May 11, 2013 by auntkatefirmin
Kate Maud Firmin was born August 5, 1885 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her father was born in England, but she never met her English relatives in person. Because of her efforts, I did meet my English cousins. Who knows, maybe some of my interest in genealogy stems from her quest!
This blog is a continuation of her desire to find her English roots. It is also a convenient way to record my discoveries and links to relevant maps and other sources of historical information.
Aunt Kate, really my great-aunt, was a favorite relative. To be perfectly honest, this is probably in part because she gave me money to buy books and called me “the little darling.” The difference in our ages and the distance of our homes was too great for a truly intimate relationship; although I still treasure the books I bought with the money she gave me. I inherited the box containing Kate’s correspondence with her English cousins, which has provided many hours of entertainment. I have a few more resources available to me and a little digging has gotten me farther back in time – as far as Stepney in 1816 to be precise.
My hope is that this blog will be a platform for writing out what I have learned so far, and in the process highlighting the questions I hope to answer. In my next posts I will outline the lives of John Firmin & Sarah Kenning, Kate’s paternal great-grandparents.
Before I move on to the English relatives, here is an introduction to Aunt Kate:
Kate was the fifth child of John Robert Firmin (1845-1888) and Florence Long (1850-1934). Two of the children had died young, so the family consisted of Kate, her parents and her brothers Alfred (Fred) and Charles Osborne Venoy (Venoy). When Kate was nearly four her father died, cutting off any remaining connection to his relatives. Her mother returned to her former work as a school principal to support the family. Some time before Kate was 15 the family moved to Minneapolis where she attended high school and college. Kate continued on to library school in Albany, New York, graduating in 1910. In this she was something of a pioneer as there were very few library schools at the time. As a cataloger she was working with the Dewey Decimal system, which had only been around since 1876.
Her oldest brother, Venoy, had married and moved away by 1900. Venoy lived in Arkansas for a time and settled with his family in Tennessee. As far as I know, he did not often travel to visit his mother or the rest of the family. For this reason I know very little about him – mostly information gleaned from the census. I do know he inherited the Firmin family Bible and I would love to see it!
After graduating from the School of Agriculture at the University of Minnesota, Fred was offered a job at Weyerhaeuser by his maternal uncle George S. Long – who was the General Manager at the time. Fred moved to Tacoma in 1903 and later his mother and sister moved to Washington to be closer to him.
By 1920, Kate was living in Seattle in an apartment she shared with her mother and her aunt Rhoda Long. (Rhoda had lived with them in Minneapolis as well). Kate worked at the Seattle Public Library, and by 1915 she was the Head Cataloger. In 1925, Kate was able to tour Europe with her Aunt Rhoda. On this trip she attempted to find any Firmins who might have been still living in London but was stumped.
Outside of her work Kate was active in a local hiking group, the Mountaineers. She never married. Her niece, Skip Harlan, was positive that she had a boyfriend who had died in World War I – that appears to be one of the things we’ll never know for sure.
In 1942 Kate retired and moved to Carmel, California. She had inherited two cottages from her Aunt Rhoda. Her brother Fred brother and his wife joined her in Carmel in 1947. The cottages were charming, but alas, no longer stand.
She was still living in Tacoma in 1939 when she received her first clue that she had living cousins in England. The full story deserves its own post. By 1947 she was finally in correspondence with several cousins. Aunt Kate and the English cousins continued to exchange letters and cards until her death in Carmel in 1970. Kate spent her later years in Carmel enjoying her garden, her friends and her family.