Tag Archives: genealogy

Arborvitae: The Tangled Saga of Bill

By thecameraslinger on Unsplash

At least a decade ago, a long-time friend of mine who was adopted (we’ll call her Elena; note that names of all living people and some dead people are changed for privacy) and I were talking over some wine, and I offered to hook her up with some online adoption registries in case she was interested in finding her bio-parents. She had her bio-mom’s name, name of the lawyer who handled the adoption, her date of birth, and the hospital she was born in. So that was the info I plunked into the internet.

And that was where this story just started to get interesting.

Elena’s adoption was handled by Helen Tanos Hope. In brief: the adoptions handled by Hope are characterized by some writers as “grey market” — a little sketchy, entirely legal. For instance, Elena’s adoptive father spent a week in Juarez, Mexico, to finalize the paperwork for the adoption. Not the usual procedure, really. When Hope died, her records went into the trash — also not usual procedure. Another lawyer managed to salvage a large proportion of the records, but there are whole registries dedicated to people adopted through Hope’s services because of the lack of records.

After that bit of exciting news, though, everything went quiescent. Elena added herself to some other adoption registries; I got one hit on a registry that I poked, but the email address for the birth mother who was listed was no longer functioning.

Then 4 years ago, everything picked up: Elena’s birth mother, Claire, found her on one of the registries and wrote her a birthday card. Elena called me not long after she read the card and gave me both Claire’s name and her bio-father’s name — I’ll call him Bill throughout — asking me to poke at Ancestry and see what turned up.

And then we started a wild ride over the next couple of days.

His full name was surprisingly findable and turned up a lot of hits that were specific for him and his father (Bill was named for his father).

I shook the family tree pretty hard, and a bunch of stuff fell out.

Bill was born in Camden, New Jersey, in 1928. I had to doublecheck this date in multiple records, because that made him 10 years older than he’d told Claire he was when he met her in the mid-1960s. But I found multiple sources for the birthdate, and those sources also corresponded with his later move to Florida. I was pretty certain I was looking at the correct Bill.

In 1931, Bill was in a head-on car crash that nearly killed his mother, the driver — another driver had swerved out of the line of cars and hit her car head-on. Apparently the car following theirs also hit them, then sped off without checking on anyone or giving information. Her mother and sister-in-law were also in the car and, like Bill, received severe cuts and bruises. Fortunately, despite the hopeless tone of the newspaper article, Bill’s mother survived (and lived to be 91).

By 1940, his family had moved to Staten Island, New York, where his father worked as a ferry/marine engineer. Bill attended Ralph R. McKee Career & Technical High School in Staten Island, graduating in 1946. In 1953, I found a record of him living in Miami, Florida, with his parents, working as a mechanic for American Airmotive Corporation (which apparently was founded earlier than 1954).

For New Year’s 1954, he traveled to Key West. And then in 1955, the first hint of things to come: a divorce from a woman named Carmella.

Now, Florida’s marriage and divorce records are pretty complete on Ancestry. The fact that I couldn’t find a record for his marriage to Carmella suggests that perhaps that marriage happened elsewhere — Staten Island, perhaps, or New Jersey. Unfortunately, her maiden name was nowhere to be found, so I still haven’t managed to locate her.

But no worries! There’s plenty more where she came from, as evidenced by the 1955 Florida marriage record of Bill and Jan.

Followed by the 1959 Florida divorce from Jan.

And the July 1959 Florida marriage to Phyllis.

And the March 1966 Florida divorce from Phyllis.

And the May 1975 Nevada marriage to Gayle.

And the 1979 divorce from Gayle.

And the July 1979 Nevada marriage to Myrtle.

And the September 1982 California divorce from Myrtle.

And the October 1982 California marriage to Ladonna.

I kept expecting more to turn up, so I kept shaking the tree.

When Bill died in 2007 in Washington state, he was apparently still married to Ladonna, which surprised me. So I went back and started digging into the ex-wives a bit more.

Jan was born on Long Island in 1935. She married Bill in 1955 and divorced him in 1959. In 1961, she married Charlie. She divorced Charlie in 1965. In 1967, she married Les. She appears to still be alive and married to Les.

Phyllis was born in New York in 1930. She married Harry sometime in the early 1950s in New York. She divorced Harry in June 1959 and married Bill in July 1959. She divorced Bill in March 1966 and married Charlie (yes, same Charlie as above) in October 1966. She divorced Charlie in May 1968, and married Greg in February 1969. She divorced Greg in July 1970. When she died in 2013, she was living in California.

We know from Claire ‘s letter and subsequent discussions that the time between 1967 and ~1974 was when Claire was with Bill. She met him in 1967, a charming musician who had recently survived a major car accident. He was working at a local music shop as a music teacher and instrument repairman, and spending a lot of time on his steel-hulled, twin-engine, teak-decked, mahogany-trimmed 36-foot Chriscraft motor boat. Claire had Elena in 1968 — we later found that Phyllis apparently helped arrange the adoption via Helen Hope. Bill and Claire stayed together, and he apparently abandoned his Chriscraft and bought a steam-fired tugboat called the NYC Central #3, which Claire described as “roughly 100 feet of derelict steel which he had the delusion of restoring to its former glory.” They lived there for a couple of years and had a lot of parties. They moved to a house for a year, and then Bill decided on a move to Colorado. They never married, thus no marriage record, or divorce record when she left him.

Gayle was born in Nebraska in 1942. In 1958, she married George in Colorado. She divorced him in February 1970, then married Rick in March 1970. Presumably, there was a divorce, since she married Bill in 1975. She divorced Bill in 1979, and I haven’t found any further marriages. I do note that when she died in 2003, she had retained Rick’s last name, not Bill’s.

Myrtle was born in 1924 in Detroit, Michigan, notably the only one of Bill’s wives to be older than him. She married Gene in 1949 in Detroit. Sometime near and about 1975, she married another guy because that’s when her last name changed again. Then she divorced him and married Bill in Nevada in 1979. She divorced Bill in California in 1982, and then in 1983 married another William. As far as I can tell, she remained married to him until she died in 2001.

Ladonna was born in 1933 in Texas. At some point, perhaps in the early 60s, she married Roy, and then divorced him in 1966 in California. On Hallowe’en 1967, she married Robert. That lasted until March 1971, when she divorced him. At some point after that, she married James, and then divorced him in 1978. In 1982, she married Bill, and stayed married to him until he died in 2007. She died in 2008.

