Monday, April 9, 2018

Great Aunt Margie: Maiden Aunt ~ 52 Ancestors #14

I am participating in this year's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks writing challenge from Amy Johnson Crow. Each week has an optional writing prompt and this week's writing prompt is The Maiden Aunt. As Amy notes, even though aunts and uncles are not technically ancestors, they play an important role in our families.

My great aunt Margaret Lysle Hunter was known as Aunt Margie or Aunt Marg (with a hard 'g'). She was the fourth of five daughters born to my great-grandparents, Percy Earle Hunter and Marguerite Lysle: Marion, Caroline, Mary, Margaret, and Helen. In addition to some factual information and my memories of Aunt Margie, I reached out to several relatives to collect stories about her which I am sharing here and there are some good ones!

She was born on April 28, 1905, less than nine months before the state of Pennsylvania required birth certificates, so I don't have an official birth certificate for her. However, I do have a variety of paperwork that was saved in her process to obtain a Social Security Number, including an affidavit of birth from her Uncle Jack (I recently wrote about my Great Great Uncle Jack who lived to 102). All applicants for federal benefits (Social Security or Medicare) were required to have their own Social Security Numbers by 1972.

My grandmother and her family saved photographs and negatives (as I have previously noted). I have shared photographs of the sisters in several blog posts (because I have so many of them):
My Grandmother and Her Sisters
Early 20th Century Hunter Sisters Stories
Early 20th Century Hunter Sisters Update which includes links to other posts. In many of these group photos, I recognize the twinkle in Aunt Margie's eyes.

This photograph of Aunt Margie and Grandmother was hanging in the house I grew up in for years. When I went through the collection of negatives and found that I had the negative for it, I was thrilled. Aunt Margie is on the left, Grandmother (Helen) is on the right. (Marks in the sky are due to defects in the negative.)

Her oldest sister, Marion, died in 1913, when she was eight and a half. Her father, Percy, died in 1937, when she was 32. Her mother lived another 30 years, but was not in the best of health for her last ten years or so, and Margie and her divorced sister, Mary, took care of her in the house on Middle Road, Allison Park (a neighborhood in Pittsburgh), during this time. Their mother, Marguerite (Lysle) Hunter, died on Christmas Day 1967, which was heartbreaking for Aunt Margie, according to my aunt, who remembers how much Margie loved decorating for the Christmas season. My aunt remembers that she even set up a small Christmas tree in their playhouse.

After their mother died and the family home on Middle Road was sold, my mother remembers that Aunt Margie and Aunt Mary moved into Pittsburgh very near to where my grandparents (Helen and Toby) lived. Aunt Mary died in 1971; my grandfather died in July 1974; and Aunt Caroline died in March 1974.

This 3D Google Map shows how close they were; Grandmother and Grandfather lived in an apartment at 5825 Fifth Avenue and Aunt Margie lived in an apartment at 5903 Fifth Avenue.

Courtesy Google Maps, Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania

Half a mile away was Helen's youngest daughter and her family. One of my first cousins remembers Aunt Margie as a second grandmother to her and her sister. She remembers "going to her apartment as a young child and playing endlessly with her rock collection. She had a box of polished rocks and stones that we used to covet. She also had a great geode collection. I remember fondly going to her farm as I think she wanted to get her city-slicker great nieces out into ‘nature.’ We took exciting walks through dirt, mud and snow drifts. I also remember when the tadpoles were hatching in her pond and being amazed/horrified at the number of tadpoles swimming about. She definitely instilled a love of taking walks in the wild."

A second cousin of mine (granddaughter of Margie's sister, Caroline) also remembers Aunt Margie and the outdoors: "I have memories of Aunt Margie playing with us when we were small. She used to take us down to the gold fish pond - a small pond reached by steps from the driveway. It had a waterfall. The faucet for the waterfall was up next to the driveway. I remember the anticipation of waiting for the water as it filtered through the rocks and the thrill when it started falling. Being Aunt Margie it was never left on for long - waste of water!"

My mother remembers Aunt Margie being able to call a frog at the pond. She would make a croaking noise and a frog would appear. She remembers that children adored Aunt Margie and thought of her as magical.

Aunt Margie was an astute investor. Her farm was 41 acres of land in Hampton Township, in the northern section of Pittsburgh. I have quite a bit of paperwork for the farm, including the purchase and sale agreement from 1943, showing when Margie and Mary purchased it. They also both invested in the stock market (Mary more actively than Margie). My mother remembers that there was a tenant farmer who lived on the farm and raised chickens and pigs and grew vegetables and hay. In 1952, the sisters had to fight an oil company which wanted to build an oil pipeline across the property. There are quite a few newspaper stories to be found about the sisters' fight against the oil company, which claimed the right of eminent domain, which the sisters argued against. I have not yet fully researched this, but according to a second cousin of mine, the sisters won and no pipeline was installed.

Aunt Margie owned a tractor which was a favorite of her nieces; in fact, I have a photo of my mother sitting on the tractor with Aunt Margie. This was taken behind the house at Middle Road, which was a few miles from the farm.

