Newly pregnant parents spend a lot of time searching through lists of baby names to bestow on the newest little one. My parents had no choice in the matter as my Grandmother named me for her long dead mother. This seemed logical since she had given my mother the same name.
Kate Kendall was taken from her family at the age of twenty-five, leaving a grieving young husband and three motherless children under the age of six. The stories which filled my childhood of my Great-Grandmother were of necessity filtered through the uncertain memory of a six year old. Who was Kate Kendall really? Her passing left her children to create the person they thought she was.
My Great-Grandfather, George Kendall, remarried soon after Kate’s death to an even younger woman who became a stern step-mother. Though George was an avid photographer, all photos of Kate were destroyed save one un-named mourning photo which may or may not have been Kate. It shows the value of putting names on our old photos.
Grandma remembered her as a happy playful companion who loved to dance and sing. Bits and pieces of an all too short childhood were often related to me if Grandmas saw in me a likeness to her mother. Grandma said her mother had been a teacher, but when I got her death certificate it showed that her job had been a mill girl. A not uncommon occupation in the cotton mills in New England. She probably had been a Sunday School teacher in one of the Congregational churches. Grandma said Kate had died because of catching a cold dancing in a draft, but she really died from consumption, probably from dust from the cotton mill.
Searching through the faded red velvet autograph/journal which is signed “Miss Katie Hadley, White River Junction, Vermont”, I don’t think anyone traveled too far from home in those days, but according to her diary, she spent a few months in Kansas City where a number of people signed her book in the flowing cursive writing of those days. Among the signers was George Kendall, who seemed interested in pursuing a relationship when he wrote: “Although our acquaintance has been short, And the time has swiftly flown, Permit me to call you a friend like those I have longer known.” It is dated August 13, 1886.
No knowledge of how they met, whether at a dance as Grandma thought, or from a work association, because her father and George’s father were cabinetmakers? George himself was a contractor, having at that time built many of the public buildings in Bristol, New Hampshire as well as many private homes.
Grandma said they never knew their Mother’s family, the Hadleys, though they apparently lived nearby. Why was that? Yet soon after Kate’s death, they came hoping to take the middle child, Aunt Georgia, home with them. They did not want my Grandmother because she was too “strong-willed” nor did they want the two year old baby because he was a boy and boys are too boisterous. It didn’t set well with their father, and they never saw them again.
Many years later, as I was entering the names of some of our children in the big Kendall Family Bible, I stumbled on the entry for Kate and George Kendall’s wedding date, April 22, 1886. Grandma Nellie’s birth date was October 13, 1887. Looking closer, I saw that the final digit in the marriage date was smudged and changed to 1886. Why would George write his ”hopeful friend’ poem in Kate’s diary four months after they were married? It seems clear to me that Kate was pregnant with Nellie on her wedding date, which would not lift an eyebrow today. Did the smudged digit show that Kate had rubbed out the original with a spit dampened finger, to make it all ‘come right’ with future generations? Did the Hadley grandparents disown Kate upon learning of her pregnancy? We will never know, and it doesn’t really matter, but it may have answered some questions at the time.
Why do we choose the names we do for our children to carry throughout their lives? They seem to come in great variety today, though family names still carry down through the ages. We often name babies for people we love or admire which is a nice tradition too. It is flattering to have someone named after you. It shows that someone cares enough about you to want their child to bear your name. Our granddaughter is the latest ‘Kate’ in our family. Grandma would be happy to know Kate Kendall’s name lives on.