An Orphans’ Story Gets a Happy Ending

I knew my  Granduncle Paul and his wife Lena (Dawson) Roane had an adopted daughter from the tree my “Uncle’ Paul’ sent me with all he knew of Roane family history. As it turns out, Paul and Lena Roane  made a home for two girls, who were hardly  strangers, – they were Lena’s nieces.

In 1919, Lena’s sister, Loretta, married Frank L. Vesey, a veteran of the Great War (WWI), lately returned from France.[1] -Frank moved in with the in-laws[2] on Claire Street, and 10 months after the wedding, they added a daughter, Mary Dorothy, to  the Dawson household. Little Loretta came along in 16 months and, not quite 18 months later, there was Francis Leo, Junior. Seven days after the boy’s birth, the mother of three was dead.[3] The Lowell Sun of April 30, 1923 reported:

Mrs. Loretta (Dawson) Vesey died yesterday at her home, 39 Claire street, following a short illness after the birth of a baby boy. Her age was 25 years. She was born in this city, the daughter of John and Mary J. (Deignan) Dawson, and was a most estimable young woman. She was an attendant of St. Patrick’s church, and a member of the Married Ladies sodality connected with the church. She leaves her husband, Frank L. Vesey; three children, Dorothy, Loretta and Francis Vesey; her parents, two brothers Thomas and Joseph, and one sister, Lena.

The  father, Frank Vesey, probably thought he had overcome the worst things life would throw at him. He’d known the loss of infant siblings, and his own mother’s death[4] when he was eight.  He’d only stuck out four years of grade school and may have suffered from dyslexia.[5]and then he experienced the horrors of a world war. When Loretta was taken from him, he was not yet 30, and completely unprepared to raise three little ones, that included a week-old baby.

Aunt Lena, no doubt, had a hand in caring for her nieces  from their infancy, and surely loved them as her own, but Lena was a 25-year-old working woman, an operator with the telephone company, whose income would have contributed to the support of the extended family.  Her father, John Dawson was 65, a laborer with the sewer department, who’d had health problems.[6] Lena’s mother, Mary, died the next year, – literally, of a broken heart.[7]

but what happened in that house after Loretta’s death?

Did the grief-stricken Frank immediately pack off the children to the orphanage? Was the family forced to make the decision  after grandmother Mary Dawson’s died? Was the parish priest involved in the process? At any rate, two of the Vesey children were inmates of St. Peter’s Orphanage on Stevens Street in 1930, while their big sister, Mary D. Vesey, was living in the Dawson house on Clare street with  Lena and Paul Roane.

By 1935, Paul and Lena were in a house on Washington Parkway they owned, according  to the 1940 census.  The couple  had created  a home for  now-grown nieces, Dorothy, 19, and 18-year-old Loretta who had taken the Roane name. While I was delighted to discover the sisters reunited, the image of the 1930 census sheet  filled in by Sister Mary Winifred’s neat hand haunted me. What had become of that little boy, Francis L. Vesey? Last weekend, I found out.

This excerpt from the 1930 US census shows the Vesey children, Loretta, 8 years, and Francis, 6 years, inmates of St. Peter's Orphanage.

A descendant of Frank’s brother, James Vesey, discovered my online tree and was surprised to learn Frank had two older daughters, Mary Dorothy and Loretta. But what she knew that I didn’t, was Frank Vesey married again, the widow, Alice Kane. In 1940, Frank and Alice are right there in Lowell with the three children they had together, Joseph, Pauline and William, the children from Alice’s first marriage, Robert, Helen and Dorothy Kane, and 16-year-old Francis Vesey, the son Frank lost for a time. I was greatly relieved to see  the motherless boy, at last, in the bosom of family.


[1]  Francis Leo Vesey, Sr. was awarded a Purple Heart; he served as army private in a machine gun battalion.

[2] The 1920 US census shows the parents, John and Mary Dawson, Lena (AKA Elizabeth M. Dawson), Loretta V. and Frank L. Vesey enumerated at the family home on Claire Street.

[3]  The cause of death for Loretta Veronica (Dawson) Vesey  was “Septic Pneumonia (Puerperal Septicemia),” common after anesthesia due to lesions in the trachea, which suggests she may have delivered in a hospital, though she died at  her parents’ home.  [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puerperal_sepsis%5D

[4]  Catherine Vesey gave birth 13 times in 17 years of marriage, she died of eclampsia, the last child stillborn and buried with her. (Downton Abbey character, Lady Sybil Branson, died from eclampsia, though her baby survived.)

[5]  Frank Vesey’s WWI and WWII registration cards show he had terrible handwriting and in 1942 he reversed the last two digits of his birth year, writing “1849,” rather than 1894.

[6] The Lowell Sun reported that John Dawson had a “slight operation” at Lowell Hospital in 1915.

[7]  Mary (Deignan) Dawson died on October 1, 1924 of “Mitral insufficiency,” a heart valve malfunction that modern medicine calls Mitral regurgitation (MR).

3 Comments

Filed under Acts of genealogical kindness, Lowell, Massachusetts, Roane / Roan / Ruane

3 responses to “An Orphans’ Story Gets a Happy Ending

  1. Claudia Vesey Beck

    Wonderful article. Thanks so much for letting me know about it! Claudia /Vesey Clan

  2. Always interesting!