An Update on Our Local “Titanic” Story ; The Magic of Historical Research

By Michelle Kratts

Although, assuredly, Mrs. Emily S. Douton (Downton) Hyde Biondi rests quietly in the Mausoleum at Oakwood Cemetery, her story refuses to sleep.  Recently posted on both Niagara Hub and on the Oakwood Cemetery website the story somehow ended up everywhere else including the other side of the world and luck would have it that another researcher was able to add so much more to what we already knew of Emily S. Douton (Downton) Hyde Biondi’s life. 

I always think that there is no other way to describe the connections that are made between people, living and dead, while in the midst of historical research,  than to admit that there must be a tincture of MAGIC involved.   The internet has made it possible to do the impossible.  I am sometimes so in awe of those who came before me—because they found a way to do so much without our modern day “magic.”  Those researchers who had to type up letters, lick a stamp and send it off in hopes that maybe in a few weeks (or months) there would be a response.  Or those who took buses, cars, trains, horse and buggies to get to that repository of information.  Today from the comfort of our homes we can meet with the most incredible history.  In an instant a birth record is scanned, photographs are sent across time and space.  And this is the story of Emily.  When you invest so much while researching one person, when you are into their personal records and you feel like God because you know their beginning and their end…it is quite disappointing when you have no idea about such simple things as what they looked like.  After all that, they have pretty much become a sort of invisible friend. 

Courtesy of Robin DeBrita William Douton worked as a stone cutter in Holley. He was among the 1,514 who died on the Titanic 100 years ago.But today, thanks to a few people, Emily’s story is so much more complete and I can finally look into her eyes. It all started a few weeks ago with an incredible email from a Titanic researcher, named Lindsay, from Australia.  Among other things, he knew about Emily before she had come to Niagara Falls.  He had documentation of a whole other world.  Because of his very thorough research it is most likely that her maiden name was Le Monnier and that she had been born to French nationals on the Channel Island of Guernsey.  In fact, that is the place her poor husband, William Douton (Downton), was visiting when he embarked on his trip back to New York on that ill fated ship, the Titanic.  There is even a memorial marker on Guernsey “in commemoration of the Guernsey men and women who lost their lives when the R.M.S. Titanic sank on the 15th of April 1912.”  W.J. Downton, Emily’s husband, is on this plaque. 

As for Emily’s eyes, that is thanks to my friend, Peter Ames.  Forever showering me with the most unusual “gifts”—he popped into the library this fine rain-swept morning with Emily packed away into a little see-through sleeve.   He had contacted the Holley historian and apparently someone had recently cleaned an attic and found the picture.  So here she is.  Emily S. Le Monnier Douton (Downton) Hyde Biondi.  A long strand of pearls, black lace, round glasses.  Her image, kindly and sweet, like someone’s grandmother. 

Tom Rivers/Daily News The Independent Order of Old Fellows erected this memorial for Holley residents William Douton and Peter MacKain, who perished with the sinking of the Titanic. (Douton's and MacKain's last names are spelled in several different ways, according to published reports from a century ago. The community newspaper spelled their names as Douton and MacKain.)In the end, it might be said that historical research is a bit like raising the dead—or the carcass of an old shipwreck.   There is always new life, new stories and adventure.  Over and over again.