Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Forcible Act of Possession

I found a delightful document in the digital holdings of the Library of Congress about the "Great Jennens Case." I first posted about the Jennings inheritance hoax here.

The report was prepared by in 1863 by Columbus
Smith and C M Fisher, agents for the Jennings
Association, USA.
On pages 11-12 an attempt by one supposed Jennings claimant to recover the real estate already given by the courts to Earl Howe is described:
"We are credibly informed that as recent as 1847 or 1848, while Lord Howe was traveling on the continent, an individual in England, claiming to be descended from Humphrey Jennings, the grandfather of William, took out administration on an old Jennings estate, and armed with this administration went to Acton Hall and demanded Lord Howe's steward possession. He was allowed to come in, and in fact took quiet possession. 

1st Earl Howe, Richard William Penn Curzon, engraving by Richard Austin Arlett 
He seems to have made himself too much at home for his own interest; for he is said to have ordered on Lord Howe's wine beautifully and by too free an indulgence in the sparkling beverage soon became intoxicated. The steward wrote Lord Howe how matters stood at home. This news brought his lordship soon back to Acton Hall, where he found the new owner of the estate making merry over his wine. Lord Howe ordered him to leave immediately which he refused to do. Lord Howe then ordered his servants to forcibly eject him from the house.

Acton Hall, Wrexsam, England

They attempted to put him out the door, but as he was a strong man, they were not able to do it. His lordship then quietly raised a window at his back, and with his lordship's assistance, they succeeded in forcibly ejecting the new claimant from the hall through an open window. This matter might have terminated very differently had this new claimant kept sober and had a sufficient force with him to have kept Lord Howe from entering the hall; for then Lord Howe would have been compelled to have sued for possession, and to have proved his title, which he might not have been able to have done. This would have left the claimant in possession with perhaps no better title than the one under which his lordship holds."

Don't you just love it when lawyers and their agents gossip?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Dicken's Bleak House Is About My Family

William Jennings (or Jennens) died at the ripe old age of 97 on 19 Jun 1798. He was the grandson of Humphrey Jennings, who owned Erdington Hall in Birmingham, England in the late 1600s.

Rear view of Erdington Hall; Image from Harrison & Willis 1879 The Great 
Jennens Case from Google Books, a work now in the public domain
Side view of Erdington Hall; image courtesy of the Birmingham History Forum
William was described as a “crusty old bachelor” and a miser, but he had amassed a fortune that some called the largest of any commoner in Britain. And he left no heirs, and no will.  His death touched off a feeding frenzy among lawyers on two continents that lasted 135 years.  The “Great Jennens Case” became such a symbol of legal dissipation and frivolity that Charles Dickens used it as the basis for the “Jarndyce and Jarndyce” case in his 1852 novel Bleak House.

In 1882 The New York Times published an article entitled "A Miserly Monte Cristo. The Enormous Wealth of William Jennings and the Great Interest Many Have Therein" (subscription required). The article describes William Jennings' character:
Hospitality and generous, open-handedness are reported as having been characteristics of the Birmingham branch of his family, but William had no such unthrifty vices. He seemed to live mainly for the purpose of accumulating wealth, remained a bachelor all his life that he might better devote his whole attention to money getting, and died at last without making a will.
The article went on to moralize about his behavior:
Of course if he had ever stopped to reflect about it he probably would have seen that a little carelessness or even mild prodigality would hardly have been likely to bring him to the poor house ... himself taking all the trouble of going over all his household bills rather than going to the expense of hiring a steward, making a row if he discovered a few shillings of extra expenditure.
 According to T. Mark James's research, entitled The Humphrey Jennings Estate Fraud, the estate had essentially been settled by 1821 with the family of Lord Curzon (later made Earl Howe) getting the bulk of the real estate. But that didn't stop several rival groups of Jennings descendants in America from trying to get their hands on the fortune.  My branch of the Jennings clan, from Amelia County, Virginia, started agitating for their portion in 1849.  How these groups of Jennings got swindled by scam-artists and lawyers is a story for another day.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Genealogy How To -- Census Data

I thought perhaps, based on conversations I've had recently with friends and family, that some of you may be getting interested in tracing your families' roots.  So I'll share some of the tips and techniques I've learned along the way regarding the United States decennial census of population and households.

The first thing to know is that in order to protect the privacy of respondents the Census Bureau does not release a decennial census until 72 years after it takes place. The 1940 census was just released in 2012.

The second thing is each census a bit different and asks unique questions, depending on the interest of Congress at the time the census was approved. For example the 1930 census was approved by Congress in 1929. In the time between the passage of the act and census day, the stock market crashed and the nation plunged into the Great Depression. The public and academics wanted quick access to the unemployment information collected in the 1930 census. The Census Bureau had not planned to process the unemployment information it had collected, which some statisticians considered unreliable, until quite a bit later and was unequipped to meet these demands. When it did rush its data on unemployment out, the numbers it reported were attacked as being too low. Congress required a special unemployment census for January 1931; the data it produced confirmed the severity of the situation.

