Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Downton Abbey - A Genealogical Comparison

I don't know what year you'll be reading this but I'm writing it in 2012.  Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) has recently shown its' most popular television series ever.  Downton Abbey is a fictional account of the Grantham family who are the owners of a large estate in Britain during the late 1800's.  Filmed at the real Highclere Castle, the story is loosely based on the Carnarvon family who continue to inhabit and care for Highclere.  Now you might ask; "What does this have to do with a genealogy blog?"  Well, watching Downton Abbey transported me back to a time when my great grandparents were alive and while not British, and certainly not occupants of Highclere Castle, I can draw a number of parallels.

King Edward VII reigned over Britain and was said to be a dignified and charming emperor.  The Edwardian era became famous for its high glamour and easy elegance and fast became the new reality.   Wilhelm II reigned over Germany.  Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States.  Queen Victoria, Edwards' mother, left a lasting impression on England, if not the world and with her death in 1901, the Victorian Era came to a close but it did not happen overnight.*  Even in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, birthplace of Mary Elizabeth Lentz and also temporary home to the three Protz brothers, the houses of the era were decorated with "gingerbread" trim, turrets and etched glass windows.  Feather dusters and feather beds remained popular.  Chandeliers were made of crystal, food was served in silver service pieces to families who dressed for dinner, gas lamps and/or candles were slowly being replaced with electricity and the telephone was replacing handwritten notes and telegraphs.  (Note: pieces of my great-grandmothers chandelier (pendalogues)were re-cycled for use as Christmas tree ornaments and distributed to her great great grandchildren at Christmas 2011).

Did we have any relatives that would have been living "upstairs" at Highclere?  I don't know but I do know that we had a few living "downstairs".  Grandma Auer (maiden name Maria A. Boehm) was said to have been a cook in the kitchen of Kaiser Wilhelm.  As such, she would have lived comparably to Mrs. Patmore, the cook to Downton Abbey.  Amazingly, her personal recipe book, handwritten in German, is in the family chest whose possession at the time of this writing remains unclear.  Maria's sister, Elizabeth, is listed as a servant in both the 1900 and the 1910 census.

Although already in America, Grandma Elsie (maiden name Elsa Spatz Haegeman Kerner) became a registered nurse and worked at a hospital.  Her pillbox and two of the thermometers from her nurses bag are preserved in the family box.  She is listed as nursing in the 1930 and the 1940 census.
When Lord Alfred de Rothschild died, his bequeth to his illegitimate but beloved daughter, Almina was a tax-free 50,000 pounds.  Lord Carnarvon, Porchy and Lady Evelyn received bequests of 25,000 pounds.  This was "wealth on a staggering scale given that a gardener at Highclere was paid 24 pounds a year in 1918 and the top salary, for the chef, was 150 pounds." *  This mentioned in an effort to demonstrate some price differential between the castle owners and the workers.  Today, an English pound is worth 1.57  American dollars.   Fifty thousand pound sterling in todays numbers equates to about $78,424.87.  Hardly enough to keep an estate such as Highclere going today.  The cook's salary of 150 pounds a year equates to about $235.27 for a years work.*  Of course, housing and meals were included gratis as part of their living and working on the castle grounds. 

As war approached in 1914, men across Europe, of both up and downstairs life, registered for the draft that saw the loss of some 6.8 million potential husbands, fathers and grandfathers.  The United States was not to become involved until early 1918, a few months short of the end of the war on November 11, 1918 at 11:00 am. 

In the meantime, Mary Elizabeth Lentz,  married in January of 1917, departed for a New York City honeymoon in a "motor car" most likely built in Detroit by the Ford Motor Company and driven by her new husband, the successful business man, William C. Protz.  After a brief honeymoon, the two set out to build their lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  W.C registered for the draft in June of 1917.

Earlier in 1900, some 1.7 million women were employed as domestic servants but when war came the need for women to be pressed into other types of servitude like nursing (Downtons' youngest daughter, Sybil) or farm work ( middle daughter, Edith) emerged.  Young women who once considered domestic servitude to be an honor and often followed their own mothers into positions in the same homes, now fancied secretarial and office work.  Our Mary was known to have worked in a Lace Mill where she became a "forewoman".  Her older brother, William Frederick Lentz, worked in sales at S.S.Kresge which was a forerunner and later competitor to the Woolworth chain.  Most likely, it was William Frederick who introduced his sister, Mary to W. C. as he also worked in sales and as a buyer for the Kresge chain. 

It was not until 1918, that women over 30 who met certain restrictions were allowed to vote.  By 1928, the right to vote for women was expanded to include all women over the age of 21.  Our Mary didn't need "the vote" however to exercise her personal independence.  She filed for divorce from W. C. a few short years after their marriage.  The divorce was granted in January of 1921, leaving Mary with two small children and $19,000 in settlement funds.  The divorce was scandalous enough to make the front page news of the Manitowoc Herald.  Mary, who by now was living in Detroit, Michigan, bought a home and moved in making room for her own mother, Elizabeth and much younger brother, Walter. 

*Lady Fiona Carnarvon:  Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey;  The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle,   Broadway Paperbacks 2011