Wednesday, April 16, 2008

With Apologies to Uncle Sam

Sam was the brother of my grandmother, Myrtle Van Every Deutsch. We (me, my mother, and her sister) didn't know too much about him. Family notes passed down said he was an optometrist who married a woman named Esther Dahlin, had a son named Everett who drowned at age 17, and Sam died in Kansas City, MO from a flu epidemic.

That was the extent of knowledge with no documentation to back it up when I began my research a year ago.

I found him in the census records easily enough. In 1910, he was living in a lodging house, a streetcar conductor in San Francisco. No dependents. In 1920 he was a Route Agent for a newspaper, still a single lodger with no dependents, but now living in Oakland. No question it was him, as the middle initial matched, and the birth place for himself (Texas) and his parents (Texas and Michigan) were correct. In 1930 he was finally an optometrist in Kansas City with a wife named Myrtle. The census said she was his first wife, and they were married in 1927. With my grandmother's given name, I was suspicious, but the birthplaces of this Myrtle, and her parents, did not match my grandmother's data.

Samuel's 1933 death certificate, with my grandmother as the informant (certificate listed her St. Louis address), lists him as a widower. The cause of death: cirrhosis of the liver caused by alcoholism. I could find no record of death for Sam's mysterious wife named Myrtle, and all the Missouri death certificates up through 1957 are online. (Kansas City is on the border, and it is conceivable she could have died in Kansas.)

My suspicion then, and still is, that the Myrtle on the census was made up. The census taker asked Sam if he was married, and he decided to say Yes, and gave him the name of his sister, along with some random states for place of birth for her and her parents. Maybe he'd been drinking when he answered the door.

However, once I believed that he made up a story on the 1930 census, I began asking myself about the other censuses. He was supposed to have had a son who died at age 17. You can't get married, have a child, and have that child live 17 years, within the span of a decade. On the 1910 and 1920 censuses he was single, no dependents. (In the 1900 census he was still living with his parents in Texas.)

The rest of his family (except my grandmother) remained in Texas, and later, his father moved to New Mexico. His father states in a letter to my grandmother, that the letters from Samuel were few and far between. Did the rest of the family know about his wife Esther and son Everett through his letters? While the tragic loss of a son could understandably propel someone to alcohol problems, I began to question the existence of his wife and child.

Searches on the name Esther Dahlin brought up some possibilities, but no marriage records. Searches on Esther Van Every brought up nothing. There were two Everett Van Everys on Ancestry, but with different parents.

The absence of records isn't proof that the records don't exist, and I knew that my searches so far didn't meet the definition of reasonably exhaustive that professional genealogists use. GeneaBlogie mentioned today that there were some new Texas Death Records at FamilySearch Labs. With so many of my maternal grandmother's family spending the past 100 years in Texas, I had to see if they had anything I hadn't found yet elsewhere. (On my father's side there are also some distant Cruvant cousins who moved to Texas from St. Louis, but I wasn't thinking of them when I went to FamilySearch.) I found about a dozen Van Everys and Denyers, including:

Name : Everett Van Every
Death date : 01 Apr 1924
Death place : Austin, Travis, Texas
Birth date : 01 Aug 1908 1
Birth place : Texas
Age at death : 17 years
Gender : Male
Marital status : Single
Race or color : White
Spouse name :
Father name : S. Van Every
Mother name : Esther Daklin
Digital GS number : 4167165
Image number : 238
Collection : Texas Deaths, 1890-1976

Of course, this raised some more questions. What was Samuel doing in San Francisco and Oakland in 1910 and 1920? He also shows up for the first time in the St. Louis city directories in 1922, two years prior to Everett's death in Austin.

Some research turned up the Dahlin family living in Austin, Travis TX in 1910. Parents Andrew and Lonie,2 a daughter named Alma, another daughter named "Van Every" (no first name, but it's probably Esther). And young Everet Varleny. (Darn indexer.) I should have seen this record before, but there are enough Van Everys that I don't look at the record of each I find in a search. I'm usually looking for specific given names. I haven't found Esther and Everett in 1920 yet. But it appears shortly after Everett was born, something happened in the relationship between Esther and Samuel, and Esther kept the child. I'm going to try to find young Everett's obituary.

And I apologize to Uncle Sam for thinking his wife and child could be fictional.

Notes
1) I've written down that Everett was born in 1906. Sixes that look like eights aren't uncommon, and Aug 1908 - Apr 1924 is only 15 years.
2) The actual spelling of Esther's parents names seem to be Andrew and Lovisa. There's a very nice paragraph on Andrew and Lovisa from a 1918 book entitled "Swedes in Texas", along with a photograph.

1 comment:

Laura said...

I really enjoyed reading this genealogical mystery, and am looking forward to a part 2, someday, I hope. You have done some fantastic detective work!