A sample of the 1930 census form

It's little historical nuggets such as those that make the census so interesting.

Websites like make searching census documents easy and frustrating at the same time. The easy part -- if you find your relatives, then in just a few clicks, everyone in the family is connected to your tree.  The frustrating part -- if you don't take the time to open the scanned image, mistakes can occur and you will miss out on some wonderful details.

How I process census documents and transcribe the information to my tree:
  • I go to the top of the sheet and record the enumeration number. Many times I want to come back to a certain sheet but cannot remember to which family I associated it. By knowing the number of the sheet, I can easily pull it up on or any other census website.
  • I record the address of the family I am researching.  When entering the address in my family tree, I include the county.  This is important because many vital records are still stored at the county level of government. This is very helpful when you are tracking down records that are not online.
  • I look at the ages and relationships of the various family members to the head of the house.  Many times the children may be step-children and apps like don't handle those well.
  • If an older relative is living with the family, this can be a useful way of discovering the maiden name of the wife. But it's not a fail safe method.  Mom could have remarried after divorcing or being widowed.  I usually assume Mom's last name is the wife's maiden name, but I make a note of it so I'm not confused later if I find conflicting information.
  • Look at the occupations listed by each relative. I think you may be bored at first as so many men were farmers. But eventually families moved to town and got jobs; those jobs are fascinating and can send you off on fun research sidetracks. If they list the name of the company for which they work, Google it. The results can be fascinating . It's how I found out so many interesting things about Ternes Coal & Lumber Co.
  • Occupation data is also interesting because many women went from "keeping house" to jobs outside the home. Record those occupations in your relative's timeline.
  • Don't forget the education information. It's fascinating to learn when your relatives started going to college or even if they finished elementary school.
  • The census also asks where each person's parents were born. Record that information. It can help hone in on an exact city later and gives you a place to start researching the previous generation.
  • Remember ages are estimates and are not always correct on the census. Don't believe they are gospel.
  • There is invaluable information about unemployment, home ownership, and income.
This is a great instructional video from the National Archives and Record Administration:

If you have any other tips and tricks for researching census data, I'd love to hear about them.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Pension Saga...And a Mystery Wife

I've written about Joseph Jackson Moncrief and his brothers before. He is my sister-in-law's great great grandfather and served in and survived the Civil War.  On 21 Dec 1852 he married Elizabeth Renfroe in Crawford County, Georgia, and they had at least two children.  Elizabeth died on 03 Feb 1902 in Limestone County, Texas, apparently having moved to the state with her son, William Henry Moncrief.  She is buried in Kosse Cemetery and as you can see from her grave marker definitely thought she was Joseph's wife:

Elizabeth Renfroe's grave marker in Kosse Cemetery

However, in 1889 Joseph Moncrief was still in Georgia and apparently married (according to the 1900 census) to a woman named Sallie.  They had at least three sons. No public family tree includes Sallie's maiden name and no official documentation of the marriage has been located.

Joseph submitted his initial application for an indigent soldier's pension on 05 Apr 1901 and re-applied several more times throughout his life, apparently with no success.  When he died in 1919, his widow, Sallie, began pestering the state for the pension.  She sent a sworn affidavit from someone who supposedly attended their wedding. The letter provides her maiden name and the date of their wedding.

Image courtesy of the Georgia Virtual Vault

Sallie's pension was finally approved on 11 May 1932:

Image courtesy of the Georgia Virtual Vault

A happy ending you may think. But no. Sallie died tragically three years later.

Sallie (Everett) Moncrief's Death Certificate

And this is why I love death certificates so much.  On 04 May 1935 she suffered an accident in her home. Her clothes caught on fire and caused extensive burns to her body, arms and legs.  She died eight days later.

This is one of the letters Sallie wrote inquiring about her pension, which I also found in the Georgia Virtual Vault:

Images courtesy of the Georgia Virtual Vault

The Internet has made genealogy research so much easier than it was 15 or 20 years ago and more fun, I think, because it's so easy to find interesting tales. I often wonder if Joseph and Sallie were actually married. If you married a Civil War soldier in 1881 or later, you were not eligible for a pension. So an 1880 marriage was quite convenient. The only issues are the living first wife and no documentation of the marriage.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Meet the Caloriemeter -- It's Not What You Think

Columbus Berry Bailiff was the first cousin four times removed of my nephew's wife. He was born in September 1879 in Tennessee and died in Nashville of typhoid fever in 1915, suffering for three weeks before death. He was 35 years old and known as Lum to family and friends.

