The Owen Family

Our branch of the Owen family hails from the area right around Manchester, England. Samuel Owen Sr. (1814-1889) was born about 1814 in the nearby town of Bowdon. There is a record of his marriage there to a woman named Jane Siddall on November 5, 1833.* According to the 1851 English census Samuel (age 37) and Jane (age 45) had four children. John Owen (age 17) and William Owen (age 14) were both born in Bowden. The two younger ones, Mary Owen (age 12) and Samuel Owen Jr. (age 2), were both born in the city of Manchester itself. From this it is clear that the family moved from Bowden to Manchester sometime around the year 1838. Within two years of Samuel Jr.'s birth in 1849, the family moved again, this time to Stretford, where the census makers found them in 1851. According to the census, Samuel Owen Sr. had a brick making business there that employed 10 workers.

Samuel's second son, William Owen (b. 1836) married a young woman from Stretford named Sarah Ann Hewitt, who first appears in the 1851 census as a fourteen-year-old "dressmaker," the daughter of Samuel Hewitt, a shoe maker, and his wife Ellen. The 1871 English census lists William Owen as a 34-year-old brickmaker living in Salford with his wife, Sarah Ann (also age 34), and his three sons: Samuel Hewitt Owen (age 15), William Owen Jr. (age 4) and George Ernest Owen (age 2). Based on the birthplaces indicated for these children, we can trace the family's movements from Stretford to Hulme (where Samuel Hewitt was born), to Gorton (where William Jr. was born), and finally to Salford (where George Ernest was born). Already at age 15, Samuel Hewitt had left school behind to help support the family as a brickmaker, just like his father. When the census takers returned in 1881, they found William and Sarah Owen still living in Salford, but with many new family members. While William's oldest son, Samuel Hewitt Owen, is no longer listed (having already begun a family of his own, as we shall see), William Jr. (age 14) and George Ernest (11) have been joined by three new brothers: Albert Owen (age 6), Alfred Owen (age 4), and Walter Owen (9 months), all born in Salford. Also listed among William Owen's sons is "John H. Owen," an 18-year-old native of Gorton. For some reason he was not listed in the previous census entry for the Owen family. But there he is in the 1881 census making bricks.

Marriage records from Manchester indicate that on October 7, 1872, William Owen's nineteen-year-old son Samuel Hewitt Owen (1/?/1856-11/22/1917) married Amelia Walker, age 18, the daughter of Thomas Walker ("engineer""), at St. John's Church in Manchester. Samuel's occupation is listed as "joiner." The same entry confirms is father William's occupation as a brick maker. Nine years later the census takers of 1881 found the couple living on 36 Dover Street in Manchester, where Samuel worked as a "carpenter and joiner" to support Amelia and their two children--seven-year-old Gertrude Owen, who had been born on February 25, 1874 in Salford, and two-year-old John William Owen who had been born in March, 1879 in Bolton. Rounding out the family at the time was Samuel's Irish mother-in-law, Harriet Williams.

Very shortly after this census was taken, Samuel Hewitt Owen and his family emigrated to America. Amelia and her two children appear on the passenger list of the steamer Alaska, which, departing from Liverpool, arrived in New York on June 26, 1882. Samuel Hewitt Owen himself was not among the passengers on this ship. According to the 1900 US census, which records his date of immigration as 1881, he would already have been in Brooklyn when the ship carrying his wife and two children docked. He must have been happy to see his wife because the following April 5 (1883)--exactly nine months and nine days later--little Herbert Owen was born in Brooklyn. Amelia Williams Owen passed away sixteen months later, on August 4, 1884. She was only 27 years old at the time, leaving Samuel with three children ages 10, 5, and less than 2.

