Monday, September 19, 2011

John S. Allen: Violin Maker

Today's post isn't about Chicago but it's about genealogy and another subject dear to my heart--fiddles and the people who make and play them. A few weeks ago a bit of insomnia brought me a couple of satisfying research finds, both fiddle-related, and today I thought I'd share one of them.

John S. Allen

On December 23, 2008, a fellow fiddler started a discussion on Fiddle Hangout titled "Who was John S. Allen?" I spent the holiday trying to answer that question. I knew that Mr. Allen had studied violin making with J. B. Squier in Boston, probably in the 1890s, and I knew that he had some connection to Battle Creek, Michigan, most likely moving there to work with Mr. Squier's son, V. C. but that was all I knew. Without an age or birth place or parent or sibling or spouse--some little something in addition to the name--I exhausted most all of the options I had and finally gave up the search.

Recently a Fiddle Hangout member who had seen the archived thread sent me some information on the Squiers and somehow in that I-can't-really-explain-what-prompted-me-to-do-that sort of way, I typed "john s allen" into FamilySearch. I glanced at some Michigan death results, clicked through on a few, and all of a sudden found myself staring at a name and an occupation: John S. Allen, violin maker. He died of meningitis in Mason, Cass, Michigan on 9 Mar 1901.

I don't know that this is the right man, but I think there's a very good chance that he is.

1) This man was born in New York. It's reasonable to think he might have learned his craft from a Boston master.

2) He died at the age of 26. That would explain why so little seems to be known about him. He didn't live long enough to become a well-known maker.

If this is the right man, then one of the violins he made, number 58, was finished in 1896 when he was a pupil of Mr. Squier. If the death certificate is correct, John was born in 1874 which means he would have been 22 at the time.

Further research tells me that John and his wife Pearl had a son Dell F. Allen, born 16 Dec 1900 in Mason. In 1920 Dell was living with his grandparents, Dell Forest and Alice L., in Chenango County, New York. The Social Security Death Index suggests that he died in Colorado in August of 1955.

Perhaps someday I'll find the time to learn more about Mr. Allen and his violins. If you happen to play one or if you happen to know the family, I'd love to hear from you.

Related census images

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