Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Divorce in the Joseph family

I've got two interesting tales of divorce to chronicle today - one involving stolen fruit, and one that was part of an epidemic. First up, the fruit. My first cousin three times removed, Louise Leistiko, was born in Montana around 1912. I recently found a marriage license for her at FamilySearch, stating that she married a man named Arthur Popham, another native Montanan a few years older than she was, on 16 Feb 1929 . I also found another marriage license, linking her to Harold Dunville, dated just nine months after her marriage to Arthur, while also stating that she had not been previously married. This caught my attention - either there was a case of mistaken identity on my part, or there was a story here that would explain this situation. I figured newspapers would be my best source for quickly answering the question, so I went looking for more information on NewspaperArchive.com. A few clicks later and they had answered my questions - there was indeed a story!

The first article I found showed me what probably led to the breakup of Louise and Arthur. In May 1929, while the two were on a trip to Saint Maries, Idaho with a friend named Louis Helm, something happened, I'm not sure exactly what, that caused the three of them to be arrested for stealing 50 bushels of fruit. My city-based upbringing leaves me completely ignorant of what exactly a bushel is in terms of size or weight. Wikipedia helped out greatly the last time I had a question like this, so I went back to them. Wikipedia's definition was one bushel equals four pecks. Ok, what's a peck? 8.81 litres or 297 fl. oz, or apparently two of those white paper bags of apples with the handles on them. All right, so eight of those white bags is one bushel, and Arthur and company were arrested for stealing 50 bushels? That's a LOT of fruit, so there's no way this was a case of walking away from a farm with an extra apple in his pocket. Again, I don't have all the details of who did what, but obviously something happened. The article covering the incident also mentioned that Arthur was an "old offender." He'd apparently already done time for grand larceny and forgery, and just finished a parole term when the fruit incident happened.
The next article I found seemed to indicate Louise and Louis (the friend) were not found guilty. It was from July 1929, so it was two months after the fruit incident and five months after the wedding. It stated Louise was then filing for divorce "on the grounds that her husband was convicted of a felony on charges of grand larceny in May and that he was given a five-year term in the state penitentiary." Shortly afterward, the divorce was granted, and Louise was ok to resume using her maiden name of Leistiko. Within a couple months of the divorce, she married Harold Dunville and (to my knowledge) lived happily ever after. That's a lot to have gone through in just one year's time!
The second tale of divorce comes from the life of John Levick, the second husband of my second-great-grandaunt (and Louise's mother), Justine "Tina" (Joseph) Leistiko. Years before he married Tina, John married his first wife, Natly "Nettie" Moliniak (no relation to Megan Smolenyak, I already checked). I had been told previously that Nettie had died about a year after marrying John (sometime around 1903), but hadn't found any corresponding records confirming the story. I went on FamilySearch and found Nettie and John's marriage record, confirming they were married on 11 Aug 1902. However, I found another marriage for John dated 26 Apr 1904, less than two years later. This marriage was to Mary Zylick, a name I'd not heard before, and someone had written on the license that John Levick had been married before but had been divorced. Obviously both stories - the death and the divorce - couldn't be true, so I went back to NewspaperArchive.com and did some more digging. A few minutes later, I'd found several articles about John and Nettie's divorce proceedings. The divorce was filed sometime around Oct-Nov 1903 (after the death date I'd been given for Nettie, so that showed me the death info was incorrect), and was being heard by Judge Napton of the local court. One article even stated that John was not considered likely to attend the hearing, meaning Nettie would just need to bring her proofs and she'd be free and clear. John must have changed his mind, or the reporter was just misinformed, as the case did continue through December, when Judge Napton postponed judgment on it indefinitely.
You're probably wondering by now how this divorce was part of an epidemic. John and Nettie's divorce was apparently one of many lawsuits then going on in the area. The article that announced the finalization of the divorce listed many other rulings and status updates of other cases, and the article was titled "LEGAL EPIDEMIC HERE." Many other people were suing for various things (there was even another lawsuit of John Levick against Nettie and a guy named George B. Winston, though I don't know anything about that case yet). But eventually, in January 1904, the judge ruled them divorced and told them "to go on their way rejoicing. I'm not sure that's what I'd tell a divorcing couple, but maybe they were happy to have their marriage ended by that point. At any rate, it freed John up to marry Mary Zylick in April, three months after his divorce from Nettie was finalized.
The two cases are interesting to me not because they involve divorce, which seems to have been a fairly common occurrence in Montana even then. It's interesting because of the shortness of the two marriages - one lasted a few months, the other a year and a half; also because of the unusual circumstances Arthur and Louise's divorce - theirs is the only marriage I know of that ended because of fruit theft. As for John and Nettie, I wonder if they got caught up in the "legal epidemic" or just happened to drift apart at the same time all those other lawsuits were going on. I don't know that there's any way to ever know, but it's intriguing to think about.

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