Subsequent searching turned up a Fredrica [Bill’s last name] in Miami, which blew us out of the water, because Claire knew who she was — she was the woman (well, girl, really, because she was 16-17, as Claire had been) Bill had been in a relationship before her. I did some more digging: Fredrica was born in 1948 in California, and I found her actual last name. I found her as a cheerleader in a high school in Louisiana in 1965 or so, found a marriage record to a guy named Lazaro in 1967 in Miami, followed by a divorce in 1973. Then I found that she’d died in Texas in 1993. A local historical society provided me with her obituary — she’d died in a car accident. With the information in the obituary, I managed to connect with her younger brother on Facebook, and he told me the following tale: while their family had been gone for a vacation, Fredrica had gone to New Orleans for a jazz festival, where she met Bill in the French Quarter. After, apparently, a wild weekend, Bill brought her back to the family house, where she packed a bag and left them a note that she’d “split” with Bill to Miami. After some consideration, their father moved the family to Miami to be close to her. She’d changed to attending high school there, and had taken Bill to her prom. Eventually, though, she broke up with Bill, and we know he almost immediately got involved with Claire.

So then I started hunting — were there any other kids? I couldn’t find Carmella, Jan didn’t seem to have any, and neither did Gayle — Myrtle was in her 50s when she married Bill, likewise Ladonna. So then I looked at Phyllis. Her obituary listed 4 children! I started poking them for ages. Three of them were born during her years with Harry, but I couldn’t dig up a birth year immediately on the fourth — April. It took me a lot of hunting, but I narrowed her age down and it seemed very likely that she was born during Phyllis’ first year of marriage to Bill. I started Googling her.

That was when I tripped over the news story about April and her art. In the course of the interview, she mentioned that she was adopted and that she’d tracked down her bio-parents, Phyllis and Bill.

Suddenly, I knew I’d found a half-sister for Elena.

Elena reached out to April, and that contact brought a wealth of information. Like, for instance, that in addition to her and her 3 half-siblings, Phyllis had also had a baby with Bill in high school. Who had, naturally, been put up for adoption. April had been hunting for her for years.

That fall, there was quite a get-together at Elena’s house, with both Claire and April converging, and all of them insisting I come along. It was an exhausting but delightful and thoroughly enlightening weekend. We got a much better feel for how charismatic Bill had been (despite the somewhat appalling prom photo I had acquired from Fredrica’s brother), some more history about Claire’s life with him, and, moreover, from April, an idea of the lifelong passion Phyllis had had for him.

For the most part, the family tree stopped providing a wild ride after that. Bill’s family history was unremarkable except for the odd coincidence that they were from the state that Elena had been taken home to after her adoption. The family consisted of marine engineers who mostly worked on shipping on the local rivers. Bill’s father came from an extremely large family with some German antecedents while his mother descended from an originally Quaker lineage that shared ancestors with Richard Nixon.

April did AncestryDNA in the hope of locating her lost full sister, and finally, in early 2018, she succeeded! Florence lived in the state next to Elena’s, and in the spring, the 3 sisters met at Elena’s house. Happy endings all around!

I’m still frustrated by being unable to track down Bill’s first wife, Carmella — I would bet that there was at least one child involved in that marriage. But neither New York nor New Jersey are very forthcoming with marriage records at this time, so I have to be satisfied with having made some human connections with what I had in hand… as well as having documented at least the legally recorded side of the startling web of relationships twined around Bill.

Arborvitae: Cousin Oscar’s Surprising End

As you know by now, it’s the people who die surprisingly young who most often surprise me on their death certificates or, in states failing to have useful records that Ancestry or FamilySearch have managed to wangle out of them, news stories. And they’re the ones I generally go hunting for in terms of cause of death. In the case of women, it’s usually sadly predictable; for instance, in a tree I’m working on, I recently spotted a woman who’d died in 1944 in her 30s. Then I found that a child of hers was born in 1944. I compared his birthday to her death day and… yeah, she’d died 2 days after he was born. Puerperal fever got a LOT of women before the general availability of really effective antibiotics. Now, I don’t have her death certificate — thanks, Michigan — so it could have been eclampsia, since there were antibiotics at this point that generally put down puerperal fever, and eclampsia is harder to put down; or it could have been a hemorrhage, or any of a handful of other causes of mortality in new mothers.

When men die super-young, it’s either disease or something more interesting than puerperal fever. For instance, I’ve got one guy who died within a month of his wedding of meningitis. That said, it’s often worth hunting for news stories if there’s no death certificate, because small towns and the demise of a promising young man often equal Big News (see also Cousin Frank’s Sudden Death).

As it was in the case of Oscar Beauregarde Russell.

Disclaimer: O B Russell is part of a tree that is not mine, but that I’ve been working on. Permission granted by the person whose tree it is for me to write about interesting things I find in the tree.

Oscar was born on August 31, 1861, in Verona, Mississippi, just a few months after the opening of the Civil War (and he, of course, lived in a place that probably refers to it as the War Between The States, but this is my version of the story, so you get my [accurate] Yankee predilections for terminology). He was the ninth child of George Daniel Russell and Emily Menville Stovall, grandson of George Russell, who was a close friend of Davy Crockett and played by Buddy Ebsen in Disney’s Davy Crockett television series.

Buddy Ebsen as George Russell

On May 18, 1882, in Bell, Texas, Oscar married Leila Eubank, daughter of John Thomas Eubank and Julia Jackson Eubank. As he proceeded into what was apparently a promising career in the dairy business, he and Leila had 7 children.

On March 20, 1897, however, Oscar made a Bad Choice.

BAIRD STAR – FRIDAY Mar 26, 1897, CRUSHED TO DEATH: There was a horrible accident in the railroad yards here last Saturday night in which Mr. O B Russell, brother of our County Attorney, B L Russell, and partner with Mr. H G Parker, dairyman, was instantly killed.
Mr. Russell came up town after supper on some business and returning in company with Arthur Waldrou they went down through the T&P Ry yards on their way to the dairy farm just south of the depot. There were several freight cars standing on the main line and they walked to a point just east of the telegraph office where they found an opening between the cars. Arthur Waldrou crossed the track in safety, but the space between the cars from some cause closed up suddenly and caught Mr. Russell between the draw heads and crushed him to death instantly; a coupling link having passed entirely through his body just above the hips. Mr. Russell had a lamp chimney in his hand when struck and when found the chimney was still in his hand unbroken.
Mr. Russell leaves a wife and seven children to mourn his loss, besides several brothers and sisters and his aged mother who lives at Putnam. Two sisters, Mrs. M E Surles, of Putnam and Mrs. R Day of Abilene, came in Sunday to attend the funeral at Baird Cemetery. Mr Frank Russell of Sipe Springs was telegraphed the sad news at once but did not receive it until too late to be present at the funeral; but came in on Monday.
It was a sad affair and THE STAR extends sincere sympathy to the widow and orphan children so suddenly robbed of husband and father. Mr. Russell was born in 1861 and was therefore about 36 years of age. In the mourning of life, while the shadows still falling towards the west, suddenly and without a moments warning the summons came and he passed over the river.
Mr. Russell we understand carried a small amount of life insurance $1000 in the Royal Union Co. of Des Moines.

