Friday, January 29, 2016

The Vanishing Mr. Hopkins

Richard Joseph Hopkins was born in 1897 in San Francisco, California. According to one of his marriage records, his parents were James Francis Hopkins and Philomena Cecelia Gleason. His father served on two different occasions in the U.S. Army as a musician. His mother's parents had immigrated to Cambridge, Massachusetts, from Ireland sometime before Philomena's birth.

In 1900 Richard and his family lived at 226 -- 23rd Street, which borders the current day Warm Water Cove Park and dead ends at the San Francisco Bay. His father continued to work as a musician. By 1910 Richard's parents had divorced and his mother was married to Charles Hensley, who rented a farm in Cloverdale, California.

On 20 July 1916 Richard enlisted in the 1st U.S. Engineer Battalion. He achieved the rank of sergeant and, like his father, was a musician in the battalion's band. After the United States entered World War I, the battalion was expanded to regimental size and assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, participating in the Lorraine and Meuse-Argonne campaigns. Engineer units were in charge of repairing the devastation of war to expedite troop movements, providing clean water, constructing or removing barbed wire, and launching gas attacks. Richard was discharged from the Army on 29 January 1920, likely at Camp Zachary Taylor in Kentucky.

Camp Zachary Taylor, Louisville, Kentucky; image courtesy of Louisville
Historical Society

By 1924 Richard had relocated to Virginia and he married Annie Zeola (Brewer) Hamilton on 20 March 1924 in Fredericksburg. She was the daughter of Joel Alexander and Nancy Elvira (Shipwich) Brewer and had previously been married to a William Hamilton. Their marriage record indicated Richard had also been previously married but I have found no evidence of a first wife.

On 16 January 1928 Richard was admitted to one of the National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soliders in Hampton, Virginia. His physical description was listed as 5 feet 9-3/4 inches tall with a ruddy complexion and brown eyes and hair. His suffered from an acute gonorrheal infection of the urethra. According to his record he was still married although I imagine his illness did not sit too well with his wife, Zeola, which may have been why he listed his mother as his nearest relative.

National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Hampton, Virginia;
postcard courtesy of the Library of Virginia

He was discharged on 1 May 1928 but readmitted on 27 August 1929. By that time he was likely divorced as Zeola had married Frank Gindhart sometime before the 1930 census was enumerated and she was living in Ohio. Richard was discharged from his second stay in the soldiers' home on 8 May 1930.

He married Josephine Nelson Walker on 11 November 1933 in Charlottesville. She was my third cousin once removed and granddaughter of Alexander Miller and Ann Marie Jennings. It was her first marriage but it didn't last long. Josephine received a vinculo divorce decree, or total divorce, from the Corporation Court in Charlottesville on 14 January 1937. She accused Richard of desertion and abandonment and though he contested the case, she prevailed. She had been 16 years old at the time of her marriage, 20 years younger than Richard. Josephine went on to marry two more times before she died in 1973.

Richard Hopkins and Josephine Walker divorce decree; courtesy of

For a long time that divorce record was the last trace of Richard Joseph Hopkins I could find. Now, I believe he lived in Sharon, Pennsylvania, with a woman named Myrtle when the 1940 census was enumerated. Sharon is located 75 miles northwest of Pittsburgh and began as a coal mining town. By the time Richard and Myrtle lived there it had transitioned to steel making and other heavy industry.

While not 100 percent positive this is the correct Richard J. Hopkins, his age is correct; California was listed as his place of birth and his occupation was listed as musician, which are also correct. However, there is a woman named Charlotte Vaughn living in the home, too. She was 98 years old and her relationship was listed as mother. At first I thought she was Richard's mother-in-law, however Myrtle is 36 years, which meant Charlotte would have been 62 years old at the time of her birth.

State Street, Sharon, Pennsylvania; postcard courtesy of Family Old Photos

The best possibility for a death date is a U.S. Social Security Death Index record for a Richard Hopkins, who died in Nov 1968. He applied for Social Security insurance in Pennsylvania and his last benefit check was sent to Olean, New York. I could order his original application using a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request through the Social Security Administration (SSA). However, as he has not been dead for 75 years, his parents' names would redacted from the document. So not any help in proving this is "my" Richard Joseph Hopkins.

Any other thoughts on where or how to find Richard?


  1. So many possibilities on where to look. He wasn't shy about marriage and his Mother looked out for him a long time. They must of been really close for her to follow him all around. Olean New York Census....Was Richard mentioned as a Informant on Charlotte's DC?

    1. Since the Virginia marriage records became available, I've learned I have a lot of extended ancestors who weren't shy about getting married...or divorced. So much so that I don't believe anymore divorce was done less than it is today. Good tip to look for mother's death certificate. Who knows what it will say? I do know the woman living with him in 1940 with the relationship listed as mother wasn't really his mother. His mother died in 1953 in California so I doubt he would be the informant since in all likelihood he was still living somewhere on the East Coast, but stranger things have happened.

  2. According to the information you have, Richard was born more than 100 years ago, so you should be able to get an SS-5 that does not have the parents' names redacted.

    1. I think their date of birth has to be more than 120 years old, according to the Social Security FOIA website. So I would have wait until 2018 (1897+120, the +1 to make it "more than 120"). Since he's the husband of a 3rd cousin, albeit an interesting character, I'll wait until then to be sure I don't spend $26 for nothing.

  3. Olean Times Herald, Nov 13 1968 p 5 col 6: Richard J Hopkins obit - so Francis and Philomena Gleason Hopkins. Heart attack. Played in symphony orchestras. Find-A-Grave #87211094 - with wife Myrtle Forrester. I've sent in a correction suggestion for his DOB - they had 1921.