Sunday, December 27, 2015

My Grandfather, Toby Copeland - 52 Ancestors #51

For this week's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks writing challenge from blogger Amy Crow Johnson of No Story Too Small, I thought I'd write about my grandfather.

My maternal grandfather died the summer I was nine. Because he lived in Pittsburgh and I lived outside of Boston, I didn't know him well, but from everything I've heard about him, he was well liked.

Lowell Townsend Copeland was born on December 21, 1900, in Winnetka, Illinois, to Lowell Copeland and Ethel May Greeley. He is named as Townsend in the 1910 and 1920 U.S. Censuses, which I shared at Grandfather Copeland's Family 1900-1920.

The summer he was 16, he traveled out west and I shared photographs of his trip in a series of blog posts which start here.

1925 Northwestern University
Later, he acquired the nickname Toby which stuck and is what he was known as for much of his life. He attended a couple of boarding schools in New England: Kent School (Kent, CT) and Phillips Exeter, from which he graduated in 1920. He is not listed as a senior (but as a member of the "Upper Middle Class") in the 1919 Yearbook at; Ancestry's Yearbook collection doesn't include 1920.

He graduated from Northwestern University in 1925. His yearbook indicates that he participated in Track, Homecoming parade Manager, Dad's Day, and the Junior Prom Committee. This Yearbook is in's Yearbook collection.


By 1930, Grandfather was living and working in New York City (I have a letter he wrote to his parents in April 1930), but I never found him in the census. It was a friend in New York, Ted Gerken (who later married Great Aunt Mary Hunter), who introduced Toby to Mary's sister, Helen. It was love at first sight and Toby and Helen married soon after they met.

One of my favorite blog posts is about his 1931 wedding to my grandmother, Helen Hunter.

Helen Lysle Hunter and Lowell Townsend Copeland on their wedding day.

When they boarded the train to go on their honeymoon, Toby put on his glasses and when Helen questioned his glasses, he said, "yes, I've worn them since I was twelve."  He was very nearsighted, yet also somewhat vain and had never worn his glasses in front of Helen before their marriage! However, they did have a very happy marriage.

Toby started out in the insurance industry in New York City, living in Pelham with my grandmother for a short time after they married. When he was laid off during the Depression, he moved near his in-laws in Pittsburgh, and appeared to continue in the insurance industry for at least a few years becuse he is listed with an occupation of "Indoor Salesman" in the "Advertising" industry in the 1940 U.S. Census record for his family, which I shared here.

Later, he became a salesman of industrial supplies, working for Frick & Lindsay, which provided supplies for oil wells, mills and mines. Toby sold anything from kegs of nails to wheelbarrows to hoists.


When I asked my mother for a memory of her father, she told me about the watch he gave her as a high school graduation present, which had a square face. When my grandmother told her that she could return it if she didn't like it, my mother declared that she liked it and wore the watch for years, often getting compliments on it.

My pleasant memories of my grandfather are from when I was a small girl and he occasionally visited us in Massachusetts in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I also remember the postcards he sent me from his travels; he and my grandmother enjoyed traveling after he retired.

This is how I remember my grandfather. This photo happens to have been taken on their 40th wedding anniversary, September 5, 1971 (noted on the back of the photo). He died on July 11, 1974, in Pittsburgh, at the age of 73.

Did you know my grandfather? Do you have a brief story or memory to share? Please take a moment and share a comment here, or send me an email (elizhandler -at- with a memory that you have of my grandfather. It would be much appreciated.


  1. Mt Mother, Mimi (Mary Oliver Gittings) was madly in love with Uncle Toby all her growing up years. She had plans to marry him, but my Father interrupted those. I remember Uncle Toby's passion for trains. He had many lovely pictures of various engines and train cars. He was a most wonderful person and he and Aunt Honey (Helen) were very happy. He also was lovely to the great aunts. I loved going to Your grandparents house and later their apartment on Fifth Ave. in Pittsburgh. They were delightful company.

    1. Cousin Caroline - thank you so much for these wonderful memories! And you reminded me of his passion for trains. I have several of his books about trains because one of my sons loved trains at the same time that my mother was downsizing and getting rid of books.

      Thanks very much for the comment!