Yes, you read that correctly: he walked through a train yard as a short cut. He walked between 2 train cars that his friend had just successfully walked between. One of the cars moved for an unknown reason and he was transfixed by the coupling between the cars, instantly killed, and found still standing with his lamp in his hand.

For more information on how dangerous railyards were at the time, check out this Atlas Obscura article.

The United States was in transition between train couplers at that point. Originally, they used link-and-pin couplers, which required a human to be between moving train cars in order to lock those cars together, and maimed or killed a LOT of railway workers.

By Ben Franske – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6359889

In order to address the safety concerns, the US mandated a transition from these link and pin couplers to automatic knuckle or Janney couplers over the course of about 5 years. So there were transition couplers that could accept either type.

By Huduuthink – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32241707

And then there were just the knuckle couplers.

By ArnoldReihold – En:Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1481469

Because 1897 was squarely in the transition period, we can’t know which type of coupler went entirely through Oscar above the hips, but we can be… pretty glad he apparently died instantly. And very sorry for Mr. Waldrou, who presumably turned back when his friend wasn’t immediately behind him and found some serious nightmare fuel instead.

The obituary notes that his sudden death left his widow and 7 children… but actually it was 8, because Leila gave birth to their last child 6 months later. Those 8 children were:

  • Edith Mae Russell (1884–1974)
  • Oscar Burton Russell (1886–1954)
  • Emily C Russell (1888–1913)
  • John T Russell (1889–1925)
  • William Stovall Russell (1891–1972)
  • Robert Lee Russell (1893–1951)
  • Clarence Tatom Russell (1895–1964)
  • Eunice Vivian Russell (1897–1980)

Leila took the children and presumably the insurance settlement away from Baird, Texas, to Lampasas, Texas, where her father lived. They were living in a house she owned in Lampasas in 1900. However, her father died in late 1900, and perhaps there was a motivation to move closer to her husband’s family again, since she moved the family back to Callahan County by 1910. By 1920, it appears that all her children had moved out to their own lives, and she moved back closer to her roots, to Bertram, Texas, where she lived with one of her nieces. While I can’t find her in 1930, by 1935 she was living with her youngest daughter Vivian and her family in Forth Worth, Texas, and by 1940, they were in Arlington, Texas, (near Austin). Leila lived until 1953, and died in San Luis Obispo, California, age 88, still apparently living with Vivian and her family (since Vivian’s husband died in the same city in 1960).

Genealogy Book Complete!

Photo by Jan Huber on Unsplash

Just before Xmas, I managed to finish my third genealogy book, Arborvitae: The McLaughlin Family. (Keep in mind that I research, write, lay out, and edit this myself, so there will inevitably be errors. My dad already caught one. *sweatdrop*)

I have one more main branch of my family to complete, and then I can start working on some of the married-in branches as gifts for some of my cousins. Meanwhile, I’m working on one for a dear friend, and another writeup for another dear friend.

Onward and upward before I revisit any of the existing ones for updates.

Arborvitae: Cousin John’s Trip to Sing-Sing

Image text: STATE OF NEW YORK DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION SING SING PRISON receiving blotter

It was pretty startling in the case of someone named John to find something so definitive: it identified him by name, birthplace, and date of birth, as well as including his mother’s name and her home address. And here he was, being received into Sing Sing Prison in New York, far from his Philadelphia home.

For being so definitive, it raised a lot of questions: alias was listed as “Mason.” Was he just called Mason? Was he also known as John Mason? His plea was listed as “confession” and then we see his crime: murder 2nd degree. And that brought me up short, especially in a 19-year-old.

Fortunately, I wasn’t left in suspense: there was a description of the criminal act: “while armed, shot and killed a man [illegible]”. This took place on July 24, 1935, in New York City. He was sentenced on April 15, 1936, and received at the prison on April 16. His sentence? 20 to life. However, he became eligible for parole on March 13, 1949.

Of interest, he had 2 accomplices — Timothy Curran and James Hanks — both of whom are listed as deceased. Well! Were they deceased by the hand of the law, or by other forces? A Timothy Curran was received at Sing Sing on February 6, 1930, for attempted burglary, with a sentence of 5 years (eligible for parole 2/19/34), though there’s no sign of James Hanks in the available records.

John’s only apparently legitimate employment was for a week in 1934, working as a clerk at a wage of $5/week. Other interesting bits and bobs of information are available from this intake: he could read and write, he was Catholic but did not attend church, and he was living at 1 Convent Avenue, New York, when he was arrested (an apartment building that is either in Manhattanville or Harlem, it’s hard to tell on the map, and I’m not well-versed enough in NYC geography to determine).

This rather surprising bit of history made it easier to chase down John’s particular rabbit hole. Interestingly, by 1943, he was apparently back in Philadelphia, because he’d registered for the draft there. Time off for good behavior?

And then, in another Ancestry family tree, I found that John married his sister-in-law’s sister Theresa, who was on her second marriage. I poked a little deeper into her family and she married her first husband, Hugh, in 1945. But then he vanished in 1950 and turned up as skeletal remains in a car in the Delaware River when a dredge picked the car up in 1955. The car went into the river at Vine Street in Philadelphia, which appears to be right where the Ben Franklin Bridge is (I’m from the MidAtlantic and much of my family is from Philly, but I don’t have a good mental map of Philly, so I resort to GoogleMaps).

Image text: Bones in River Linked to Bodies of Autoists Missing Since ’50

Bones in River Linked to Bodies Of Autoists Missing Since ’50
Delaware Yields Car At Vine St.
Pieces of human bones found by divers on the riverbed near the point where a 1947 Pontiac sedan was dredged from the Delaware River Wednesday appeared yesterday to have solved the mystery surrounding the whereabouts of two Philadelphia men missing since 1950.
Capt. David Roberts of the Homicide Squad reported that his men, late yesterday afternoon, sent to the morgue several bones and fragments, believed to be those of a human being, which were brought to the surface by divers of the Motor Harbor Police.
BOTH REPORTED MISSING
The divers were sent to the bottom of the river, about 30 feet off Pier 17 at Vie st., after a search of the mud-filled interior of the sedan had disclosed no sign of its occupants.
Patrolmen Norton Stevenson, Bernard Corcoran and Edward Roman, the three divers, brought up two humerus bones (those of the upper arm); one femur, one ulna, one radius, one scapula, and eight rib bones in the course of their search. Sgt. John McBridge of the Homicide Squad said the bones were definitely human. He said the divers would return to the scene this morning to search for skulls, so that positive identification might be made through dental work.
The occupants, at the time the automobile apparently plunged into the river in December, 1950, were believed to have been George Hubbard, 30, then of 2136 S. Lee st., the owner of the car, and Hugh Gillespie, 28, of 2312 N. Colorado st. Sgt. John J. McBride of the Homicide Squad said records showed that Hubbard’s wife, Mary, reported him missing Dec. 15, 1950, and that Gillespie’s wife, Theresa, reported him missing Dec. 20.
The two men, both employed on the loading platform at the Mid-States Freight Lines, Inc., were last seen, police said, leaving a taproom near 5th st. and Columbia ave., a short distance from the freight lines platform.
FIND PIECE OF CLOTH
Detective Edmund Repsch and Samuel Powell of the Homicide Squad, the first ones sent to investigate the wreckage of the machine after a city Department of Commerce dredge brought it up, arranged to have an engine company hose out the interior of the car yesterday. All that they found in it was a rotted piece of khaki cloth, similar to the material of the trousers Hubbard was wearing when he disappeared. Captain Roberts ordered divers sent down upon learning that the top of the car broke loose as it was being hauled to the surface and that some of the contents might have spilled to the bottom.
Hubbard’s widow, now living with her mother and three children at 2143 S. Lee st., became hysterical upon learning of the discovery of her husband’s car, and required sedatives from a physician.