Two years after Amelia's passing, Samuel Hewitt Owen married 25-year-old Elizabeth McGregor Laing. Born on April 25, 1861, Elizabeth was a native of Perth Scotland, the daughter of John Laing and Margaret Watson. Sometime between Elizabeth's birth in 1862 and the census that was taken nine years later (1871), the Laing family had moved from Perth to Lancashire. John Laing (spelled "Lang") is listed in the 1871 census as a 49-year-old "farm bailiff" in Aspull, Lancashire, where he lived with his wife Margaret, and their three children, Alexander (11),** Elizabeth (9), and Agnes (3). All of the family members are listed as natives of Scotland. Nine years later--in about 1880--Elizabeth emigrated to New York at the age of 18 or 19. Six years after her arrival, she married the 30-year-old widower, Samuel Hewitt Owen.*** We know nothing of the couple's early life in New York. But "Samuel H. Owen" turns up in the 1900 US census as a 44-year-old resident of Brooklyn, married to "Elizabeth M.", age 38. By then the couple had been married for 14 years, producing five children of their: Alexander L. ("Alec") Owen (age 12, b. February, 1888), Margaret A(nn) Owen (age 10, b. December, 1889), Elizabeth M. ("Mae") Owen (age 8, b. May, 1892), Ruth L(illian) Owen (age 5, b. July, 1894), Samuel H. Owen, Jr. (11/12 mo., b. July 1899). Two of their three older half-siblings--"John W." (should be "James W.," age 21, b. March, 1879) and Herbert (age 17, b. April, 1883)--are also listed as members of the same Owen household. They worked as a house painter and lawyer's assistant, respectively, supplementing their father's income as a carpenter. Gertrude Owen, Samuel and Amelia's oldest child is not listed as a member of this household. This is because on October 11, 1893, she had married Warren Willard Fraim of Pennsylvania and moved out of her family home.

The next census, taken in 1910 recorded the addition of the sixth and last child of Samuel and Elizabeth Owen: Walter E. ("Ernest") Owen (b. 1903). Ernest was only fourteen when, on November 22, 1917, his father died. Samuel Hewitt Owen was 61 at the time. Three years later, in the 1920 census, Elizabeth Owen appears as a widow, living with her sons Alec (age 31), Sam Jr. (age 30), and Ernest (age 16), as well as her daughter Mae (age 27; 5/18/1892-8/?/1972) and Mae's husband Paul Edward ("Ed") Pfitzenmeier (age 32; 2/19/1887--8/?/1971). By that time Ruth Lillian had also married, having tied the knot with William ("Billy") Stuart Adams. Both Billy Adams and Ed Pfitzenmeier worked for Vitagraph, the motion picture company in Brooklyn founded by Billy's half-brother, James Stuart Blackton. Their friendship would seem to have predated their marriages, thus paving the way for a double wedding in Brooklyn probably in June, 1918, not long after the death of Ruth's and Mae's father.

Eventually each of the remaining Owen children married as well: Alec to Helen Tynion, Margaret to Edgar ("Ed") V. Winfield, Sam to Mary McCarthy (an Irish woman whose Catholicism did not endear her to the staunchly Protestant Elizabeth Owen), and Ernest to Margaret ("Margie") Pearsall. Somehow the six children of Elizabeth Owen managed to provide her with no more than six grandchildren. Alec and Helen had just one daughter named Helen Owen. Likewise Margaret and Ed had one daughter of their own whom they also named Helen: Helen Winfield. Mae and Ed had one son: Robert Pfitzenmeier. Ruth and Billy Adams had two girls: Ruth Elizabeth Stuart Adams and Jessamyn Stuart Adams. Sam and Mary had one son named Jack Owen. And Ernest and Margie Owen remained childless. If we widen the circle to include Elizabeth's step-daughter Gertrude, she and Warren Fraim had three children: Ira Newton Fraim, Alida Gertrude Fraim, Warren Williard Frame Jr.; a fourth named Maurice L. Fraim, died in infancy. Because Gertrude was so much older than her half-siblings, her children were more akin in age to their aunts and uncles.

