time of great sorrow for millions of families as everyone had in some way been impacted by the Great War; most were also affected by the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. Between these two historic events the world saw death on a scale not seen since the Plague. Those who had survived the war, deprivations, and disease became jaded to the world. And yet, because they’d survived these events there was a need to experience life to its fullest, hence, The Roaring 20s. People lived with abandon knowing that their time on earth was finite. It was in this context that a 19-year-old Anna Bouchy Jr. met Louis, a 37-year-old husband and father of four in New Jersey in 1918/9.
The exact circumstances of Louis and Anna Jr.’s meeting are unknown. Louis was an ice and milk delivery man, so it’s possible Anna was on Louis’s delivery route. Louis’s grandson Donn was able to provide me with the answer as to how Anna Jr. ended up in Los Angeles, California in 1920–something Diane and I had wondered for years. Why would a single, 19-year-old woman go across the country by herself to Los Angeles? What was previously unknown to us was that Anna Jr. did not travel alone. Donn informed me that in 1919, Louis left his wife and children in New Jersey and “ran off with a woman to California.” It was at that moment I got goose-bumps and realized the woman was Diane’s grandmother, Anna Bouchy Jr.
Anna Jr. appears on the 1920 census living in Los Angeles as boarder in the home of a married couple, employed as a telephone operator, but where was Louis? Why weren’t they together? Donn filled in the rest of the story for me: Louis’s wife was not about to be hung out to dry with four kids in New Jersey. She packed up everyone, put them on the train and headed west. What happened when she tracked down Louis no one knows, although the two patched things up and they decided to stay and raise their family in Los Angeles. Their home was 2.5 miles from where Anna Jr. was living in 1920…It also raises the question: did Anna know that Louis was married? Did he neglect to inform her of his wife and children? It’s possible Anna didn’t know Louis’s marital status until his wife tracked him down in Los Angeles.
Shortly after June 1920, Anna Jr. realized she was pregnant and left Los Angeles for Colorado. Knowing that Louis had chosen to remain with his wife and children put her in a terrible quandary: should she tell or not tell him of the baby? Unfortunately, the answer to that question has been lost to history and we will never know if Louis knew of his impending fatherhood with Anna Jr.
Anna Jr. and Louis’s son Roy Marion “Blair” was born on 18 April 1921 in Pueblo, Colorado. The nuns at St. Mary’s Hospital must have questioned the veracity of Anna’s information as there is a “?” next to the word “Legitimate” on the birth certificate. In October 1921, Anna Sr. died in New Jersey. Whether she knew she was a grandmother is unknown as we do not know if she had contact with her daughter.
The information Anna Jr. provided for the birth certificate states the father as Louis A. “Blair,” who was born in New York about 1890, and who was employed as a mechanic in La Junta, Colorado. An exhaustive search for Louis Blair found a possible result, but it led to a dead end. After speaking to Donn, it became apparent that Anna lied in regards to the father’s last name although, the first name, middle initial, and place of birth were accurate.
It should be noted here that Louis’s fourth and final child with his wife (who was born in 1917), was also named Roy (middle name Robert). What was Anna doing by naming her son after Louis’s son with his wife? Whatever the reason, Anna later chose to rename her son and about a year after his birth called him Robert Louis.
To support herself and her son, Anna Jr. became a housekeeper for Jessie Mitts, a widower 46 years her senior. She married Jessie on 21 November 1923 and he died nine years later in 1932. On 13 March 1933, Anna Jr. wed George Burton, who later adopted Robert Louis “Blair.”
In December 1943, Anna Jr. revised her 22 year-old son’s birth certificate. She changed the name of the father from Louis A. Blair to George H. Burton – her second husband and the man who adopted Robert. Several years later when Anna Jr. discovered Robert’s wife requested his birth certificate for a passport, Anna Jr. flew into a rage, knowing the truth of his parentage was there in all it’s glory on Robert’s original birth certificate. Robert probably realized that George Burton was not his father, but the issue was never discussed – at least not with his children. Whether he addressed it with his mother is another question to which we’ll never know the answer. Robert’s daughters believed George Burton to be their paternal grandfather when, in fact, their grandfather Louis was a poultry and dairy farmer whom they’d never met and whom they’d never meet.
In 1951 Anna Jr. submitted a Social Security application under the name Anna Mitts, daughter of Anna Biehler (sic) and Theodore Mitts; although Robert’s birth certificate specifically states his mother’s name as Anna Bouchay (sic). Why she intentionally provided inaccurate information unclear.
Five years later, in 1956, Anna’s husband George Burton passed away. In 1969, Anna submitted another Social Security application; this one named Anna Biehler (sic) and Henry Bouchy as her mother and father. It was this application which allowed Diane and I to connect the dots as to our DNA relationship: Henry is Diane’s great-grandfather and he is my 2nd great-grandfather, but she descends from Henry’s third wife, and I from his first.
Tragically, Diane’s father Robert Burton, died in a scuba diving accident in Florida three days after his 55th birthday on 21 April 1976. One month prior to Anna Jr.’s passing, her son George Burton Jr. died in Maine at the age of 51. Anna Jr. passed away on 19 September 1986 in Colorado Springs at the age of 86. Like her mother, Anna Jr. had outlived both husbands and children.
Anna Jr. kept her secrets hidden for decades and no doubt is less than thrilled that they are now known. Understanding how society looked upon an unwed mother in the 1920s – especially one who ran off with a married man, gives us insight as to why Anna wanted her son’s true parentage to remain hidden.
May is the month for honoring our mothers — let us remember all that they do to protect us, love us, and shelter us, even to their own great sacrifice.