Month: July 2015

14. Agnes V. Tolle – “The Singing Harpist”

WEEK 29: MUSICAL. The 52 Ancestors theme this week is “Musical.” I thought I would re-blog this post I did last year on Agnes Tolle, the only musician that I am aware of in our family.

Shaking The Tree

This past week, I was enjoying browsing through Newspapers.com and GenealogyBank.com finding old newspaper articles about various ancestors. That is when I stumbled on to this distant cousin, and immediately knew that she would be this week’s post for the 52 Ancestors challenge.

Advertisement from The Springfield Republican, Springfield, MA. March 17, 1946.

Agnes V. Tolle is my 1st cousin, 2xs removed. Her mother, Agnes Donnelly, was a sister to my great, grandmother, Elizabeth Donnelly. Their eldest sister was Mary Ann Donnelly, who was the grandmother of comedienne, Imogene Coca. So, I had always known there was a little bit of showbiz on that branch of the family tree.

She was born on February 1, 1905 in Philadelphia, the daughter of Albert and Agnes (nee Donnelly) Tolle. Agnes began playing the harp at the age of seven.

“Well, my mother decided that I should play the harp, and after all, it’s an…

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WEEK 28: My 2nd cousin 1x removed found out long ago… it’s a long way down that holiday road

This week’s theme for the 52 Ancestors challenge is “Road Trip.” I would say that my second cousin, 1x removed, hands down, went on the most epic road trip.

Back in 1983, Edna was staying with the family of her daughter, Catherine, in Kansas. However, Edna wanted to go stay with her son, Normy, who lived in Phoenix. Fortunately, her niece, Ellen and her family, from Chicago were coming to visit. They were passing through on a road trip to California. So Edna, and her dog, Dinky, decided to ride along with Ellen’s family and have them drop her off in Phoenix.

However, it was a tragic road trip for both Edna and Dinky. Ellen’s husband, Clark, was a terrible driver who was always driving above the speed limit and arguing with Ellen. Along the way, they stopped at a campground to eat. Clark tied Dinky to the bumper of the car, while they ate. However, Clark forgot to untie poor Dinky when they drove away. Clark did not realize his mistake until a state trooper pulled him over to cite him with animal cruelty. Dinky’s little body was not seen and all that was left was the leash and collar still tied to the bumper. Sadly, Edna also passed away at some point after a stop at the Grand Canyon. Instead of calling for officials, Clark wrapped up Edna’s body in a tarp, and tied her to the roof of the car. They dropped off her body at Normy’s house, only to find that he was not home. Clark insisted that they leave her body on his doorstep, in the pouring rain, and continue on to California.

NationalLampoonsVacation-Still2

Many of you are probably thinking that this story sounds very familiar. That is because my second cousin 1x removed is actually actress and comedienne, Imogene Coca, who played “Aunt Edna” in the iconic road trip movie, National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Imogene Coca was born on November 18, 1908 at 3009 North 11th Street in Philadelphia, PA. Her parents were Joseph Fernandez Coca, an orchestra conductor and Sadie C. Brady, who was a magician’s assistant and vaudeville performer. Sadie’s mother, was Mary Ann Donnelly, who was a sister of my great grandmother, Elizabeth Donnelly.

Imogene was encouraged to become a performer and took singing, dancing and piano lessons. She had her first job as a dancer at the age 11 and also sang at the Dixie Theater in Manayunk, PA. At the age of 15, she moved to New York City to try and become a singer and dancer on Broadway. She spent much of the 30s, unknown, and performing in various shows and clubs in New York. She became a comedienne by accident one night while performing in a theater where the heat did not work. She borrowed a coat from another performer in the show. She was only trying to keep warm, and began jumping up and down, dancing and performing a mock strip tease while dressed in the rather larger, woolen overcoat. The director thought it was funny and incorporated into the act. Critics also found it funny, which encouraged Imogene to continue to develop her comedy skills.

