Monday, September 11, 2017

John Ronald Miller (1915-1952): The Uncle Most of Us Don't Remember

John Ronald Miller, who went by Ronald, was Aunt Ruth's first husband. He died before my younger Lange first cousins and me were born or were old enough to remember. According to Mom, he was born in Britain; never knew who his father was; and was raised by an aunt who had a bit of money but who died of cancer when he was young. As he cared for her in the final stages of her life, he became addicted to the morphine her doctor's prescribed to manage pain. Eventually after a 12-year marriage to Aunt Ruth, he committed suicide.

Not long ago, I looked at the information I had collected about Uncle Ronald (it seems weird to call him that), and realized there were a lot of gaps in the paper trail. So I went digging.

John Ronald Miller (1915-1952*); personal collection

Ronald was born on 16 September 1915 in Grimsby, England, also known as Great Grimsby, a large seaport on the Humber estuary close to where it joins the North Sea west of Leeds. Britain makes birth records available to genealogists and family historians after 100 years. I should be able to find the registration of his birth, but I have not. I am left wondering if John Ronald Miller was his birth name or one assigned to him later.

On 22 March 1930, 14-year-old Ronald boarded the Cunard Line's RMS Antonia along with thirty other boys from the National Children's Home (NCS), which had been established in 1869 by a Methodist minister. By the time Ronald lived at the NCS, the organization operated a number of homes across England, including one in Leeds, which may have been where Ronald lived. There was always pressure on the NCS to find homes for the children in its care so their would be space available for new arrivals and emigration played an important role in achieving that end. Many of the NCS administrators believed the children would have the opportunity for a better future in Canada. Ronald arrived in Halifax on 31 March 1930. He indicated to immigration officials, his foster father was Sidney Rogers of Grimsby and he had been a student in the UK but intended to work on a farm in Canada.

On 27 July 1932 Ronald joined the British Merchant Navy in London. A few days later he signed on to merchant ship Esperance Bay in Southampton. He indicated it was his first ship and previous to that he fished for work.  Ronald served as a deck boy.

Merchant ship Esperance Bay; courtesy of State of Victoria Archive

By 1939 Ronald lived in Montreal and worked as a sales manager. On 6 November he arrived in Burlington, Vermont, by plane. He told immigration officials he intended to reside permanently in the U.S. and his destination was New Orleans where he would visit a friend. Interestingly, the building listed as friend's address is now known as the Maritime Building.

Ronald married Ruth Hedwig Lange on 16 September 1940 in Washington, DC. She was the daughter of Gustav Lange and Wilhelmina Schalin. She was born in Winnipeg in 1916 but had been raised on a farm in Prince George's County, Maryland. At the time of their marriage, Ruth worked in a bakery in Washington. Surpringly, neither Ronald or Ruth were listed in the 1940 census, which was enumerated earlier in the year. A month after their marriage Ronald registered for the Army draft. He was a Canadian citizen, as was Aunt Ruth, and they lived in an apartment in a row house at 1201 C Street, NE.

1201 C Street, NE, Washington, DC; courtesy Google Maps

Ronald worked for the Standard Drug Company, which had been established in 1919 in Richmond by two pharmacists. Stores were later opened throughout Maryland and Virginia and the chain thrived for decades before it was purchased in 1993 by the company now known as CVS. The remainder of the records I have for Ronald are border crossings returning from trips to Canada in 1943 and 1945. He and Ruth continued to live at 1201 C Street, NE, during that time.

Mom said Ronald and Ruth would move around the country frequently so that he could obtain prescriptions for morphine. When a doctor discussed a detoxification clinic, it was time to move. They were in Pelham, New York, when a doctor convinced Ronald to be institutionalized in order to withdrawal from morphine. However, after a few days, he called Ruth and begged for her to get him released. She did after seeing his terrible physical deterioration. According to Mom, Ronald committed suicide in 1952 in Pelham, New York, a few days later. The New York death index for that time period is available and I have found one record that could be Ronald's but have been unable to verify it. If it is for "my" Ronald Miller, he died in 1956 in Poughkeepsie.

Ruth (Lange) and J. Ronald Miller in happier times; personal collection

Ruth married Robert Riffle Meek in a 1960 civil ceremony in Stamford, Connecticut. He was a divorcee with one adult son and worked as a real estate broker. Soon after their marriage they moved to DeLand, Florida, and purchased an apartment complex, which they managed for several years.

I can't help but think after spending several days researching and learning more about Aunt Ruth's first husband that his life began with hardship which continued through much of his childhood. Even though his adult life seemed normal to most casual onlookers, his demon's conquered him in the end.

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