Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Baffling and Tragic Case of Bertha Beilstein

My 3rd-great-grandfather Jacob Beilstein grew up in the home of his older sister Maria M. (Beilstein) Beilstein and her husband, John Frederick Beilstein (yes, a Beilstein married a Beilstein). Their father died when Jacob was a baby, and I still don't know what became of the mother. Jacob took after his brother-in-law and became a butcher. Jacob left the home when he married in 1873, around the time that Fred and Mary had their sixth child, a daughter named Marie. Fred and Mary's last child, Bertha, was born about four years later.

Things seemed to have gone really well for Fred and Mary's family for many years. He had a prosperous business as a master butcher (as his occupation was listed in the 1870 census), and real estate worth thousands of dollars. An older gentleman, David Reich, apparently an old family friend, moved in with Fred and Mary and lived with them. So close was he to them that Fred and Mary specifically provided in both of their wills that David was to be well taken care of, and when he died his burial was to be provided for out of their estate. All the six older children married and had children, leaving only Bertha at home with her parents and David by the late 1890s.

Then something tragic happened. Fred took sick in December of 1897. He apparently knew he wasn't going to survive, as he made out his will on December 15th, and four days later passed away. His death would have lasting consequences for the rest of the family. The newspaper accounts of the next several events vary on exactly why they occurred, but they are consistent in reporting that Bertha was very much affected by her father's death. She apparently just could not get over it, and it bothered her for months. Some reports say she sought out spiritual mediums while visiting relatives in Chicago, and that these mediums told her that her father was lonely in the spirit world, and desired Bertha and Mary to join him. Whatever the case, Bertha decided that the best thing to do would be to take her own life. However, apparently concerned over how her mother would react to her suicide, she decided to spare her mother the grief by killing her first, and then taking her own life.

The reports again vary on the exact course of events, but a few details are consistent - that the mother was shot in bed about 3am on October 2nd, 1898; that Bertha shot her three times; that Bertha then drank at least an ounce of laudanum (apparently a type of medicine of which opium was the primary ingredient) and then shot herself several times, once in the head and at least twice in the stomach. Mary's wounds were fatal, perhaps instantly so, but Bertha's were not. They were discovered later that morning by a brother, perhaps Edward, who found his mother cold and dead in bed, and Bertha lying and bleeding on the floor of another room.

Bertha was immediately patched up and given medical care, though physicians assumed she wouldn't live for more than a few hours (not an unreasonable assumption given the severity of her injuries). Within a day or so, David Reich (who was apparently not in the house at the time of the shooting) learned of Bertha's actions, became despondent, and went out and knelt in front of an oncoming train, and thus ended his own life. I haven't been able to find many records on him yet, so I don't know much about him, or why Mary's death or Bertha's actions would affect him so much, but he apparently cared deeply for Fred and Mary, who likewise returned the emotions as evidenced by their statements regarding David in their wills. But unfortunately the tragedies did not end with David's suicide.

When Mary was buried in the cemetery owned and/or founded by her son-in-law Nicholas Voegtly's family, Edward Beilstein, Mary's 4th child and second son, reportedly tried to throw himself into her grave. Failing in this, a few days later he went alone to his mother's grave at night, wrote a suicide note, and took poison (perhaps rat poison) and ended his life. He was married at the time to the former Margaret Grieves, and had two daughters, Erma (age 10) and Thelka (age 6). Margaret was so shaken by the news of her husband's suicide that several newspapers stated that her death would coming shortly as well. Fortunately, these predictions proved erroneous as Margaret went on to live another 41 years. So far as I can tell, she never remarried, and lived those 41 years a widow.