Lum married Beulah Grooms sometime after 1900. They lived on 1305 Greenwood Avenue in Nashville, Tennesse. Their marriage produced no known children. Beulah never remarried and lived with her mother, who was also widowed young, the rest of her life.

Lum was working for Harvester Company of the Americas in the Collections Department as a commercial trader when he died. Typhoid is a bacterial disease transmitted by the ingestion of food or water contaminated with the feces of an infected person.

In the same year Lum died, the Alumnae Association of Bellevue, Pension Fund Committee, published a short history of Bellevue Hospital and of the training schools, which included information about treating various diseases.  The guide had this to say about the new, "modern" methods of treating typhoid:
The old treatment of typhoid fever was to supply food very sparingly to the patient, leaving him weak and emaciated at the end of the fever. Fatal results were feared if the patient was given much nourishment. The most modern treatment, however, is that with extreme care and expert knowledge in the selection and administration of food, it is safe to provide enough nourishment to keep up the patient's weight and strengh. Scientific knowledge of foods, combined with understanding the bodily requirements, is essential.
The respiration calorimeter was invented to monitor the heat the typhoid  patient's body produced.


The respiration caloriemeter consists of a big box, in which a patient is placed for two or three hours, with a set of instruments that will record every vestige of heat produced inside the box. Arrangements are made to keep it at an even and comfortable temperature and to supply good ventilation. The record will show the heat production at the rate of a certain number a calories a day, weight and size making much difference between normal individuals.

Thankfully, the incidence of typhoid fever in the United States has markedly decreased since the early 1900s and is no longer treated using the respiration caloriemeter!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Deadly Leduc Hotel Explosion

I thought you might be missing my yellow journalism streak...

On Remembrance Day, 1950, the Leduc Hotel was gutted by an explosion and fire. Ten people died, including the 12-year-old daughter of the hotel owner, and several oil workers. The cause of the explosion was a gas leak.  My great uncle Herman Frederick Weidman (married to Annie Schalin) was waiting in the cafe across the street for the hotel bar to open. He married into a devout German Baptist family so what he was doing going to a bar remains an undocumented mystery.

Flying bricks from the firery explosion damaged his car.

Aftermath of the explosion; photograph courtesy of the Provincial
Archives of Alberta

Aftermath of the explosion; photograph courtesy of the Edmonton Journal

Here's the article about the explosion from the Winnipeg Free Press:


Leduc, Alta., Nov. 13 -- (CP) -- The fire-blackened ruins of the pioneer Leduc hotel -- death trap of 10 persons in an explosion which destroyed the building Saturday -- symbolize the blackest day in the history of the oil-boom town of 2,000 population. It might have been a red-letter day in the town's history had it not been for the explosion -- the worst hotel disaster in Alberta's history. Leduc, 21 miles south of Edmonton, was to have been serviced with natural gas Saturday. The two-story brick and frame hotel was ripped asunder by a blast heard 17 miles away shortly before noon Saturday, just as Leduc residents returned from Remembrance Day ceremonies. The hotel beverage room was to have opened in five minutes, and within 15 minutes it would have been filled. Had the explosion occurred then, residents fear the death toll might have been closer to 100.

The explosion was believed caused by gas seeping into the hotel basement from an undetermined source. Estimates of damage ranged from $100,000 to $300,000. R.C.M.P., Alberta government officials and gas company officials are investigating. Sixteen persons were sent to hospital. Seven have since been released. Extensive damage was suffered by buildings close by, and five motor vehicles parked nearby were virtually demolished. The 10 dead, most badly burned and some identified only by personal effects, were removed from the hotel wreckage by frantic rescue workers who did not turn over the last bit of rubble until Sunday night. One of the victims remains unidentified. The other nine killed were:
  • MRS. NORMAN MILLER, Athabaska, Alta., a waitress in the hotel coffee shop.
  • ORYSIA MEGLEY, 12-year-old daughter of the hotel owner.
  • Two hotel beverage room employees, STEVE FENNIAK and EMIL ABAL.
  • Oil drillers ALLAN J. POWELL, 30 and ART MANNVILLE, 52, both of High River, Alta.
  • ELMER BAIRD, 36, Edmonton, a public works employee.
Still in hospital are MRS. H. H. HUBNER, 38; MRS. LEONA CROUCH, 38; DENNIS KUCHINSKI, 26; DONALD KEER, 25; NADIA MEGLEY, 17; MRS. JOHN JOHNSTON, 23; MISS TOBY HILLER, 19; NEIL MacDONALD, 53 and WILLIAM DAVIES, 31. KUCKINSKI is from Edmonton and MacDONALD from Calgary. The rest are Leduc residents. Separate funerals will be held, since about half the victims will be buried at other centres. A coroner's inquest opened Sunday but was adjourned, possibly for two weeks.

