This year’s Thanksgiving found me thinking about my family in Canada and my family tree. Armed with the interwebs I proceeded searching for the names of relatives on Ancestry.com. I signed up for the trial and promptly cancelled it after thinking through the financial part of things. A little more searching landed me at FamilySearch.org: a free service provided by the Church of Latter Day Saints. This immediately led me to a perfect scan of my grandparent’s marriage certificate from Vancouver Island, their beautiful signatures as fresh as yesterday.
Moving on to my Dad’s side I stumbled upon a 1930 U.S. census report that showed my great aunt Marion as a boarder in a home in Sarasota, Florida. That came out of left field: as a child I knew her as ‘Aunt Marion’ in Yarmouth, N.S. and wandered around her rose garden and ate her lemon squares. On top of that my brother recently moved from Vancouver to Sarasota. Here was a mystery and a maybe a fun instance of history repeating itself.
Marion W. Hilton was born in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in 1901, one of three daughters born to Capt. Arthur Hilton and his wife Cora. As can be seen from this vignette she spent her early years at sea. Her sisters were Phyllis (my grandmother) and Margaret (my daughter’s namesake). That part I already knew from family and trips to the Yarmouth Museum as a kid. I remembered that she had been a schoolteacher and spoke French. And she made great lemon squares.
So, why did she show up on this U.S. census report in the Precinct 11, Sarasota, Florida as a 29-year old boarder in the house of Fanneal Harrison and Catherine Gavin along with a bunch of others from ages 6 to 80? I’ll be honest, my first thought was ‘cult’. Armed with the names of the household heads I googled for them and found this little writeup from the Sarasota County History Center:
Fanneal Harrison and Catherine Gavin visited the Harrison winter home at Siesta Key in 1922 for a restful vacation after their World War I relief work in Europe. Instead of resting, they founded a progressive school in the sunshine where children studied outdoors. They followed Dr. Ovide DeCroly’s principles of education, which taught that instead of teacher-imposed discipline, curiosity, freedom, and self-discipline would motivate learning.
The Out-of-Door School opened in 1924 with ten students and five teachers. Classes “for healthy minds, bodies, and spirits” included not only the academics, music, art, horseback riding, swimming and other water sports, and dancing, but also practical skills like carpentry.
A ha! That was a lock to have 29 year old Marion as a schoolteacher at the Out-of-Door school on Siesta Key. Searching for the school shows that the original campus is still there and seems to be following the goals of its’ founders:
Was there any other trace of my great aunt in Sarasota at the time? Another google search showed that indeed there was. Her name appears in two articles from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, one in November 1935 and one in December 1937 taking part in functions for the Out-of-door school. Her name is also referenced in a fee-only teacher’s record:
by C notes – 2006
Hilton, Marion W. (A.M. 1926), teacher of French
This is probably all hidden away in her personal journals but it was awfully fun sleuthing from my couch.
The kicker? Where she worked on Siesta Key was all of two miles from where my brother lives and works today, he having also reached there from Nova Scotia through a chain of events, fond memories of tropical climes, and a sense of adventure.
Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.