Once Bertha had had a few months to recover from her injuries, she was arrested and put on trial for her mother's murder. I can't imagine what the family was thinking and feeling at that point - having lost Fred in 1897, then Mary, David, Reich, and Edward in 1898, I cannot imagine how the surviving children and grandchildren must have felt to see Bertha arrested and taken away in a police carriage. The trial started in early May 1899 and lasted six days. While the papers don't go into great detail about much of the proceedings, they do state that Bertha was the first witness called in her own defense, and that she gave her testimony in a cool, clear voice the entire time she spoke. The defense's case rested on the proposition that Bertha was insane, at least at the time of the murder; that Bertha and her parents believed in "spiritualism", that it was possible for the living to make contact with the spirits of the dead; and that Bertha had been told by her deceased father that he desired Bertha and Mary to join him in death. Part of the prosecution's strategy was based on reports that Bertha had had "improper relations" with F. William Beilstein, a Chicago cousin of Bertha's, and that her mother had tried to arrange a marriage between Bertha and the cousin. Bertha reportedly rejected the arrangement, and supposedly killed her mother as part of a strategy to get out of it. The cousin apparently sent letters to Bertha written in milk, which she then read by applying soot to the pages to make the words visible. The cousin stated that his only purpose in writing the letters was advising her on ways to end her own life, and that the subject of killing her mother had never come up. The defense evidently made a more convincing case, as Bertha was found not guilty. She was briefly taken back to jail after the trial, and soon committed indefinitely to the Western Pennsylvania Asylum for the Insane at Dixmont (often referred to as simply Dixmont).

As I began learning about these events, at first I was focused on the immediate players in the family drama - Mary, Bertha, David Reich, and Edward. But as I began preparing to write this post, it occurred to me that Fred and Mary's children all lived in Allegheny county, Pennsylvania at the time of the murder and suicides. Between their six older children, Mary was grandmother to twelve children at the time she was shot (one more, a girl named Marie, would be born just a month later). That makes two dozen people - Mary's children, their spouses, and their children - that were directly affected. Then given the family's wealth and social standing (the articles repeatedly reference how prominent these Beilsteins were in their area) there were many others who shared in the shock and grief of these tragic events. It makes me wonder, given how many family members and friends the Beilsteins had, if there isn't a journal somewhere that records these events and their impact? But I digress. On with the story.

The articles that discuss her life at Dixmont are, like those that covered other parts of this story, somewhat contradictory. Several state that she was a model inmate, quiet if sometimes morose, not prone to causing trouble. Some articles say that she was still very much suicidal, though apparently she did not act on those tendencies even though she had time and means to do so. One article goes into great detail about how she would go out to a bridge, sit down, and stare at the water and sigh, just sitting there sadly for hours until it was time to go back inside. One thing that didn't make much sense was the statement in one article that because Bertha was apparently still so troubled, they gave her more freedom than other patients to cheer her up. If a patient had committed murder, attempted a very violent suicide, and was still apparently bent on their own destruction, how did they come to the conclusion that allowing that person more opportunity to roam freely about the asylum's grounds would be beneficial to her and the other inmates? It seems to me that such a person should be more restricted, in an effort to protect that individual and others. But then, I'm no psychologist.

In any event, Bertha stayed at Dixmont for the next seven years, when the unexpected happened. Accounts differ as to exactly what happened and how, but a few details are clear: Bertha seems to have had a sympathizer (or sympathizers) among the staff at Dixmont. She wrote and received letters (reportedly written in invisible ink) from relatives outside, and that through the help of those inside and outside the asylum, she escaped. Several articles state that she escaped down the fire escape the night of Sunday, September 23, 1906 to an automobile that was ready and waiting for her, which then sped her to freedom.

Dr. Henry A. Hutchinson, superintendent of Dixmont asylum, soon came under fire for allowing the girl's escape. He seems to have changed his story several times, stating at one point that she was abetted by two nurses, Zula Moore and Pearl Boston, who were briefly suspended from the institution. Dr. Hutchinson was investigated by the state board of public charities about the escape. He told the board he "always considered her a degenerate and lacking moral resolution but does not now think her dangerous or likely to do harm to anyone." Another article, one highly critical of Dr. Hutchinson, said that the doctor had kept Bertha's escape covered up for several days and did not intend to release the information, but that some hospital staff had accidentally let it slip that Bertha had escaped. Whatever the case, the board reportedly found no fault in Dr. Hutchinson and cleared him of blame.

One article stated Bertha was next spotted in Cleveland and had there given birth to a son, but the article also stated that the information could not be verified. Bertha seems to have made her way to Chicago, where her brother Frederick Beilstein was living. He and a former schoolmate named Edmund Wander (or Wanders) hid Bertha in Edmund's home, gave her some money, and suggested that she start going by the name Olga Miller. She made her way west to Los Angeles and found employment as a waitress in various hotels in the area.