The blast caught most of its victims on the lower floors, where they were trapped or maimed by falling wreckage before fire cut off escape. A few persons were hurled to safety as the building buckled. Others jumped out of windows. Some clambered to safety through a maze of bricks and splintered wood.

One of the many residents who rushed to the aid of the trapped was railroad worker JOE MERAK, father-in-law of STEVE FENNIAK.

"It was terrible," he said. "As I rushed to the building all I could here were screams, screams, screams. I helped one man out. He had a broken arm and was in terrible pain. There was one girl we could not help. I saw a woman on her hands and knees trying to crawl out. She too was screaming. But we couldn't help her. She was too far inside the wreckage and before we could get to her she disappeared."

BOB DOYLE, 27-year-old oil worker from Winnipeg and Vancouver, escaped violent death for the third time when the blast hurled him clear of the hotel. He had been sleeping in his room. DOYLE said he walked away from two plane wrecks in the last war. CLUNESS EVANS, who operated a garage about six blocks away, said he discovered gas leaking into the garage from the service line about five minutes before the hotel explosion. He was seeking gas company officials when the hotel blast rocked the town.

Witnesses said the blast hurled the roof of the brick and frame structure 20 feet in the air and drove out all the walls. As the roof crashed down, the top floor collapsed on the ground storey. The blast and the screams of the injured brought volunteers rushing from all parts of town. Sixteen injured were released from the twisted wreckage of beams, pipes, bedsprings and other furniture before flames swept the block, driving rescuers back.

Emergency calls to Edmonton brought two fire trucks, six ambulances and three carloads of R.C.M.P. to the scene. Some of the injured were placed in private cars to go to hospital in Edmonton.

Firemen poured water on the molten, steaming mass for more than two hours before the body of the first victim could be recovered. When darkness fell, only three victims had been found. Floodlights were rigged and derrick equipped oil trucks were brought into use to haul away the debris. Directing operations from a pile of smoking rubble in the basement was JOHN MEGLEY, co-owner of the hotel, who had lost one child, his home and business in the blast. The temperature dropped to five degrees above zero as bulldozers were brought into use to clear the rubble before it was caught in the grip of ice.

Positive identification of victims was difficult. A ring, a bracelet, the shred of a waiter's canvas coat, the color of hair or an unusual dental fitting provided the clues.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Six Brothers Go Off to War

Update 5/21/2014: As you can read from the comment on this post, I made a mistake. I confused two  people named David Moncrief who were contemporaries living in different parts Georgia. In my defense, I worked on this part of my family tree very early in my genealogy journey. But it is a lesson to me that public trees you may find anywhere on the Internet should only be used as leads to sources and not sources themselves. And sources should be double and triple checked to ensure they "belong" to your ancestor. I have also learned to become very familiar with the geography of where my ancestors lived. When did county borders change? Why would they move from here to there? -- and so on. I really appreciated the correction and welcome anyone who takes the time to make my research better. Jessie' grandfather was not David Harvey Moncrief, but David Moncrief who did marry Sarah Pollard and have the children mentioned, but I cannot trace his lineage back to Currituck County, Colony of North Carolina.


Lately, I've been researching the Moncrief family.  Jessie Moncrief is my sister-in-law's grandmother.
The Moncrief family is of Scottish origin.  I can trace the first Moncrief to the Colony of North Carolina, Currituck County, which was one of the five original ports in the colonies.  I can't say I've got everything sorted out, though.  After the death of one Moncrief wife, he married a sister of his youngest son's wife.  It's situations like those that can make you want to tear your hair out!  Anyway, back to Jessie...

Jessie's great grandfather was David Harvey Moncrief; he married Sarah Pollard on 5 Sep 1827 in Bibb County, Georgia. They had 12 children who lived past infancy, of which seven were boys. Six of their sons served in the Civil War:
  • Joseph Jackson (1832-1919) enlisted 6 May 1862 as a private in the 61st Georgia Infantry Regiment, Co I, known as the Thompson Guards. He was taken prisoner near Winchester, Virginia, on 19 Sep 1864 and transferred a few days later to Camp Hammond, a prisoner of war camp in Point Lookout, Maryland. He was released on 14 Feb 1865 and served with Co K, the same company in which is brother, Richard, served. He stayed with Co K until he contracted small pox and was sent home a few months before the war ended.
  • George N (born 1837-19 Sep 1863) enlisted on 25 Sep 1861 as a private in the 30th Georgia Infantry Regiment, Co D, known as the Huguenin Rifles. He was promoted to corporal 14 May 1962 and was killed in action during the Battle of Chickamauga.
  • Leroy Eli (1838-Sep 1863) enlisted on 25 Sep 1861 as a private in the 30th Georgia Infantry Regiment, Co D. He was wounded during the Battle of Chickamauga and later died in a Confederate hopsital in Savannah, Georgia.
  • Richard Bassett (1839-1927) enlisted on 15 Jan 1864 as a private in the 61st Georgia Infantry Regiment, Co K, which was formed with volunteers from companies A through I.
  • Henry Harrison (1842-1921) enlisted on 25 Sep 1861 as a private in the 30th Georgia Infantry Regiment, Co D. On 19 Dec 1864 he was taken prisoner and transferred to Camp Chase, in Ohio.  He was released 12 Jun 1865.
  • Wiley A (1845-8 May 1863) enlisted as a private in the 10th Georgia Infantry Battalion, Co D, known as the Whittle Guards. His battalion participated in the Seige of Suffolk and he died a few days after the seige was lifted.
Joseph was taken prisoner near Winchester, Virginia, and transferred to what is generally considered one of the worst prison of war camps established by the Union -- Camp Hammond at Point Lookout, Maryland. It was hastily constructed after the war began, a thoroughly slipshod affair.

