Friday, April 20, 2012

Maggie Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey, Jr. on "Finding Your Roots"

The April 22, 2012, episode of Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s PBS series, Finding Your Roots, features actors Maggie Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey, Jr., who discover surprising diversity in their backgrounds, including Swedish royalty, Revolutionary War soldiers and Eastern European Jewish immigrants.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Titanic Passenger and His Mysterious Wife


One hundred years ago today my great-granduncle, James Bracken, was among more than 1,514 people remaining aboard the Titanic when the ship sank into the freezing waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. Ancestry.com recently added images from a ledger entitled The Register of Deceased Passengers, which includes an entry for Titanic passenger James H. Bracken, age 27, a stockman, with the cause of death: “Supposed Drowned.” James, according to family tradition, had gone to Europe on a buying expedition, and booked passage on the ill-fated ship for his return to the U.S.

Since his body was never recovered, his widow, Addie Greathouse Bracken, refused to believe her husband had perished in the disaster. According to niece Jo Faye Phelps, Addie held “a considerable amount of money in the bank in El Paso (which the Red Cross deposited to her account when her husband died on the Titanic) and I’ve heard that she refused the money.” James and Addie Bracken’s brief marriage was childless, and the widow never remarried. In the 1930s Addie, after a visit with relatives, boarded a train with a vow to her family that they would never see her again. “For many years the Red Cross tried to find her,” wrote Jo Faye Phelps in 1967. “I remember their making inquiries of my mother several times.” Unbeknownst to Jo Faye and other family members, the elusive Addie was then living in a convalescent home in Fort Worth. She died there on May 31, 1969. Interestingly, the informant for her death certificate was named as the American Red Cross.