Last week, guest blogger Wendy Mathias (Jollett Etc.) told the story of how she stumbled across an intriguing newspaper article regarding the death of Eliza Jollett, nee Watson. Like reading the last page of a book first, Wendy went searching for more of the story. Here’s what she found:


If you work on your family genealogy long enough, you will surely find heroes and scoundrels, tragic stories and joyful ones. The story I found just recently when I did a broad search for “Jollett” at GenealogyBank is one of those Happy-Sad stories.

Girl Missing Since Mother’s Death
Believed in Baltimore Training School

Some time today Charles Jollett of 913 H street, who is scarcely 33 years old, will be told that the daughter he has been seeking for 15 years is being cared for in an institution within 50 miles of where he lives and works.

A search that has been carried on intermittently since 1915 apparently has been concluded with the information that a 15-year-old girl bearing the name of Mary Alice Jollett is being cared for in the Rosewood Training School at Baltimore. John Jollett, father of the girl’s father, and his wife are in communication with the institution and they hoped to tell their son today that his wish to see his child might be fulfilled.

In response to appeals to the Baltimore police and notices published in Baltimore newspapers, Dr. G. W. Keating, head of the Rosewood Training School, advised Mr. Jollett that a child bearing his name had been placed in the home by the mother October 31, 1921. Dr. Keating’s records tally with the facts known to the Jolletts.

Mary Alice Jollett was born to Charles Jollett and his wife in Baltimore February 17, 1914 when the father was about 18 and the mother about 15. At 9 months, the child suffered infantile paralysis which affected body and mind. Husband and wife separated and for seven years the child was cared for by the mother and at times by the mother’s parents. Charles Jollett joined his parents in Virginia and for several years was not in communication with his wife. When she died suddenly in 1922 he had no knowledge of his daughter’s whereabouts.

from the Evening Star, Washington DC 7 Jan 1930

Illness in the family prevented John Jollett from making an active effort to locate the child. Some time ago his wife died. He married again recently and he and his wife and son, who lives with them, determined to locate the daughter. Appeals to the Baltimore police and newspapers led to the information obtained.

The condition of Mary Alice Jollett, who soon will be 16 years old, probably will determine whether she will be left in the Rosewood Training School or brought to her grandfather’s home. Members of the family expressed gratification today that they might assist her and at least know that everything possible would be done for her.

(The Rosewood Training School was established in 1888 as The Asylum and Training School for the Feeble-Minded. In 1912 it was renamed The Rosewood State Training School.)

How sad indeed for little Mary Alice, a child born healthy but left mentally and physically disabled due to infantile paralysis. How sad for a young married couple, still children themselves, to lose their way, unable to find the strength to function as a family. I have seen in my own family how a marriage can fall apart under the weight of emotional and physical exhaustion that often accompanies caring for a child with physical and mental disabilities.

While it saddened me to know that Charles lost contact with his wife and therefore did not provide for her or their daughter, he redeemed himself somewhat by intensifying his efforts to find Mary Alice upon hearing his wife had died. I was proud that the search was a family affair too, not Charles alone but with the aid of his father John.

The Charles Jollett of this story was son of John B. and Fannie Bell Griffith Jollett. Born about 1896, Charles was the youngest of five surviving children. His father John was a farmer like most of their neighbors along Naked Creek in Page County, Virginia. The community was known as Jollett Hollow, named for Charles’s grandfather John Wesley Jollett, a Methodist preacher and sometimes post master.

By 1910, John B. had moved his family a few miles away to the town of Shenandoah. The railroad had made Shenandoah a boom town, and there were plentiful jobs in the various repair shops. John himself worked as a machinist. Charles’s brother Hunter worked as a carpenter.

Perhaps it was the lure of jobs with the government during World War I that drove the Jolletts to Baltimore, Maryland. In the 1920 census, John B. was a carpenter with the shipyard and Charles was a riveter.

But wait – what about Mary Alice? In 1920, Charles was living with his parents in Baltimore. He was enumerated as married, but there was no wife listed. Apparently they were already separated at that point. A search for “Mary Alice Jollett” and “Mary Jollett” in the 1920 census produced no match.

Then I recalled the mysterious Mrs. Eliza Jollett from Baltimore. Could she be the unnamed wife in the article and mother of Mary Alice?

I examined the details:

  • She was 24 when she died in 1922, giving her a date of birth around 1898, certainly in the right time period to have married Charles Jollett.
  • They were both in Baltimore, Maryland.
  • She was buried in Shenandoah, again the right neighborhood to have known Charles’s family.
  • There was no mention of a husband in Eliza’s death notice, a strong suggestion that there had to be a good reason, such as separation or divorce.

A search for Eliza Jollett in 1920 produced no match. So I turned to her parents, Samuel and Eliza Watson, whom I had already found in 1900 and 1910. This time I looked for them in 1920.

No Eliza Jollett. But lookee there: a 6-year old granddaughter “Mary Joliet”!

from 1920 census Baltimore Ward 27, Baltimore, Maryland

No wonder I could not find her. Not only was her name spelled incorrectly but also she is indexed as “Mary Jolest.” Just to rule out “coincidence,” I did the math: a child 6 years old in 1920 would have been born about 1914, depending on date of birth and date the family was enumerated. The child would be about 16 in 1930, the same age as the Mary Alice of the news article.

Apparently a child with physical and mental disabilities was too much for aging grandparents to handle. Maybe putting Mary Alice in the Rosewood Training School in 1921 was Eliza’s decision; maybe it was her parents’ decision. Maybe it was a combination. At any rate, Mary Alice was there in 1930 when Charles and his father finally found her. The news article concludes by saying her condition would determine whether she would remain there or go home with her father and grandfather. One of the questions in the census was whether a person could speak English. The answer for Mary Alice was “No.”

I imagine the sense of obligation mixed with pity mixed with relief at finally being reunited was strong, but it is not likely that Mary Alice went home with her father. In 1940 she was still at Rosewood. At age 26, her highest level of education achieved was 0.

It is much too difficult for me to think about what the rest of Mary Alice’s life might have been. The Rosewood Training School certainly started out with noble intentions, but like so many asylums of its day, too many patients and too few employees compounded by too many needs and too little funding resulted in deterioration of buildings and services. Charges of abuse and dehumanizing conditions spelled the end of Rosewood in 2008. I suspect Mary Alice was there all that time. If so, she spent 80 years in Rosewood. She died 15 December 2001.

Even without a marriage record for Charles Jollett and Eliza Watson, and even without a birth record or death record for Mary Alice, I am convinced I have solved this mini-mystery. It is not the exhaustive search that genealogists say I should do, but I am confident doing so will bear me out. Sadly enough.




Note: This post was originally part of Wendy’s Mystery Monday series. Wendy explains:

Mystery Monday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers that asks us to share mystery ancestors or mystery records – anything in our family history research which is currently unsolved.  With any luck fellow genealogy bloggers will lend their eyes to what has been found so far and possibly help solve the mystery.

You can read Wendy’s original post, with comments, at

If you have ideas or stories to share in our “How I Solved It” series, please let us know!

Wendy Mathias
Wendy Mathias, a retired teacher, started her family history research about twenty-five years ago when she helped her mother research the Jolletts. Since retiring, she's expanded her research which she shares in her blog. When she's not looking for her own family, she volunteers her time by indexing for FamilySearch and the Greene County Historical Society in Virginia. As Registrar for her local DAR chapter, Wendy assists women in tracing their lineage as part of the application process. Learn more about Wendy and her family history research. Visit Wendy's Website
Wendy Mathias

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