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.

Hard as Nails

Henrietta “Nettie” Ella (Frith) MacLean Abell

This will be one of the more difficult pieces to write because I’m not sure there will be much “balance” in it. I’ve heard a lot about Nettie over the years and to be honest – most of it was not complimentary. Craig Walker referred to his grandmother as a “mean old broad” and admitted to being afraid of her as a child and avoiding her as an adult. He told me that Nettie could hold a grudge forever and had an opinion about everyone and everything. My mother Shirlee agreed with Craig’s assessment. My grandmother Margaret, who never had an unkind word about anyone, referred to her mother as “difficult.”

Henrietta “Nettie” Ella Frith was born in 2 Mar 1875 in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York. She was the third child of George Richard Frith (1849-1903) and Henrietta F. Brimlow (1847-1884). While they were recording births in Brooklyn as early as 1866, I have not yet found a record for Nettie.

There has been some discussion about whether her name was Henrietta or simply Nettie. Nettie is the diminutive form of the name and most of her documentation is in that name. My belief that her birth name was Henrietta is based on two specific records. The 1 Jun 1875 New York State Census1 enumerates the Frith family in Brooklyn as:
George age 25,
Henrietta 25,
Ruth 2,
Henry 4 months.
It is probable that the census worker used the Henr. abbreviation in his notebook and simply wrote Henry instead of Henrietta when filling out the master sheet.

32848_B094052-00713The second item is the 1 Jun 1915 New York State Census when she is enumerated as Henrietta.2 This would have been her first official record after her husband died and she gave her full name. However, Nettie most likely chose to use the diminutive and it’s the name her family used for her.

Nettie’s mother died in 1884 when Nettie was only nine. She told her granddaughters that she had a vivid memory of her mother lying in the casket with a stillborn infant in her arms. My mother and her cousins were unnerved by this story at a very young age.

Nettie married her first cousin George Edward McLean on 12 July 1893.3 The news article about their secret marriage being discovered due to her fit of jealousy is revealing in its own way. Very early on, Nettie appears to be a woman who went after the things she wanted. She moves from Brooklyn to North Hempstead, Long Island (then Queens County) after her marriage to George.

Their first child was a stillborn boy born 19 May 1894.4 He was interred in the McLean family plot. Their next three children were daughters: Susan (Susie) Wynn born 20 Mar 1897,5 Margaret Frith born 22 Apr 1899,6 and Ada Mae born 25 Aug 1901.7 There is a five-year-gap and then the two boys appeared: Edward Frith born 29 Aug 1906,8 and Welling Seeley born 1908.9 The family was enumerated there together on 16 Apr 1910.10 Life appeared to be good as they own their home and have a servant to help in the kitchen. Margaret could not recall a time growing up when her mother did not have some type of domestic help.

George passed away 25 Mar 1915,11 and his mother Susan Winn (Frith) McLean (Nettie’s aunt) passed on 21 May 1915.12 Nettie was now on her own with five children. Oldest daughter Susie married John T. Kelley the following year. John Kelley, born 18 Jul 1888 in Brooklyn 13 was a fireman on the Long Island Railway and not approved of by Nettie. He died 28 Oct 191814 of the Spanish Influenza (I’m awaiting the death certificate for confirmation of this family story) and was buried in the McLean family plot in Roslyn Cemetery.
Sometime between 1915 and 1920, Nettie chose to change the spelling of her last name to MacLean. The family story was that Nettie was sure the “Mac” spelling denoted the Scottish and the “Mc” spelling was for the Irish. According to my sources, Nettie appeared to feel the Irish were less than desirable and wanted to make sure that everyone knew they were Scottish. This was a common misconception that was making the rounds in the early 20th century, but those of us who do genealogy know that spelling means nothing. This is the only branch of the family that made the switch in spelling. It was a source of confusion in the research for some time.