Ruth Elizabeth's memories of her cousins from the brief time that she lived in Brooklyn (1919-1926), are few but vivid. She recalls the big bows that little Helen Winfield wore in her hair. She also remembers Robert Pfitzenmeier pestering her by pulling the short hairs on the back of her neck after she got a hair cut (Ruth got even by calling him "rabbit ears.") As for Ruth Elizabeth's remaining two full cousins, Helen Owen was less than two when Ruth left for California, and Jack Owen had not yet been born. Her "half-cousin" Alida Gertrude Fraim was already married at the time to Noble Peter Johnson, a New Yorker whose parents were from Sweden. Their first daughter Amy Gertrude Johnson was born in 1922, as was Ruth's sister Jessamyn. Their second, Alida Louise ("Alida Lou") Johnson, was born in 1927, the year after the Owen-Adams family left for California. Ruth Elizabeth's memories of the Fraim-Noble branch of the Owen family are spotty, but she does remember an episode (narrated by her mother) that happened shortly after "Alida Lou's" birth, when Amy, her older sister, tried to give her a bath in scalding hot water. A happier memory involved Alida's younger brother, Warren Willard Fraim Jr., who made a pair of wooden candlesticks in "sloyd" (woodshop class) and gave them to his aunt Ruth Lillian, who passed them down to her daughter Ruth Elizabeth. In pencil on the bottom of each candlestick it reads: "WW Fraim, 414 55th St. Brooklyn, NY."

Before seven-year-old Ruth Elizabeth left, with her mother and sister, to join her father in Los Angeles (in the summer of 1926), she remembers living at the Brooklyn apartment of Elizabeth Owen, a.k.a., "Grandma Owen," on the corner of Bedford and Martense. Because Sam and Ernest Owen were as yet unmarried and still living with their mother at the time, Ruth got to know them best of her six uncles and aunts. Ruth remembers them riding tricycles through the house, much to her and Jessamyn's delight. Uncle Ernest impressed Ruth with his habit of tying his handkerchiref corners in such a way as to create a container for the contents of his pockets before he turned in for the night. A makeshift "ditty bag."

After the move to California in 1926, contact between Ruth Lillian and her siblings was limited. For her part Ruth Elizabeth would not return to New York until 1964, when she and her family finally made the pilgrimage to New York--in a 1957 Plymouth station wagon pulling a trailor--to reconnect with the greater Owen family and to experience the World's Fair. But at different points during the 38 years between 1926 and 1964, various aunts and uncles--and even Grandma Owen herself--made their way west to enjoy the weather and get caught up with their California kin. Of the cousins, only Alida Gertude Frame came to visit, along with her husband Noble Johnson, who was a wholesale buyer for Sears in Riveredge, New Jersey.

Ruth Lillian did her best to keep abreast of Owen news in the east. Particularly noteworthy was the life of Helen Owen, the daughter of Alec Owen and his wife Helen Tynion. She was 20 when she married John Twohy in 1944, but he died a year later while serving in the Pacific, leaving Helen with a newborn daughter named Alexandria. Two years later, Helen married a young Catholic lawyer from Brooklyn named Hugh Leo Carey, who was a veteran of the war in Europe. In 1960 Hugh was elected to Congress, serving seven terms until he was elected governor of New York in 1974. Earlier that year, Helen Owen Carey died of cancer. But not before giving Hugh thirteen children in addition to Alexandria (whom he adopted when they married): Christopher, Susan, Peter, Hugh Jr., Michael, Donald, Marianne, Nancy, Helen, Bryan, Paul, Kevin, and Thomas. In 1969 Peter and Hugh, Jr. died tragically in an car accident. Paul, who served as White House Special Assistant to President Bill Clinton as well as the 77th Commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission, died of cancer in 2001.


* Family Search Batch Number: C113871, Dates: 1855-1875, source call number: 6035516 Register. Ruth Elizabeth Stuart Adams Wolf remembers that Elizabeth had one brother: Alexander Laing.

** Ruth Elizabeth Stuart Adams Wolf remembers her great-grandmother Elizabeth McGregor Laing Owen as having a brother named Alexander.

***Family Search Batch Number: 8915232, sheet: 34, source call number: 1553495.