Charity Bird

Philly-The Gang


Charity Bird was half Lenape and half French. Born in New Jersey, she ultimately became a homesteader, moving to North Dakota with her husband, James. Eventually, they would have six children before Charity died in childbirth. The baby lived—a girl. James named her Charity.

Charity Bird is buried somewhere near their homestead. It’s a one church, one cemetery town which some call a ghost town. Armed with a fistful of clues, I intend to go there. I hope to find her.

Last year was the first time I had heard of Charity Bird, which seems odd. After all, I grew up on her son’s farm. He lived into his 90s, and I have clear memories of him as an old man. His name was Frank Holloway, and he was my great grandfather.

Frank had six children of his own: One son drowned at the age of 16. Two others moved off the farm, and I have no memories of them. The remaining three subdivided the farm amongst themselves, and eventually their children and grandchildren and now even a great grandchild. One of those three remaining children was my grandfather.

In a row of eight unassuming homes, I spent every Thanksgiving and Christmas of my youth. I played with my cousins. Smashed watermelons and ate them in the field with the hot, sticky juice running down our faces. My aunts and grandmother and great grandmother made candied apples and popcorn balls on Halloween. Their eight pairs of eyes watched my every move. No shenanigans went unnoticed.

In one of these eight homes lived my father’s sister, Aunt June. After her death, I stumbled upon a two-page letter in her desk about Charity Bird. My aunt and I were close. She named me her executor. But she had never mentioned Charity Bird.

I learned that James brought his six children back east after Charity’s death to be raised by his brother and his brother’s wife. Eventually, James returned to North Dakota.

gave the letter to my son Ryan. He read it, looked up at me and said, “I’m going to North Dakota.”

A few weeks later, Ryan drove out, spent a couple of days, made some contacts, identified some leads. But ultimately, he didn’t find her grave. Next summer, I plan to resume the search.

Charity Bird is more than my family; Charity Bird is the missing link. She explains my obsession with France, my insatiable need to wander, Ryan’s itch to roam the American west. I want to stand over her grave and assure her that her gypsy spirit did not die on the plains of North Dakota.

This is also a long-winded way of saying that our time in Paris is drawing to a close. Life here has fallen into a rhythm, a beautiful and delicious dance.

But inside me lurks a piece of Charity Bird. Next April we’ll head home with something I haven’t purchased in seven years: a one-way ticket. Then I’m going in search of Charity Bird. But beyond that, I’m going in search of myself.  

Categories: Ruminations

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15 replies

  1. Hope to cross paths with you when you return to the USA! I once traveled to rural India in search of my roots that’s 100+ years old. One of the best soul searching trips I’ve ever experienced.

  2. What a great post Julie. You never cease to amaze me. You got it all in there, missing family lore, sense of home place, the restless spirit and FRANCE !

  3. Love this! Let us know if you find her.

    My brother went to the tiny Italian town of San Fili where our paternal grandparents were from and with a connection from Facebook found a couple of distant relatives who took him and his wife on wonderful tours. I went along vicariously through the photos and videos he posted. I hope to go there with my husband in the next couple of years. Family connections are everything!

    Janet Perry

    On Mon, Jun 11, 2018 at 11:03 AM The World In Between wrote:

    > worldinbetween posted: ” Charity Bird was half Lenape and half French. > Born in New Jersey, she ultimately became a homesteader, moving to North > Dakota with her husband, James. Eventually, they would have six children > before Charity died in childbirth. The baby lived—a girl. Jam” >

  4. Wow…this is beautiful. Enjoy your Loire Valley hiking and all of your searching…..

  5. I’m from North Dakota and graduated from NDU way back in the late 1960s. In which part of the state will you be searching? I still have friends scattered around in that beautiful part of the USA.

    • Hey Mary… wow!! Sorry for the delayed response, but I was waiting for Ryan who was “camping with no cell phone service”. (But not in North Dakota!) The town is Monango, and it’s in the southeast part of the state. My great grandfather was James Holloway. His wife was Charity Bird Holloway. When he returned to North Dakota he remarried—and then pretty much disappeared (at least from a records perspective). The plot continues….

  6. I await to read your continuing saga of Charity Bird. Your writing is a glimpse into the past, present and future.

  7. We just found the grave of a great great uncle of Rob’s in a little town about 45 minutes from San Fransisco. We also took pictures of his home in SF. Rob is very involved in genealogy. It is his passion. Good luck finding Charity Bird and keep us posted.


  1. Paris, Ella Fitzgerald and me – The World In Between

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