In the fall of 1950, Imogene was paired with performer Sid Caesar to star in Your Show of Shows. This was the show she was best known for. Imogene won a Best Actress Emmy for her work in 1951. The show lasted until 1954 when she and Caesar left the show to pursue individual careers. Imogene continued to work on several short-lived TV shows and many guest appearances.

Imogene was first married to music arranger, Robert Burton on January 7, 1935. They were married for 20 years, until he died in 1955. On October 17, 1960, she married actor, King Donovan.

On a foggy New Year’s Eve 1973, Imogene and her husband, King Donovan, were driving to their theater performance in Florida when her husband accidently ran a red light and crashed their car. Imogene had extensive facial injuries because the rear view mirror ended up entered her right eye and also smashed her cheekbone. She lost sight in her eye and had to undergo plastic surgery to repair the damage to her face. She also developed a huge fear of being in automobiles after that accident. This proved to be a challenge for her while filming Vacation, since most of her scenes were filmed inside a car.

Imogene had initially turned down the part of Aunt Edna, because she did not think she could play someone that mean. Eventually, did accept the part. However, even during filming, Imogene, who was actually a gentle and shy person, was concerned that she was being too mean to her fellow cast members.

During the filming of Vacation, Imogene also suffered a mild stroke. She had shot a scene during the morning. However, in the afternoon, she could not remember anything they had did. So, she went to the hospital. After being released, her husband, King Donovan, helped her re-learn her lines and soon she was back on set and finished the movie.

Imogene went on making guest appearances on several TV shows and on Broadway. In 1988, she received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Performer in a Drama Series for her role as the mother of character, Agnes DiPesto, in the TV series, Moonlighting.

Imogene died on June 2, 2001 in Westhaven, Connecticut at the age of 92 after suffering from Alzheimer’s. She had requested that there would be no funeral service and her remains were cremated. She had no children. However, many performers have said that she was a huge influence on their own careers. The television series, Your Show of Shows will always be considered a television classic.

WEEK 27: Daniel Davis – a fighter for Independence

This past weekend, we celebrated Independence Day. My husband and I both have ancestors that served the Continental Army and fought for our America’s independence. My 5th great grandfather, Johannes Serfass, was among these. But for this week’s 52 Ancestor Challenge, I will focus on my husband’s 4th great grandfather, Daniel Davis.

Daniel Davis was born December 25, 1744 near Reading, Pennsylvania. Daniel served as a private in the Company of Captain Charles Gobin of the Sixth Battalion of the Berks County Militia.*  An affadavit, filed many tears later, by Daniel’s son, Israel,  recounted that Daniel had told stories about fighting at the Battle of Brandywine.

Daniel married Sarah Albright, and had 17 children. The Davis family moved from Pennsylvania, to Carroll County, Ohio. Daniel died on November 16, 1846 near Dayton, Ohio at the age of 101.

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*Page 237, Volume 5, Pennsylvania Archives, 5th Series.

WEEK 26: Peter Hawk – Not even halfway

The theme for Week 26 of the 52 Ancestors challenge is “Halfway.” I decided to write about my 4th great grandfather, Peter Hawk, since I’ve had to dig a little deeper on him recently when someone who was a close DNA match contacted me. So far, it looks like our connection is from our Hawk family tree. I feel like I’ve been ignoring my Hawk ancestors, so my research on them is not even “halfway.”

Peter Hawk was born May 1, 1791 in Polk Township, what is now Monroe County, Pennsylvania. His parents were Conrad and Elizabeth (Borger) Hawk. Peter married Elizabeth Eckhart some time before 1814. Peter and Elizabeth had at least 5 children: William, Maria, Elizabeth, Adam and Peter.

Peter was only around 33 years old when he died in 1824. He left behind his wife and young children. He is buried in the cemetery at St. Matthews Church in Kunkletown, Pennsylvania.

This is about all I know about my Hawk ancestors. Now that I have been corresponding with a Hawk “cousin,” I hope to learn more about them.