By James Pylant
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Celebrity genealogies are not always easy to trace. Biographical data abounds, yet that's no guarantee of accuracy. Like old family tales passed through generations, celebrity biographies often are a blend of fact and legend.
When actress Elizabeth Montgomery died of cancer on 18 May 1995, her age was given as fifty seven, trimming five years off her birth date.1 Obituaries offered conflicting details about her marital status: some said she was single at the time of her death; others said she was survived by a husband, actor Robert Foxworth.2 But the marital mystery was orchestrated by Ms. Montgomery herself, who, being a private person, was simply a step ahead of the press. She viewed her union to Foxworth as a private matter when she wedded him secretly at the Los Angeles apartment of her manager in 1993.3 Nevertheless, she appears on the Social Security Death Index as “Elizabeth Asher” (the surname being that of an ex-husband), with her birth date as 15 April 1933,4 while “Elizabeth A. Montgomery” is stated on her death certificate.5 Montgomery’s middle name, however, was Victoria.6
The search for Elizabeth Montgomery’s roots has an advantage because her father was also a celebrity, the late actor Robert Montgomery. He was born Henry Montgomery, Jr., on 21 May 1904 in Dutchess County, New York. Beacon is commonly given as his birthplace, though he was actually born in Fishkill Landing. (Beacon was formed from the adjoining towns of Fishkill Landing and Matteawan in 1913.) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer promoted Robert Montgomery’s movie persona as a sophisticated, well-bred socialite by embellishing the elite family background of its handsome star. And while the actor was “born in a large house on the banks of the Hudson River,” and his father served as an executive of a rubber company,7 the 1920 Federal Census leaves a somewhat different impression. Fifty-two year-old Henry Montgomery, the vice president of a rubber factory, and Mary W., age forty-seven, with sons Henry, Jr., age sixteen, and Donald, age fourteen (all New Yorkers by birth), boarded in a Beacon hotel kept by William Gorden. Henry, Sr., was a first generation American, his father being Irish and his mother was Scottish. Mary W.’s father was a Pennsylvanian, while her mother was from the West Indies.8
Twenty years earlier, the 1900 Federal Census shows the newly-wedded Montgomerys (“years married: 0”) boarded in William Gordon’s hotel, then in Fishkill. Private secretary Henry Montgomery, age 32 (born in May of 1868) and “Mai W.,” age 24 (born in March of 1876) were among the hotel’s many boarders. Mrs. Montgomery’s birthplace is listed as New Jersey and her mother’s birthplace is Jamaica.9
Robert Montgomery’s mother is named in biographies of her son as “Mary Weed Barnard,”10 but her maiden name was actually Barney. At the time of the 1900 federal census, the Montgomerys had been married a little over six months, their marriage date being 14 December 1899.11 Mrs. Montgomery appears twice on the federal census in 1900, the second instance being as “May W. Barney,” age twenty-five, born in March of 1875 in New Jersey. Her marital status was indicated as single, then written over to read married. She is named as a daughter of eighty-one year-old Nathan Barney, who rented a Third Street home in Brooklyn, wife Mary A., age fifty-six (born in October 1843), sons George D., age thirty-four (born in October 1865 in Connecticut), Nathan C., age twenty-seven (born in June 1873 in New Jersey), and Walter S., age eighteen (born October 1882 in New Jersey). A twenty-three year-old Irish servant also made her home with the family. Mr. Barney was born in Pennsylvania, and Mrs. Barney was born in “Jamaica, W. I.,”12 a fact consistent with what May W. Montgomery supplied in 1900. According to Genealogy of the Barney Family in America, Mary Weed Barney was born on 30 March 1875 in Bayonne, Hudson County, New Jersey, to Nathan Barney, Jr. and his second wife, the former Mary A. Deverell.13 The Barney genealogy identifies the parents of Henry Montgomery, Sr., as Archibald Montgomery and the former Margaret Edminston of Brooklyn.14 Henry Montgomery, a one year-old, is found in the household of Irish-born Archibald Montgomerya prosperous shipping merchantand Margaret (born in Scotland) on the rolls of the 1870 Federal Census in Brooklyn.15
Elizabeth Montgomery’s colorful great-grandfather, Archibald Montgomery, was born in Belfast, Ireland, on 11 December 1821, and sailed to America aboard the Henry Clay in 1849. He settled in Brooklyn and became a charter member of the New York Produce Exchange. The Irishman enjoyed much success in his adopted homeland, owning grain warehouses which were described as “the most extensive on the Atlantic docks” as well as ships that were “well known in all European ports.” He retired in 188116 and devoted most of his time to an ill daughter.
