What Happened to Eleanor Bongiovi's Biological Family?

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Location: Brooklyn, New York City, New York, United Statesmap
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Eleanor Williamson was born on January 13, 1925 to Harry and Theresa (Hambsch) Williamson. Unfortunately, Theresa died less than a month later, on February 12th, from complications from Eleanor’s birth.

Eleanor was eventually taken in by Charles and Anna Fitzpatrick, who combined their families after they were both widowed from previous marriages. By all accounts, Charles and Anna provided Eleanor a great childhood and Eleanor married, had a family, and traveled the world.

Eleanor had two sisters, Frances and Claire, both of whom by 1930 were in the St. Joseph’s home for Girls in Queens, New York. Eleanor maintained some contact with her sisters, but they were not close.

According to Eleanor, an aunt was supposed to take them in, but it did not work out. She also said her father visited her periodically.

She had one photo of her parents with her younger siblings and another lady identified as “Aunt Betsy Hambsch”:

Theresa, Harry, Frances and Claire Williamson with a woman identified as “Aunt Betsy Hambsch” provided to Eleanor (Williamson) Bongiovi by Claire (Williamson) Crockert

The remainder of this document discusses what happened to Harry, his family, and the Hambsch family that may explain why Eleanor was taken in by the Fitzpatricks.

Harry and Theresa Williamson’s Family

Harry Williamson married Theresa Hambsch on October 3rd, 1917 in Brooklyn, New York. They had three children:

Harry Williamson’s Immediate Family

Harry Williamson was born on May 4th, 1880 in Brooklyn, New York to Matthias and Fannie Williamson. Matthias Williamson married Fannie Conner on September 10th, 1878 in Brooklyn. They had one other child, Mabel Williamson, born January 18th, 1887 in Brooklyn.

Matthias died on February 17th, 1890 when Harry was 9 years old and Mabel was 3 years old. Fannie remarried about 1891 to John Lawrence. John and Fannie appear to have had only one child, Clarence Lawrence, who was born on April 21st, 1892 and died three days later. In the 1892 New York Census, Harry and Mabel Williamson appear as Harry and Mabel Lawrence, indicating that John and Fannie intended to raise them as a couple.

Unfortunately, Fannie died on June 22nd, 1899 when Harry was 19 and Mabel was 13. In the 1900 United States Census, Harry and Mabel were living with their Uncle Joseph and Aunt Marie (Williamson) Wrigley, indicating that John Lawrence did not continue to support them after Fannie died.

Theresa Hambsch’s Immediate Family

Theresa Hambsch was born in June 1897 in Brooklyn, New York to Martin and Walburga Hambsch. Martin had married Walburga Allgeier in about 1895. In addition to Theresa, they had four boys, Anthony Robert, William August, Ludwig Martin, and Peter Edwin, one of whom, Ludwig, died as an infant:

Martin died on July 16th, 1918. Walburga died on October 2nd, 1924, which is only a few months before Eleanor is born.

Of interest, none of the three Hambsch son’s married someone who would’ve used the name “Betsy”. Anthony married Loretta Pfaff on July 17th, 1926 in Queens and William Hambsch married Marguerite Sherburne on March 10th, 1923 in Groton, Connecticut. Peter Hambsch probably never married.

Hambsch family around the time of Theresa’s death

Harry and Theresa were apparently friendly and involved with her family. For example, the February 27th, 1921 issue of the Brooklyn Standard Union contains an article about a party celebrating Theresa mother's Walburga’s 55th birthday. Harry and Theresa lead the list of guests, along with their firstborn, Frances.

Article from February 27, 1921 issue of Brooklyn Standard Union about Walburga Hambsch’s 55th birthday party.

Theresa also appears in the 1918 and 1924 obituaries for Martin and Walburga, indicating there is no estrangement.

When Theresa died in February 1925, her eldest and youngest brothers, Anthony and Peter, were still single. The other surviving brother, William, was probably living in Connecticut, where he and his wife were expecting their first child. None were in the position to take in three additional children.

