Monday, April 28, 2014

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: #17 Mary Arvilla Crispen Infield

If I could go back in time and visit any one ancestral family, it would be the Crispen family. Tracing them has been challenging, as it seems they never formed a family unit during census years. My grandmother's Aunt Mary has not been found in a census with any other family member. However, she had a pivotal role in selecting a hometown for other family members.

Quick drop page from Random Doorways kit, ClubScrap, January, 2013

Mary Arvilla Crispen was born in Pennsylvania on November 20, to Jacob Crispen and Nerinda Margaret Kerr. Her birth year is probably 1861, though it is documented as 1862 in many records. With a younger brother born in March, 1863, the later year is impossible. Her birth likely was in Clarion County or Venango County.

Mary's parents separated by her 5th birthday. Family legend tells us that life was hard for the children, but exactly where Mary went and how she grew up is unknown.

She married Harry Newton Infield of Mercer County after the 1880 census. Harry and Mary were trained as pharmacy workers. Mary held a pharmacy assistant certificate from Pennsylvania, while Harry applied for a pharmacist license in Illinois. I suspect they met through their work. Mary had Kerr relatives who owned a pharmacy in Clarion County, but I can't find a census record to show that she lived near or trained with that family.

Mary and Harry were living in Chicago when her father, Jacob Crispen, died in 1885. She declined to administer the estate, but returned to Mercer County to obtain her pharmacy assistant certificate in October, 1887. Harry failed to obtain his license in Illinois in 1885, likely contributing to their return to Pennsylvania.

The 1900 census is the first census where Mary has been found. She was living in Chicago and listed as widowed, having borne one child, with none living. Harry didn't die until 1902, but his whereabouts in 1900 are unknown. The couple had certainly separated. Harry Infield died in Chicago in 1902, and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Sandy Lake Township, Mercer County, Pennsylvania.

I wonder if the death of a child pushed the couple apart, as so often happens. No family legends have reached me about this child.

After the death of her younger sister in 1900 and the death of Harry in 1902, Mary grew concerned about her mother living in the unhealthy city of Chicago and decided to move her to a healthier environment. Mary had been working steadily at a variety of occupations. One of her bosses had pointed out that she would not achieve financial security working for a wage. He got her started investing and she had been growing a healthy stock portfolio. 

After exploring options, Mary bought a house at 861 McGuigan Street in the then-popular Lake Michigan resort community of Benton Harbor, Michigan. Mary's mother, Margaret, and stepfather moved to the home, where they lived until Margaret's death in 1923. Mary, who had remained in Chicago, then kicked out her stepfather and moved herself into the home.

Mary's younger brother, Clark, relocated his family to the Benton Harbor area by 1909. Finally the remaining family came together in the same community, rebuilding their family as a Michigan family. My grandmother and mother were both born in that area. Descendants of Clark still live near Benton Harbor, thanks to Mary's decision.

Mary died on June 10, 1927, in Benton Harbor. She is buried in Crystal Springs Cemetery, Benton Harbor, Berrien County, Michigan.

Mary's stock portfolio was left to Clark at her death, but it was wiped out in the crash of 1929. I have in my possession just a few cherished mementos that have been passed down from Aunt Mary, a woman with a special place in our family history.

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