Stay tuned for Part II –

1. Brooklyn, Kings, Ward 16, E.D. 1, p. 41, line 42, George Frith; digital images, Ancestry(accessed 14 May 2014). Cit. Date: 14 May 2014.
2. New York, population schedule, No. Hempstead, Nassau, New York, p. 17, dwelling 47, line 36, McLean, Henrietta; digital images, Ancestry(accessed 12 May 2014). Cit. Date: 12 May 2014.
3. 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.
4. Roslyn Cemetery (Letter from Dominick Tarantino, Manager, Roslyn Cemetery, Roslyn, NY dated 24 Mar 08. List of people in McLean plot #61, Section Old Chart, with Name, Date of Internment and Age (if known)), Cit. Date: 10 Apr 2008.
5. State of California, “Death Index, 1940-1997,” database(accessed 10 May 2014), State of California, “Death Index, 1940-1997,” database(accessed 10 May 2014), Susan Wynn Griffin, SSN 545421305, b. 20 Mar 1897 NY, d15 Sep 1993, Santa Clara, mother maiden Frith, Father surname MacLean. Cit. Date: 10 May 2014. Cit. Date: 10 May 2014.
6. New York Department of Health, birth certificate (1899), Margaret McLean; New York State Dept of Health, Albany. Cit. Date: 19 Jun 2008.
7., Social Security Death Index, 1935-Current, Number: 103-14-4866; Issue State: New York; Issue Date: Before 1951.
8., Social Security Death Index, 1935-Current, Edward F. MacLean, 091-03-1366, b. 29 Aug 1906, d. 29 Feb 1988. Cit. Date: 10 May 2014.
9. Roslyn Cemetery (Letter from Dominick Tarantino, Manager, Roslyn Cemetery, Roslyn, NY dated 24 Mar 08. List of people in McLean plot #61, Section Old Chart, with Name, Date of Internment and Age (if known)), Cit. Date: 10 Apr 2008.
10. 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.
11. Roslyn Cemetery (Letter from Dominick Tarantino, Manager, Roslyn Cemetery, Roslyn, NY dated 24 Mar 08. List of people in McLean plot #61, Section Old Chart, with Name, Date of Internment and Age (if known)), Age 47 years 6 mo 15 days. Cit. Date: 10 Apr 2008.
12. New York death certificate 84 (1915), Susan Wynn MacLean, died 21 May 1915, Port Washington, Nassau, New York.
13. “World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database and images, Ancestry ( : accessed 9 May 2014), John Kelley, July 18, 1888, Electric Railway Conductor; U.S., World War I Draft Registration Crds, 1917-1918.
14. Roslyn Cemetery (Letter from Dominick Tarantino, Manager, Roslyn Cemetery, Roslyn, NY dated 24 Mar 08. List of people in McLean plot #61, Section Old Chart, with Name, Date of Internment and Age (if known)), Age 30. Cit. Date: 10 Apr 2008.

The McLean, Frith and Brimlow Page

The pedigree chart for this family line is now up. The spelling of MacLean versus McLean happened between 1915-1920. I have left Margaret Frith McLean’s spelling based on her birth certificate; however, sometime around the death of Margaret’s father George Edward McLean in 1915, her mother Nettie Ella Frith McLean began to use the spelling of MacLean. This declaration is from the 1899 request for a Widow’s Pension filed by Susan Wynn Frith McLean, the mother of George.1 The signature on the bottom left is George E. McLean. The family story is that Nettie changed the spelling based on the myth that the Scottish spelled it Mac and only the Irish used Mc. Her children adopted the change and their later records are MacLean. I have left Margaret’s records under her birth spelling of McLean.

While I now have locations to research in England the Brimlows and Browns, the Friths are going to be more complicated. I have some leads to explore when I go to Salt Lake City, but I have nothing beyond a marriage location to begin with on William Frith.

1.Declaration For Widow’s Pension by Susan W. McLean; Civil ar and Later Complete File (NATF 85D); Federal Military Pension Applications; National Archives and Records Administration.