Leaving a taproom, alas, is suggestive of a terribly mundane reason for the car ending up in the river. I do find it interesting, though, that it took Theresa some five days longer than her counterpart to report her husband missing.

So John seems to have done his time and married a grieving widow (seriously, how awful must that have been, 5 years missing and no idea what happened?), and they went on to have 2 more kids together. Happily ever after!

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE.

I had gotten distracted by John! I proceeded to go hunting down the other sibling in the family who wasn’t amenable to easy location: his older brother Charles. Everything proceeded normally enough until the 1940 census, when where did I find him?

Image text: Eastern State Penitentiary

If you’ve seen any ghost hunter shows or shows about Al Capone, you’ve seen Eastern State Penitentiary, the infamous Philadelphia prison built as a showpiece of “modern” correctional thought in 1829, constructed to provide solitary confinement for up to 300 prisoners. The guards and administrators also imposed further tortures on the prisoners for various infractions, and by the early 20th century, overcrowding collapsed the solitary confinement scheme. There were a number of notorious inmates, though Capone was the most famous.

All right then. Some Googling ensued and turned up a doozy of an article on a Find-a-Grave for a police officer who had been killed.

Policeman David H. Wiley
Philadelphia Police Department
Pennsylvania
End of Watch: Sunday, April 10, 1932
Biographical Info
Age: 31
Tour of Duty: Appointed 1924.
Badge Number: 3245
Incident Details
Cause of Death: Gunfire
Date of Incident: Sunday, April 10, 1932
Weapon Used: Gun; Unknown type
Suspect Info: Charles A. […]
Policeman Wiley was shot and killed as he and his partner investigated a suspicious vehicle parked in front of a the Petkov Co. tobacco firm on Market Street near 4th Street that he and other officers suspected contained burglars who had robbed the business. After observing two men exit the building, place bundles in the car, and then return to the building, the officers approached the vehicle. Without warning, the driver, Charles […], 19, fired point blank at Wiley and sped away. One of the four shots he fired punctured the policeman’s lung.
Four males were arrested and confessed to the incident. Angered at [Charles], they implicated him as the shooter and explained they thought the shooting of Wiley was “unneccessary.” Instead of shooting, they said, [Charles] should have given an agreed signal and then driven away. By blaming [Charles], police said, they were hopeful of avoiding trial on a murder charge. Four others were held on charges of receiving goods stolen by the robbers.
All were convicted and two were initially sentenced to die in the electric chair, including [Charles]. The group of burglars was suspected in the murder of Policeman William Henderson one month earlier, but were never charged due to a lack of evidence.
[Charles] and Danny Piccarelli got new trials that spared them death sentences. [Charles], who faced tough times in the old Tenderloin District, pled guilty in his new trial and only got 10 years. After getting out, he was picked up repeatedly – a jewel robbery, an extortion case, an assault and battery case in which he allegedly sat it out on the curb while a woman neighbor got cut 24 times. Twice guns were found. But [Charles] always managed to beat the charge and kept walking about on parole.
In 1936, during one his stays in prison, [Charles] received a letter from his brother John, also a criminal, that a Judge Carroll called “a classic”:
“Why did we do these things we are in prison for? Why did we turn out bad when our three brothers kept honest? What will happen to us after we are dead?”
Charles […] and his brother John were the sons of a crane operator, who, before he was crippled by polio, “never let us go hungry.”
“It wasn’t until after my father died that all we had to eat was potatoes.”
“The first time I got pinched I was only eight years old. A big Irish cop pulled me in and a woman hit him over the head with an umbrella. But everyone got arrested every once in a while in the Tenderloin. It was a tough neighborhood. You saw flashy-dressed men getting out of big cars in front of bum-looking houses. They were gunmen and the houses was where they lived. It didn’t add up. And I should have seen it but didn’t. All the money those men had they pulled a gun for. But I didn’t think about that. I just thought about making money – any way I could. The boys who shot it out with the cops [Patrolman Harry Cooper was shot and killed] in the Olney bank holdup [May 4, 1926] were a couple of years ahead of me. I remember when they brought their bodies home from the penitentiary after they were electrocuted [March 7, 1927]. A bunch of us kids went to the wakes. The whole neighborhood was down in the mouth about it. But I was still making honest money then – hustling newspapers and shining shoes for maybe a buck an afternoon after school. I was a choir boy and my mother took me to church every Sunday.””What happened to the faith our mother learned us? Why did you and me throw it away when our brothers kept it? I don’t know. I wish I knew. It was the biggest mistake either one of us ever made.”
In 1955, the 42-year old Charles […] was arrested for a safe-breaking burglary. [Charles] was held in the 12th and Pine street stationhouse which bore the plaque in memory of Officer Wiley who [Charles] murdered in 1932.
Wiley was a six-year veteran of the force. He had been commended for meritorious service several times. He was the youngest of ten children of Mr. and Mrs. Stephen H. Wiley. At the age of 15 he enlisted in the Naval Reserves for service in the World War. He joined the police in 1924. He was unmarried and lived at 1624 Oregon av. His father, retired at the time of his son’s death, was a city fireman more than 30 years.
Sources:
1. The Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc. http://www.odmp.org/officer/14179-policeman-david-h.-wiley
2. Philadelphia Evening Bulletin
3. 1930 U.S. Federal Census
4. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Veterans Burial Cards, 1929-1990; Archive Collection Number: Series 1-13; Folder Number: 534.

Well! Both John and Charles were clearly casualties of poverty and opportunity, only where John managed to find his way out, Charles got stuck in doing what he knew how to do (which seemed to be quite a lot, really). Charles also seemed to be pretty good at getting himself out of prison, despite being a career criminal.

Despite a lot of hunting, I couldn’t find out what had happened to Charles after the information about being picked up for safecracking in 1955. I eventually found one of John’s children on Facebook, and she told me that Charles had been killed in a bar on Christmas Eve, 1975: shot 3 times in the chest at age 63.

We can hope that Charles was as happy in his life as brother John seemed to have been in his. John lived until 1991, dying at age 74. Theresa passed away in 2004, age 79. They seem to have been well-loved by their family.

