I research a lot of people, including many who are not related to me. I become captivated by a story, and just can’t put it down. Such is the case with James A. Walton-Black.
After my dad passed away, I found some letters in boxes that had come from Dad’s house, letters written by a college friend of Dad, Mark Golden. Mark was a B-17 pilot, whose plane was shot down 18 June 1944. You can read more of the story of Mark and his crew in my article, “Lt. Mark L. Golden: A Case Study in WWII Research” here.
In my research into Mark’s story I was sent a letter written by Mark’s co-pilot, James A. Walton-Black, to Mark’s father, a letter which sent chasing after another man, another story, and research on a family with ties to war heroes and society families in Ireland and the United States.
James Walton-Black was a “honeymoon baby” and only child of Louise Mitchell Walton, a Louisville, Kentucky debutante and the dashing Capt. James Black of County Antrim, who served with His Majesty’s Irish Regiment of Foot Guards and was decorated with the British Military Cross and the French Croix de Guerre.[i] But it seems Capt. Black showed limited interest in marriage and family, leaving his wife and son for a two-month trip to England and Scotland just a few months after James’ birth.[ii]
Capt. Black is an interesting character. As I dug for information on James, Jr. I expanded my search to include both his parents, hopeful that I could locate family or friend who had known any of them. It seems Capt. Black ran in some pretty heady circles. He was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry, and is mentioned in Rudyard Kipling’s The Irish Guards in the Great War, Vol. 2 in Appendix A, Extracts from the London Gazette, “6th April 1918. M.C. to Lieutenant James Black, Irish Guards, Special Reserve: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty as Adjutant during three days’ operations. When the trenches of one of the support companies were being blown to pieces he went from Battalion Headquarters and led the company forward into a new position.”
But I don’t find many mentions of Capt. Black and Louise together. On June 21, 1921, Louise’s mother returns to Louisville “from a stay of two weeks in New York where she was the guest of her daughter, Mrs. James Black and Captain Black,”[iii] and a few weeks later Louise’s parents again join the newlyweds.[iv] James Jr. is born in Louisville while Louse and Captain Black are guest of her parents in early 1922,[v] but by August 1922, “Mr. and Mrs. Druid Walton, Mrs. James Black and Master James Black will move tomorrow into their apartment in the Seelbach.”[vi] Capt. James Black is apparently not with them. Just over two months later, Druid Walton, president of C.J. Walton & Son, boiler manufacturers, hangs himself in a storeroom over his office, despondent over business declines.[vii] In the Louisville city directory of 1922, James Black is listed as the secretary and treasurer of C J Walton & Son, and is shown as boarding at Druid Walton’s home.[viii] Was James involved in the financial difficulties? Or perhaps did the Walton family, who had spent the previous several years traveling to Boston, Florida, New York and other places on trips that appear to be “shopping Louise out” for a suitable marriage, think they had found a deep-pocketed son-in-law who could rescue the family? I’m not sure I’ll ever find a firm answer to the questions, but there are a number of possible scenarios. In any event, after probably fewer than two years together, Louise and James began to lead separate lives.
By April 1930, a "divorced" James lodges in Manhattan[ix] while the “widowed” Louise is works as a buyer for a dry goods firm and maintains a house for her mother and son, Alexander.[x] A few months later, James is mentioned in the social pages -“O’Neill-Black: Mrs. Mary E O’Neill of 825 Fifth Avenue has announced the engagement of her daughter, Miss Mildred O’Neill, to Captain James Black of this city and London, England…Captain Black served with the Irish Guards during the World War and is a member of the Guards Club in London. His is with the Stock Exchange firm of C.D. Halsey & Co. of this city. The wedding will take place in the Autumn.”[xi] Celebrations for the affianced pair continued with an engagement tea for Mildred at the home of Miss Dorothy L. Burkett and guest included, Mrs. J.C. Penney, Jr.[xii]
But for some reason, Mildred and James never married, and on 4 January 1931, the single James Black arrives in New York aboard the SS Veendam sailing from Hamilton, Bermuda two days earlier. [xiii] It appears Capt. Black took his Caribbean honeymoon without a wife.
For years I’ve wondered about Capt. James Black and Louise. In the 1930 census he’s listed as divorced and she’s a widow, but they must have remained cordial. She’s listed on his 1942 WWII Draft card as the “person who will always know your address”[xiv] When James dies in 1956, his obituary refers to him as the husband of Louise W. Black.[xv] Did they never divorce? Is that why he didn’t end up marrying Mildred O’Neill?
Well, I can’t say why he and Mildred failed to tie the knot, but just this week, after years and years of wondering and searching, I found a somewhat sad answer to my question – “Mrs. Louisa Walton Black was granted a divorce from James Black, New York, on the grounds of non-support and abandonment.”[xvi] Louise raised her son, and kept up enough of a relationship with his father that he could have one, too. Not ideal, but more than a lot of families manage. Keep looking for those records. They’re out there waiting to be found.
[i] “Walton-Black, ”The Courier Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), 6 March 1921, page 17 (engagement announcement) and “The Personal Side” ”The Courier Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), 3 February 1922, page 7 (birth announcement)
[ii] “The Personal Side” ”The Courier Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), 1 June 1922, page 7
[iii] “Personals” ”The Courier Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), 19 June 1921, page 17
[iv] “Personals” ”The Courier Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), 10 July 1921, page 17 and “Personals” ”The Courier Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), 11 Sep 1921, page 19
[v] “The Personal Side” ”The Courier Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), 3 February 1922, page 7
[vi] “Personals” ”The Courier Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), 27 August 1922, page 17
[vii] “Boiler manufacturer hangs self in offices as business decreases” ”The Courier Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), 31 October 1922, page 8
[viii] Ancestry.com, U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 for Jas Black, Kentucky Louisville 1922 Louisville, Kentucky, City Directory, 1922
[ix] Ancestry.com, US Federal Census, Year: 1930; Census Place: Manhattan, New York, New York; Roll: 1559; Page: 16B; Enumeration District: 1199; Image: 325.0; FHL microfilm: 2341294
[x] Ancestry.com, US Federal Census, Year: 1930; Census Place: Bronxville, Westchester, New York; Roll: 1659; Page: 4A; Enumeration District: 0116; Image: 589.0; FHL microfilm: 2341393
[xi] “Marriage Announcement” New York Times 21 Aug 1930, page 17
[xii] “Miss O'Neill Honor Guest at Tea” New York Times 05 Sep 1930: 23.
[xiii] Ancestry.com New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957, Year: 1931, Arrival; Microfilm Serial: T715, Microfilm Roll: T715_4894, Line: 28, Page Number: 101
[xiv] "United States World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XR6R-WM2 : accessed 15 May 2016), James Black, 1942; citing NARA microfilm publication M1936, M1937, M1939, M1951, M1962, M1964, M1986, M2090, and M2097 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
[xv] “Obituary” New York Times 12 Jun 1956, page 35
[xvi] The Courier Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), 8 August 1924, page 18
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.