Although I didn't know it at the time, when I got hooked on genealogy and began the life-long journey of researching my ancestors, I was presented with a huge brick wall. Over the 40 years since then, I have been chipping away at that brick wall, and have had some success in discovering more pieces of the puzzle. However, the discovery I made this week made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and the theme from "Twilight Zone" playing in my head.
To set the scene: my great-grandmother, Rhoda Ruth Prosser, was born in Hillsdale, Michigan in 1860. Her younger brother Charles was born about 1863 or 1864, and shortly afterward their father died in the Civil War. Their mother, Rhoda Prosser, married another Civil War veteran, Henry R. Jones. On the 1870 census of Hillsdale they are all listed with the surname "Jones", and on the 1880 census Charles is enumerated under his middle name, Douglas:
1880 U.S. census, Hillsdale county, Michigan, population schedule, Hillsdale, enumeration district (ED) 086, p.143 (stamped), dwelling 102, family 105, Henry R. Jones; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 6 Jan 2013); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 580.
Note the fact that "Douglas" Prosser is a printer. So was his brother-in-law, Ruth Prosser's first husband, Crawford Strunk. In fact, when Charles Douglas Prosser married Amanda Quay in Gaylord, Michigan in December 1884, Crawford Strunk was one of the witnesses.
Michigan Secretary of State, Marriage Registers, p.76, line 56, Prosser-Qua; digital image, "Michigan Marriages, 1868-1925," FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org: accessed 6 Jan 2013)
I knew, from a luggage tag in the stack of papers I inherited, that Charles and Amanda had a daughter named Lottie. In 1900 Lottie was living with her grandmother Mary Qua in Forester, Sanilac County, Michigan, and Charles and Amanda are nowhere to be found. In 1909 Amanda married again, to James White - but what happened to Charles?
It was about 4 years ago that I decided to make another attempt to find out what happened to Charles. I did a search in the 1900 census Ancestry for Charles Prosser, born about 1864 in Michigan. And there he was - living in Chicago, Illinois, with a wife Anna and four sons: Lewis, Ray, Bert, and Earl. What convinced me was his occupation: printer.
1900 U.S. census, Cook county, Illinois, population schedule, Chicago, enumeration district (ED) 274,, sheet 5B, dwelling 57, family 110, Charles Prosser; digital image; Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 6 Jan 2013); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 255.
Charles Prosser died in February 1910, and his obituary names his survivors as Anna Prosser and sons Raymond, Albert and Earl Prosser. On the 1910 census his widow Anna is listed with three of their four sons: Raymond, Charles A., and Earl. Over the years I have traced Raymond and Earl, who both married and moved to California. I'm Facebook friends with one of Raymond's grandsons. Since Lewis was not named in Charles' obituary, and does not appear on the 1910 census, I am assuming he died young.
Earlier this year I was doing an assignment for my ProGen study group, and needed to write a proof argument. I figured that given the evidence I'd collected, writing an argument to prove that Charles Prosser in 1900 Chicago, Illinois was the same man as my great-grandmother Ruth Prosser's brother, on the 1880 census of Hillsdale, Michigan would be a good exercise. One of the elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard is "resolution of conflicting evidence". In order to do a good job on my proof argument, I needed to find other Charles Prossers who were born around the same time, and prove that they weren't my relatives.
I found two Charles Prossers on the 1900 census of Michigan. One was living in Onondaga, Ingham County (near Lansing), was born in Canada in Oct. 1863, and worked as a blacksmith. This Charles Prosser (who I later discovered was actually named Solomon Charles Prosser) had a son named Earl.
1900 U.S. census, Ingham county, Michigan, population schedule, Onondaga, enumeration district (ED) 55, sheet 10B, dwelling 273, family 273, Charles Prosser; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 6 Jan 2013); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 716.
The other Charles Prosser living in Michigan in 1900 was a Canadian, born in July 1865, and emigrated to Michigan in 1891. He had a son named Earl.
At this point, I started getting intrigued - what were the chances that three different men named Charles Prosser would each have a son named Earl? I began researching these two men in Michigan, who came from Canada, enough to discover that they were related - they had a common ancestor. This is something I need to explore further.
Earlier this week, I decided to make another attempt at finding Charles Douglas Prosser's son, Charles Albert Prosser, who was born in Illinois in January 1898. It wasn't long before I found his World War 1 Draft Registration card. He was living in Detroit, Michigan, and preparing to start work ("today") at the Fischer Body company in Detroit.
"World War 1 Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918," database and images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 4 Jan 2013), Charles Albert Prosser.
Further research found this Charles Prosser on the 1940 census, living with his wife and children:
1940 U.S. census, Wayne County, Michigan, population schedule, Detroit, enumeration district (ED) 84-1287, sheet 11A, p.17088 (stamped), household 2900, Charles B. Prosser; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 5 Jan 2013); citing NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 1878.
THEY HAVE A SON NAMED EARL!!!!!
In genealogy, there is no such thing as coincidence. I am convinced now that there is some common thread tying all these families together. It may take me another 40 years, but I am determined to find it - and in finding it, I hope to solve the original puzzle, which is the unknown Civil War soldier who was the father of Rhoda Ruth and Charles Douglas.
One of my absolutely favorite websites is Online Searchable Death Indexes
. It's the first place I go when I want to know if a particular county has posted any obituaries or cemetery records, or to find the link to the state department of health to order a death certificate. I subscribe to the blog
that sends out regular updates. Today I got an update with a long list of states and counties that have new links. I went down the list, mentally checking for counties for my clients' or my own research, and stopped when I saw a reference for Sanilac County: the Sandusky District Library obituary database
. My Grandma Ruby's cousin Lottie Prosser Wooley (see The Luggage Tag
) grew up in Sanilac County, and so I immediately went to the obituary database and put her name in the search box. BINGO!!