Arborvitae: Cousin Jim’s Family Myth

Sometimes, there will be Accepted Family Lore about a particular relative, especially those considered a bit peculiar by the mainstream family. I get excited every time I find evidence to the contrary of the mythology — it means I’m getting to something closer to the truth about their life story.

Cousin Jim was one of those peculiar sorts. The family legends that I’ve found indicate that after World War I, he developed PTSD (or, as they called it back then, shell shock) and started a wandering sort of hobo life. He stayed in touch with only one of his sisters, and most of the family really didn’t know what he was doing for most of his life.

So in 1916, Jim is working as a clerk for the railroad in his Midwestern city. On his 1917 draft registration card, he notes that his disabled father and his several under-12 siblings are his dependents. This is probably the reason that he doesn’t end up in the Army until September 11, 1918. His tenure is brief, since the Armistice is signed in November, and he is discharged in January 1919.

Here’s the thing that set my antennae up: he was only ever stationed at the Camp MacArthur infantry replacement and training camp in Waco, Texas.

Doesn’t sound like the sort of World War I story to dog someone with PTSD, does it? I absolutely believe that any tenure in the armed forces is capable of saddling someone with a massive case of PTSD, whether stationed at home or abroad. However, this was an interesting puncture in the narrative.

After the war, in 1920, I found him still in his town, working as a clerk again for the railroad, living back home with his family. But suddenly he went missing in 1930. Was that when he’d gone on the hobo trail, riding the rails and all that?

Then his World War II draft registration turned up: in 1942, Jim was living in Brooklyn, New York. It was absolutely him; the birthdate and place of birth matched perfectly. He gave his apparent landlady’s name as his contact. The address was in Prospect Heights, 117 St Mark’s Avenue.

St Mark’s Avenue, looking west from Vanderbilt. (About a block and a half from the address.) Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, The New York Public Library. “Brooklyn: St. Mark’s Avenue – Vanderbilt Avenue” The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Well, that was a twist on the story.

With that information, I went back to the 1930 and 1940 censuses and looked for Jim. It was harder to look at the censuses — they don’t necessarily give the correct birth year or state of birth, since it depends on the person giving the information knowing the truth. But there he was, in 1930, listed as a roomer in a place with an Irishwoman who arrived in the US in 1873 and her adult son, a teamster, who was about 10 years older than Jim. Jim’s year of birth and birth state were right, and his parents’ places of birth were also right. The address: 344 West 49th St in midtown Manhattan, 4 blocks from Rockefeller Center, 10 blocks south of Central Park.

The 1940 census, however, doesn’t have have a James in New York City who was born in Minnesota, or any others that match his demographics. So I’m not sure where he was living — possibly in that flat in Brooklyn where he was in ’42. So that’s a bit of a mystery still.

Sometime between 1942 and 1953, he ended up back in his hometown, because he died there in June 1953. His military funeral card listed the one sister with whom he’d remained in contact as his next of kin. I expect she took whatever secrets he’d shared with her to her own grave, and we’ll never learn the whys and hows of his apparently secret life in New York City. But I treasure getting this brief glimpse into the secret.

Arborvitae: Cousin Frank’s Sudden Death

On September 18, 1914, Frank Hogan left his home in Waseca, Minnesota, to attend the town fair in Janesville, the next town over. Around 8:30 that night, he was taken abruptly ill on the street, and was carried, unconscious, to his uncle’s house. He was seen by a doctor there, but never recovered consciousness and died around 4 am on September 19, 1914.

There were 3 different obituaries in the local papers. For example, the Janesville Argus, Sept. 23, 1914:

Death of Frank Hogan
Frank Hogan, of Waseca, was taken ill in this place on Thursday afternoon while visiting the fair. He was taken to the home of his uncle, James Joyce, and medical aid secured.
He lingered until about four o’clock Friday morning when he passed away.
The deceased resided with his mother at Waseca. He was a painter by trade. Until a year ago it is said he followed his trade in Minneapolis. He was an efficient workman and an energetic young man. His age was bout thirty years.
The remains were taken to Waseca where the funeral was conducted Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, in the Waseca Journal-Radical, Sept. 23, 1914:

Frank Hogan, son of Mrs. M. Hogan, of this city, died at Janesville last Friday morning. He was taken suddenly ill there the evening before at about 8:30 o’clock. He was taken in an unconscious condition to the home of his uncle, James Joyce, and his mother and sisters were summoned from this city. They were taken by autos to his bedside. He never recovered consciousness and died about 4 o’clock Friday morning.
The remains were taken to his home in this city Friday afternoon.
The funeral was held from the Catholic church Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock and interment was made in the Catholic cemetery.
Michael Francis Hogan was born in Janesville, and was about 30 years old. He came with his mother and sisters to this city about 18 years ago and except for a few years in the twin cities, this city for the most part has been his home.
He was a painter and paperhanger and was employed in painting a house in this city at the time of his death. He went to Janesville Thursday morning to attend the street fair.
The deceased is survived by his mother, Mrs. M. Hogan, and two sisters, Misses Nellie and Katherine of this city.
The relatives have the sympathy of all in their trouble.

And the Waseca Herald, Sept. 24, 1914:

The people of this community were greatly shocked last Friday morning upon hearing of the death of Frank Hogan, who died very suddenly at Janesville early that morning. He went up to Janesville Thursday morning to attend the fair, and that evening about nine o’clock, suddenly became very ill on the street. He was taken to the home of his uncle, James Joyce, and passed away there about four o’clock Friday morning. Heart trouble was the cause of his death. His mother and sisters were with him when he died.
His remains were brought here Friday afternoon on the two o’clock train and taken to the home of his mother. The funeral took place at the Catholic church Sunday afternoon, Rev. Fr. Treanor officiating, and interment was made in the Catholic cemetery.
Deceased was born in Janesville March 25, 1884, and came to this city when about ten years old, where he has made his home every since. He followed the trade of a painter and paperhanger.
He is survived by his mother and two sisters, Nellie and Katherine, all of this city, who have the sincere sympathy of many friends.
Those from out of town who attended the funeral are: Mrs. Mary Maher of St. Paul; Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Mulcahey of Waterville; Mrs. N. McCormick and daughter, Margaret, of Tracy; Mrs. C.R. Wattles of Sheyenne, N.D.; Mr. and Mrs. T. Sullivan of Ames, Ia.

There are some fascinating details behind the scenes of this sad story.

For instance, in none of these 3 obituaries is his father, Michael Hogan, mentioned. Michael was alive and well, living in Janesville. We don’t see the fact that his mother, Mary Joyce, married Michael Hogan on May 25, 1882, in Janesville, where her family also lived (the uncle to whose home Frank was conveyed on the fateful night was her brother James Joyce). She was 20 years old.

