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Orphan Annie's Step Mother


The real Little Orphan Annie was a little girl by the name of Mary Alice Smith, and yes she had a step-mother.

Actually, it has been through Mary Alice's stepmother that I have been able to uncover a lot of information about the Smith family. "Smith" is such a common name; it makes it very hard to do research. There are so many of them.

Early in my research, I was having trouble locating Mary Alice's family because of the plentiful amount of people with the last name of Smith. Originally, I wanted to find out what had happened to Mary Alice's parents to determine how she became an orphan. Now if you have read much of my blog , you will know that Mary Alice was NOT an orphan at all - because her father still lived. In fact, her father did not die until 1898. Mary Alice was born in 1850 - so by the time of his death, she was a married adult, had children and probably even grandchildren. In fact, Mary Alice kept in contact with her father's family, but I am unclear as to how frequent this contact was. However, I do know that after her father's death - Melvina Smith - Mary Alice's stepmother did live with Mary Alice and her husband, John Wesley - as I find the two living together in the 1900 census.

This was actually, how I found Mary Alice's father - because the census record clearly stated that Melvina Smith was "mother-in-law" to head of house (John Wesley Gray) - - that would make her - Mary Alice's mother (or in this case a step-mother). Luckily, Melvina is a very unusual first name - unlike Mary or Jane - - and there aren't very many "Melvina Smiths" in Indiana. I was able to track down some info on her - who she married - - and that was how I found Mary Alice's father's name.

I won't go into details about that adventure - but would like to focus on what I know about Melvina at this point...

Melvina was born Melvina Pruner, the daughter of John and Susannah Pruner. Her birth date is a bit problematic. Based on census information she was either born in 1830 or 1831. However, recent records that I have received from State Archives, which were originally from the Veteran's Home in Lafayette, give her birth year as 1840 or 1830. I am going to go with 1830 - - because this aligns with the census information. Her birthday is also varied in the records - either May 20, May 21 or May 22. (It is given as May 20, 1830 - once, and once as May 21, 1830 and then on two other documents it is given as May 22, 1840). I think I will go with the May 20, 1830 date, and it is on the oldest of the documents. In all three documents where her birthdate is given it says she was born in Bedford (Lawrence County), Indiana.

Melvina married Thomas Smith in Putnam county on June 21, 1855. They would have three children: Ellen, John and Susan. All three of the children married, and evidently - all three pre-deceased Melvina. I am certain of Ellen Smith's death date, but am uncertain of John and Susan's death dates at this time. I do know that Ellen and John both had children -- so Melvina had grandchildren (I am uncertain about Susan).

What interests me most - is Melvina's end of life. I have received records from National Archives on Melvina's attempt to get Thomas' pension. I won't go into those records here - as they really are too numerous to detail. However, from the State Archives records - it appears that Melvina applied to enter into the Soldier's Home on June 22, 1896. Her husband, Thomas was still living when she entered the Veteran's Home, and she gives his address as Lafayette. She states that she has "No living children." Her application for admission to the Veteran's Home was approved on July 2, 1896. Thomas would die two years later.

It appears that she was discharged from the Veteran's Home on July 11, 1900 (it doesn't say why) - - and this may be why she ends up staying with Mary Alice and John Wesley in the 1900 census. It looks like she reapplies for admission to the Veterans home in 1904, and it was accepted on December 11, 1904. At this time she was living in Indianapolis, but it doesn't say if she was on her own or living with others. She does list Leason B. Pruner in Graybill (Clay Co), IN as her emergency contact person. This is her brother. She has a deformity of the left hand and arm due to injury seven years ago, which she later claims in some documents to have happened from a fall at the Soldier's Home. The records also say she has kidney complications. However, she supplies and affidavit that says she was living in Indianapolis and was in destitute circumstances, has no means of support and was a woman of good moral character. It was signed by John W. Holtzman, Mayor of Indianapolis, and recommended by the GAR No 165 John F. Ruckle post - signed by the commander.

While she is in the Veterans Home this time, she meets Francis M. Wainscott. Francis was also a widower. It appears she is discharged again from the Veterans Home on August 2, 1912 - due to her marriage to Francis M. Wainscott. The marriage takes place in Indianapolis on August 8, 1912.