In 1884, a couple of years following his daughter’s death, Archibald Montgomery had a falling out with his sons over family matters. He developed what was seen as an eccentric devotion to pigeons, dogs and other animals, which he brought into his home. In October 1884 Archibald Montgomery was arrested for habitual drunkenness after one of his sons, James M. Montgomery, secured a warrant.17 Days later James regretted filing the complaint against his father and withdrew the suit.18 Another arrest came a half-dozen years later when the proud Irishman, “drinking too much for his own good,” staggered into the arms of a policeman on St. Patrick’s Day in 1891. The court found him guilty, assessed a one dollar fine, which he happily paid as he thanked the judge.19
Archibald Montgomery celebrated his eightieth birthday in 1901 at a large family dinner surrounded by his children and grandchildren.20 His wife, Margaret, born in August 1835 in Scotland, came to America in 1865.21 She died in King County, New York, on 24 October 1907.22
Henry Montgomery, Elizabeth's grandfather, made his last will and testament in Brooklyn on 1 November 1921, leaving his estate to his executrix, wife Mary Weed Montgomery, “to be hers absolutely and forever.”23 The will was written shortly after a nervous breakdown led to his forced retirement as the New York Rubber Company’s vice president. On 25 June 1922 Henry Montgomery committed suicide by jumping from the Brooklyn Bridge.24 Estate papers identified his heirs as sons Henry Montgomery Jr. and Donald Montgomery, who “are next of kin to Henry Montgomery, deceased.”25
Lamparski’s Whatever Became Of? says that actor Robert Montgomery, between the years 1928 and 1950, was married to “actress Elizabeth Allan.”26 Elizabeth Allan, best-known for her 1936 pairing with Ronald Colman in “A Tale of Two Cities,” was born in Skegness, England, in 1908.27 The British actress, however, was not the mother of Elizabeth Montgomery nor was she even married to Robert Montgomery. While Mrs. Montgomery’s first name was Elizabeth, her maiden name was spelled Allen, not Allan. And to add to the confusion, Elizabeth Allen was an actress.28
Elizabeth Montgomery’s death certificate gives her mother’s maiden name as Elizabeth Allen, a Kentucky native.29 The 1930 federal census of Los Angeles County, California, shows Robert Montgomery, age twenty-five, born in New York, “Actor, Motion Pictures,” and wife Elizabeth A., also twenty-five, born in Kentucky, and a fifty-year-old servant lived on Blackwood Drive in Los Angeles. The “age at first married” for both was twenty-three.30 The couple had married on 14 April 1928 in New York, and the following year they moved to Hollywood when Robert signed a contract with M-G-M. Elizabeth was the couple’s second child. Tragically, their first born, Martha Bryan Montgomery, died at age fourteen months in 1931. A son, Robert, Jr., was born to the Montgomerys in 1936.31 (Robert, Jr.’s birth date is also incorrectly reported as 1930.32)
Elizabeth Daniel Allen was born on 26 December 1904 in Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky, to Bryan Hunt Allen and the former Rebecca Lowry Daniel.33 Elizabeth Montgomery’s maternal grandparentslike her paternal grandparentswere newlyweds at the time of the 1900 Federal Census enumeration. Fifty-seven year-old widow Ellen W. Daniel, born in Indiana in February of 1843, owned a house on Brook Street in Louisville, Kentucky, which she shared with daughter Lizzie W., age twenty-five; son William A., age thirty-five, daughter-in-law Mollie, age thirty-six, and daughter Rebecca Allen, age twenty. Except for Ellen Daniel, all were born in Kentucky. Rebecca Allen’s marital status is given as married, with “0” given for the number of years married.34 Bryan H. Allen is listed elsewhere in Louisville, although his marital status is recorded as single. An inspector for a gas company, he was born in November of 1877 in Kentucky to a Missouri father and a Kentucky mother.35
Coleman S. Daniel was a veteran of the Civil War, having enlisted as a private in Company A, 15th Kentucky Infantry, US Army, in 1861. He was promoted to first lieutenant but resigned after being wounded in battle at Perryville in 1862.36
Rebecca Lowry Daniel AllenElizabeth Montgomery’s beloved grandmother “Becca”37was born in June of 1879 in Kentucky (as per the 1900 census), but her death certificate gives 5 June 1886 as her birth date. Her death certificate also identifies her mother’s maiden name as Wright.38 Daniel family genealogists show that Ellen Wright was the wife of Coleman Spencer Daniel, who died in Louisville on 8 June 1898,39 two years before Mrs. Ellen W. Daniel is shown on the rolls of the twelfth federal census as a widow. Daniel family records show Ellen Wright Daniel died two years later on 7 June 1902. The same record gives 16 February 1843 as her birth date,40 which agrees with what is found on the 1900 census.
Coleman S. Daniel and Ellen Wright wedded in the bride’s native Switzerland County, Indiana, on 20 May 1864.41 The daughter of John W. Wright, who represented Switzerland County in the state legislature, Ellen Wright was only six months old when her mother, Ellen (Lowry) Wright, died at age 36. Her father remarried the following year to Rebecca D. Saunders.42 Clearly, when Ellen (Wright) Daniel named her daughter Rebecca Lowry Daniel, she did so in honor of her mother and stepmother.
It is also clear that Elizabeth Montgomery was proud of her ancestry by the names she gave her children. Their third child was named Rebecca Elizabeth Asher. 43 “I knew . . . another Becca had arrived,” the actress said when she gave birth to her daughter. Rebecca Lowry Daniel Allen died in 1964, just as her actress-granddaughter launched the first season of the television series Bewitched. 44 Elizabeth Montgomery and husband William Asher had given family names to their two older children, with William Allen Asher45 bearing his father’s first name and his maternal grandmother’s maiden name, while Robert Deverell Asher46 carries the first name of his maternal grandfather and the middle name of his great-great-grandmother, Mary A. (Deverell) Barney.
After Montgomery’s hit television series, Bewitched, ended, the beautiful and talented actress took the lead role as an accused axe murderess in The Legend of Lizzie Borden. Genealogical research has revealed that Elizabeth Montgomery and Lizzie Borden were sixth cousins once removed, both descending from 17th-century Massachusetts resident John Luther. As Rhonda McClure, the genealogist who documented the Montgomery-Borden connection, said, “I wonder how Elizabeth would have felt if she knew she was playing her own cousin.”47