Monday, September 26, 2011

Genealogy Mysteries

Every once in a while a genealogist touches upon a questionable family line. Sometimes the answer is staring you right in the face but current "norms" don't permit you to see it such as with the many brides of 14 +/- a year (or two) in a bygone age. Sometimes it is just so odd and the information so unavoidably sparse that only a conversation with a knowledgeable family member can clear it up, as in which of two cousins with exactly the same name and birth dates only a couple of days different is the one that you're looking for. But then, one runs into a truly odd family history and doesn't know quite what to make of it. Here is such a story...

Once upon a time there was a man named Charles who married a woman named Maggie and they had several children before Maggie died. That isn't so unusual, as many women died as a result of child birth. Then Charles married a widow woman named Mary with whom he had one child. Then, Mattie apparently dies from complications arising from child birth. Again, not so unusual.

During this same time, in Charles' neighborhood was a woman whose given name was Josephine Bonaparte. Her fraternal twin, Joseph, seems to have disappeared from the written record. Josephine however, marries a local boy, William, and they have 3 children one of whom is a daughter named Maud. William unfortunately passes. So far so normal.

Then Josephine and Charles start a family and marry and live near all their kin in rural Virginia. This is about 1897. In 1898 a son, Blaine, is born. In the 1900 census they are all shown together, a sort of late 19th century "Yours, Mine and Ours". Then in the 1910 census Josephine, Charles and all the minor children are Portland, Oregon. But something has changed. "Suddenly" we find that Maud (yes, the Maud of Josephine and William) is listed in the census as the wife of Charles and Josephine is listed as the widowed mother-in-law of Charles! Further, Blaine has "become" the child of Maud!

Right away you see we have questions. When did Maud "marry" Charles? We find out it was on 30 Jul 1909, in Oregon. Was Maud really Blaine's mother at the age of 15, with her mother's husband? Did they move to Oregon to hide the scandal? Or, did Josephine become ill (mentally or physically) and Maud take over with the family moving to Oregon to cover that up? I don't know, we've now almost got a Woody Allen sort of situation.

The next two census, 1920 and 1930, don't do anything to clear up anything. Charles is still head of household, Maud is still his wife and Josephine is still the widowed mother-in-law after 20+ years. There have been no more children. Josephine never remarried despite living in a community with a high male to female ratio and having been, early on, fairly young. Indeed she still lives with her daughter and former (?) husband but is obviously concealing the full truth of the relationship by reporting as being widowed (strictly true) but using Charles' family name! Finally, in 1932, Josephine passes. What causes her death we do not know but she is 72 when she dies. And then...

At some point the family, now just Charles and Maud, move back to Virginia. Several of Charles' and Josephine's other surviving children live from 30 to 2800 miles distant. They must keep up with them and not be entirely estranged because when Charles dies in 1945 their locations are known and reported in his obituary.

Maud dies in 1972, she has never remarried. She and Charles are buried side-by-side in the same cemetery as his second wife with her first husband. Blaine apparently never comes east again, nor do several of the other children who die before 1932. What do you think happened?

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