Her early marriage was dogged by tragedy, with two of her younger siblings dying later that same year, one in August and the other in November, and a third sibling dying 2 years later. (Which all smacks of tuberculosis, but I don’t have their death certificates to check.) Then, sometime between the birth of her last child, Mary, in 1890, and the Minnesota census in 1895, she took her oldest 3 children off to Waseca where she went into service as a domestic. In the 1900 census, her mother Margaret Joyce and youngest child Mary had joined them in Waseca, where Mary Hogan the elder was working as a washerwoman and listing herself in the census as widowed.

Meanwhile, Michael was living with his parents. After the deaths of his parents in 1906 and 1908, Michael settled into living with his younger brother John. In 1910, he also listed himself (or perhaps his brother did) as widowed.

And so we are left to wonder what the circumstances were as Mary Hogan worked to support herself, her children (youngest child Mary appears to have died between 1900 and 1910 — notice that she’s not listed as a survivor of Frank either), and her mother. Her mother died in 1913, and perhaps that’s when Frank came come from the big city.

The last thing that is obscured by the glowing obituaries is his cause of death. “Heart trouble” is given as the cause of death, though that’s pretty rare in 30-year-olds. Unfortunately, there are no digital archives online for Minnesota death certificates. Fortunately, I had met a cousin online who was happy poking into death certificates for the family, and who was willing and able to hunt down Frank’s.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as his cause of death, but I absolutely did NOT expect to see “Coma” with a comment next to it: “think he took one dose of cocaine.” In the blank for the contributing cause underneath was written, “Cocaine fiend.”

In the early years of the 20th century, cocaine use had grown in the United States. Inevitably, there was a cultural reaction to its use and the cultural assumptions around its use: that it was a dark urban underground habit, that it was being forced on workers to get more productivity out of them, and even worse, far more racist myths. (For more information, check out the Wikipedia article.) In 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act required that items containing cocaine add its presence to their labels. And in December 1914, the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act was passed that required that cocaine and narcotics only be dispensed with a doctor’s order.

Michael died in 1928, age 72, in Janesville, and I have to say that his obituary was an exercise in “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Compared to the effulgent obituaries I have read of Michael’s brothers, sisters, and cousins, this was dry bare bones. It leads me to conclude that he was not a popular man, and we can probably guess at a violent temper, given that Mary moved a town away to get her children away from him.

Mary lived until 1949, age 87, and Frank’s 2 sisters, Katherine and Nellie, never married. Katherine died in 1960 in Owatonna, Minnesota, age 73, and Nellie, who had worked briefly as a stenographer in Minneapolis around the time her brother was also up there, died in 1969 in Janesville, age 85.

So perhaps a bit of the big city had followed Frank home to the farmlands of his home. Or perhaps he was just the victim of one dose, taken out of curiosity, because he wanted a bit of an upper to hang out longer at the fair with his friends. It’s another of those mysteries of genealogy, where the hints are tantalizing and the truth has long since died with the players of that particular drama.

Affordable Genealogy

Boosting Your Start for Your Family Tree

It’s hard to get started in genealogy, especially if you’ve never done it before, and an Ancestry membership is expensive. Also, finding a professional genealogist can be a baffling challenge. Who to pick? Will they understand what I want? Can I afford them?

So here’s the deal:

  • I have almost 40 years of genealogical research experience and an Ancestry membership I’d like to have help funding.
    • I’m also a big ol’ queer, if that makes any difference to you (and yes, I do think of queer things when I look through family trees — that cousin in the 1920s who lived 40 years with another woman? mmm-hmmm).
  • You have a family tree you might be interested in, whether you want to know some of your ancestors’ names for religious purposes, your kids/siblings/parents/other relatives are asking questions, or you’re just curious.

Let’s help each other out!

The Process

  1. Send me money for what you want (see What You Get below) and the best email address to contact you: paypal.me/judemclaughlin
  2. I’ll email you to confirm receipt with a list of questions: that’s your chance to give me whatever you’ve got: names, birth/death/marriage dates, and locations. 
  3. You email me your information.
  4. I’ll email to confirm receipt, ask any clarifying questions, and provide you with approximate timing for my response.
  5. I create a locked family tree on Ancestry and go digging.
  6. I provide you with whatever level of deliverable you have paid for.
  7. You enjoy your newfound family tree information!
  8. (optional) If you want, we can talk about expanding the tree, getting more writeup, that sort of thing, and what the pricing on that would be.

If I run into challenges that are insurmountable using my normal resources, I will email and we can discuss. If I’m unable to provide you the deliverable or an agreed-upon alternative (see Caveats, below), I will refund you.

What You Get

$25: The Basics

I will spend 2-3 hours driving your family tree straight back as far as I can reasonably go. After that, I will download and send you the GED file so you can upload it to your own family tree program, as well as inviting you to the Ancestry tree for you to peruse and edit. 

$50: Names and Numbers

I do the same as I did at the $25 level, as well as sending you a text summary of the tree, with names and birth and death dates. Eg (fictional): 

Jane Smith (1857-1932)
married ca 1880
James Jones (1855-1932)
2 children:
Augustus (1875-1918)
Ophelia (1879-1970)

$100: Essential Storyline

Same as the $25 level, but the writeup is in short, readable, surface-level biographic blurbs back to the great-great-grandparents level. Eg (also fictional):

Jane Smith was born on August 4, 1857, in England. She emigrated to the US around 1880, and married James Jones in Philadelphia. They had 2 children: Augustus (1875-1918) and Ophelia (1879-1970). Jane died on February 2, 1932. James died on March 25, 1932.

$250: Whole Kit and Kaboodle

Same as the $25 level, but the writeup has more depth in that I’ll go digging into the records (back to the great-great-grandparent level) for information deeper in the documents, such as cause of death, immigrant ship name, cemetery where they’re buried, that sort of thing. I might go hunting for other sites/books/newspapers that could have more information about particularly interesting-looking people (distinctive names, startlingly short lives, death certificates that have no cause of death but clearly indicate an inquest, that sort of thing). Eg (utterly fictional):

Jane Smith was born on August 4, 1857, in London, England. She emigrated to the US in 1880 on the ship Hesperus, and married James Jones (born April 15, 1855, to James Jones Sr and Eliza Divine in Pennsylvania) in Philadelphia, at St Mary’s Episcopal Church on Broad Street. They had 2 children: Augustus (1875-1918), who died in France in World War I, and Ophelia (1879-1970). In 1920, they were living in Germantown, and appeared to still be there in 1930. Jane died on February 2, 1932, of pneumonia. James died on March 25, 1932, at the Old Man’s Home in Philadelphia, of heart disease contributed to by senility.

Want More?

Beyond this point, if you want more breadth of family and/or depth of research, we can discuss the possibilities, potential pricing, and probable timing. I do write full-blown books about family research, but these are very time-intensive and can take me more than a year to create. For instance, I started working on a new one in January and here in October, I’m at about a halfway point of a large family tree (2000 people and expanding) first draft, which translates to 45 pages of a single-spaced Word document. Then there’s a revision draft, proofing, diagrams, and layout. A book would be priced accordingly.

