My grandfather, Paul de Launay, who was born in Paris on 19 Oct 1878, married his first wife, Florence Grace Hensley (born 12 Nov 1866), 12 years his elder in Williamsburg, Virginia. Paul was 24 years old. His new bride was 36, a “cougar” by modern standards.
One night last year, as I was boarding a flight to Paris, I met a woman with the same uncommon last name as the one I was researching – “Hensley”, that of my step-grandmother, and then sat on a plane next to a Frenchman who gave me info on how to research my grand uncle Gaston de Launay’s French military record, even volunteering to check on the existence of the records himself.
So, as I checked in at the gate that night, I happened to notice that the agent’s last name was “Hensley”, which was coincidental since I was presently researching that same name, so it happened to be very fresh on my mind.
Married to my grandfather, Paul de Launay, on 20 June 1903 at the Bruton Episcopal Church in Williamsburg, Virginia, Florence Grace Hensley died suddenly on 3 Jan 1907 due to breast cancer. My grandfather, for some reason, kept this marriage to her a secret as best he could, and would always refer to her, as “My dear Aunt Flo”.
My grandmother, born Mabel Ray Beasley, was Paul’s third wife, and never learn of Paul’s marriage to Flo until after Paul’s death in 1951. It became her obsession, and later mine, to learn as much about her as possible, and why Paul grieved for Flo for so long. Though we’ve found many answers, we still have not found a photo of her. It doesn’t look good, but I will continue to hold out hope that one day we’ll get to see the face that Paul loved so many years ago.
On the 1901 English Census in the Saint Lawrence Parish of Jersey Channel Island, I had found Florence Grace Hensley living with her brother Philip. On 19 Nov 1902, Florence boarded the SS (for Steam Ship) Haverford, then an American Line in Liverpool, with her 49 year old sister, Emily Marianne Hensley, their 10-year old nephew Charles E. Bishop, and another unknown boy, Lionel W. Roberts. Emily answered ‘yes’ to having been in the United States before. Florence’s answer is unreadable regarding this. All four stated there destination was to their sister and brother-in-law, Alice Mary (Hensley) and husband Charles Edward Bishop in Sandybrook, Williamsburg, Virginia. The Haverford arrived in Philadelphia on 1 December 1902.
Finding this and other definitive clues, we connected with the descendants of Flo’s sisters, and other English cousins in the U.K., so there’s a slight feeling of connection to her. Paul de Launay painted a nude, red-haired woman facing away from the artist. Although there is no proof, as yet, we think this may have been Paul’s Flo. There are other unnamed female Hensley faces in a photo album that Paul kept until his death. It’s possible that her’s in among them.
During my conversation with the gate agent, I had asked her if she knew if she had any English relatives several generations back. She indicated she did, and that they had settled in the Virginia area. This was the same area I was looking for other Hensley’s. She told me that the name was rather uncommon here in the States. So I took her email with a promise to follow up, and I’ll do the same on this story, as new information is discovered.
Until then, I will continue to look for the face of Florence Grace (nee Hensley) de Launay, my Late step-grandmother.