Sunday, January 30, 2011

Busting Brick Walls

Sometimes I wonder what drives me to untangle my knotted family history.  I think it must be the satisfaction of solving a puzzle that no one else has cracked before. 

I wrote before about my quest to find my great grandmother Maud Silliman on a census record before she was married, and the surprises I found along the way (different surname than I had thought, a first cousin for a second husband, and a bigamist mother).  I uncovered lots more than that, some of it heartbreaking, some of it heartwarming, all of it satisfying.

My great-grandmother Maud Silliman was not the only brick wall on my dad's side of the family.  My dad knew so little about his family history, that anything I found was news to him.

When I started filling in the tree with what I knew, all I had on my father's father was a first and last name, the name of his first wife (my grandmother Zora) and his kids Floyd Jr, Bob, and my dad.  I had no idea how old my dad's parents were, only that my father was the baby of the family and his mother was only 16 when she married my grandfather.

The first census record I found for Floyd was the same one I'd found for my grandmother, in 1930, when they'd been married just a couple of years and Floyd Jr was a baby.
The census indicates that Floyd's father was born in Illinois and his mother was born in Montana.  That seemed odd.  If Floyd and his father were born in Illinois, but his mother was born in Montana, how did his parents meet?  It seemed unlikely that his mother would have migrated east at that time.   I had an approximate year of birth, 1904/1905 and a middle initial, E.

The next step would be to find him as kid, living with his parents. I searched for anyone named Floyd Richardson born around 1904/5.  I spent an entire weekend thinking I had hit pay dirt, finding obituaries of his supposed mother and father and was very excited.  In the middle of all this, I had found his social security death index record, which listed his birthdate as 1 Nov 1905.  The Floyd I had found in 1920 and 1910 was born in 1904 and was too old to be my grandfather.  While my grandfather was listed as age 25 on the 1930 census, he was actually only 24.

Back to the drawing board.  Knowing his actual birth date, I did another search on Floyd Richardsons born in Illinois in 1905, and found one in 1920 in North Dakota.
The record indicates that Claude Richardson and his parents were all born in Illinois.  Anna, it seems, was born in Minnesota, and both her parents were from Germany.  Floyd was born in Illinois as was his father, and it says his mother was born in Minnesota. 

I wasn't 100% sure this was my grandfather, but there weren't a whole lot of Floyd Richardsons who were the correct age that were born in Illinois, so I was hopeful.

In the mean time, I kept bugging my dad about what he might remember.

About this time, three things happened.  I found a family tree on Ancestry that included Floyd and Zora and their kids.  It looked like someone on an uncle's wife's side of the family had put it together.  There was no information about the previous generation, but it did have a middle name for Floyd: Ekman; I discovered IRAD, the Illinois Regional Archives Depository, which has a marriage record index; and my dad sent me this email

My dad's life was, to me, quite confusing.  In 1951 dad took Bob and me to Wyoming to meet his mother.  It was rather unclear to me if she was his actual mother or a step-mother.  (All I know is that her husband was not dad's father.)  At different times, she was referred to by both designations. As far as I know, dad only had a younger half-brother.  I met him at dad's funeral, but I can't remember his name.  I always thought Dad was born in Elgin, Illinois--at least he had lived there for a time. 
At the end of the email, he said this:
I believe dad's middle name was Ekman, but I'm not sure.  To me that sounds like a possible maternal family name. I wish I could be of more help! 

With this confirmation about Floyd's middle name, and the idea that Ekman could be a maternal surname, I searched the IRAD marriage index and found this:


I immediately began a search for Edith Ekman in Minnesota, guessing she was probably born around 1885, give or take a few years.   I found this, which is from the 1895 Minnesota State Census:

Very exciting.

I also found this 1910 Federal Census record, for a family living in Custer County, Montana:

At first, I was convinced the two Edahs had to be the same person, but when I added her to my family tree, I found other family trees with the same Edah Ekman on them.  There was a mother lode of family photos, including a scan of the letter her husband Lew Jay wrote to the family back in Minnesota when she died.  Lew Jay?  None of these trees showed Claude attached to Edah as a first husband, never mind Floyd.  Curious.

Lew's full name was George Lewis Jay.  I did a census search, for Eda and Lew Jay.  I found this 1920 census record.
Who were these three girls? They couldn't be Edah's, they had to be Lew's from a first marriage.  I wondered if Edah/Edith and Claude had done what the Sillimans had done on my dad's other side of the family: split up and each taken one kid.   Had George Lewis Jay played musical spouses, too?  An afternoon spent searching the Wisconsin Historical Society's Genealogy database showed that Lew had a first wife, Birdine Amundson, who had died within a couple years of Marvel's birth.

I wondered about what Floyd and Glen had understood about their parents and each other growing up.  It didn't sound like they knew they were full brothers.  Still, I didn't have any confirmation that this Edah Ekman was the same Edith Ekman who had married my great-grandfather Claude Richardson.

I dearly wanted Edah Ekman, wife of Lew Jay, to be the same Edith Ekman who had married Claude Richardson, if for no other reason than being able to claim all those great family photos.  I sent away for Claude and Edith's marriage record.
I screamed out loud when I read this.  Not only had I confirmed that I had the right Edah/Edith, I also got the names of Claude's parents (William Richardson and Ernie Howard) and where he was born, as well as Edah's mother's maiden name, Bassett.

Ekman children: Edna, Charles, Edah, Victor, Hester, Edgar, abt 1898

This still left a few mysteries, such as how did Claude and Edah meet?  What was she doing in Illinois? When and why did Claude and Edah split up?  Did they actually get a divorce? Did they actually remarry, or did they just pair up with other people?  As I dug deeper into this branch of the family, I got some answers, but also had more questions.  Regardless, discovering this marriage record opened the door to many more generations of family to investigate, both on Edah's side and Claude's.  The brick wall had been blown apart.

1 comment:

  1. I have been looking for information on my family for a long time now. Claude Howard is my great great grandfather. I may have other info about the family......