Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lost and found, scattered and expired



I don’t react well when something goes wrong with the truck and today it was a tire mostly interested in going flat rather than in going somewhere. Didn’t plan to stay mostly at home, but because of the aforementioned tire did it anyway.

Could have changed the tire and been on my way --- but changing tires is not a favorite thing to do, partly because of the frustration of getting the darned spare out from under the vehicle where it hangs suspended from a cable. Since the guy who fixes stuff efficiently and economically operates from a shop at the foot of the hill, I just drove down this morning, made an appointment to get it fixed, inflated the tire and then drove it back up the hill until the appointed time (it turned out to be a very small screw). It deflated; I relaxed.

My mind had been on orphans this week and with more computer time than usual, I plugged “orphan” into Google “Images” to see what turned up. The result was this advertisement from an unnoted publication, obviously from another time. Imagine being able to take in a child, if interested in adopting, on “90-day trial.” Of course this was the age of orphan trains, too --- considerably more relaxed days when it came to the welfare of parentless children.

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Orphans came up Monday over coffee when an older friend started talking about the fact she had no birth family that she knew of, relying instead on family acquired by marriage --- in-laws, spouse, grandchildren and the like.

She knew her parents’ names and remembered her father, who died when she was about 12, but had then been placed in an orphanage with her younger brother, from whom she soon was separated (a separation that lasted more than 30 years), and really hadn’t thought that much about her parents since. I offered to do a little research, since I’m reasonably good at that, and have turned up a few things in the days since.

It’s an interesting story --- hers to tell and not mine to play fast and loose with, so the characters are going to have to remain nameless here.

The father was a middle-aged U.S. military officer stationed in France during World War I where he met and became engaged to a much younger French woman. In 1919, he sent for her and she sailed to America, arriving at Ellis Island as all emigrants of that time did if they entered the United States through the port of New York.

I was able to locate the passenger manifest from the ship she arrived on and it provided some interesting information, including a physical description, that another researcher might carry forward if interested. Among the information was the exact address in France of her mother, who apparently was an English woman married to a French man.

They married soon after her arrival and although the family was not financially stressed, his profession required travel to project sites across the country. So one child was born in Pennsylvania and the other in Missouri. But in 1926, in Colorado, the mother died --- a little more than six years after emigration, leaving two young children and her husband behind.

He buried her in Colorado, then not long after took his children to a new project location --- deep in Texas. And there he died unexpectedly himself a few years later of natural causes leaving two youngsters stranded without parents and with no place to go home to.

Kind people and the Red Cross did their best to reunite the children with family, but there were many problems. The grandmother in France was located, but she did not have the resources needed to either retrieve from America or raise the two children.

Because the father was substantially older than the mother, his parents and at least one of his two siblings had been dead for several years when he died. Because no one could be found to take them in, the children were placed in an orphanage.

Now my friend certainly turned out well despite these difficulties early in life, but there’s a hole there where many if not most of us have memories of stable and loving homes to fall back on --- and that’s too bad.

It appears that neither the grave of the mother nor the father is marked, although cemetery records suggest both could be located without too much difficulty.

And that’s the extent of this story, so far as I know it.

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But research in cemetery records to find people buried far from home brought to mind another story, this one related to a time years ago when I lived in a small Winnebago County town named Thompson and often walked in its Rose Hill Cemetery.

During these walks, I kept noticing a small tombstone near the drive inscribed only “Henry Dodge and Sister” and finally took the time required to go first to cemetery records and then to newspaper files to track down their story.

As it turned out, Henry was a young Englishman who emigrated to the United States soon after the turn of the 20th century and somehow landed in Winnebago County, Iowa, where he went to work as a hand for a farmer of Norwegian descent named Tonnis Mortenson.

Eventually, Henry earned enough money to pay the way from England to America of his sister, Clara, who planned to become his housekeeper.

But Clara became ill aboard ship and died soon after arrival in New York --- suspended midway between her former home and her new home. With help from Tonnis, Henry came up with enough money to bring her body on to Iowa from New York for burial in a place she had never been.

Although he lived a long life, Henry never married. And when he died, he was buried at Rose Hill beside his sister. Tonnis, widely known for thrift but perhaps more generous than many thought, erected the small stone to mark both their graves. I used to think more about those two, buried together so far from home and family.

Although very old, Tonnis still was living when I arrived in Thompson and still subscribed to the newspaper I then edited although he lived in a South Dakota nursing home. Ever thrifty, he always renewed his subscription in six-month increments --- not wishing to leave behind the legacy of an unexpired subscription.

I wish could remember for sure, but I’m fairly certain that Tonnis and his subscription expired together, just as he had hoped. The only person who might now remember for sure, however, also has expired.

1 comment:

Ed said...

Very interesting stories Frank.

The orphan one really reminds me of my own though I was not a orphan. I never really knew my father's side of the family since my parents divorced when I was little and I was later adopted by her second husband. It was only after I got in genealogy that I was inspired to learn about by biological father's side of the family.