October 8, 2012

The Challenge of Common Names: Miss Black of Indiana

While working on the Peckham family, I found that George had married a woman from Indiana whose first name was at times listed as Elnora, Eleanor, Elenore.  I assumed that they married in New York City about 1917, but could not find a newspaper marriage announcement nor a matching entry in the ever-so-helpful index of brides and grooms created by and published for free by the Italian Genealogical Group. I wanted to find her maiden name and birth family.

Mrs. Peckham died in the mid-1920s and a death record index listed her name as Elenore Black Peckham … so that was a good start. I wanted to see if I could find Eleanor Black in NYC in the years before her marriage.  I did not find a census record, but a 1915 passenger record seemed to match her. It stated that she was born in Greenfield, IN about 1888 and was living on 114th Street in NYC. 

I thought the rest should be easy – just check the 1900 census. Not found ! She had been traveling overseas, so find her passport application. Not found ! No matching birth record was found for Eleanor on family search either.

However, in my initial passport search, I noticed a Thomas E Black, born in 1893 in Greenfield, Indiana with his father listed as R A Black.  I thought he MIGHT be Eleanor’s brother … and it seems that he was. In the 1900 census, their father was listed as Richard A and their mother as Ione.  “Eleanor” was listed as Nell and she was born in August 1886 (not quite matching the age on the 1915 passenger record).  It seemed to be right, but did not actually confirm that Nell and Eleanor were the same person.

What confirmed my assumptions was an interesting Indiana website listing passport applications for people born in Hancock County (which includes Greenfield). There I found Thomas Earl Black and ARMANELLA Black who was born in 1886 and applied for her passport in 1914. Taking that information back to the NYC brides index, I found her marriage to George “PEEKHAM” on 10 Nov 1916.

Armanella/Nell/Eleanor was well-educated with a graduate degree from Columbia University and years of education and travel in Europe. She taught French and Spanish at a number of institutions including Smith College, Drake University and Adelphi Academy in Brooklyn.  The Blacks were a traveling family and Hancock County has published some information about their adventures with special focus on Richard Jr., an artist who died young.  These local histories can be invaluable.

Discovering her full name helped me find many references and documents detailing her short, but experience-filled life. So, don’t give up on what seems to be a common name.

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