While working in Los Angeles, Bertha (now going by Olga Miller) made a friend named Richard Hardin/Hardy. There is some suggestion that they were romantically involved, but Richard later stated that he and Olga were only friends who happened to live near each other. Olga became ill while Richard was away on a trip, and when calling on her after his return, found that she had been bedridden for several days. He helped her get to a hospital, and visited her there, but it was apparently too late. Just before Olga died on May 22, 1907, Richard was seen to have given her a glass of milk, which led to Richard's arrest on suspicion of murder. An autopsy showed no trace of poison, Richard was released. The autopsy further discovered a large brain tumor, and this was assumed to be the cause for her decision to murder her mother and suicidal tendencies.

It's not exactly clear how, but someone made the connection between Olga Miller of Los Angeles and the missing Bertha Beilstein of Pennsylvania. It may have had something to do with Richard Hardin's interview with a reporter from the Los Angeles Herald on June 7, 1907. Word appeared in newspapers beginning that same day, and soon the Beilstein family agreed to send Bertha's brother Frederick out west to confirm her identity. Bertha's body was put under armed guard until Fred's arrival, due to apparent threats or rumors that members of the family (none are mentioned by name) had threatened to steal Bertha's body, perhaps in connection with how Fred and Mary's estate had been divided as one newspaper suggested.

Fred made it to Los Angeles in early July (he had attempted the trip in June and made it as far as Albuquerque before turning back for unknown reasons) and confirmed that Olga and Bertha were the same person. Bertha's body, which was still under armed guard, was shipped to the Equitable Trust Company of Pennsylvania, who also confirmed Bertha's identity and then released the body to the family. Bertha was then cremated and buried near her mother.

The last event I found in connection with all these horrid events, though not directly related to them, was the death of Bertha and Fred's oldest brother, Charles Beilstein. It happened on December 3, 1907, only 7 months after Bertha's death, and completely by accident. His death certificate gives his cause of death as "accidental falling of step Lader and falling wth his head on meat counter crushing his head Killing him instantly". It almost makes you say enough with the tragedies already, give the family a break!

The more I read about the Beilstein family tragedies, the more disbelief and shock I felt. To quote one of the early articles, "the misfortunes which have overtaken the Beilstein family of Allegheny, Pa...reads more like fiction than an actuality." It seemed impossible to believe that so much tragedy and so many unusual events could happen one after another after another. I still have a lot of questions about the whole ordeal, some thing may never be answered. I've learned a lot about this family, and found more of my cousins and their descendants. It makes me wonder too what other stories are still out there, waiting to be discovered by a random Google search or hint. I hope there are no more murders and murderers, but whatever there is, good or bad, it's my family and family history and I'm eager to learn it all.


Sunday, September 6, 2015

An unexpected treasure trove - Probate Case Files

Earlier this week, announced the release of a huge group of digitized, indexed records - U.S. Wills and Probate Records for all 50 states. I've only dealt with wills a little in my genealogy research, so this was an exciting prospect for me, and I hoped to find records of my ancestors in these files. I went through and quickly searched for the more unusual names in my tree - Bergstad, Craddock, Vadnais, Waechter, Beilstein, Groff, and a couple others. I found one hit in Groff, with the probate case file for Cynthia P. (McMullins) Groff, wife of my 3rd-great-granduncle, George Groff. I still need to look through that one (it's 38 pages!) but what I did see in my cursory scan through it has me very excited - married names for all her children (both those with George and those from her first marriage to Milton Smith)! But I wanted to find something for a direct ancestor if possible, maybe even something to break through a brick wall. So I kept searching, and soon found something - a probate case file for J.E. Craddock of Montana!

I scanned through it and found that J.E. Craddock's probate case was being handled by four of his children - G. A. Craddock, J. B. Craddock, W. L. Craddock, and E. L. Craddock. That fit nicely with what I knew of my James E. Craddock's children - George, Jessie, William, and Ernest. I knew that in addition to those four, he had three additional children - Moses, Otis, and Edna. I kept looking and found mention of them as well. This was my guy! And the file was 64 pages!!

I downloaded all 64 pages of the file, and began going through them. After the initial mention of the four sons requesting letters of administration, the bulk of the file was taken up with paperwork that didn't tell me much (letters to and from court the trying to name the administrator mostly). Then came some more interesting details. E. C. Kurtz was eventually named administrator of the estate, and there were notices posted in the paper for several weeks inviting creditors to come forward and claim any money owed them by James. The funeral home that took care of the funeral was paid $15 for furnishing the hearse (this was in 1917; I wonder what that would cost today). James' daughter Edna Morton was paid $101.70 for funeral expenses and for caring for James through his final illness. Mr. Kurtz was paid $75 for his role as administrator.

