Wednesday, January 15, 2020

You think you know someone, or Why one record isn't enough

I've focused a lot on some of my thornier lines the last few months, I wanted to try something a little different today, and look at some of my wife's relatives. My documentation on them is pretty sparse, mostly because I know her family is researching these lines. But that's no excuse to be lazy, so I set about getting some proof for these names, dates, and places in my files.

I started with her dad's maternal grandparents, Charles Dickson and Valda Mae Honold. I had a couple censuses with them, 1930 and 1940, showing the couple with their children, including two children of Valda's from a previous relationship. The 1940 census lists them both with the last name Dickson, while 1930 census lists them as Jacqueline and Ardelle Benford, leading to a normally reasonable conclusion that Valda's previous husband was a Mr. Benford. But I couldn't find any records for Valda marrying a Mr. Benford. So what was the deal?

I went after more records on Jacqueline and Ardelle, both of whom passed away years ago. Aside from that census record, the name Benford had no connection to Jacqueline that I could find. And for Ardelle, it showed up as his middle name, but never again as a last name. Instead, both of them showed in multiple records as Jacqueline and Ardelle Camper. Apparently their father was a man named Clarence Kyle Camper! For the 1930 census, my guess is when the household member gave the names of the children, the census taker heard Ardelle Benford, and assumed Benford was his surname, and hearing that Jacqueline was his full sister, gave her the same name, instead of their original surname Camper.

Once I had that bit of info, things fell into place. I found some newspaper articles about Valda requesting a divorce from Clarence Camper, on grounds of "extreme cruelty." I've often wondered what constituted cruelty in earlier times, and one article about Valda and Clarence's divorce provides interesting insight. The examples of cruelty Valda provided included refusing to pay household bills, contribute to the support of his wife and two children, but mostly it was his refusal to sleep or stay in the house with Valda. Instead, he slept in his car or on a chair in the kitchen. Valda filed for divorce in March 1927, and was granted the divorce on 24 October 1927. The timing of the divorce is very interesting, as both Charles and Valda's obituaries stated they were married on 29 October 1927, just five days after the divorce, and neither obituary mentions Clarence Camper or the Camper surname at all. This marriage must have been a better fit, because they remained married until Charles' death in 1985.

Clarence Camper went on to marry at least two more times, to Edna Montgomery in 1951, and Elma Montgomery in 1964. He gained a stepson named Burton Montgomery from one of those marriages, and apparently had another daughter named Hazel. Interestingly, his obituary also names Jacqueline and Ardelle as his children, but gives Ardelle the surname Camper (Jacqueline was listed as Jacqueline Easthan, and I still don't know where that surname is from, as the only spouses I've seen for her are Prosser, Metcalf, and Hedstrom).

It just goes to show the importance of collecting as many documents on our ancestors as we can. Getting one document is a good start, but there may be errors (like this Camper-Benford mixup), or it may tell only part of the story.

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