Sunday, November 25, 2018

Four daughters orphaned by living parents

I wrote last year about receiving a copy of Elsie Craddock's orphanage record, and the shocks and surprises I received from it. I planned to order copies of the records for the other three Craddock girls, and eventually, I did. I finally got them a couple months ago, and they were printed on large paper, about 3 times too big to fit in my scanner. Sadly, the copies are cut off on the right hand side, so I lost a few letters from the words on that edge of the paper, but fortunately I don't think there was a ton of data that far over. I'll start with my great-grandma's record.

I learned a few new things about Grandma Edna that I never knew, first that she had hazel eyes, like I do. It also says she had a fair complexion, stood 5'3", was of slim build, and is described as having poor posture. Also, that she was committed (the document's wording, not mine) to the orphanage on 26 January 1927, and was admitted there the next day. The saddest part (well, one of them - you'll see what I mean) was her physical condition upon entering the home - bad eyesight, something about measles, something about an operation (this is where it was cut off on the side), and poor something, possibly posture again. She was literally riddled with health challenges, her family was disintegrating, was sentenced to life in an orphanage, and she was only 15!

Another thing that stood out on this first page was the mention of letters to Edna from her mother, Lena. I wondered briefly if Lena wrote to all the girls, so I checked the other records. Turns out, Edna was the only one to get them. A later note in Edna's record says "Children received a letter from Mother," so I guess Lena included all her daughters in her letters to Edna. Oddly, there is no mention of letters from Ernie. Did he come visit? I hope he did.

The record says Edna had two sisters also in the home, and a brother with her mom. I'm pretty sure that's a clerical error, because there's no record anywhere of Lena having boys. The record asks for other relatives outside of the parents, and Edna's record lists her aunt Edna (Mrs. T. B. Morton) in Billings. Lena's mother Amelia Beilstein and sister Maggie were both alive then, and may have been living in Montana. I wonder why they weren't listed, and why the girls weren't sent to live with them.

I think the biggest shock of all these records was a brief note at the bottom of the first page of Edna's record. It simply says "7/18/27 Edna ran away from "Home" - Returned 7/21/27." It blew me away that Edna ran away from the orphanage. In all the stories I've heard of the hardships she endured, the difficulties and abuses she went through (and this record only added to that number), I never imagined her dealing with it that way. I can't imagine how hard it was for her to leave her sisters (by that time all four of them were in the "home") but it must have been bad for her to run away. Did she miss her dad that much? Was she mistreated by the orphanage staff or the other kids? As hard as leaving may have been, I'm sure returning there three days later must have been immeasurably worse. She'd already spent six months there, and now she was going back. She ended up staying for two more years, and was released on 14 August 1929, two days before her 18th birthday.

Edna's sister Grace Craddock was sent to the home in on 1 July 1927, almost two months before her 7th birthday. She was sent there by the same judge, Judge Winston, that sent all the girls there. I wonder why they weren't all sent at once. It must have killed Ernie to drop them off at separate times like that, first Elsie and Hazel, then Edna, and then Grace. Unlike Edna, Grace was in good physical health at the time, but she was also almost a decade younger. How do you explain to a six-year-old that they can't live with you, and you don't know when you'll be able to take them home again?

For relatives, her aunt Edna Morton was listed, the same as with Edna's record. For siblings, it says Edna, Elsie, and Hazel were already in the home, and that one brother was with their mother. The fact that two records, made six months apart mention a brother is mystifying to me, especially since Grace was the last daughter admitted to the home. Could there have been another child? Could they really have had a brother? I've always been confused by the fact that Lena only ever had children with Ernie, when she was married to many other men. If she did have a son, these records don't name him, and I've seen no record of him anywhere else. Based on Lena's known relationships, I can only think he might have been either Ernie's son, or perhaps the son of Russell Wright, who she went to Oregon with. Where might he have ended up? Maybe he was the son of one of the men she was married to, and not necessarily her own child? Elsie and Hazel's records, the ones created first, made no mention of them having a brother, so it's really confusing.

Grace's record had two more notes. First, that she had her tonsils and adenoids removed on 23 August 1929, a week and a half after Edna left. That must have been a double whammy for her, to go through surgery like that without her oldest sister there. The other note is the date of her release - 15 June 1936, the same day Elsie was released, and almost exactly nine years since Grace went in. She entered the "Home" as a 6-year-old child, and left as a 15-year-old. She married Lee Leischner on 9 March 1938, less than two years later. Of the 17 years between her birth and marriage, Ernie got to spend less than half of them with her.

Hazel's record shows she was 11 when she entered the "Home" on 24 January 1927, the same day Elsie went in. Health-wise, she had not been vaccinated and had bad eyesight, but was otherwise apparently in good health. Hazel's record had the same notes about Lena's trip with Russell Wright in the stolen car, and her name changes to Beilstein and then White, with the same request to not tell Ernie she had remarried. There were two original notes - first was her release date, 16 June 1930, almost a year after Edna was released and a little over three years since she entered the home. The second was a name and address - Mabel Crotty, 317 10th St. S., Great Falls, written on 13 September 1929, with no other details or explanation. I found Mabel in the Great Falls city directory for that year, and found she ran a hair salon in Great Falls, and lived in the home of Ernest and Maud Sutherland. I couldn't find any connection between Mabel or the Sutherlands to my Craddocks, so I'm completely baffled by this entry. Mabel married the next year to a man named Kenneth Routzhan, another person has no known connection to my family. Who was she? Why is her name written there? And why only on Hazel's record? Elsie and Grace were still there. Very peculiar.

All in all, these records help put a lot of detail to what has hitherto been a shady and murky chapter in the lives of my great-grandma and her sisters. They have also raised some unsettling questions - did they have a brother? If so, whose child was he and what happened to him? Who was Mabel Crotty, and what was her connection to Hazel? One thing I know for sure, these sisters were inseparable throughout their lives. I have numerous pictures of all of them together, or of two or three of them at various places and events. With all the health challenges and difficulties they went through with their parents, all the struggles and divorces and losses they endured over the years to come, they stuck by each other through them all. They really are an amazing example of sisterly love and care, and I hope my siblings and I, and my own kids with each other, can have that kind of bond.

Hazel, Lena, Elsie, Ernest, and Grace Craddock

Edna, Elsie, Grace, and Hazel at Big Hole River 16 Oct 1927.

Edna, Grace, and Elsie, 19 July 1983

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