I also learned that James had two lots in Victor, Ravalli county, Montana that were, according to the case file, split so each child received an "undivided one seventh of all the real property." It doesn't go into any more detail than that. I'd have to look up the original plat of the survey to see where exactly the property was, since there is no map attached. The remaining cash in James' account was also split evenly, so each child received $69.87 as their part of the inheritance.

Reverse side of Ernest Craddock's voucher

But the most interesting part of the whole file wasn't any of the forms or receipts. It was a note written (presumably) by my 2nd-great-grandfather, Ernest Craddock, on the back of the voucher he received for his $69.87. His was the only one with this information, and since he was the 3rd youngest of the children, it's interesting that the information came from him. On his voucher, Ernest wrote the following (spelling and grammar are original): "We don't know where Otis, is he is in the Army somewhere that all we know about him he never writes. Yours truly E L Craddock". That short little note brought a whole different aspect to this file. At first I'd imagined all the kids coming together to deal with the loss of their father, and to divvy up his property evenly. But now, according to that note, there had been some estrangement between Otis (the youngest of James' children) and his older siblings, to the point where there was no written communication and no one knew where he was, at least for a time. I know they eventually found him, as his voucher is in the file and signed by him. But it made me sad to think that the family went through a loss like this without one of their own to help deal with the situation, to talk to, and comfort and be comforted by. I hope they overcame the estrangement and stayed in communication as time went on. But it just goes to show that you really never know what you'll find when you research your family history, or where you'll find it. Sometimes the most powerful little nuggets are tucked away in the margin or on the back of what looks to be something boring and inconsequential.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tombstone Tuesday - Another Brennan family tragedy

As I was wrapping up my post about Frances Alvira Brennan yesterday, I went looking for a little more information on Frances' parents and siblings. I found that her father, David D. Brennan, was a World War I veteran, having served as a medical officer in France from 1918-1919. I also found that he and his wife Clara Bergstad had several more children besides Ellen, Betty, and Frances. There were also Thelma, Violet Mae, Daniel, and Ida. Crazy that out of seven total children, only one was a boy.

Violet Mae Brennan memorial,

David died in 1968, and was buried in Belfield Lutheran Cemetery in Belfield, North Dakota. I searched to see if any other Brennans were buried there, and found David's wife Clara and daughter Violet. Violet's record stuck out because she was only 20 at the time of her death in 1954. I thought there had to be a story there, so I went looking. I soon found her death record, but from an unusual place - Washington state. How did she die in Washington when the rest of her family was in North Dakota?

I figured the best way to find out the rest of the story (if it could be found) would be in digitized newspapers, so I hit up Newspaper Archive (which I have a free subscription to thanks to my local library). I soon found what I was looking for: a death announcement from November 9, 1954.

The article said Violet (who was apparently living in Washington state at the time) fell out of a vehicle being driven by a Glenn Lamb, and that Lamb was subsequently charged with negligent homicide. That phrase really jumped out - negligent homicide. Glenn wasn't charged with outright murder, but it wasn't manslaughter either. The car was moving at 30-40 miles an hour when she "fell out". I thought there had to have been more going on, so I kept searching. Soon I found another article from a Spokane newspaper dated November 8, the day Violet died. It gave a little more information.
Spokane Daily Chronicle article about Violet's death
The additional information in this article was this - that Glenn Lamb and Violet Brennan had (according to an eyewitness) been having an argument and Violet had fallen out of the car during the argument. I don't know anyone who was sitting on the front porch of a cafĂ© (like the eyewitness was) and watching cars go by (which he must have been) could have known there was an argument between two people in a car going 30-40 miles an hour, unless there was something very obvious about that argument. And for Violet to "fall out" of the car during an argument suggests that, unless something really unusual was going on, she fell out because of something the driver did - maybe a punch, slap, push, or wild swerve? At any rate, it seems that things got out of control, and as a result, Violet lost her life. 
It was really heartbreaking to discover a second tragedy to hit David and Clara's family (third if you count the house fire and Frances' death as separate). I wonder how they coped with the losses. I'm also curious to find out what happened to Glenn Lamb, and see whether he was convicted on the charges of negligent homicide. Maybe on my next trip out to Spokane I'll head up to the Pend Oreille county courthouse and see if I can find out. I'd kind of like to know what happened to the rest of the Brennan kids, just to see if any of them had a happy ending. I sure hope they did.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Church record bonanza - Lutheran church records in US Midwest

Earlier this month I received a text message alert from Twitter, notifying me of a new tweet from FamilySearch. The tweet mentioned several record sets that had been posted or updated by, one of which was the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Records, 1875-1940. I was really intrigued by this, because my Norwegian ancestors were staunchly Lutheran, and lived in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota after immigrating to the US. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to find more information about them, and maybe even fill in a few gaps.