Prisoner of War Camp at Point Lookout

Prisoners at the camp were kept in the “bull pen,” a 1,000-square-foot area surrounded by a 14-foot-high fence with guard posts. The prisoners were given only thin tents for shelter. The tents offered little protection from the extreme weather on the unprotected peninsula. When high tide came, the low-lying bull pen would flood, often creating knee-deep mud and swamp-like conditions. The camp's prisoner population ballooned from 9,153 in December of 1863 to about 20,000 by June of 1865 – more than double the number the camp was designed to hold. Supplies at the camp were stretched thin. There would often be 16 or more men to a single 15-square-foot tent. Three or more men would share a single blanket.

Just three months later, Henry was taken prisoner near Nashville, Tennessee, and transferred to Camp Chase.
Henry Harrison Moncrief

Camp Chase was established near the west side of Columbus, Ohio.  In May of 1861 a Union military training ground was established there under the name Camp Jackson; by July of that year, when the first prisoners were admitted, its name had been changed to honor President Lincoln's Secretary of State (and later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), Hamilton County native Salmon P. Chase.

Camp Chase

At first, Camp Chase took only officers as prisoners, with enlisted men going to Fort Warren, near Boston Harbor. A large number of officers came from 1862 Union victories at Fort Donalson, Tennessee, and Mississippi Island No. 10. In 1863 a new stockade was built on Johnson's Island in Lake Erie, and most of the Camp Chase officers were sent there. By 1863 there were 8,000 men incarcerated behind the high, staked walls of the Camp.

Camp Chase

Although there were at least 160 buildings at the camp, giving it the appearance of a sizable town, most of the prisoners -- especially enlisted men -- were housed in tents.

Can you imagine sending six sons off to war? In May 1863, maybe, you receive a letter informing you the youngest has died somewhere around Suffolk, Virginia. Four months later you learn you've lost two sons -- one killed in action and one wounded and a few days later dies in the hospital. And in the next year two sons are taken prisoner of war. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

True Love

This post is in honor of my Mom and Dad.  They've been married 56 years and, as Mom said in a recent visit, they've had an easy marriage all things considered, though the going has gotten pretty tough these last few months.

Mom and Dad's Wedding

They were married in my Dad's parents' home in Arlington, Virginia, on a Friday evening, by a volunteer fireman, who was late to the wedding because he was busy putting out a fire. My Mom's parents didn't attend.  They didn't like Dad; he was wild -- drank beer, raced cars and sent a practice grenade to Mom from Korea. They didn't know if it was real or not so they stored it in the chicken coop!

Dad racing his sprint car in the early 1950s

They first met in Ocean City, Maryland. Dad was there with his fiancee and Mom was there with her sister, Millie, who was engaged to my Dad's brother, Marvin.  Dad left his fiancee, what's her name, to swim in the ocean. He spotted his brother and this tall, dark beauty in a red bathing suit. So he went to meet her.  She was Mom, of course. She thought he was crazy, swimming in the ocean with a cigar in his mouth and a staw hat on his head. (But she did think he had very nice legs!)

They next saw each other at Uncle Marvin and Aunt Millie's wedding. Dad asked to drive her home and the rest is history. Sort of...Dad said he was going to marry Mom during that ride back to Mom's parents' house. But their wedding didn't happen for another six years. Mom claims she never did say yes. They married just as their license was about to expire.

My favorite photograph of Dad

This is one of my favorite pictures of Dad taken on his boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay. He does love the water -- and anything with a motor.


Mom is the beautiful one in the family, even today. This picture was taken just after she had her long hair cut. Dad said he was glad she did it. Apparently, she used to put it in a big braid when she went to bed. That braid would hit Dad during the night and wake him up every time she rolled over.

