Tag Archives: history

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).

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.

Disjointed thoughts

The shock is wearing off from the news about the Pulse, and I’m having to get through a workday without the convenient dissociation of Dragon Age.  I’m still not particularly coherent on the subject — I’ve been using Twitter for a lot of my thought bursts, and otherwise retweeting/reblogging things.

  1. On June 28, 1969, drag queens and trans people of color said ENOUGH at Stonewall and fought back against police.  It is no accident that the people targeted in this attack were queers and trans folk of color, with drag queens of color and trans women of color headlining the event that was attacked.  Our queer family of color has always been in the bloody vanguard of the fight to get the American public to recognize our basic humanity.
  2. This is not the deadliest mass shooting in US history.  This is the deadliest mass shooting in modern times, certainly in the 21st century.  To state that sweeping “in US history” ignores the state-sanctioned mass murders of Native Americans and blacks and other people of color.  At Wounded Knee, for instance, something between 150 and 300 civilians (women, children, elderly people) were murdered by the US Army.
  3. Politicians and mainstream media are trying to make this about Islam.  It’s not. It’s about the morass of homophobia and transphobia and racism and toxic masculinity that our culture is soaking in.

My writing is almost entirely a love letter to my queer family and our straight allies.  I love you all.  I don’t say it enough, I sometimes say it badly, but I love you all.

Please exercise self-care around all media and social media.  Pamper yourselves.  We all deserve treats.  This grief is real.

Please keep being fabulous and amazing and marvelous, because you all are.

Please don’t stop celebrating and being who you are.

Please keep living.