On Saturday, May 3rd, I had the honor of presenting my Adelaide Herrmann lecture to the Descendants of the Founders of New Jersey. In attendance was Alfred Hahn, the grandson of Adelaide’s sister, Mathilde Scarcez Owles. Al’s wife, Gail, is a genealogist who – like a number of other Adelaide Herrmann relatives – found me via Ancestry.com.
Mathilde was Adelaide’s closest sister, both in age (Mathilde was two years older) and in shared experience. Mathilde and Adelaide were both born in London, after the family emigrated from Belgium. Their three older sisters and oldest brother were all born in Belgium. (An older brother born in London died in early childhood.) Mathilde was the sister who kept Adelaide’s secret when she discovered that her little sister was sneaking off and taking dance classes.
Mathilde had five children, three sons and two daughters. The older daughter, Adele Owles (1878-1965), came to America as a teenager and was Adelaide Herrmann’s onstage assistant until her marriage in 1905. (Adele inherited Adelaide’s estate – including the manuscript of her memoir.) The youngest child, Eugenie Owles (1892-1940) took care of Mathilde when she became ill. (Family members believe she had leukemia). Soon after Mathilde died in 1912, Eugenie came to America, settling in with her sister Adele, first in Brooklyn and then in Newark, NJ. She married Mr. Hahn and gave birth to Alfred in 1934 – two years after Adelaide’s death.
Sadly, Eugenie died when Al was very small, and little Al went on excursions with his Aunt Adele (“Aunt Dell”) until his father remarried, after which he never saw her again. Adele never said a word about her previous life as a magician’s assistant, and never once mentioned his famous great aunt, Adelaide Herrmann.
Al doesn’t remember much about his roots, but I think he has his Aunt Adelaide’s eyes.