Elizabeth Ellen Thomas 1895 – 1967

Elizabeth Thomas was born 19 July 1892 in Boston, MA, She was the fifth child of Michael F Thomas and Elizabeth W Denny.  However, the four sons born before her all died before she was born.  The family lived at 117 Rutherford Avenue.  Michael was employed by the electric light company.  Four more siblings were born after her, by 1899. 

The family was listed in Everett, MA in 1900.  The household included Elizabeth’s parents, and younger children Michael, Susan, William, and Mary Eva.  Also with the family were Elizabeth’s uncle Francis (Frank) Thomas and his family.  They all lived at 33 Central Avenue.  Elizabeth’s father was a car inspector, probably for the railroad.  

Elizabeth’s mother died 21 January 1901 of pneumonia.  I have not yet found records for Michael and William Thomas after 1900.  Three years later, on 27 Jan 1904, Elizabeth’s father married Josephine Mahoney.  I have not yet found any subsequent records for her.  

The 6 March 1905 Boston Daily Globe reported the following story about Elizabeth and her sisters:  WENT TO FIND PAPA Three Cambridge Children Brave Cold; and Darkness, Parent Ill Five Weeks and Was Unable to Visit Them    A pathetic story was brought to the attention of the Cambridge police early this morning, when patrolman John P. Neilan of the Central-sq station found three little girls braving the cold and the terrors of darkness to ”go and find papa.”  Patrolman Neilan was standing in front of a drug store in Central sq when he saw the little ones approach from the opposite side. As they sought the warmth of the drug store he asked their names and where they were going. With childlike candor the oldest child said she was Elizabeth Thomas and that the two little ones were her sisters, Susan and Eva. They were aged 12, 8 and 5, respectively. Elizabeth said that they were living at 173 Auburn St.  The patrolman learned that the father was a brakeman on the Boston & Maine system. Their mother was dead, and the little ones, not having seen their father for a “long time,” as Elizabeth put it, determined to go and find him. The plan was born, in the mind of the oldest girl, who has been very devoted to her little sisters.  It was decided to say nothing to anyone in the house about their contemplated visit, and Mrs. Stewart, with whom the children have been boarded by the father for the past three months, was not aware that they were not comfortably tucked away in bed. Shortly after 3 o’clock this morning, Elizabeth, who had lain awake all night thinking of her plan, awoke the other two girls and assisted them to dress. Then they crept out of the house and proceeded to Central sq, where they intended to wait for a car going into Boston. The children were bright little ones and talked with perfect candor to the policeman and to others who had business in the store so early in the morning.  Susan, the eight-year-old girl, insisted on kissing patrolman Neilan, and the clerk in the store furnished them with hot chocolate and crackers. The clothing of the children indicated that they were well cared for. Patrolman Neilan took them to station 2 and started to investigate their story. The father rooms in Boston so as to be near his work. He placed the children in the care of Mrs. Stewart because he could not give them the attention he desired.  Mrs. Stewart has been very kind to the little ones, and was much disturbed when she learned they were gone. It was the habit of the father to call and see the children two or three times a week until five weeks ago, when he became ill. Since then he has been confined to his room, unable to visit his little ones. The latter determined, after waiting impatiently for him to come to them, to go to him. The children have been returned to the care of Mrs. Stewart.

I have not yet found any more records for Elizabeth’s father, so it is possible that this illness was his final illness.  It is possible that Elizabeth’s brothers were deceased by the time this event occurred, or they may have been boarded elsewhere.  The story also doesn’t mention Michael’s new wife Josephine. 

The best guess for Elizabeth in the 1910 census is Elizabeth E, who was age 17, living at the House of the Good Shepherd in Boston.  The birth locations for her parents are listed as Canada French for her father (Michael was born in Quebec) and the mother in Massachusetts (she was born in Cambridge.)  This institution was established in 1867 to provide a refuge for the reformation of fallen women and girls, and it also maintains a “Class of Preservation” made up of wayward and insubordinate girls, whose habits endanger their virtue.  At age 17, Elizabeth was an orphan and probably not able to care for her siblings.  Susie and Eva were boarding with the Riley family in Reading, MA.  They later married and had families of their own.  I do not know if Elizabeth was a “fallen or wayward girl”, or perhaps just had no other place to live.   

I have not found a good match for Elizabeth in the 1920 census.  There is an Elizabeth who was an employee in a dormitory at an art school, but her middle initial, and birth location of her parents do not fit.  I do know that Elizabeth used the alias of Lillian Jones in 1927, but do not know when she took that name.  There was a Lillian Jones who was a lodger in Brockton MA, but again, her parents’ birthplaces do not match.  

In about 1927, a widower with three children, George Henry Laber of Plainfield, NH, advertised in the Boston Globe for a housekeeper.  A woman identified as Lillian E Jones went to Plainfield, or as family lore puts it, “showed up on the doorstep” to take the position.  She had a toddler son named Albert Paul Jones.  George operated a general farm.  The 1930 census lists “Lillian” and Albert with George and his children.  On 20 July 1930 (after the census was taken) she married George, and that was when George learned that her name was really Elizabeth E Thomas.  

This was the beginning of the Depression, and George moved the family around to find work. They occasionally returned to the property in NH, but the house was in poor condition.  His children did not get along with Elizabeth.  One moved in with an aunt and uncle.  Another eventually went into the Navy, and the third married at an early age.  George and Elizabeth adopted a daughter named Maryanne. 

In 1939, the family lived in Framingham, MA where George was a laborer.  The same year they were also listed at #1 Prospect in Haverhill, MA.  In 1941 and 1942, they were at 22 South Chestnut in Bradford, MA.  In spite of these clues about their location, I have not yet found the family in the 1940 census, and that will probably have to wait until the Massachusetts index is available.  

At some point, after a medical examination, Elizabeth’s doctor mentioned to daughter Maryanne that she must be adopted, as he had determined that Elizabeth had never given birth.  Maryanne knew that she was adopted, but until then, Albert didn’t know that Elizabeth was not his birth mother.  Every time he tried to get information from her about his history Elizabeth would break down and cry so he stopped asking her about it. Elizabeth’s sister said she would tell him later, but died with the secret.   

There was speculation that Albert might have been the son of one of Elizabeth’s sisters in Boston, or the son of one of the married sister’s boyfriend and another woman.  Another story was that Elizabeth was a nurse or housekeeper who snatched a child then moved away.  He might have been taken from an orphanage.  Family members remember Elizabeth or “Lillian” as a very secretive person who would not answer the door but only peek through the curtains to see who might be there.  As of the writing of this post, Albert still does not know the identity of his birth parents.  

Elizabeth’s husband George died 4 November 1944 in Lebanon, and was buried with his previous wife Helen, in Lebanon NH. 

In later years Elizabeth’s step-daughters stayed in contact with her, having her as a guest in their homes.  They described her as a “much different person” when she was a guest, rather than being their step-mother.   

Elizabeth died in June, 1967, a month short of her 75th birthday, in Boston.


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