My Family Herstory: Part Two

Post a photo of one of your female ancestors. Who is in the photo? When was it taken? Why did you select this photo?

Edna Lescalette Kerr circa 1923
Edna Lescalette Kerr circa 1923

Edna Kerr was my great-grandmother (my paternal grandfather’s mother.) She was widowed soon after this photo and left to raise 4 children on her own. This cropped image is from an actual button of her family, including husband Kelso Kerr, the type that might have been taken at a fair or other festival. I found the button in my grandmother’s belongings. I have a few other photos of Edna, but this one always strikes me because the family was complete and whole. Did she foresee the fractures that would rip them apart? Is she smiling? Could they afford the photo?

Edna was born Elisabetta Lescalette in 1892 in Pittsburgh. Her mother Anna was of German descent and that’s all I have discovered. Her father, Sylvester, is part of a mysterious immigrant group to the US – the Lescalette/Lescaleete family – who came to the US in the late 1700’s from parts unknown. Some say Alsace-Lorraine, others are unsure. There are many descendants around the US. Sylvester’s father moved from Maryland to Pennsylvania (North Fayette area) and had a lot of kids, but I’ve never bumped into a Lescalette in real life. Sylvester worked in the mill.

I don’t know much about Edna. Her baptismal certificate is in German. I have it. How did Elisabetta become Edna? How did she meet Kelso? After his death (he was a drunk – I’ll be honest), she rotated the children among family – another widow struggling to make ends meet – and her second youngest child (Ruth) was adopted by another family. She eventually remarried in 1932 to John C. Rosensteel of Mercer County – ironically, my partner is from Mercer County.

I know that Edna raised at least one granddaughter. I know that she lived until 1956. My father’s cousins (in their 60s and above) have memories of her, but they haven’t pass along any mementos. My father doesn’t have any memories of her (he was 12 when she died.)

Here’s my other photo:

Regina Gallagher Kramer circa 1917
Regina Gallagher Kramer circa 1917

This is cropped from a larger family photo that’s stuck to the glass so I can’t get a clear copy of her expression.But trust me – she’s scowling. A lot.

Regina is my great-great grandmother on my mother’s side (the mother of her mother’s father.) They lived in Butler County. She and husband Daniel (an oil field worker) had 4 children and also raised a niece and nephew. Daniel died after the kids were grown and Regina apparently “circulated” among her children for the rest of her life. That apparently became a tradition of how to manage an elderly parent. My mother remembers her vaguely as the very mean great-grandma who made her daughter-in-law’s life miserable (she was very attached to her only son Charlie, my great-grandfather.)

When I hear the stories about her, I think to myself “she must have been a tough woman” and wonder why. What was her every day life like? Did she love her husband? Did she really love her son more than her three daughters or was that merely perception? How did she feel about being rotated like a farm crop in her old age? What happened to the niece and nephew?

So I’ve described five women in my family, all of whom outlived their husbands and had secrets to keep. To suggest that they are merely ordinary women is to devalue the individual human experience. It seems that sadness and other bitter emotions are their legacies, but the reasons why are unclear.

When I think of these women, I think of Francie Nolan and her  mother Katie and various women in the book “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” – similar time period, similar tragedies, similar family bonds.

The Kerr family button
The Kerr family button

 

The Kramer family photo
  The Kramer family photo

When I hear a plaintive Irish melody, I think of all these women – even though they aren’t all Irish. There’s something quite beautiful in their tragedies and something sinister, too, be it poverty, abuse or sexism.

 

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