Little did I know how right I was. Just searching for the surname Bergstad generated 219 hits! Many of these turned out to be for people not connected to me (not that I know of, at least). But I did find 70 records of my family - baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and a few burials. Most of the records were in Norwegian, right up until around the early 1900s-1910s, though the books used Norwegian titles and column headings up into the 1920s and beyond. I knew there were areas in the US where German immigrants clung onto their identity and language for many years after coming to the US (my Waechter and Beilstein ancestors were prime examples of this), but I had no idea that Norwegians had clung just as tenaciously to theirs. It was fascinating to see generation after generation of my family documented in these books, with the entries continuing in Norwegian decades after they came to this country.

Of all the records I found, three records really stood out:

Baptism records of the four oldest Bergstad children

First is the baptism record of four of my grandfather Tom Bergstad's siblings. Virgil and Clayton were children of John Knute Bergstad and his first wife, Mamie Wells, while Katherine and Lorraine were children of his second wife, Katherine Hammer. These were all of the children living at the time, and they were all baptized on the same day in 1928. Maybe they had lapsed in church attendance, or maybe something about Lorraine's birth (sixth months before the baptisms) spurred them to get everyone baptized. Whatever the case, I was really interested to see that they had all four of their children baptized on the same day.

Baptism record of Roland John Thomas Bergstad

Next up is the baptism record of my grandfather, Tom Bergstad. I wasn't expecting to find a record for someone so closely related to me, so this was a pleasant surprise. For some reason I'd always thought that he was named Roland John Bergstad, and that Thomas was a nickname or added into his name later. This pretty well proves that Thomas was part of his name from the beginning. It's interesting that, after four older siblings were all baptized together, that Tom's baptism didn't happen until he was over a year old. His older sister Helen, born in 1929, was baptized at seven months, so it just seems odd that they'd wait until Tom was twice that age almost. But then, I'm not Lutheran and I don't know their customs that well, so maybe this wasn't unusual.

The record that impacted me the most, though, was this one. This is the baptism record of Frances Alvira Brennan, a first cousin twice removed (our common ancestors were Knute Bergstad and Betsy Olson, my second-great-grandparents). Before finding her baptism record, I had no previous records of her existence. I tried searching Google, Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, Newspaper Archive, and, and can find no other records of her anywhere. So far as I can find online, this is the only record of her out there, which makes it all the more important. What gets me about this record isn't that it's a baptism; it's the little note at the far right. Next to the names of the witnesses (Mr. and Mrs. Knute Bergstad, Frances' maternal grandparents) is a note that says "Burned in fire that destroyed home in Bad Lands, died next day." It doesn't give a death date, and I don't know where the home in "Bad Lands" was. But that's a horrible way to die at any age. Her baptism occurred a little after her 3rd birthday, so I know she lived to be that old at least. I don't see her in the 1930 census, so I'm inclined to say her death occurred between Nov 1928 (the baptism) and April 1930 (the census). If that's true, she would have died at 4 1/2 at the oldest. What a tragedy for that family.

In short, I am once again blown away by the wealth of information contained in church records. I now have exact birth dates for several dozen more relatives, and a greater sense of the role religion played in the Bergstad side of my family. The records also led me to the short story of one little cousin, and even if I'd found nothing else, I'd be glad she can now be remembered.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tombstone Tuesday - Our Darling

Last week, I got another one of those record matches emails from MyHeritage. I am really impressed with the quality of the matches MyHeritage makes - out of several dozen matches they've emailed me so far, I've only had one record not be an actual match. As I was going down the list, I came upon a match for Marian Craddock, a daughter of Otis Craddock, my great-great-grandfather Ernest Craddock's youngest brother. I don't know where the entry in my family tree for Marian came from, as I didn't have any notes or sources on her, and no events outside of birth and death. She was literally a name with two dates, and that was it. Not really even paying attention to the dates in my file, I clicked through to see what record MyHeritage was recommending for Marian.

