As a child, all I knew was that Lotta had had a promising musical career cut short and that she had to be institutionalized with some mental illness. My mom's writing reveals the family story or perhaps my mother's version of it, "She had a magnificent singing voice...She was auditioning for the Metropolitan Opera. When Mama died, Lotta made a vow she'd never sing again - and she never has."
The truth is both sad and perhaps a little different. At the turn of the century she was singing with the Orpheus Quartet and shows up regularly in reviews in the Fitchburg Sentinel. By the 1920 census she was living with her sister and her mother in Worcester, Massachusetts and working as a clerk. By 1930 she was a hairdresser. What turned her from her singing career we'll never know, but by 1920 she was already 30 years old. Had signs of mental illness already begun? She shows up one more time in the 1940 census living with Clara and doing hair, but by the time I was born in the fifties she was in an nursing home or institution.
Lotta's father George F Smith was from Litchfield, Maine. Her mother, Letitia Ellen Johnson, was from Spencer in Owen County, Indiana. It was researching her mother's line that gave me the first clue to Lotta's real story...or at least part of it. The 1860 census reveals this
|1860 Census-Spencer, Owen, Indiana|
Elizabeth would be Margaret Elizabeth, Lotta's grandmother. The note on the right gave me pause.
Letitia, Lotta's mother, was only 4 years old. Margaret was only 29. A quick email to a family member revealed that early onset Alzheimers ran in that side of the family. At only 29 she seems pretty young for Alzheimers, but in those days they wouldn't have know what it was anyway.
The 1880 Census shows that by this time the family couldn't manage.
|1880 Census- Indiana State Hospital for the Insane|
What a terrible choice her husband would have had to make! I did a little online research on the Indiana State Hospital and found it horrifying. Now I understood what probably happened to Aunt Lotta. Luckily, Lotta's care was more benign and her sister Clara was devoted to her for her entire life.
No one goes into genealogy looking for medical ailments, but this story gives information that might be useful to me or to family members. It also filled out my picture of Aunt Lotta. It's nice to know a little more about the charming young girl in the photo.