My second cousin shared the following memory: "She used to let us drive the tractor (really a small lawn tractor) over the front yard - we had to take turns, but somehow my older brother thought he should get more and longer turns. Aunt Margie would groan every time someone drove under the weeping willow tree. Back in the '50s this was a real treat. Having a lawn tractor was something few people had!"

This cousin also shared: "I remember Aunt Margie used to make "dainty sandwiches" she would slice bread very thin - sometimes cutting a regular piece into two pieces - and put in cucumber or some such thing. She said they were sandwiches that would be used for tea. I was fascinated at how she could get the bread so thin and even. She and Aunt Mary would pickle cucumbers. When that happened they had various size crocks all over the kitchen floor. Then they would put them in Mason jars and line them up on the shelves in the cellar. This all seemed rather mysterious to those of us who grew up in suburbia in the beginning of the age of convenience foods."

A second cousin once removed (descended from a brother of Percy Hunter, Margie's father) remembers that Aunt Margie raised orchids and Aunt Mary was a good cook.

Aunt Margie was interesting and interested in a variety of things. She enjoyed collecting antiques, especially mechanical banks and was a longtime member of the Mechanical Bank Collectors of America (which is still around - check out their website). One of my brothers once asked her about antiques, and she said, “Enjoy learning about antiques and appreciating their beauty.  If you only think about how much they are worth, you take all of the fun out of it.”

Advice that she gave my second cousin: "One weekend when I slept over she told me to make sure I put lotion on my heels regularly because men did not like rough heels."

According to one family story, she did receive a marriage proposal, but turned it down.

Aunt Margie was adventurous. My second cousin shared another wonderful story: "The Aunts always presented themselves as upright ladies, but they did tell stories of going to Canada and hiding bottles of liquor in the upholstery of car seat to smuggle it back to the US during prohibition. They never got chased or caught, but they did think they were dangerous!"

One of my brothers remembers "riding in her big (yellow?) Mercedes when we went out to visit and stayed at Uncle Fritz’s house in [Ohio]. When driving home from dinner, we passed a state trooper who had pulled over a speeder to which Aunt Margie said 'Great. I bet that is the last one [in] Ohio' as she speeded home." My other brother remembers: "The first thought that came to mind was that trip in her Mercedes. I think it was brown. She was driving like a bat out of hell." (Not an uncle but a close family friend, "Fritz"was Frederick J. Close, retired chairman of Aloca, who lived in Ohio, managing a rhododendron and azalea nursery in his retirement.)

According to my aunt, Margie enjoyed driving nice cars, but would drive ten miles out of her way to purchase the cheapest gas!

I was not part of that 1975 visit to Pittsburgh, but I do remember riding in her car when we all visited a few years later and being just a little scared at how fast she was driving at night.

In 1982, the Massachusetts cousins visited the Pittsburgh cousins and for one of the family dinners, we all went out to dinner at my uncle's golf club. We had a family photograph taken, which is a real treasure. Ten of the seventeen in the following photograph are still living, so I will just identify my grandmother, sitting in the center, and her sister, Margie, sitting to Grandmother's right.

As several cousins mentioned, Margie and her sister Helen were great friends. For most of their lives, they lived not far from each other and at the end of their lives, they shared an apartment at a senior living facility at Mars, Pennsylvania, where we visited in 1982. (According to the website, Sherwood Oaks opened in 1982, so they must have been among the first residents.)

I remember having a few dinners in the dining hall at this senior living facility, where I'm sure we were quite entertaining for the residents, and my brothers (ages 16, 14, and 13) looking at the small portions of food on their plates and wondering where the rest of the meal was.

One of my cousins on this trip remembers having big family dinners during this visit and running around outside. She also remembers Aunt Margie's smile and her warmth, as I think we all do.

This photograph of Helen and Margie, which I love, sat on a table in my mother's home for years and she recently gave it to me. Several family members remember that the sisters had great senses of humor. I wish I knew what the joke was that generated these wonderful laughing smiles.

Sisters Helen Hunter Copeland and Margaret Lysle Hunter in the late 1980s

My grandmother, Margie's younger sister, died in 1990 in the apartment they shared.

Aunt Margie was thoughtful. When I got married in Massachusetts in 1991, she was invited to the wedding, but told my mother that she didn't want to be a burden, to have my mother or one of her sisters have to keep an eye on her (she was 86 at the time) rather than enjoy my wedding, so she didn't attend.

She died on October 8, 1994, at 89 years old, and is buried in the Hunter family plot at Allegheny Memorial Cemetery, between my grandfather, Lowell Copeland and her mother, Marguerite. I visited the cemetery last August.


  1. Your great aunt was quite a woman, with many talents and interests and, obviously, a great love of family. She would have been pleased to know how she's remembered with fondness and that she was a positive force in the lives of you and your relatives.

    1. Marian, thank you for the comment. I am glad that Amy suggested this topic for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks writing challenge.