What I saw immediately caught my attention. It was a photograph of a tombstone on, with a stone lamb on the top, and the word BABY in capital letters underneath it. The name on the headstone was Marian Juan Craddock, with dates of June 6, 1930 to February 14, 1931. Underneath the dates were the words "Our Darling". Otis and his wife Alice (Colvin) Craddock had lost a baby girl at the age of 8 months. As my youngest child just turn a year old back in March, I couldn't help but imagine what it would have felt like to lose him at that age, and how hurtful and hard such an experience would have been. I suddenly wanted to know what had happened to Marian, what took her away from her parents at such a young age.

A quick search on MyHeritage gave me the answer.
Marian's death announcement, Billings Gazette, Feb 18,1931
Marian came down with pneumonia on February 12, 1931. Two days later, the illness claimed her life. Two days. That's all it took. A surely awful two days, filled with many more awful and sad days afterwards.

The headstone itself has some appropriate symbols on it. According to the United States Genealogy and History Network website, the lamb means innocence, and usually marks the graves of children, as it does here. The stars symbolize the light of the Spirit overcoming death. I'm not sure what the branches are, but if they are palm branches, they symbolize victory. All giving evidence to the fact that this little girl would be sorely missed by her parents and family.

The newspaper article says two songs were song at her funeral, "When I Shall Fall Asleep", and "Some Sweet Day". I'm not sure if I've found the right songs as I'm not familiar with either of them, but the lyrics I found in a google search seem fitting:

When I Shall Fall Asleep
Words: Moses Shirley, 1904
Music: Charles Gabriel.
Some day the sun of life will set, and I shall fall asleep,
And, leaving all that I hold dear, will find the silence deep:
That mystery which, still unsolved, God and His angels know,
And those who walk the crystal streams where heav'nly breezes blow,
Where grief nor sorrow ever come, nor trouble's billows sweep;
Some day the Reaper will appear, and I shall fall asleep.
Some day the cares of life will cease, and I shall fall asleep,
And, passing from you, I shall see afar the golden street,
And sainted forms of those who dwell upon the other shore,
Behold the loves ones who from us awhile have gone before;
Where soft and cooling pathways lie, where none shall ever weep
Some day the hour for me will come, and I shall fall asleep.
Some day my work will all be done, and I shall fall asleep,
But O what joy to know that I shall wake to never weep!
For where I go we know that God has promised perfect rest
And peace for every aching heart, and every troubled breast;
And love more lasting than our own He'll give to me to keep,
When all my burdens are laid down, and I have gone to sleep.

Some Sweet Day, By and By
Fanny Crosby, 1885.
Howard Doane.
We shall reach the summer land, Some sweet day, by and by;
We shall press the golden strand, Some sweet day, by and by;
Oh, the loved ones watching there, By the tree of life so fair,
Till we come their joy to share, Some sweet day, by and by.
By and by, some sweet day,
We shall meet our loved ones gone,
Some sweet day, by and by.

At the crystal river's brink, Some sweet day, by and by;
We shall find each broken link, Some sweet day, by and by;
Then the star that, fading here, Left our hearts and homes so drear,
We shall see more bright and clear, Some sweet day, by and by.
Oh, these parting scenes will end, Some sweet day, by and by;
We shall gather friend with friend, Some sweet day, by and by;
There before our Father's throne, When the mists and clouds have flown,
We shall know as we are known, Some sweet day, by and by.

I'm sad to know that Otis and Alice had to endure the loss of their little girl, that they never got to see her grow up. But I'm glad to know that I now know a little about her, and that she can be remembered by her family long after her brief time on her earth ended.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Railroad records finally located

Me and my sister on a train 30 years ago
Trains have a unique place in my family history. My older two kids were obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine for years when they were little, and spent a lot of time building tracks and running the trains on them. I remember taking train rides as a kid, and while I can't remember where we were going or why, I do remember how fun they were. While living in Montana, my folks would take train rides out to Washington to visit my uncle Randy, and to go to Seahawks games. Going a bit further back, one of my 3rd-great-grandfathers, Philip Hammer, died after being struck by a train in California in 1899. Another 3rd-great-grandfather, Adoniram Shute, reportedly died of a heart attack while on a train in Montana in 1909. But on a happier note, several generations of my paternal ancestry worked on trains, or in jobs relating to trains. My grandpa, Fred Gibson, worked for years in the railroad industry. His father and uncles both worked for the railroad, and his maternal grandfather Samuel Joseph did as well.

