I may be the only person alive who still remembers Edith Karr. Those who have children and grandchildren have someone to remember them, to put flowers on a grave, to share pictures and stories and keep them from slipping into oblivion. But if you are a maiden aunt or bachelor uncle without children to remember you, you tend to disappear off the family tree until your name and your SELF is forgotten. I write about her now so that she is remembered.
This is the only picture I have of her, and it’s terrible:
When I was a child, Edie was already in her late 70’s and just seemed old and quiet and awkward with children. I wasn’t quite sure how we were related, actually, but she was my great-grandmother’s cousin, my first cousin three times removed. Because of her age, “Aunt” was appropriate, though she always referred to herself as “Cousin Edie.” She wore dresses, stockings and sensible shoes with a short pearl necklace, her dark hair rolled back in a kind of 40’s hairstyle. She had thick dark eyebrows which looked a little like caterpillers on her forehead (okay, I was a kid and it wasn’t a kind thought). Edie didn’t have a car or know how to drive so she took busses to work and to go shopping from her small apartment, where she lived alone for almost 30 years. But before that, she and her mother spent almost 30 years living two blocks from the home where my grandfather grew up.
Edith A. Karr was born on 15 November 1886 in Manhattan, New York, the second child of Daniel Karr and Martha (Mattie) V. Heginbotham. Her only sibling, older brother Harry, was born in December 1884 just nine months after their parents were married. Daniel was a hatter as was Martha’s father, Thomas Heginbotham. In fact, all of the Heginbothams worked in the New York City hat trade, so it is probable that Martha and Daniel met through her father Thomas.
The Karr (or Carr) family lived in New York and was recorded in the 1890 New York Police Census. By 1895 Martha and her children were living without Daniel in Belleville, New Jersey, with a house full of Martha’s Heginbotham relatives. Since Martha is listed as widowed in the 1900 census, it seems likely that Daniel’s death was the reason she and the children moved across the river to New Jersey to live with family.
It was a crowded household with thirteen people. Martha Karr herself (incorrectly listed as Matilda, probably because she was known as Mattie) was there with children Harry and Edie, as were Martha’s sister Sarah White and her husband Thomas with their three children. Unmarried sisters Ann and Mary Heginbotham were also there, with bachelor brother Thomas Heginbotham, and Louis and Jennie Huxtable. The family was still largely together in Belleville in 1900 but had split into two households: Thomas, Ann, and Mary Heginbotham lived with their sister Martha, Harry and Edie, who were both attending school. Next door were Martha’s sister Sarah White with her husband Thomas and 5 children.
Nineteen year old Edie struck out on her own by 1906, when she worked as a stenographer in Newark and was a boarder living apart from her family. That didn’t last long; in 1910 she was back living with her mother, brother, aunts and uncles, though she was still working as a stenographer for a chemical company. She lived with her mother on Highland Avenue in Newark until Martha’s death in 1951, doing stenography and office work until she retired. That home on Highland Avenue was two blocks away from Martha’s sister Alice and her daughter Charlotte Flanders, my great-grandmother and Edie’s cousin.
I didn’t know that about her until this week when I used GoogleMaps to check the location. I don’t know what she liked to do in her free time, whether she had goals she wanted to accomplish, whether she cried herself to sleep out of loneliness or was content with her long unmarried life. Since I am also an unmarried aunt, I take this as a reminder to stay connected to the family I have. To make phone calls, send letters, be involved in their lives as much as I can from a distance.
Edith Karr worked full time at a time when most women were home raising children, listing their occupation as “keeping house” on census records. She lived with and supported her mother until she was 64, and lived with assorted aunts and uncles for many years. But she lived a very long life dedicated to her family and friends, even if I didn’t know them. My grandfather lived close by and was more Edie’s nephew than cousin. He took her to doctor’s appointments in her later years and brought her to my beloved Manasquan for short vacation breaks. And when she died at age 93 in 1980, he paid for her cremation and burial in the Christ Church Cemetery in Belleville next to her mother, aunts, cousins, and grandfather. She was no longer alone.