Great marriages are made of memories. Mom and Dad's marriage produced a family that loves each other deeply and holds on tightly to those memories.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

It Only Took 10 Years

Adam Dagutis, my husband's paternal grandfather, came to the United States in 1894 or 1895 to mine anthracite coal in eastern Pennsylvania. He was recruited in Europe by agents of the coal company. They had tried Irish and Scottish miners, but found them too troublesome. Eastern Eurpoean workers were considered more obedient and less prone to labor strikes.

Family lore said Adam considered himself Lithuanian, but every census taken after he came to the United States said he was born in Russia.  It turns out both are correct.  The passenger list for the Hamburg-Amerika Shipping Line's SS Pratria, which is written in German, is more precise than the English version.  On that manifest, Adam Dagutis is listed as coming from Tracki, Russia.  Trakai was historically part of Lithuania, but was Russian territory at the time of his birth as it had been annexed by Russia in 1795.

S/S Patria

The area has variously been known as Tracken (German), Trakai (Lithuanian), Troki (Polish), and Trok (Yiddish). Other variations seen on official documents are Troky and Tracki. No wonder I had so much trouble!

Today the town is considered a tourist destination and it does look really beautiful. I especially love the old wooden houses.

Trakai, Lithuania
And the most famous sight in Trakai, the castle on an island in Lake Galve:

Monday, February 11, 2013

Rest Easy -- He's Not a Relative

"You could call John Leonard Wood a cold-blood killer. You'd be right: he murdered Patrolman Dennis Griffin in cold blood, burned his uniform and buried his corpse under a tree. You could call him an oversexed pervert: aside from an unknown number of "wives," the middle-aged Lothario also captivated -- and impregnated a 14-year-old grammar-school girl, and made her his companion in a five-state flight from a nation-wide manhunt."
The Cleveland News

Okay, I've got your attention now.  And you're probably wondering why if John Leonard Wood isn't a relative I am writing about him in my genealogy blog.  He was captured at my favorite Detroit business -- Ternes Coal & Lumber Co. (I've posted about this family before here and here.)

So there's the tie in my ancestors!
"The long-awaited break in the case came in late June. Edward A. Haerl, a foreman at the Ternes Coal & Lumber Company at 6132 Michgan Avenue in Detroit, confided to his employer, A. P. Ternes, that he suspected their new barn boss, a well-liked and valuable employee named  "Sam De Carlo" was actually John Leonard Whitfield. Ternes anxious for the reward, wrote a letter to Cleveland Chief of Police Jacob Graul."

He was captured with quite the threat: "Put up your hands. Any move and you will be riddled. Put handcuffs on him."

The highly entertaining book, "They Died Crawling and Other Tales of Cleveland Woe: True Stories of the Foulest Crimes and Worst Disasters in Cleveland," by John Stark Bellamy II can be found on Google Books. Look for Chapater 6: God, the Devil, Man or Beast the Incredible 1923 Saga of John Leonard Wood.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Body Mutilated, Crushed and Cut

Death certificates are pretty informative documents. You can usually find out the person's father's name, their mother's maiden name, cause of death and other wonderful details. But it's a shock to read:

       "Dead when examined. Body multilated, crushed and cut by train running over him."

Edmund Linwood Womack Death Certificate

Let me explain. Edmund Linwood Womack is my father's uncle by marriage.  He married Leta Vernon Jennings in 1906 in Roanoke, Virginia. He was a conductor on the railroad for over 30 years. He left great Aunt Leta with six children, the youngest was 14 when Edmund was killed.

I thought it was also interesting the medical examiner used a State of Tennessee form, marked out Tennessee and typed in South Carolina. Edmund did die near Spartanburg, South Carolina, but I thought it was unusual that he didn't have the correct form with him at the time. 

Edmund and Leta Womack are buried in Evergreen Cemetery, which is located in Erwin, Unicoi, Tennessee.

Evergreen Cemetery

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Lutheran Orphanage in Salem, Virginia

My grandfather, Marvin Edward Jennings (1901-1961), was sent to the Lutheran Orphanage in 1911. He was the only child out of twelve that was sent to the orphange. As a result he was never terribly close to his brothers and sisters as the older ones took in some of the younger children, but not my grandfather.  So how did all of that come about? Well, I never really knew too many details, but here's what I've been able to surmise from the documentation.

Marvin Edward Jennings, Sr.

My great grandfather, Charles Edward Jennings (more about him in future post), had twelve children by two different wives.  His first wife, Nancy Jane Johnson, died giving birth to her eighth child and he, Johnson Jennings, died too. Three years later, Charles married again to Effie Davis Beard and proceded to have four more children. Effied died in May of 1906 and her youngest child, Clyde Graham, died a few weeks later. My grandfather was five years old at the time.

Sometime before 1911 my grandfather contracted polio and was required to wear a leg brace the rest of his life in order to walk...and work.  His Dad was 63 years old with three small children at home.  So off to the orphange Grandpa went.

