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The truth of a family story

It’s a story The Legal Genealogist heard often.

One my mother loved to tell.

It’s about the day we moved into the house in New Jersey where I grew up.

The lot our house was on faced one street. The lot to the right as you stood facing our front door ran all the way from our street through to the next street over. That family’s deep back yard ended on our street; their house faced that next street over.

So my parents hadn’t met those folks when they looked at the house and we hadn’t yet met them when the movers were done moving our things in.

As my mother told the story, she had come out onto the porch to do something when the neighbor from that next door property came up our walk with a casserole dish in her hands. She started to introduce herself as Peg Pepper, and at that moment I either came out of the house or around the corner from the back of the house and into our neighbor’s line of sight.

I was then not quite four years old. Pedal pusher overalls. Railroad cap. Attitude.

And the instant Peg Pepper saw me, so the story goes, the casserole dish hit the sidewalk. Her face turned pale. She reached a hand in my direction, and it was trembling. So was her voice when she asked, in what was almost a whisper, “What’s her name?”

The trembling only got more pronounced when my mother said my name was Judy.

Our new neighbor managed to explain that they had had a daughter whom they had lost when she was just about my age.

I resembled that child enough to be her twin.

And her name was Judy.

Now you need to understand that I never ever heard that story from the Peppers. Not from Peg Pepper. Not from her husband, my pal the entomologist and backyard gardener, Dr. Bailey B. Pepper.1 Not from either of the boys they raised to adulthood and who taught us to ride bikes and throw baseballs.

The only person I ever heard that story from was my mother. A consummate storyteller. And one who — like most folks of Scots-Irish extraction — never let the facts interfere with a good story.

Now there’s no doubt that I was spoiled by both Bailey and Peg Pepper — but not all that much more than they spoiled all the kids in my household. There truly was nothing in the degree of favoritism they displayed to suggest that I really did remind them of a lost child.

So… was it true?

This past week, for some reason, I decided I needed to know.

Long ago, I had found the obituaries of both Peg and Bailey Pepper. He died first, in December 1970, and his obituary said: “Surviving are his wife, Margaret Forghan Pepper, formerly of Stottsville, N.Y.; two sons, James B. at home and Carl F. of Oregon; two brothers, Enoch S. and Seth S. of Easton, Pa., and a grandchild.”2 She died in 2004, and her obituary said: “She was predeceased by her husband, Bailey B. Pepper, and her parents, James and Lena Forgham. She is survived by her two sons, James of Edison and Carl of Arizona; her brother, Royce of New York, and her sister, Helen, of Summit.”3

No daughter who had predeceased her parents.

The story wasn’t true.

Well, not based on the obituaries, at least.

But as genealogists we never just take one source, or even one kind of source, do we?

So I went back in time.

I found first the marriage of Bailey B. Pepper Jr. and Margaret M. Forgham in Stottville, New York, in October 1937.4 An announcement of the marriage appeared in a South Carolina newspaper, near where Bailey had been raised. It said Peg was a graduate nurse employed in the city of New Brunswick, county seat of Middlesex County, New Jersey, and Bailey was an instructor at Rutgers college in New Brunswick and working for the State of New Jersey as an entomologist. And, it said, they would be “returning to their home in New Brunswick.”5

Which means of course they should be there in central New Jersey on the 1940 census. And — sure enough — there they were, right at the top of sheet 10-B, enumeration district 12-146, on Lincoln Street in the Stelton section of what was then called Raritan Township. Pepper, Bailey B., head of household, 34, born in South Carolina, entomologist, industry: “insect research.” Pepper, Margaret, wife, age 28, born in Rhode Island.6

And they were not in that house alone.

Recorded on line three: Pepper, Judith, daughter, age 1, born in New Jersey.7

And the rest of the story, from the local newspaper: “Funeral services for Judith A. Pepper, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bailey B. Pepper, of 2 Lincoln street, Stelton, who died yesterday at her home, will be held Sunday afternoon … Interment will be in Van Liew Cemetery.”8

Judith Pepper

You will find her stone there today, if you visit Van Liew Cemetery in North Brunswick — one of the oldest in the area, dating back to the Revolutionary War.9

There really was another Judy.

Who died when she was almost exactly the age I was when Peg Pepper first laid eyes on me.

The story my mother told was true.

There is no question, none whatsoever, that having Bailey and Peg Pepper in my life was a joy for me.

And though there’s no-one alive today that I can ask… I can surely hope that having me in their lives was something of a joy for Bailey and Peg — something more of a gain than it was a painful reminder of loss.

That it wasn’t all that hard having me around.

The other Judy in their lives.


Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “The other Judy,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 31 Oct 2020).

SOURCES

  1. See Judy G. Russell, “The blueberries of June,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 23 June 2012 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 30 Oct 2020).
  2. “Dr. Bailey B. Pepper, 64, professor at Rutgers,” The (Bridgewater NJ) Courier-News, 23 December 1970, p. 6, cols. 4-5; digital images, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/ : accessed 30 Oct 2020).
  3. “Margaret Pepper, Age 92, Edison,” The (New Brunswick NJ) Home News Tribune, 3 Feb 2004, p. 28, col. 3; digital images, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/ : accessed 30 Oct 2020).
  4. New York State, Marriage Index, 1881-1967, entries for Bailey B. Pepper and Margaret M. Forgham, 9 October 1937, certif. no. 52576; database, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 Oct 2020).
  5. “Pepper-Forham Rites in N.Y.,” The Greenville (S.C.) News, 31 Oct 1937, p. 16, col. 6; digital images, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/ : accessed 30 Oct 2020).
  6. 1940 U.S. census, Middlesex County, New Jersey, population schedule, Raritan Township, enumeration district (ED) 12-146, sheet 10-B, household 317, Bailey B. Pepper household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 October 2020); imaged from NARA microfilm T627, roll 2362.
  7. Ibid.
  8. “Judith A. Pepper,” The (New Brunswick) Daily Home News, 14 February 1942, p. 2, col. 7; digital images, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/ : accessed 30 Oct 2020).
  9. See Van Liew Cemetery, Middlesex County, New Jersey, Judith A. Pepper marker; digital image, Find A Grave (https://findagrave.com : accessed 30 Oct 2020).
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