Living with Harry’s brother-in-law and sister, William and Mabel Thompson

By June 1925, four months after Theresa died, Harry and his daughters appeared in the 1925 New York State Census in the household of William and Mabel Thompson. Mabel is Harry’s sister. The Thompson’s also had four children living at home.

1925 New York State Census Entry for William Thompson’s household, which includes Harry Williamson and his three daughters.

Tragically, the Thompson’s were also grieving. Their fifth child, Doris Thompson, was born on December 17th, 1924, less than a month before her cousin Eleanor was born. But Doris died on February 12th, 1925, the same day that her Aunt Theresa, Eleanor’s mother and Harry’s wife, died.

Given this relationship and the fact that there does not appear to be a relative called Betsy Hambsch, perhaps the person in the photo of Harry and Theresa and their daughters is actually Aunt Mabel Thompson, but this is speculation.

The Thompson’s

In June 1925, it appears that Harry Williamson and his sister Mabel, were working as a family to overcome the tragic events of early 1925. But by 1930, Eleanor was being raised by a different couple, Harry Williamson was either visiting periodically or totally out of the picture, and the other two daughters were in an orphanage. What could’ve caused this outcome? A major reason was that things did not improve for the Thompsons. The event of the next few years may have made supporting a second family impossible

First, Mabel Thompson’s husband, William, died on December 22nd, 1927. According to his obituary, his death was unexpected.

Death notice for William Thompson that appeared in the December 23, 1927 edition of the Brooklyn Standard Union.

While this probably left the family unable to support Harry and his daughters, things worsened at the end of August 1930 when William and Mabel Thompson’s youngest son James was electrocuted on the third rail of the elevated train while on a trip to Coney Island with his older sister Mildred. A tragedy like this is hard to overcome and it appears this is true for the Thompsons. For example, Mildred married at age 16 in 1936 and quickly had four children.

Article about James Thompson’s death in the September 2nd, 1930 edition of the Brooklyn Standard Union.

The fate of Harry Williamson

Harry Williamson disappears from the record after the 1925 New York Census. He may have been enumerated in the 1930 U.S. Census as a boarder in the household of John and Margaret Gregg in Brooklyn and a person named Harry Williamson was admitted to Almshouses in the greater New York City area, but it is not certain this is the same Harry Williamson.

A major clue comes from the burial records. Harry’s parents Matthias Williamson and Fannie Lawrence are buried at the same gravesite at The Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn New York. According the cemetery records, a Harold Williamson was buried at the same gravesite on September 7th, 1940.

The death index for New York city indicates that Harold Williamson died on September 4th, 1940 but states his parents are William and Sara Williamson, which would indicate this is not the same Harry Williamson we are looking for. An actual copy of the death certificate may have additional information but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a copy of the death certificate is not readily available.

However, the Social Security Claims index indicates that the Harold Williamson who died on September 4th, 1940 was born on May 4th, 1880 which is the same birthday as Harry Williamson.

The combination of being buried in the same gravesite as his parents and the social security index makes it reasonable to assume this is the same person.

We still don’t know what happened to Harry between 1925 and his death. But the 1940 United States Census and his death certificate says he was an apartment building superintendent and that he was married to Isabella Hedges. Isabella was a widow whose husband had died in 1933. When Isabella died in 1956, she was buried with her previous husband, John Mulholland.


Eleanor was successfully raised by Anna and Charles Fitzpatrick and had a full, enjoyable life. It appears that Anna and Charles had to raise Eleanor because her mother’s brothers (the Hambsch side) were relatively young and unable to support a family. On the other hand, it appears on the Williamson side that her Aunt Mabel worked with her father to try to support them, but Mabel was struck by a series of tragedies that prevented the support from happening.

The big unknown is why Eleanor’s father appears to have largely separated from his children by about 1930. In his defense, in the 1920s there were not a lot of safety nets. In the immigrant and working class Brooklyn communities, its not hard to imagine that Harry found himself in an untenable situation where he had no choice but to give up his daughters in the hopes that he could support them in the future.



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