Mary Poppins: Life before No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane

Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way

Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way.

I don’t know about you, but I just assumed Mary Poppins had always been a nanny when she arrived on the doorstep of No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane in London. Well, imagine my surprise when I discovered she started out as a telephone operator in San Francisco, California.  That’s right.  A telephone operator. And a registered Democrat! Records prove it, of course…

Mary Poppins in CA Voter Registrations 1900-1968, Ancestry.com

Mary Poppins in CA Voter Registrations 1900-1968, Ancestry.com

Voter registrations are an excellent census substitute, filling in the gaps between decennial federal censuses. They provide an address of residence, perhaps an occupation, and political affiliation. An address can lead to clues about neighbors and relatives, and neighborhood demographics can be derived from surnames and occupations. In Mary’s case we learn her marital status–Miss Mary Poppin.  But of course, we already knew that, didn’t we?

Telephone operator with an eery resemblance to Mary Poppins...

Telephone operator with an eery resemblance to Mary Poppins…

I like to imagine Mary Poppins as a telephone operator, wearing a little headset and plugging wires into a switchboard.  A call might go like this:

Mary Poppins: City please

Caller: Palo Alto

Mary Poppins: Listing please

Caller: Golden Gate Chimney Sweeps

Mary Poppins: I’m sorry, I don’t find a number for Golden Gate Chimney Sweeps.  But I do have something that will substitute nicely! …iiiiiiiiittttttts  Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Somewhere along the way Mary must have tired of life on the switchboard, or maybe she just had wanderlust. We can only wonder how she ended up on the steamer “Britannica” bound for Liverpool from New York, but here she is on the ship’s passenger list: Marie A. Poppen.

Ancestry.com. UK, Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960 [database on-line] Provo, UT, USA Ancestry Operations Inc, 2008We can clearly see she is identified as an “Alien”, and a U.S. citizen, bound for a home in Kensington, London.  She is age 46 and, curiously, has given her occupation as secretary.  This tells me she has set off on a wild adventure, abandoning her career as a telephone operator and throwing caution to the wind to become a secretary, which dream–of course–was never realized.

Soon her true calling–that of a British nanny–beckoned.  Somehow she acquired a carpetbag of unusual capacity and a talking parrot parasol, learned to slide up bannisters, and became adept at chimney sweep choreography. Among other things. One would be crazy to pass up a nanny with that resume’, as George Banks plainly learned.

And speaking of George Banks, I’ll bet you are wondering what became of him after he was sacked by the bank and skipped off to go fly a kite. I’ll give you a hint:  May 20th marked the 103rd anniversary of the signing of the Homestead Act. You’ll never believe where the Fairy Tale Genealogist found old George! Stay tuned…

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5 thoughts on “Mary Poppins: Life before No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane

  1. I can picture Mary as a telephone operator. She probably had those wires dancing in the air, connecting people who she thought would make good friends. Great idea: fairy tale genealogy!

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