The Family Story

Susan Wynn McLean

I need to preface this with the reminder that every family has stories – whether these tales have any basis is truth is often a matter of perspective. The following came from what I was told when growing up and later conversations with extended family members during my research.

I only knew my grandaunt Sue for a short time. We both lived in Reno in the mid-1970s, and I visited with her several times. She was a very sweet lady who reminded me a lot of my grandmother Margaret. Most of the family stories I heard about Susie began with “Poor Sue.” I think her siblings felt Susie had had a pretty rough road in life.

The “Poor Sue” seems to begin with the death of her husband John Kelley. By all accounts, she loved him very much and his sudden death was shattering. Susie was pregnant at the time and she and her infant daughter (also named Nettie) moved back in with her mother. John Kelley’s son John Stewart Kelley was born in his grandmother’s home three months later. Her mother Nettie fired the maid and Susie picked up her duties to pay her way. It’s my understanding that Nettie never missed an opportunity to let her daughter know how “lucky” she was to have a place to go.

I’ve heard that when Susie married Edmund Griffin, Nettie told her that she didn’t like him or want him in her house. What is also clear in listening to the family stories is that Edmund and his mother-in-law Nettie butted heads frequently and the dislike and lack of respect was mutual. [Read more…]

Hard as Nails – Part 2

Henrietta “Nettie” Ella (Frith) MacLean Abell (1875-1963)

On the 1920 census, we find Nettie with a full house. Nettie, sons Edward 13, and Welling 11, daughter Susie 22, and her two children Nettie and John Stewart, Margaret and husband Harry Walker, as well as Ada and husband John (Jack) K. Stillwell.1 It’s my understanding that Nettie charged the married couples the going rate on rent. Margaret and Ada moved out within a year. My uncle Craig said his father Harry couldn’t wait to get out of his mother-in-laws house and they relocated to Philadelphia. Susie married Edmund Griffin in about 1922 and moved out also.
In the early 1920s, Nettie married Alfred Abell. Alfred was born 26 May 1870 in West Hoboken, Hudson, New Jersey,2 and worked as a foreman for the coal company. He was the son of Thomas and Rachel (Unknown) Abell and (based on census records) had been previously married to Georganna Streit in about 1903. I don’t know if they were divorced or if she died. They had no children. By 1940, Alfred had relocated to Greene County, New York, but both he and Nettie still list themselves as married. Alfred died there 14 Jun 1962.3 I have not yet found out if they ever divorced. If anyone wants to hunt the records, everything would have happened in Nassau County and most likely in Mineola or North Hempstead.
The interesting part of this relationship is that none of the grandchildren knew they were married. My mother Shirlee and her brother Craig thought Alfred was the handyman because when they visited; they ate at the dining room table and Alfred took his meals in the kitchen. I also heard him referred to as “the butler” because he sometimes served the food before retreating to the kitchen. Nettie also did not speak to him during these times. My mother never heard Nettie refer to herself as Abell, and recalls that when she wrote to her grandmother, she addressed her letters to Mrs. Nettie MacLean.
My mother spent many summers on Long Island with her grandmother and cousins in the 1930s and ’40s. She and Craig both spoke of their grandmother frequently. According to them, Nettie definitely ran things in the family and when she spoke, they all listened and did as they were told. As my mother got older, she became more open about her grandmother, referring to Nettie as “warm when it suited her” but “hard as nails” underneath. She took in her grandchildren, but they were expected to work for their room and board. She was known to meddle and manipulate her children when it suited her, and was not above naming a child (her son Welling Seeley MacLean) after a wealthy childless relative in hopes he would leave his namesake something.
Nettie lived with her son Edward and his family until her death on 21 Dec 1963 in Mineola on Long Island. She was buried in the Roslyn Cemetery and shares a tombstone with first husband George. The two spellings of the last name make it very clear to me that Nettie was a woman who lived life on her own terms and did things her own way.HPIM0739

1. 1920 U.S. census, population schedule, Roslyn, No. Hempstead, Nassau, New York, dwelling 187, family 152, MacLean, Nettie; digital images, Ancestry (accessed 12 May 2014); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T625. Cit. Date: 12 May 2014.
2. database(accessed 3 Jul 2014), Alfred Abell, 26 May 1870, W. Hoboken, Hudson, New Jersey, Thomas and Rachel Abell; New Jersey, Births and Christenings Index, 1660-1931. Cit. Date: 3 Jul 2014.
3. database(accessed 3 Jul 2014), Alfred Abell, 14 Jun 1962, Catskill, Greene County, NY State Death Cert. #1962/46790; The New York State Death Index, 1957-1963.

