Monday, 25 May 2015

Mystery Monday (Monday's Brick Wall #1): What Ever Happened to Nicholas Antoine?

Nicholas Antoine is my 3rd-great-grandfather and one of my biggest brick walls.

When I first started researching Nicholas, most of the information I had about him came from the 1870 and 1880 United States Federal Censuses.

From those, I gathered that he lived in Plattsburgh, New York (in 1880, the census specified his address as being 150 Bailey Ave, Plattsburgh), was born circa 1833 in Greece, and his occupation was as an essence peddler. He married Delia (a.k.a. Adelaide "Delia" (Gibeau) Antoine) and had seven children: George, Ellen, Celia, Mandres (a.k.a Manuel Antoine), Sophia, Lottie, and Mary Louise.

After the 1880 US Census, Nicholas disappears. I presumed him to have died at some point between June 1, 1880 and 1886 because the Plattsburgh City Directory for 1886 and every year after that as well as the 1900 and 1910 United States Federal Censuses, and the 1905 New York State Census list Delia as a widow.

As time went on, I continually found more documents that either supported, added on to, or differed from what I had already found. Two of these documents were passport applications for a Nicholas Antonia. One was dated August 4, 1881 and the other was dated April 4, 1902.

1881 Passport Application
1902 Passport Application

Although some of the details on each application differed from one another (i. e. date of birth), they were definitely for the same man. The passport numbers on both of them were #2858 and the issue dates for the passport on both were August 4, 1881. Also, the dates of naturalization on the applications were December 3, 1874.

According to the 1902 passport application, Nicholas Antonia resided in the United States for twenty years, living in Plattsburgh, New York, before leaving the States altogether in 1882.
"I, Nicholas Antonia, a naturalized and loyal citizen of the United States, hereby apply to the Legation of the United States at Athens for a passport for myself. [...] I solemnly swear that I was born at Samos, Greece on or about the 26th day of May, 1833; that I emigrated to the United States, sailing on board the ______________ from Samos on or about the year 1862; that I resided 20 years, uninterruptedly, in the United States from 1862 to 1882, at Plattsburg NY; that I was naturalized as a citizen of the United States before the County Court of *Cannot Interpret* at Plattsburg. NY, on the 3rd day of December 1874 as shown by the accompanying Certificate of Naturalization ; that I am the bearer of Passport No. 2858 Issued by Department of State on the 4th day of August 1881, which is returned herewith ; that I am the identical person referred to in said certificate and passport ; that I have not been domiciled in the United States since my departure in 1882 ; that I last left the United States in the year *Cannot Interpret* on board the ______________ arriving in *Cannot Interpret* ; that I have resided in Greece + Turkey since that *Cannot Interpret* ; that I am now temporarily residing in Patras; but that I intend to return to the United States within *Cannot Interpret* if possible with a purpose of residing and performing the duties of citizenship therein. I desire the passport for purpose of identification."
The passport applications originally came up as a hint for Nicholas on Ancestry. Originally, I shrugged them off because of the misspelling of the surname.

But as time went on, I had heard rumours that Nicholas didn't die but rather abandoned his family and went back to Greece. Some people suggested to me that it was common place for someone not to know how to spell their name or know when exactly they were born. Others told me that Delia listing herself as a widow was a common way of hiding the shame of being deserted by your husband.

The idea, the question, ate at me for years -- did Nicholas die in the 1880's? Or did he abandon his family and later return in 1902?

This month, I decided to take steps to answer this question. First, I searched Plattsburgh in the 1880 United States Census to see if there was anyone else listed with a name similar to Nicholas Antoine. There wasn't.

I then e-mailed the Plattsburgh Public Library and asked them what city directories were available there for the 1880's (Ancestry only had the one for 1886). They wrote back that the 1882-1883 city directory was available and I asked them if they could e-mail the pages from that directory for people with surnames beginning with A. Like the census, I wanted to see if there were any other name in that directory similar to the name Antoine. There wasn't. Nicholas was not in this directory but Delia was (listed as Delia Antonio), listed at the same residence as the 1880 US Census.

Based on the fact that there was no one else living in Plattsburgh with a name similar to Nicholas Antoine/Antonia and that the details provided in the passport application were very close to the details I had already had of Nicholas, I came to the conclusion that the passport application did indeed belong to my 3x-great-grandfather.

But with this conclusion reached, several new questions emerged? If Nicholas returned in 1902, what became of him afterwards? Why was Delia still listed as a widow in the 1905 New York State Census as well as the city directories for Plattsburgh from 1902 onwards? Why did he leave in the first place? What did he do while he was away? Did he start a new family abroad?

Copyright © 2015, David J. McRae

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