By Heather Harrington, Associate Librarian
Her name sounds like the punchline of a bad joke, but at one time, it really was her name. This is the story of a child in a blended family.
Della was born in 1862 in Montague, Massachusetts, to Lucy Drury and Levi Brazzee. Lucy was a young mother, only in her late teens. Of her father Levi, little is known. While Della was a young child, her father died. Her mother remarried possibly in the late 1860s, to Estus S. Russell. Russell died in 1868, leaving Lucy a widow again, and Della without another father. On March 23, 1870, Lucy married John Ware of Deerfield. This marriage would not end in premature death. Lucy and John would go on to have four daughters of their own.
In 1870, John Ware was a widower. His first wife, Ellen Wait, had died in the 1860s, leaving him with two children, Orlando and Lizzie Wait. A paternal aunt adopted Lizzie, and young Orlando remained with his father. When John married Lucy, she and her daughter came to live in Deerfield at the Ware house. Three months later, in the 1870 census listing, John and Lucy are living with Della Brazzee, aged eight, who continued to use her birth name.
In 1876, Deerfield conducted a census of each local school. Della attended the Town Street School. She is on the census, as “Della Ware, age 13,” as written by the teacher or town official, not Della herself. This would indicate that “Della Ware” was how she identified with the town. She was the daughter of John Ware, and treated as such. Officially, her name was still Della Brazzee. Brazzee is the name she uses when she marries in 1881. Levi Brazzee is the name of her father on the marriage register, with no mention of John Ware.
The name “Ware” certainly had more cache than “Brazzee” in Deerfield. John Ware was a fourth generation Deerfield resident, a Civil War veteran, and a prominent man in town. His father and grandfather had run the general store for years. At some point, everyone in town was a customer of theirs. The Wares had lived on the same lot in town for three generations. By using the Ware name, one aligned oneself socially with this family. Brazzee was an unknown name in Deerfield. Likely, no one knew Levi Brazzee or his family. No one bearing that name would be as highly regarded socially as a Ware. Della, or her parents, shrewdly let her be Della Ware. It is also possible, perhaps likely, that Della went by Ware as a sign of affection for her new stepfather. With both her father and first stepfather dying when she was very young, she probably had little memories of them. John was the first real father figure of her childhood that she could remember. There is also the practical reason that Della wanted to fit in with her new family. She was the only one in the household with a different name, going by Ware made it much simpler to belong.
How did Della’s story come to my attention? We received as a gift, several years ago, an autograph book belonging to Della Clapp. A handwritten note with the book identified Della as a Ware. A little research soon found Della’s mother and stepfather, but nothing more. I concluded she was a Ware in spirit and by marriage, but that she did not go by that name. However, a couple of years later, we received a donation of the census of Deerfield students taken in 1876 and 1877. Looking through the book, trying to understand what it was, I noticed the names of the students in the different schools. I saw Della’s name, and immediately remembered the autograph book. Here was proof that Della did use the name Della Ware.
Della’s life as a Ware and a Brazzee ended when she married Allan G. Clapp in 1881. Her descendants would go on to list her as a Ware family member with good reason. So ends the story of Della Ware.