George Edward McLean (1867-1915)

GeorgeGeorge Edward McLean was born 10 Sep 1867, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Kings County, New York,1 the fourth known child of Peter Byron McLean (1832-1895) and Susan Winn Frith (1839-1915). His Brooklyn birth certificate states he was born at home, 428 Grand Street, Brooklyn, and provides both his parents full names as shown below.
1867 Birth
On 12 Jul 1893, twenty-six-year-old George married his eighteen-year-old, first cousin Henrietta “Nettie” Ella Frith (1875-1963) in Brooklyn.2 Nettie was the daughter of George Richard Frith and Henrietta Brimlow. Her cousin Cordelia Edith (Frith) and husband Norman Roscoe were the witnesses.
For some reason, George and Nettie kept the marriage secret from his family for almost two months. When the marriage did come to light, it made the 18 Sep 1893 edition of the New York Times.3

Became Jealous and Claimed Her Husband. ROSLYN, L.I., Sept. 17. – George E. McLean of this village married his cousin, Miss Nettie Frith of Brooklyn, July 12. The ceremony was performed in Brooklyn by the Rev. A. J. Wright. The couple kept the marriage a secret, and there is no telling when it would have leaked out had not McLean caused his bride to become jealous of his attentions to other girls. She yesterday told her husband’s parents of the marriage. The announcement caused considerable surprise.The bride’s father is a brother of Mrs. McLean senior, and is well known in the Eastern District of Brooklyn, where he lives. The young people have been forgiven.

My cousins and I have spent a great deal of time wondering what it is about this thin, long-necked, big-eared man that was so captivating.

l-r: Margaret , Nettie holding Welling, Sue, George with Edward, and Ada.  c.1909 Roslyn Height, NY.

l-r: Margaret , Nettie holding Welling, Sue, George with Edward, and Ada. c.1909 Roslyn Height, NY.

George was a painter and general contractor by trade. There are several notices in the newspapers of his receiving contracts for painting and building in the Roslyn area. The family can be found there on the 1900 and 1910 Federal Censuses.4,5 However, I have not been able to locate them on 1905 New York State Census yet.

He died 25 Mar 1915 at the age of 47 and was buried in the Roslyn Cemetery.6 He died of chronic parenchymatous nepritis – bad kidneys. His widow Nettie is the one who changed the spelling on this line to MacLean after his death.

I will discuss Nettie and their children in more detail in a separate post. Their known children were:

1. Stillborn Boy McLean, 19 May 1894, buried in Roslyn Cemetery.
2. Susan Wynn McLean, born 20 Mar 1897, No. Hempstead, Queens, New York, died 15 Sep 1993, Campbell, Santa Clara, California. Married 1st about 1916 – John T. Kelley (18 Jul 1888-29 Oct 1918). Children: Nettie E. Kelley and John Stewart Kelley. Married 2nd about 1922 – Edmund Griffin (6 May 1894-7 Apr 1977). Children: Edmund Griffin Jr. and Benjamin Payne Griffin.
3. Margaret Frith McLean – previously discussed.
4. Ada Mae McLean, born 25 Aug 1901, No. Hempstead, Nassau, New York, died 30 Dec 1982, Long Branch, Monmouth, New Jersey. Married 1st about 1919 – John (Jack) Stillwell (10 Aug 1897-aft 1951), children: Dawn Stillwell and John Wesley Stillwell. Married 2nd – Henry Sykulski (10 Feb 1913-Dec 1982). They had no children.
5. Edward Frith MacLean, born 29 Aug 1906, No. Hempstead, Nassau, New York, died 29 Feb 1988, Mineola, Nassau, New York, buried All Saints Cemetery, Great Neck, Nassau, New York. Married Dorothy Coleman 26 Apr 1947 in Roslyn, Nassau, New York. Children: Laurie E. MacLean and Leslie MacLean.
6. Welling Seeley MacLean, born 1908 in No. Hempstead, Nassau, New York, died 25 Oct 1964, Caldwell, Essex, New Jersey, buried Roslyn Cemetery. Married Mabel Ramee 2 Sep 1935 in Garden City, Nassau, New York. Children: Nancy Ruth MacLean (16 Jun 1939-23 Jul 1945). Family sources have stated there was a stillborn child early in the marriage and that Nancy was adopted.

1. Kings, New York, (FHL microfilm, Salt Lake City, UT), birth certificate no. 3453 (10 Sep 1867), George Edward McLean; FHL microfilm 1,324,344. Cit. Date: 2 Aug 2010.
2. Marriage Record, Certificate of Marriage Brooklyn #3969, 12 Sep 1893, George Edward McLean and Nettie Ella Frith, witnesses: Norman and Cordelia Edith Roscoe. FHL Film #1,523,044. Cit. Date: 26 Apr 2014.
3. “Became Jealous and Claimed Her Husband,” The New York Times, 18 Sep 1893, online archives ( : accessed 20 Dec 2008), p. 5. Cit. Date: 21 Dec 2008.
4. 1900 U.S. census, population schedule, No. Hempstead, Nassau, New York, enumeration district (ED) 711, p. 4B, dwelling 77, family 82, McLean, George E.; digital images, Ancestry (accessed 11 May 2014); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T623, roll 1079. Cit. Date: 11 May 2014.
5. 1910 U.S. census, population schedule, No. Hempstead, Nassau, New York, enumeration district (ED) 1123, p. 2A, dwelling 22, family 22, Mclean, George E.; digital images, Ancestry (accessed 12 May 2014); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T624, roll T624 995. Cit. Date: 12 May 2014.
6. Roslyn Cemetery (Letter from Dominick Tarantino, Manager, Roslyn Cemetery, Roslyn, NY dated 24 Mar 2008. List of people in McLean plot #61, Section Old Chart, with Name, Date of Internment and Age (if known)), George E. McLean, Age 47 years 6 mo 15 days. Cit. Date: 10 Apr 2008.