He was sent to the Lutheran Orphanage in Salem, Virginia.

Lutheran Orphanage; photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress

There were two orphanages in Salem -- Baptist and Lutheran. They were established in the 1890s when accidents and dread diseases -- like tuberculosis, diphtheria, typhoid, and malaria -- frequently robbed children of their parents. In those post Civil War years, according to one report, the number of orphans grew to "unthinkable levels," and: "Across Virginia, frightened children roamed the streets and countryside begging for handouts and mercy."

In May of 1896, the Lutheran Orphan Home of the South moved to Salem, into a two-story brick home at the southeast corner of Florida Street and the Boulevard. The children's home has moved several times within Salem since then, but the brick house still stands at Florida and Boulevard in front of Kiwanis Stadium where it houses the Florida Street Center of the City Department of Recreation and Parks.

It didn't stay on Florida Street long. Under the leadership of the Rev. Benjamin W. Cronk, who succeeded Painter in 1897, the Lutherans in 1899-90 bought and moved into a very elegant five-story building, formerly the Hotel Salem, on College Avenue at Fifth Street. The new building -- on the site of today's Andrew Lewis Middle School -- was to serve the orphanage until 1927.  The Lutheran home thrived in the old Hotel Salem -- an imposing, 80-room, red-brick structure, almost castle-like in appearance, with its tower, turrets, dormers and arched windows.

A concerted fund drive by the Lutheran United Synod liquidated that home's building debt by 1907. The orphanage paid heavy attention to their children's education. The Lutheran home operated a school on premises to offer the "necessary branches of learning," along with manual training for both girls and boys though eventually it began a long and difficult process of integration of the children into Salem's public schools. The professional staffs as well as their church provided religious instruction.

In 1904, the Rev. John T. Crabtree, Confederate veteran, former Salem High School principal and Roanoke College professor (he had become an orphan himself at age 8), succeeded Cronk as superintendent of the Lutheran home. During his tenure, until 1922, the home housed more than 100 children and still had to turn away applicants.

This excerpt is from the Salem Museum historical website.  For more information about the Lutheran Orphange after the 1920s, read this excellent article.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Norman Baker -- Quack, Killer and All Around Scum

On 8 Oct 1938, Jonathan Hiller and his 8-year-old son, John Ian Hiller, crossed the border from Canada into the U.S.

Jonathan Hiller

The border crossing form said they were going to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, to visit Jean Hiller at the Baker Hospital. I figured there had to be a story behind that as Jean (Schultz) Hiller died on 20 Oct 1938.

1938 Border Crossing Manifest

And what a story it turned out to be!

Jonathan and Jean (Schultz) Hiller's wedding
photo; they were married in 1923

Norman Baker was the founder of the Baker Institute in Muscatine, Iowa. He was a flamboyant, medical maverick with a new cure for cancer. Always dressed in a white suit and a lavender tie, he owned a radio station in Muscatine, Iowa, with the call letters KTNT, which stood for Know the Naked Truth. He took to the airwaves and declared war on big business, and the American Medical Association. He believed that organized medicine was corrupt and chose profits over patients. He preached the Gospel of alternative medicine. He was the self proclaimed champion of the common man against the ownership class.

He was a former vaudeville magician, turned inventor, turned millionaire business man, turned populist radio host, turned Cancer doctor without a day of medical training in his life. His magic elixir was nothing more than a useless mix of watermelon seed, brown corn silk, alcohol, and carbolic acid. Baker had cancer hospitals in Muscatine and Eureka Springs.

In the introduction of Norman’s bought-and-paid-for biography, “Doctors, Dynamiters and Gunmen” author Alvin Winston wrote:
 “This is an inspiration book for young and old. A fact story of how a man fought his enemies-how he faced Gunmen, Dynamiters and enemy Doctors -- how he fought the medical racket, the radio trust, the aluminum trust and others. He did it for you….There has never been a book prepared so carefully. This makes it the most important book ever written. Read the life story of Norman Baker the greatest one man battle ever fought.” 
 That was how Norman Baker wanted the world to see him. As a crusader who fought to protect the common man against exploitation. But behind the mask of humanitarianism was a man who leeched off the sick and dying to make hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Having been run out of his Iowa, Norman moved to Arkansas. This time to the Ozarks and the town of Eureka Springs. There he bought a majestic Victorian hotel that had fallen on hard times. The Crescent hotel sat on a hill 2,000 feet above sea level overlooking the town nestled below. He called it a “Castle in the Air” and made it the new location of the Baker Hospital. Norman picked up where he had left off in Iowa. Running the same medical scams in the Ozarks that had made him hundreds of thousands of dollars in Iowa. According to one U.S. Postal Inspector Norman was pulling in $500,000 a year in Eureka Springs.

