November 15, 2012

Who was Elisabeth Grafin Finck von Finckenstein ?

I have come to love pouring over legal notices for estate settlements, especially if the estate was large which brings all the long-lost cousins out of the hinterlands to grab a piece for themselves.

Unmarried Emily A. Watson died in Westchester County in 1924 at age 80 leaving an estate of $12 million ….. notice, that was in 1924 !!  She was the second-born daughter of “Colonel” John Watson and his wife Mercy Watson (who also happened to be his first cousin – turns out that was common with the Watson clan).  John had an extremely successful career in the leather industry and for some time was a partner with his brother-in-law Zadock Pratt.  John's older daughter, Mary J, had died in 1902, the childless widow of Evan T Walker.  Emily was the prime heir to both of those estates. 

A few first cousins whom Emily had never even met filed suit to get a share.  These were names I had not previously known from my family research:  Tennessee Taylor Watson Owen, Mary Rufus Watson Foster, Fannie Watson Carothers and Hattie Sanders, all born in Mississippi.  Really?  The Watsons were from Rhode Island and some of them ventured over to New York, but Mississippi ?? These were cousins on Emily’s mother’s side of the family. Two of Mercy’s younger brothers, Rufus and Asa, moved to Mississippi in the 1840s and evidently the families had lost contact.

While trying to figure out exactly who Tennessee Watson and others were and how they fit into the family, I broadened my newspaper searches once it became clear that the legal battles might wage on for a while. Yes, for quite a while.  I have found notices from 1924 through 1963 thus far. WOW ! Emily died in 1924.

But the New York Times article published 29 June 1932 listed two never-before-seen names:  Herwarth von der Decken and Elizabeth Grafin Finck von Finckenstein. 
Who were they?

I was aware that Zadock Pratt’s grandaughter, Elizabeth Bleeker Tibbits Pratt (born in 1860 to his only son Colonel George W. Pratt) married Andree Gasquet-James, a New Orleans native of French heritage.  They moved to Europe where they raised four children.  Newspapers referenced their children as Count, Countess, Comtesse when they were suing their mother over expected inheritance following the death of their father.  So I was not surprised to see Emily Watson’s legal notices name Comtesse Victoire Niel and Countess Pauline de Gasquet James de la Mettrie.  I had already worked through those unusual names and titles.

However, Herwarth von der Decken stumped me. I found two records of his arrival into New York Harbor in 1925 and 1929 listing him as a single student born in Dresden <where his NY born grandmother had an apartment>. On the first trip he was traveling with an uncle named Rudolph von Buddenbrock, a farmer born in Bavaria.  They both referenced as grandmother/aunt “Grafin Elis, von Gasquet” as a contact in Germany. Obviously this was New York born Elizabeth Bleeker Tibbits Pratt Gasquet-James (also briefly wife of Duke Borwin … but that’s another story and she resumed her first husband’s surname). Since I knew her other two daughters’ married surnames were Niel and Mettrie, Herwarth had to be the son of oldest daughter Elizabeth born in 1882 in New Orleans.

Not so easy to find records of marriages and births in Europe, but I did come across some family trees and a “European nobility” website … at times in French and German and luckily both are languages I remember well enough to decipher what was being reported.

Here’s a recap on Countess Finck von Finckenstein:

Emily 1842-1924 daughter of “Col” John Watson & Mercy Watson
          (John's sister Abigial married Zadock Pratt)

George W Pratt 1830-1863 son of Abigail Watson & Zadock Pratt
            Married Anna Tibbits, 2 children (son died young)

Elizabeth Tibbits Bleeker Pratt 1860-1928 daughter of George and Anna
            Married Andree Gasquet-James 1845-1903 in 1881, 4 children

1)   Elizabeth 1882-1907 m Count Leo von der Decken in 1904
2)    Victoria 1883-1966+ m#2  Count Adolph Niel
3)    George Watson 1885- ?? no marriage known
4)    Pauline 1887 - ?  m Count Henri de la Mettrie

 When I was unable to find any records on familysearch that might help with my assumption of a von der Decken daughter marrying a Mr F v F, I stumbled upon a website 
which reported a likely marriage, but it was the name of their daughter that convinced me it must be correct …. BLEEKER was an ancestral name in the Tibbits line.
Children of Elizabeth and Leo von der Decken:

    1. Herwarth b 1905 - ?
    2. Elisabeth 1907-1936
            Married Adolph Finck von Finckenstein in 1929
                Their daughter Editha Elisabeth BLEEKER  b 1930

So, yes, Countess Finck von Finckenstein and her brother Herwarth von der Decken are direct members of the greater Watson tribe.  For more on this ‘soap opera’ style tale, see the blog The Esoteric Curiosa.

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