This provides more information than I had before, but I find it interesting that it doesn't mention Lottie's two young boys who ended up living with their grandmother. Another glaring omission from this image (which I copied just as it appeared on the library website) is the citation - there's no newspaper title, date or page number.
Guess that'll wait for another day.
This happened many years ago (probably before the concept of indirect evidence was really embraced by the genealogy community), but I still remember it clearly. My children were small, and occasionally I used to leave them with my mother or mother-in-law so that I could go do research. Still on the trail of my Prosser ancestors, I knew (courtesy of The Luggage Tag
) that my great-grandmother Ruth (Prosser) Strunk Chase had a brother named Charles Prosser. On one of my many visits to my local Family History Center, I had seen (probably on the microfiche IGI) a marriage record for a Charles Prosser and Amanda Qua in Gaylord, Otsego County, Michigan. I didn't really expect there to be any connection, because none of my Prossers had ever lived in Otsego County, but I sent for the microfilm of the original record anyway. When I threaded the microfilm into the reader, and came to the record, it was all I could do not to squeal my delight. For not only was this Charles Douglas Prosser born in Hillsdale, but one of the witnesses to the marriage was Crawford E. Strunk - my great-grandmother Ruth's first husband, and Charles' brother-in-law.
Not only is this indirect evidence, it is also primary information. This was the first record that provided Charles' full name and the name of Lottie's mother. It also led me to additional information - such as the fact that Ruth (Prosser) Strunk had been appointed postmistress in Gaylord in 1887!
Back when I first got all those family papers from my grandfather, one of them, written on the back of a piece of scratch paper was a family tree of my grandmother's. Grandma Ruby's mother Rhoda Prosser was born in Hillsdale, Michigan in January 1860.
According to this scrap of a family tree, Rhoda's father had been killed in the Civil War in 1863. Her mother was "killed by train" in 1883. Researching those two facts have taken me down fascinating trails in the last 35 years.
I don't remember the first time I actually looked at census records on microfilm, but I'd be willing to bet that it wasn't till I got here to Seattle and got acquainted with the Seattle Public Library and the Seattle Branch of the National Archives, in the early 1980's. Until then, while I was living in Florida, I had to send written requests for census research to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Since I was operating under the assumption that I was looking for a family named "Prosser" on the 1860, 1870 and 1880 census of Hillsdale, Michigan, I was very frustrated to keep getting notices that they couldn't be found.
Sometime during those years, in looking at the 1870 census of Hillsdale (line-by-line), I found my great grandmother Rhoda Prosser living with her mother and stepfather, Rhoda and Henry Jones, who were also listed on the 1880 census of Hillsdale. At that point I was able to write to the Mitchell Memorial Library in Hillsdale to ask if they could find any record of my great-grandmother's death. What I received was a copy of the newspaper article in the Hillsdale Standard, every bit as shocking one hundred years later, as it was on the day it was printed:
With this information I was able to send for Rhoda Jones' death certificate, which stated that she died from a fractured skull, and that her father's name was Robin Wilsey. On a research trip to Michigan in 2008, I was able to take a look at the original death register:
It wasn't until I was planning this blog post the other day that it occurred to me that other Michigan newspapers might have picked up this tragic and puzzling story. I went to GenealogyBank, and entered Rhoda Jones for the year 1883, and sure enough, the papers in Kalamazoo and Jackson had reported it. The Jackson Citizen Patriot ran this article on June 8, 1883, with the coroner's findings that there was no evidence of blood on any engine or train, and although she had no shoes on, the stockings on her feet were not soiled or stained.
Many times since getting the original article from the library in Hillsdale I have tried to imagine what happened that night. In addition to her husband Henry (who was a Civil War veteran), Rhoda had her 20-year old son Charles and 17-year old daughter Mary living in the house. Was it indeed suicide, or something more sinister?
What do YOU think happened?
When I received all the family papers from my Grandpa Reed, they included records from Grandma Reed's side of the family, too. Evidently both of them had been collecting family stories and writing them down, drawing family trees, and collecting letters from relatives. One of the items in the inventory of Grandma's papers was a luggage tag.
It says "Mrs. J.H. Wooley, Flagstaff, Arizona
formerly Lottie Prosser, daughter of
Charles Prosser, Mama's brother."
Over the years, I did enough research to learn that Lottie Prosser (Grandma Reed's cousin) was listed on the 1900 census of Forester, Sanilac County, Michigan (living with her maternal grandmother), and on the 1910 census of Wheatland, Sanilac County, with her husband John H. Wooley and two small sons, William and John Jr. I couldn't find her after that, not even in Arizona records, and I didn't know what became of her.
Then I found out about Online Searchable Death Indexes (http://www.deathindexes.com
), which is a continually updated roster of online vital records for every state. When I learned about Arizona's online death certificates, I went to the website (http://genealogy.az.gov/
) and typed in Lottie Wooley. Immediately I had her death certificate on my computer screen! This told me the reason she was living in Arizona - because she had consumption (or tuberculosis). She died 10 November 1919, at the age of 33.
Some time later, I followed the breadcrumbs on Ancestry to trace Lottie's two sons, and actually called her grandson Arthur Wooley to talk to him about his grandmother. He sent me her picture, which I'm guessing was taken between 1910 and 1915.
The moral of this story is, you never know where the smallest clues are going to take you, so hang onto all of them!