Monday, June 25, 2012

Mystery Monday ~ Who owned Melissa's Trunk?

Last week I visited my hairdresser, Melissa.  She and I have long discussions about genealogy and the TV show “Who Do You Think You Are?” while she cuts my hair.  Melissa is much younger than I, closer to my daughter’s age, but we have genealogy in common.  Last year I drew up one of her lineages all the way back to Thomas Leighton (1604 – 1671/2) one of New Hampshire’s earliest settlers, and she was thrilled.   This time Melissa had a puzzle for me to solve.  She had found an antique trunk at a shop in Amherst, New Hampshire.   She didn’t notice until she was home that there was a name stenciled onto the front of the trunk:

Mrs. Charles F. Aldrich
SS Cedric
Stateroom #53

This was the mystery!  Who was Mrs. Aldrich?  Was she from New Hampshire? When did she sail on the SS. Cedric?  Was there a story behind this?   Melissa had spent some time online and she knew that the steamship Cedric was one of the White Star Line’s “Big Four”.  She knew it sailed about 100 years ago, and she even looked at some passenger records on Ancestry and found several Aldrich’s on board the Cedric.  Now she was stuck and looked to me for help.

At home I tried to recreate Melissa’s search on and I looked at, too.  I figured I could trace the Aldriches onboard the Cedric passenger lists with census records and other records found online.  But it wasn’t easy.  The Aldriches listed on these passenger lists didn’t quite fit the time period, nor did they seem to have husbands named “Charles F.”   I needed a way to narrow down all the Charles F. Aldriches of this time period, and there were quite a few on my list when I searched through and  I even searched old newspapers of the time period, using and the Boston Public Library website. 

While I was searching, I had a window open on my desktop running Facebook.  I decided to ask all my genealogy Facebook friends for advice.  I knew that some of my colleagues had a lot of experience with passenger lists and immigration records.  Within minutes I had over thirty comments!  And I had an answer thanks to genealogist Sue Clifford Maxwell, author of the blog “Granite Genealogy” [surprisingly not from New Hampshire!]   Later comments included Randy Seaver who said “Crowd-searching works well, eh?  Nice job!  Two hours!”  and from Glory Wedge who stated “Wow, How nice to see a group helping to find the answer.  Goes to show the power in numbers.”   Genealogist Alan Farrell even wrote that she had a relative serve on board the Cedric  as a cabin steward until 1921 (our mystery passenger sailed on the Cedric in 1929).

Here is the mystery passenger.

Maria Louisa Alexander was the daughter of Junius Brutus Alexander and Eliza Hickey Newcomb.   According to her passport application she was born on 16 March 1869 on Staten Island, New York.  On 25 November 1891  in Cambridge, Massachusetts she married Reuben Francis Richards.  He died on 26 February 1899 after two children were born.  The young widow married second on 25 December 1900 to Charles Frost Aldrich.  He was a son of Thomas Bailey Aldrich, the famous Portsmouth, New Hampshire author.  Thomas Bailey Aldrich wrote the semi autobiographical book The Story of a Bad Boy in 1870 which was the first American novel about a child that was not written as a lesson or a morality tale.  He became great friends with Mark Twain, entertained him in New Hampshire, and influenced Twain’s books Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.   Aldrich became the editor of The Atlantic Monthly.  His boyhood home in Portsmouth is one of the museum buildings at the Strawbery Banke Museum. 

Unfortunately, Maria became a widow again when Charles Frost Aldrich died of tuberculosis on 6 March 1904 at the family’s summer estate at Saranac Lake in New York.  Mrs. Aldrich never remarried, but she remained socially active and traveled extensively.  There are many mentions of her in the social pages of old newspapers, including her daughter’s social debut in Boston in 1914.  She appears on at least a half dozen passenger lists to and from Europe between 1905 and the 1940s. has three of Maria Aldrich’s passport applications to view.   She was a member of the Colonial Dames Society, and a descendant of Mayflower passenger William Bradford.  “Mrs. Chas Frost Aldrich” is listed in the Boston Social registers.  Her summer home in Dublin, New Hampshire was lent to Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd in 1930 [he was the aviator and polar explorer who was the first to reach both the North and South Poles by air].  Dublin is only thirty miles from where Melissa bought the trunk.
The passengers aboard the Cedric 11 May 1929
included "Mrs. C. F. Aldrich"

Apparently this wooden trunk was used by Maria L. (Alexander) (Richards) Aldrich during her voyage on the Cedric which arrived in New York on 11 May 1929 from Liverpool, England.  She arrived in Boston on 19 May 1929 according to the passenger list.  I can imagine that as a wealthy socialite, she must have had many trunks of clothing bought in Europe, and other personal items.  Melissa joked that perhaps this trunk was packed full of shoes, and she might be correct! 

This voyage was a few months before the market crash that started the Great Depression.  I can’t find any more information on Maria Aldrich, other than the fact that her last cruise to Europe seems to have been on 29 April 1937 when she returned on the Saturnia from Naples, Italy.   I don’t know her death date, or where she is buried.  I haven’t yet found an obituary.

Maria Louisa Aldrich's 1929 Passport Application
with photo!  She was 51 years old at the time, and still traveling alone. 

Sources used:

Sue Clifford Maxwell in Sandy, Utah, author of the blog “Granite Genealogy”
Boston Public Library at
Strawbery Banke Museum at
1905 Summer Social Register, (Dilatory Domiciles) page 7
Clark’s Boston Blue Book, 1905, page 124
The 1907, 1911, 1919 and 1920   Social Register, Boston (probably others, but I have not seen copies)
Harvard Graduates Magazine, 1904, Volume 12, page 672

Two links to the Maria Louisa Aldrich passenger records on

2.) Book Indexes to Boston Passenger Lists, 1899 – 1940 at   (image of the “List of Cabin Passengers”)

Here are some photos of first class cabins and lounges on the Cedric.  Wow, these are some swanky cabins. Thanks, Terri Kallio!

Copyright 2012, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. You should join Pinkertons! Very impressive!!

  2. Hats off to you Heather-- great job. How awesome to think of that trunk's history!

  3. Hmmmm. . .this story is making me rethink my decision NOT to be on facebook. I also have a trunk with a name that I have intended to research, but I haven't made the time yet - I know it is earlier because it is grain painted.

    1. Margel, I hope some of the research techniques I described in the post help you research your own trunk. Having the cabin number and ship name were key to finding the exact match of this particular passenger.

  4. That's fantastic! Melissa will have to keep a copy of the trunk's story inside of it now that it's been hammered out. I love The Story of a Bad Boy connection too - it's a great book.