A History of the Burns Family
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PART TWO: Ada's Path to the Dance  

Inspiration and Sources

Ada Marian Howe (1886-1974)

Ada Stories #1 and #2 take place in 1888 in the Plains, where she is living with her mother Ada Genevieve Stowe and father Willoughby Dewey Howe. I always loved reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, and especially those about life on the South Dakota prairie in the 1880s. I was especially fascinated by the idea that my very own grandmother -- Ada Marian Howe Burns -- had grown up in much the same circumstances -- living in a sod house on the prairie less than 100 miles away from DeSmet, where in 1885, Laura Ingalls married Almanzo Wilder.

For the Plains stories, I relied on census and Willoughby Howe's military records, Ada's brief memoir, photographs from this period, a detailed history of White Lake from the late 1800s, and recollections of her mother chronicled in much later letters to family.

Story #3 is less a story than speculation about how and when and where Willoughby and Ada Genevieve might have met. The evidence, such as it is, is taken almost entirely from census records.

We don't know exactly when Ada and Zoe came on their own from South Dakota. It's hard to imagine sending Ada, with a younger Zoe in tow, much before her 8th birthday (1894). Photos that appear to be from South Dakota (with rural props) show the girls at perhaps 8 and 6, which would fit.

The guiding light for the next two stories is the love Ada and Zoe felt for their grandfather, Joseph Milo Stowe, who financed the girls' trip from South Dakota, a generous gesture that changed their lives enormously for the better. In all the letters Ada and Zoe wrote to each other over the years, they shared only good memories of their time with Grandfather Stowe, and this to me says everything about his fundamental kindness and character. On the lead-in to singing her grandfather's song (recorded in the 1970s) Ada Marian says she loved him very much, so she must have spent some significant amount of time with him before his death in fall of 1895.

I wrote Story #4 imagining Ada's mixed horror and wonder at the journey east and her meeting with her revered grandfather. I wrote Story #5 imagining what a blessing Ada and Zoe's arrival would have been for a grandfather nearing the end of his life.

I am not certain Ebba knew her mother had returned to live with her mother in Buffalo after Grandfather Stowe died. Ebba's family history shows Ada Genevieve having died in 1895. But family letters and documents give us three of Ada Genevieve's Buffalo addresses and glimpses of the life she lived there before her death in 1900. For the Buffalo Stories #6 through #9, I am relying on the 1900 census record placing Ada and Zoe with their mother in Buffalo, Ada's later letters of reminiscence with Zoe, photographs, a wonderful website with birds'-eye-view maps of Buffalo from about 1900, and various mementos from this period that Ada kept her whole life.

I had never heard of Agnes Seely ("Mucher") before I started the family research, but it's significant that a packet of her letters made the cut to come west with Ada. I believe she was a very important influence on Ada during the two years she lived with the Seely family as a domestic. Her letters were lively and warm, and included lots of details about life on Lexington Avenue that I used to create Stories #10 and #11. These stories were also inspired by some tender letters Will Howe wrote to his daughter during the period after their mother died.

Story #12 describes how Ada got to the dance. I don't know for sure that she was in Cuyahoga Falls in 1904 visiting her half-sister, but census records and later letters back this up as a likely scenario.