Caveats

My research is dependent upon the databases available. What I can find depends entirely upon what’s out there. If no one’s managed to convince New York City to license their marriage registry through 1960, then I’m not gonna be able to dig that up. Some states have better records than others. Minnesota and California, for instance, have fantastic birth records. Florida has great marriage and divorce records. Maryland? Eh. Not much there.

I also depend on the family histories of other people on Ancestry to a certain extent. I try to back this up with records and by my own judgment of the likelihood of the connections. This has led me astray in the past, but I’ve learned from those experiences what some of the warning flags are and can avoid them.

That said, if I go down an attractive garden path of someone else’s family tree or other seemingly likely records and it turns out to be wrong, I will do my best to fix it at no additional charge.

If I can’t get back to at least your great-great-grandparents’ level, I can instead go outward, pulling in information on aunts, uncles, and cousins. I’ll let you know before I do this, though, in case this isn’t an acceptable alternative to you.

My current membership is US only. I can sometimes leverage other sources to get extra-US information. If I get enough interest (and income) so that I can expand my membership to the world version, I will!

Your family’s ethnic and geographic origin will impact the available information. If your family is from a place whose records have not been translated, or is from a population that was oppressed and/or impacted by genocide (that includes within the US), there won’t be much for me to find. 

If part or all of your family arrived in the US later than 1940, the information I can find will be limited.

If your family is chockablock with common USian names and lived in big cities, I might not be able to connect up people. But I’ll do my best! Dates, more precise locations (eg, “They lived in Germantown,” as opposed to, “They lived in Philadelphia”), and middle names can help there.

When I say I’ll try to get back as far as possible in your family tree, the number of generations will vary. For some people with colonial ancestors, this can be back 6 or more generations. For most of us whose families arrived in the US in the 19th and early 20th centuries, that usually translates to great-great-grandparents. I will almost certainly not connect your family to the Scottish laird your aunt swears you’re descended from (most connections to nobility are tissue paper and wishes, and one can see that in some of the family trees out there).

And finally, if your family is white, I can 99% guarantee that the unspecified “Indian princess” your uncle swears your great-grandma told him about is a myth, especially if she’s supposed to be Cherokee. However, I will do my best to confirm or deny.

Arborvitae: Cousin Samuel and the Train

Samuel F Simmons was born in July 1877 in Maryland.  He married Hannah P Ward (born about 1877 in Delaware) on March 27, 1902, in Delaware.  They had at least one child, Samuel Ward, who was born around 1910. Samuel Sr died on June 21, 1917, at the age of 39, along with his wife and son, in an automobile versus train accident.  The family was buried in Bethel Cemetery in Chesapeake City.

Common disasters happen, as I mentioned in my last post on the subject. Sometimes, though, it takes some work to tease the information out.

I was tracking Samuel Sr. from his parents’ family record, and therefore had his approximate birth year. On Ancestry, I found his marriage record to Hannah in 1902, and then found the 1910 census record showing the pair and their son Ward, born 1910. (Probably, there were more children between 1902 and 1910, but Maryland’s death records are slim and it’s difficult to find the children who die in the gaps.) But then all records petered out.

I did what I usually do in that case: hop over to FamilySearch.org and poke around in their databases. And there I found Maryland probate records for Samuel F Simmons from 1917. Since I couldn’t find him in the 1920 census, that seemed very likely. So I popped it open.

First thing I saw was that it was filed on June 25, 1917 — so now I knew that he’d died before then, in the first half of the year. Page 2, though, was the kicker.

Page 2 was the kicker.

What do we see here?

  • Date and time of death: Thursday, June 21, 1917, at 8 pm.
  • Hannah Simmons is not listed among the heirs-at-law, nor is she the executrix — the executor is the brother of the deceased.
  • Neither is Ward Simmons.
  • Oh, and I now had the married names for the 3 sisters I’d despaired of finding. That was awesome.

Pages 3-6 are signatures and other housekeeping; page 7 begins the inventory of the estate. Beyond that was information that Samuel had been a tenant farmer, and his brother Isaac was ordered to take up his lease and fulfill the conditions of the lease, selling milk from the cows and tending and harvesting the farm, in order to benefit the estate. The original lease from 1910 was included, with all its terms. And then the final account of the estate was included with all items sold at public and private sale.

In the account were more items of interest, including:

  • Benefits due the deceased from the Patriotic Order Sons of America: $299.00
  • Benefits due the deceased from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company: $985.06
  • Benefits due from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company on death of son: $85.30
  • Amount received from sale of wrecked automobile: $10.00
  • Amount received from suit against the Railroad Company for damage to the automobile: $232.95
  • Amount received from PW&B RR (Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad) for funeral expenses: $529.35

And then in the outlay from the estate:

  • For amt paid, funeral expenses for Samuel F Simmons: $157.75
  • Mrs. Samuel F Simmons: $158.35
  • Ward Simmons: $60.25
  • Burial plot: $61.50

A common disaster indeed!

With the date in hand, I went delving into newspaper archives online, but to no avail. I did, however, discover an obliging historical society in the area, with online payment for searching and scanning their newspaper archive. I wrote them with the following result.

Cecil Whig, June 23, 1917

Shortly after 8 o’clock Thursday night, four persons were killed at the Bridge street crossing of P, B. & W. Railroad in Elkton. They were Samuel Simmons, a farmer near Elkton; Mrs. Hannah Simmons, his wife; Ward Simmons, aged about 8 years, their son, and Geo. Foster, a farm hand in Mr. Simmons employ. The accident wiped out Mr. Simmons’s entire family.
The Bridge street crossing where the accident occurred has been the scene of several sad affairs, but none in magnitude compared with the latest one.
Completing his day’s work on the farm, Mr. Simmons accompanied by his wife, child and hired man started in his new Ford automobile for the farm of Frank B. Evans, just north of Elkton, to spend a short time with the family of Joseph McKinney. Everything went well all the way to the railroad. Upon approaching the railroad crossing, the driver of the car noticed the safety gates were still up and he undertook to go across the tracks. Just as the machine was about in the middle of the northbound track, the locomotive attached to train No. 432, New York and Washington express, running at a speed of about 60 miles an hour, crashed into it, and the car, together with the four occupants, was whirled through the air. The body of Mr. Foster lodged on the pilot* of the locomotive and remained there until the train was stopped. The bodies of all four of the victims were [unreadable] mutilated, and the automobile was broken into thousands of pieces.
Coroner Herbert D. Litzenberg had the bodies removed to the undertaking establishment of Vinsinger & Pipple, and he summoned the following jury of inquest over the remains, which viewed the bodies that night and met yesterday to hear testimony: Taylor W McKenney, C.P. Bartley, Fred H. Leffler, Charles S. Boulden, Daniel Henry, Edward M. Johnson, Harry R. Boulden, A Alexander, George Potts, Alfred Taylor, Harry Buckworth, Wm. Henry Biddle.
The jury rendered the following verdict: That Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Simmons, Ward Simmons and George Foster came to the death by being struck by train No 432 on the Pennsylvania Railroad, Thursday evening, June 21; that the cause of death was carelessness and negligence of John Lotman, the gate-keeper employed by the Pennsylvania Railroad, at this point, at that time, and to the criminal carelessness and neglect of the said Pennsylvania Railroad Company in its failure to secure and train competent employees to attend the dangerous grade crossings in this town. This jury wishes to point out and to emphasize the grave danger of these crossings to the traveling public an the continued indifference of the Railroad Company in failing to take the necessary precautions in spite of the large number of accidents that have occurred at these points in this town. We respectfully request that the States Attorney of this county take criminal action against the Pennsylvania Railroad Company whom we consider primarily responsible for the criminal carelessness in failing to properly safeguard the traveling public
Funeral services of Mr. and Mrs. Simmons and son will be held at their late residence Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock; interment at Bethel Cemetery. The funeral services of George Foster will be held in the Elkton M.E. Church on Sunday at 1230 o’clock, with interment in Elkton Cemetery.
John Lotman, the watchman, was placed under arrest yesterday, Friday afternoon.