Interestingly, there is an application for admission to the Veteran's Home that is dated October 8, 1913 (which would be one year after she married Wainscott). It says she is only 72 - with a birthdate of 1840. In reality, she was 82. She talks about living on Virginia Ave in Indianapolis. It is confusing, because she lists information for both Thomas Smith and Francis Wainscott. She states that her husband died in the Veteran's Home in 1907. Thomas Smith died in 1898 (although she frequently refers to the date as 1897 in some records), and Francis Wainscott would not die until 1917. This time, Melvina lists - John W Gray - as her next of kin - which is Mary Alice's husband. However, this application for admission was disprroved "on account of date of marriage."

There is another application for Melvina for the same age - - 72. Most of this information is identical to the October 8, 1913 application, but it lists "Alva Smith" as next of kin - - and I have no idea who this is. In the National Archives records from the same era, she talks about how Francis Wainscott was not allowed readmission to the Veteran's Home because he brought alcohol on the property at one time. She has provided documents that state she and Wainscott were not divorced, but it seems like they may not have been living together. I am unclear on this. I believe she is trying to say that she should not be penalized for his mistakes, and should be allowed to live in the Veteran's Home. It doesn't appear that this was granted as I find no other decision for this application.

It appears that she applies the fourth time for readmission to the Veteran's Home on July 10, 1917, and she was approved for admission on July 12, 1917. It states that Francis Wainscott died July 3, 1917, but his tombstone gives a July 14, 1917 death date. So this admission would coincide with his death. She lists William H. Smith - her grandson, as next of kin. The packet cover gives the last clues as to Melvina's whereabouts. It states that she was "discharged on October 16, 1918 for failure to renew furlough." The National Archives records state that she was pursing increasing her pension rate - and the matter was dropped because she was dead by December 1, 1917.

I have no other info about Melvina. I do not know where she is buried, and it appears that she may have been on some sort of furlough when she died. The Veteran's Home records state that she did not die in the Veteran's Home, and she was not buried at the Veteran's Home. So I don't know where she was buried? Would she be in Noblesville where her Grandson William was living?? Her first husband is buried in Lafayette in the Veteran's Cemetery, and her second husband is buried in Crown Hill in Indianapolis. She is not next to either husband. She had only a few options as far as grandchildren to live near - - and it appears that she was sort of bounced around with a variety of relatives stepping in to help care for her.

This is sort of a sad commentary on Melvina's life, and maybe some justice? I really don't know for sure. I find it interesting that after the death of Mary Alice's mother (LOA), she was sent to live with a grandmother. Then the grandmother couldn't take care of her, and she was passed along to an Aunt and Uncle. The Uncle would bring her to the Riley Home where she would live for about a year. Then, she would be removed from the Riley Home and put to work in a tavern along the National Road - - which was "closer" to family. Mary Alice was bounced around a lot too. What I have never understood - - was WHY was Mary Alice not sent to live with her father and his second wife - Melivina? Thomas was married to Melvina one year after the death of his first wife. They were living in Putnam County for all of the years that Mary Alice was pitched around from pillar to post - yet it doesn't appear that Thomas and Melvina ever came to claim her. I find that odd? Was there some reason why this was? Did Melvina not want this child from Thomas' first marriage in her home? Was there some other reason?

Truthfully, I cannot blame Melvina - if I don't know for sure - - the reason WHY Mary Alice didn't come to live with her and Thomas. But I find the similarities of a rootless exsistence reflected in the childhood of Little Orphan Annie - and in the senior years of her step-mother - ironic.

There is some other evidence in the National Archives letters that do not paint Melvina in a positive light and maybe this is why I sort of feel this way about her. I won't go into those details here - -but just to say she made some very questionable allegations against Mary Alice. So this sort of speaks to her character.

On the flip side, Mary Alice was kind enough to take her step-mother into her home. I do not know how long Melivina lived with the Gray's - but long enough for her to pop up in the census records, which was a good thing for me.

The last piece of info that I need to finish Melvina's story is to find out her exact death date, and where she is buried. Of course, the discovery of this marriage to Francis Wainscott - shed a whole new light on her story, and provides new clues where to look. For many years, I have been looking for info on Melvina Smith, and without knowing about this second marriage - - little did I know that I was looking for info under the wrong name! So - the discovery of the Wainscott marriage has allowed me to find additional records at State Archives - - where I thought there were none. It also puts another piece in the puzzle to the Little Orphan Annie Story.


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