Crescent Hotel, Eureka Springs, Arkansas

For two years, He thrived in there, but the clock was ticking on Norman. He was now a marked man by federal authorities. They quietly investigated him and in 1939 they closed in.

After ten years of being hounded by the authorities and the AMA all it took to bring Baker down was seven letters placed in the United States mail advertising his services. Norman Baker was arrested by federal authorities and charged with using the mails to defraud. The trial was held in January of 1940 in Little Rock and Norman was found guilty on all seven counts. He appealed the decision, but was denied. The opinion handed down by the court of appeals said that Norman’s cancer cure was “pure hoax.”

In January of 1940 Norman arrived at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary to serve a 4-year sentence. One investigator wrote:
 “Our investigation indicates that Baker and his associates defrauded Cancer sufferers out of approximately $4,000,000. Our investigation further shows that a great majority of the people who were actually suffering with cancer who took the treatment lived but a short while after returning to their homes from the hospital. We believe that the treatment hastened the death of the sufferers in most cases. It appears to us that the sentence of four years which Baker received and the fine of $4000 was an extremely light penalty under the circumstances.” 
 He was no longer Norman Baker, millionaire business man, and cancer maverick. Now he was simply known as inmate 58197. In a statement in the Warden’s report Norman said, “I am not guilty. They have never proved anything in the indictment. We figure this was a railroading proposition. It is my opinion that the jury was fixed and influenced. We have hired private detectives to look into the matter. It is believed that whiskey and women were made available to the jurors. We were railroaded by the American Medical Association who have been after me for years.”

Norman was released from Leavenworth on July 19, 1944. He retired to Florida and lived comfortably until his death in 1958.

This fascinating story was written by Stephen Spence and excerpted by me. The complete story can be found on the Crescent Hotel website.

In 1948 Jonathan married Jean's sister, Velma Jean Schultz:

Jonathan and Velma Jean (Schultz) Hiller and the witnesses to their wedding

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Murder in Detroit! What a Surprise...Not

What an interesting family these Ternes have become! Before I get to the subject of this post, let me set the stage.

Yesterday, I discovered William Peter and Elsie (Gerstner) Ternes' daughter, Marion Ruth, married a nephew of my great grandfather and his name was Harold Muir. Marion's great grandfather was named Christian Ternes. He was born in Prussia in 1807. Christian; his wife, Anna Maria Schiller;  son, Anthony; and possibly other children emigrated to the U.S. some time between 1843 and 1850. Christian and his family farmed for several years in Dearborn. By 1880 he and his wife were living at 362 13th Street -- just down the road from the Convent of St. Barnabus.  He listed his occupation as a milk peddler.

Amazingly, the address still exists:

362 13th Street, Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, USA

And then I found's why, despite the frustrations I have with, I still use it:

General Telegraph News

 Detroit, Mich., Dec. 5 -- An old German milk vendor named Christian Ternes was brutally murdered last night by Charles Martin, a young iron-molder. Martin was drunk, and, teasing Ternes on the street, received an impatient repsonse, whereupon he knocked Ternes down and kicked and stamped upon him until his skull was crushed. Martin was arrested, but pretends that he knows nothing about the murder.

Amazing what you can find on the Internet! And a proof point that Detroit didn't go "bad" because of the failure of the Great Society experiment; it was a bad place long before the 1960s!

Christian was buried at the St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church Cemetery in Dearborn, Michigan. If you find yourself in the area, please pay your respects for me.

Ternes Family Monument at St. Alphonsus Roman
CatholicChurch Cemetery

You can find other photographs on another good resource for genealogists.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Day of Research Full of Surprising Finds

Last week while researching my first cousin twice removed (whatever that means), Harold Muir, I learned he was a machine operator at an automobile factory in Detroit and married Marion Ruth Ternes. So last night I wanted to concentrate on learning more about her. I was lucky in that I knew her maiden name. Many times when you learn a wife's name, you only get to know her first name, usually through Census reports, and finding out more is difficult.

So what did I learn? The first thing I learned that Marion's parents, William Peter Ternes and Elsie Agnes Gerstner -- eloped and married in Sandwich, Ontario.

Ann Arbor Daily Times, 12 September 1910

Since William Ternes was part owner of Ternes Coal & Lumber Company, it was pretty obvious that Harold Muir married way above his station.  Harold was the son of Peter Semple Muir of Dalserf, Lanark, Scotland. Peter brought his family to the United States sometime before 1900.  He held a variety of jobs, including coal miner, machinist, steam pipe fitter, and plumber's helper.

I had only planned to spend one evening on Marion Ruth Ternes as that's about the amount of time it takes to run out of leads for a wife with little original documentation from my Dad's genealogy research. But after finding out she and her husband married in secret and that she was a bookkeeper for his company, I got very curious. So I'm still researching the Ternes family.  I'll let you know what I find out in future posts.