Monday, March 1

Madness Monday: Celeste WHO!

Last night while looking for the b&w pic of a gas station in Virgil or Hamilton KS where tradition says my dad began working in 1920 at the tender age of 13, I came across Celeste M. CUPP's memorial card.


Celeste's true identity had plagued me for 20 years, maybe longer.

I don't recall when I first discovered the card in my mother's things, only that I determined early on that Cupp was her married, not maiden, name.

Portion of inside left half of memorial card.

The card could only have come from one of the Cupp cousins in California with whom Mother had corresponded regularly, but any envelope or note that accompanied it had been tossed long ago.

Nor had Mother bothered to scribble an explanation on the back as she sometimes did on photos. Sometimes but not always, inadvertently providing me, years later, with many hours of pleasure (or frustration) comparing faces in the photos that were labeled to faces in those that weren't. Not an option with a memorial card.

At any rate, Mother had known the identity of Celeste's spouse, but hadn't shared this important piece of information. By the late 1980s, anyone else I could've asked was dead and buried too.


After many false starts and dead ends, I began ignoring the memorial card altogether. But last night I didn't. Instead I held it, turned it inside out, stared at it, willing it to reveal its secret. What clue had I overlooked?

I would start afresh.

Text portion of inside right half of memorial card.

Celeste's birthplace was Galesburg, Illinois. "Celeste" being an uncommon first name (as opposed to the ubiquitous Mary, Catherine, and Elizabeth), I would begin by searching the 1900 census for 14-yr-old girls named Celeste born in IL. (The 1890 federal census was not an option - most of it had been destroyed before anyone realized it was the only copy.)

If you've ever looked for an ancestor in the census, you already know this wouldn't necessarily be a slam dunk.

For one thing, enumerators were famous for misspelling names, first and last.

Next, in 1900, Celeste would still be living with her parents, so she might be listed (and therefore indexed) by a nickname, "Lesta" for instance.

Or by her middle name, which might or might not begin with "M", as women often dropped the middle name in favor of the first initial of their maiden or previous married name on legal documents.

Lastly, a census index is only as good as the skill and attention span of the person transcribing a name into a database.

Despite using "celes*" in the search box to catch odd spellings, I wouldn't find Celeste in 1900 (as "Celestia") until after I'd identified her parents. And that didn't happen until I'd found her and her first husband and their children in 1910, living with a brother in Waterloo, Iowa.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

To get beyond the nickname/middle name roadblock, I next searched the 1930 census (again for "celest*"), where she might appear as Celeste Cupp. This returned a slew of Celestes (including two who were nuns) but no "Celeste [M.] Cupp".

However, there was one that did look promising: "Celeste Melton", a widow of approximately the right age in Knox Co, IL, of which Galesburg is the county seat. I say "approximately" because vanity often made women shave years off their age when the census taker came around. But everything else I could find about Celeste Melton pointed to her being the Celeste.

However, I couldn't say for sure that the Widow Melton was "my" Celeste M. born on 12 August 1886 in Galesburg. Further digging proved she wasn't. Bummer.

But I wouldn't give up. Not this time! Celeste Cupp's identity had bugged me for 20-some years, and during that time I'd acquired new skills tools to solve this maddening mystery once and for all!

The first break came when it dawned that if Celeste M. Cupp died in California, she may've been registered to vote there too.

So off I went to's CA Voter Registrations 1900-1968 database, which I don't use as often as I should because I rarely find any of my California Cousins in it.

From old letters, I came to the conclusion that once that bunch escaped the hard winters and scorching summers of the Midwest and settled in what most described as "heaven on earth", politics and civic duty were not high on their list of priorities - if at all.

But it was worth a shot. And a lucky shot it was, because I got the surprise of my life!

In 1954, not only was "Cupp, Mrs. Celeste M." a registered voter in the city of Los Angeles, her address was the same as "Cupp, Albert I.", my great-uncle! They lived at 7641 Densmore, Los Angeles.

The surprise being that we knew "Uncle Bert" had had three wives, but not four! He'd deserted the first, Jennie May (Morris), and their children, Clara Etta and Arthur.

The second wife, Clare, divorced him after only a few years, but his luck changed with Wife #3, Addie Lee (Jackson). Although they had no children, they were married 21 or 22 years before her death in 1944. At some point after that, probably sooner than later, he married Celeste.

But that didn't prove the Celeste b. 1886 in Galesburg IL was Celeste M. Cupp who died in 1970, right? And if they were one and the same, how did Celeste of IL end up dying in Anaheim, CA?

Well, she was the right age to have had sons who saw a brighter future in the sunshine of southern California in the 1930s than in Illinois. Or daughters whose husbands had a thirst for greener pastures.

Back to the censuses.

In 1910 and 1920, Celeste M. CASTLE was shown as the wife of Fred Castle. In the 1910 census, they were enumerated with one of her brothers. Further digging revealed the brother, Leo Clayton LOWE, was born in Knox Co, IL, and that he and Celeste May Lowe were the children of John Westley and Ellen Hester (Riggins) LOWE.

In the 1900 census, Celeste was shown as "Celestia" and she was 14 years old. A Lowe descendant also has her as "Celestia" in a family tree, with the same birth and death dates as "my" Celeste.

But I wasn't totally convinced yet.

Back to the CA Voter Registrations. But first I should mention Albert ("Bert") and Addie Cupp's address during their marriage was 7651 Densmore Ave, Los Angeles.

According to the 1940, 1942 and 1944 Voter Regs, "Castle, Mrs. Celestia M.", a housewife, was at 7641 Densmore, Celeste and Bert's address in the 1954 Voter Regs.

After Addie died, Bert had married their neighbor and moved to her house a few doors away!

But, to paraphrase that old marching song, it's a long way from L.A. to Anaheim.

When Bert died in 1955, Celeste was 69 years old. Perhaps she could no longer take care of a house by herself, or perhaps she wanted a change of scenery. At any rate, at some point after his death, she moved to Anaheim to be with (or near) a son, Fred G. Castle. She died in October 1970 at the age of 84; 63-yr-old Fred followed four months later.

My next step will be to contact descendants of Fred G. Castle or his brothers, Leo and Horace. Celeste was too old to have more children when she married Bert Cupp, but a Castle descendant might know how she came to be on Densmore Ave in L.A.

For now, the Memorial Card Mystery is solved!

Cover of Celeste's memorial card from
Church of Our Fathers
Forest Lawn-Cypress Memorial Park
Cypress, Orange Co, CA

Card measures 6.25" x 4" (folded)

Have a great day!

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Sanjay Maharaj said...

Great work in solving the memorial card mystery. I can see that you are detail oriented and have patience in solvings these mysteries.

JamaGenie said...

Thanks, Sanjay! I wish all our brick walls were this "easy" to solve. I had begun to think Celeste would remain a mystery forever.