Fred Gibson in a train, 1970s
Knowing that several relatives of mine worked for the railroad, when I got started in genealogy I became interested in knowing more about their time with the railroad, and what the railroad records could tell me about them. Before too long, I found an index to Northern Pacific Railway personnel records. I saw that there were indeed personnel files for my grandpa, his dad, uncles David and Thomas, and what looks like his maternal grandfather, Samuel Joseph. 
Index record for Fred J. Gibson, my great-grandfather

Index record for Thomas Lewis Gibson, my grandfather's uncle
Unfortunately, at the time I could not figure out how to find the records these indexes were pointing to. One thing led to another, and I never really got back to finding out how to find these records. I made token searches now and again, but never found them.
Until this week.
I got a text message saying Ancestry had released images and indexes for a record group called "U.S., Northern Pacific Railway Company Personnel Files, 1890-1963". My mind immediately went back to those railroad record indexes from so long ago, and I went to searching. Three minutes later, I hit the jackpot!

Well, part of the jackpot. It turns out they had records for two of the five people I had index numbers for, Frederick John Gibson (my great-grandfather) and Thomas Lewis Gibson (his brother). David H. Gibson, Frederick and Thomas' younger brother, somehow got skipped (they have the records before and after his number, but not his), and the collection on Ancestry stops before Sam Joseph and my grandpa's records. Hopefully future updates will add these records.
But I was so happy to finally know what these records look like. I do wish my great-grandfather's file was longer, as it's only eight pages, two of which are scans of the manila folder containing the actual records. But Thomas' file is 117 pages! I've only had time to go through a little of it so far, but what I have seen is fascinating. Over and over again, auditor reports of the various stations mentioned that Thomas was considered competent for a more responsible position. On the other hand, the file also contains a letter stating Thomas was suspended for five days due to leaving his telegraph station to get a drink of water - the last line of the letter states "Your excuse that there was no water in the house and you wanted a drink at that particular time is no excuse whatever."
I love living and researching in this digital age, when we have so much information available, and more coming online all the time. I can't wait to see what else I find in these files!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Lost (and Recovered) History of George W. Craddock

When I started doing genealogy 15 years ago (can't believe it's been that long!), one of the lines I had very little concrete information on was my Craddock line. My maternal great-grandmother, Edna (Craddock) (Harris) Moore was my living connection to the Craddocks. I don't remember hearing her talk about her family while she was alive (which is something I regret), but I have since learned a great deal about her, her siblings, and her parents. Beyond her father, though, I didn't really have a lot of info on the Craddock lineage. I had some census records for Edna's grandfather James Irvin Craddock, some family group sheets, a couple letters Edna's sister Elsie (who did try to research the Craddock family history) about some of her discoveries, and a family tree going back to the early 1700s but with very little documentation as to where these names and dates came from. All in all, I had a lot of work to do to flesh out this branch of my family tree.

One part of the tree that always bugged me was the link between my 3rd-great-grandfather James Irvin Craddock and his parents George W. Craddock and Rutha B. Fielder.

George Craddock family - 1860 census

Moses Hardison family - 1870 census

The only document I'd been able to find showing evidence of George being the father of James was the 1860 census, which doesn't list relationships like the 1880 and later censuses do. In the 1870 census, James and his sister Martha are listed with Moses C. Hardison and his wife Sara (who my great-aunt Elsie had said in her research was George's sister, Sara Craddock). I searched for years to find out what happened to George and Rutha, and why James and Martha were living with the Hardisons in 1870 with no trace of their parents, but never found anything. The lack of information almost led me to question whether George and Rutha were really their parents.

This week, MyHeritage sent me another email with Record Matches, this time for records matching my great-great-grandfather Ernest L. Craddock. There weren't too many, just some censuses for Ernest and marriage records for his children. I linked everyone to the records they matched, and then thought I'd do a little more digging to try and cement the links in my tree with some documentation. I went back over the other census records I had showing Ernest in James' family, and then saw the Civil War service records for a George W. Craddock I'd downloaded a long time ago from I hadn't seen anything in them that definitively pointed to him being the same as my George, so I'd tucked them in a folder as a possibility, and moved on. I thought I'd try finding more info on that George, and see if it really was my ancestor. I didn't know what I was looking for exactly, just that I wanted to find something to help tell me whether my ancestor served in the Civil War, and why he and Rutha disappeared after 1860.