*The pilot of the locomotive is also known as the cowcatcher — it’s that plow-shaped bit on the front.

Of interest, Wikipedia supplies that the PW&B Railroad moved the line north of Elkton to eliminate the grade crossings in the town in 1934 — the original line ran on a tight curve through town, which I imagine is how the train was hidden from view as Samuel began crossing the tracks.

Also of interest, a little poking around in the newspapers online reveal that John Lotman was released from Elkton jail in July, and his case was supposed to be heard in September. An article from December 1917 shows that not only was Lotman indicted for manslaughter, but also the track foreman, Malachi Rafferty, and Supervisor English were also indicted for manslaughter for knowingly retaining Lotman despite knowing he was incompetent. Sadly, I have been unable to discover the final judgments against the three.

So that is my slightly more complicated story of genealogical detective work for the week. I’ll see if I can root out something else interesting for next week.

Arborvitae: Cousin Myrtle and the 1918 Flu


Myrtle Naylor was born March 18, 1893, in Delaware. On February 10, 1912, she married Pierson Briggs Stevens (born July 8, 1889, in Odessa, Delaware) in Townsend, Delaware. On September 29, 1918, both Myrtle and Pierson died in Philadelphia, and were buried in St Paul’s Cemetery in Odessa on October 2nd. She was 25, he was 29.

This short paragraph sums up a surprising lot of information I waded through to come to an understanding of the end of cousin Myrtle’s short life.

The first things I found were census records for her parents, Charles and Flora, because I had Flora’s name from a document one of my great-uncles shared with me, and her husband’s from a marriage record. The censuses provided me with Myrtle and her 6 siblings, and then the Delaware Birth Records provided their birth dates. Her marriage record was also readily at hand.

… and then they died on the same day.

Well, all right, I had already hit the cousins who had all been wiped out, along with their farmhand, by a train colliding with their car. Common disasters happen, unfortunately. So now to look at the death certificates, if I could find them.

Luck was with me: they’d died in Philadelphia after 1906 — Ancestry had them.

I opened up Myrtle’s certificate first.

Date of death: September 29, 1918. Time of death: 12:30 PM. Cause of death: lobar pneumonia. Duration 4 days. Contributory: influenza. She died at home, at 104 Jackson St, Philadelphia, and was buried on October 2, 1918, in St. Paul’s Cemetery in Odessa, Delaware. The information about her parents, etc, were provided by Alfred R Stevens of Collingswood, NJ, who was most likely her father-in-law. She’d been attended by her doctor from September 21st until her death on the 29th, so she’d had flu for 8 days, pneumonia for the last 4 days.

Then I cracked open Pierson’s certificate. Different pen (blue instead of black), different handwriting. He was located at St Agnes’ Hospital, not his home address. This is where I found he was a Delaware River pilot, and yes, there’s Alfred R Stevens of Collingswood again — his father. Pierson had been attended by the doctor since September 26th until his death on the 29th, but that meant he’d been hospitalized for 3 days — we don’t know how long he’d been sick. Time of death: 7 AM. So poor Myrtle had been a widow when she died at 12:30 PM — no way of knowing whether she’d known or not. Pierson’s cause of death is listed as lobar pneumonia with a duration of 4 days. This doctor did not supply a contributory disease, but we can guess that Pierson also had influenza. A different pen and handwriting (likely the same undertaker, J L Wildey of 103 E Lehigh Ave) supplies that he too was buried on October 2nd in St Paul’s Cemetery, Odessa.

And here is a key point about death certificates: the doctor generally lists the precise cause of death. If we’re lucky, the doctor supplies a contributory disorder, as in the case of Myrtle. If not, we’re left to guess. In this case, we could probably guess fairly accurately, given that Philadelphia was one of the hardest-hit cities in the US by the 1918 influenza epidemic.

Philadelphia Committee of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Tuberculosis – Publisher, New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor (N.Y.A.I.C.P). Protect the Public from Disease Use your Hankerchief When You Sneeze. [Posters]. Retrieved from https://libwww.freelibrary.org/digital/item/65052

Looking at a chronology of the epidemic in Philadelphia provided by the University of Pennsylvania, we can easily see the probable line of infection: on September 7, 1918, 300 sailors from Boston arrived at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and by September 11, 19 sailors were reported ill. By the 15th, 600 sailors and marines reported ill at the Navy Hospital. On the 19th, 2 sailors died of the flu, and on the 20th, 15 more died, as well as 1 civilian. On the 21st, 24 more were killed by the flu, including a nurse at Pennsylvania Hospital. We know that by the 21st, Myrtle had well and truly contracted the illness, enough that the doctor was called.

Pierson, our Delaware River pilot, may have run afoul of infected sailors in the course of his work and brought it home. Or, well, 104 Jackson St was about 7 blocks from the docks on the Delaware; Myrtle could have run into someone’s sneeze while out marketing for all we know. Either way, the couple was a pair of early, tragic casualties in what became far far worse, just a day before they died, when the obtuse douchecanoe in charge of the city’s Department of Public Health and Charities let the Liberty Bond Parade go on, with an attendance of several hundred thousand people.

By the end of the epidemic, about 12,000 of the ~1.8 million people in Philadelphia had died of influenza.

This is a glimpse into the process I use for ferreting out information when I’m working on genealogies, and why I finally started writing books about these people’s lives in order to capture as much as I could about the minutiae available in the records. Maybe I’ll do a more complicated one next — perhaps the family who died in the train-versus-car wreck, because that was a fascinating and very satisfying bit of detective work.