I soon found a veteran's census form 1890, where a lady in Missouri named Nancy Stites said she was the former widow of George Craddock, a Civil War soldier, and gave his company information. The info matched the George Craddock in the Civil War documents I'd saved earlier, and I was almost tempted to dismiss him as obviously being a different George Craddock than my ancestor. But then I thought, if she's his widow, maybe she filed for a pension. Having previously had great success with Civil War pension files, I went and Google searched for George Craddock's pension. After a few minutes' searching I found something very interesting - a Civil War pension was filed for George Craddock, but not by a widow; it was filed by someone named James Craddock!

Now I was really excited. I went to Fold3 and pulled up the pension record as fast I could. After going through a few pages, I found that the pension was filed by Elijah T. Butler on behalf of the minor children of George W. Craddock - James I. Craddock and Martha Jane Craddock! The Civil War George had been MY George all along! The pension file turned out to be 34 pages long, with some pages being blank and others being multiple copies of the same record. But it gave me exactly what I'd been missing all these years - details on what happened to George and Rutha.

I knew George and Rutha were married in 1854 in Dent County, Missouri, and their two children were both born there. However, according to declarations in the pension file, shortly after the 1860 census was taken, Rutha (Fielder) Craddock died on 15 December 1860. That explained why I could never find anything on her after that census - it appears that 1860 census was the last record she appeared in during her lifetime. Further documents in the pension file revealed that 8 months after Rutha passed away, George married again - to Nancy Ann Peck. That explained the Nancy in the 1890 census - she must have remarried after George died (and thus was listed as the former widow of George Craddock). George and Nancy had one child together, which died at the age of 4 weeks. So now, just a few months after losing his first wife, George then lost one of his children. I can't imagine going through one of those, let alone both in quick succession.

The tragedy continued, unfortunately. George enlisted on 16 August 1862, and was mustered in on 18 October 1862. He was now a soldier in Company D, 32nd Regiment of the Missouri Volunteer Infantry. I have to wonder whether George had previous military experience, because he enlisted as a corporal, and was shortly thereafter appointed a 3rd sergeant. I have yet to pull up details on the regiment's history, so I don't know what action he may have seen, but I do know that he became ill in January 1863, and was transferred to a hospital boat. I hope it was nothing like the hospital boats they had during the Revolutionary War that I've read a little of. He wasn't on the boat long, as he was then transferred to the Saint Louis city general Hospital, where he died of typhoid fever on 15 February 1863. He'd been in the army for roughly five months, and now he was dead, not from bullets, but disease. I have to find the reference again, but I read somewhere that his unit only lost a dozen or so men in combat, but over 400 to disease. What an awful thing to have happen, and how frightening it must have been to any soldiers who got sick during the war.

The documents in the pension file don't say why, but Elijah T. Butler was made legal guardian for James and Martha after George died. I believe it was the same Elijah Butler that married Lucinda Craddock, George's younger sister. I have to wonder why Nancy didn't take the children, and left them to be raised by aunts and uncles instead. Maybe they reminded her of George, or maybe she wanted a fresh start after losing a baby and then a husband. Either way, Nancy married Miles Alexander Stites 10 August 1863, six months after George died. They seemed to have a good life, and had at least five kids together. It seems unlikely that she would have stayed in contact with the Craddocks, though she apparently never forgot George. Even 27 years after losing him, and only having been married less than two years, she gave accurate information on George's military service to the census taker.

James and Martha then grew up without their parents, losing their mom at ages 4 and 2, and then their father at 7 and 5. I don't know what happened to Martha after 1870, but James married Hazeltine Orlena Martin in 1875 and raised 7 children. His oldest son he named Moses, possibly after the uncle who raised him. His next son, though, he named George.

In closing, in addition to the apologies offered last time to those I missed in my Memorial Day tribute, I'd also like to apologize to George. He is my only known direct ancestor who gave his life in wartime while serving his country. His service record states that he was 5'6", red complexion, brown hair, hazel eyes, and was always loyal to his country. Thank you for your service George. Your sacrifice helped save this nation, and your service will from now on be honored on Memorial Day as it should be.