I haven't found out what happened to James Lewis Prosser, but it's only a matter of time. For me, genealogy is a life-long pursuit, and there's always something more to find!
I've known for a long time that my 2nd great-uncle Charles Prosser was divorced from his first wife, Amanda, ever since I found him and his second wife Anna on the 1900 census of Chicago, Illinois.But I didn't know when or where until Ancestry introduced a new collection, "Michigan, Divorce Records, 1897-1952". There I found that Amanda Prosser had sued for divorce on the grounds of desertion, first filing in December 1884. For whatever reason, the divorce was not final until 1899.
"Michigan Divorce Records, 1897-1952," Ancestry > 1897-1923 > 1897 Alcona-1898 Eaton > image 487 of 695, Summary of Returns Relative to Divorces, St. Clair County, Michigan, p.451, no. 322-6, Amanda Prosser vs. Chas D. Prosser (1884).
I knew I wanted the original divorce papers, but it wasn't until earlier this year that I finally emailed, then called the St. Clair County Clerk's office in Michigan to ask. Their response was that the record was only one page, but it was worth getting. Soon afterward, I received it in the mail.
St. Clair County Clerk's Office, Divorce record for Amanda and Charles Prosser (1899), Port Huron, MI.
It didn't take me long, looking at this page, to realize that it solved a mystery. Several years ago, I found a birth announcement for Charles and Amanda's son, born on 15 April 1886.
"Born," Crawford (MI) Avalanche, 15 April 1886, p.4, col. 2
Looking at the divorce record, it's obvious to me that son was James L. Prosser, who would turn 14 "on the fourth day of April 1900". And he was listed with his father Charles and stepmother Anna on the 1900 census of Chicago:
1900 U.S. census, Cook County, Illinois, population schedule, Chicago, enumeration district (ED) 274, p.5B, dwelling 57, family 110, Charles Prosser household; NARA microfilm T623, roll 255.
Like many census records, this has more than one error. Lewis Prosser (evidently named for both grandfathers, James Qua and Lewis Prosser) was born in April 1886, not 1894, and was sixteen years old, not six. Charles Prosser and Anna Leguille had been married in Chicago just the year before, in August 1899. Evidently he was an honorable man (unlike his father) and waited until the divorce decree was signed in July 1899 before marrying again.
I haven't found out what happened to James Lewis Prosser, but it's only a matter of time. For me, genealogy is a life-long pursuit, and there's always something more to find!
Anatomy of a Probate File
Recently I discovered, through DNA testing of a cousin, that my 2nd great-grandmother Rhoda Wilsey Prosser Jones was actually Rhoda Wiltse, the daughter of Reuben Wiltse, who lived in Saginaw, Michigan. Reuben died in 1882, and I desperately needed to look at his probate file. Since Saginaw county probate records are not online (even in the new Ancestry collection of wills and probates) OR on microfilm at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I hired a local genealogist to go to the Saginaw county courthouse for me. There were 40 pages in the file, and I paid the $1 per page, willingly. When I sat down to go through the papers, I decided to make a list, in date order, of the actions taken by the administrator and the probate court. It made for a very interesting story:
1 March 1882: Ezra Wiltse of Ontario, Canada appeared and states that he was the son of Reuben Wiltse, who died 22 February 1882. Reuben had real and personal property valued at about $2000. Ezra stated that the other heirs were Mrs. Chloe Gibbs and Mrs. Phoebe Prettyman, but he did not know of their whereabouts. He requested Anson Sheldon to be the administrator of the estate.
3 March 1882: Editor's affidavit: probate notice published in the Chesaning Weekly Argus for 3 weeks.
29 April 1882: Probate court assigned Rufus Mason to be the administrator of Reuben Wiltse's estate.
29 April 1882: Bond in the amount of $500 posted by the administrator.
16 May 1882: Inventory of the estate taken; total including land and personal possessions, $2098.35.
9 June 1882: Editor's notice: ad in Chesaning paper requesting creditors to come forward before 8 December 1882.
16 December 1882: List of creditors: $600 owing against the estate.
10 January 1883: Administrator came before the court to state that a great part of Reuben's property is perishable, and requests to be authorized to dispose of it by public or private sale.
(no date): Personal estate originally valued at $290 has depreciated to $150.
12 January 1883: Administrator requests that "all the perishable assets be speedily disposed of and converted into money." Request granted by the court. If sold at public auction, posting of public notices required at least 3 days prior.
21 February 1883: The debts of the deceased amount to $900; personal estate is insufficient to pay this amount. The heirs are: Ezra Wiltse of Addison, Ontario, Canada; Chloe Gibbs of Middleville, Barry County, Michigan; Rhoda Jones of Hillssdale, Hillsdale County, Michigan; and Phoebe Prettyman of Fairfax, Atchison County, Missouri.
Rufus Mason requests to sell the described real estate "and make distribution of the surplus."
28 February 1883: Newspaper notice in the Chesaning paper, anyone opposed to the sale of this real estate please appear in court on March 26.
26 March 1883: No one appeared to oppose the sale of the real estate.
20 October 1883: Rufus Mason reports to the court. The property was initially offered for sale on 25 June 1883, at one o'clock in the afternoon, "and for want of bidders offering any price warranting a sale; such sale was adjourned from time to time" until 3 October 1883, when it was sold to Isaac Gibbs of Middleville, Michigan for $575.
Making a list like this made the actions of the court and the administrator clear.
Reuben's land was worth only what someone was willing to pay for it. It was sold to his son-in-law, Isaac Gibbs.
The heirs received nothing, because the debts outweighed the assets.
DNA - The Brick Wall Buster
I smacked headlong into my first brick wall, years before I ever heard the phrase applied to genealogy. In 1974, when I was handed the stack of papers from my grandfather, which included a luggage tag with the name "Charles Prosser" as my great-grandmother Ruth Prosser's brother, I had no idea that this was a problem I would be wrestling with for almost 40 years. The basic problem is this: Charles and Ruth's father (name unknown) was born in 1822 (probably in New York) and died "in the Civil War" in 1863.
Along the way, I experienced many dead ends and wrong turns. The Hillsdale (Michigan) County Courthouse burned in 1864, so there were no marriage or birth records. My dad's older sister said (somewhat doubtfully) that she thought Ruth and Charles' father was named Henry Prosser. That sent me off to find Civil War records for Henry L. Prosser, of Birge's Western Sharpshooters, only to find that probably wasn't him. I sent for the Civil War pension records of every male Prosser who fought in the war and received a pension. Then I discovered that my great-great grandmother Rhoda (Wilsey)
Prosser had remarried, to Henry Jones, making her ineligible for a pension. Rhoda Prosser Jones died tragically and mysteriously in 1883, and Henry Jones' Civil War pension records didn't give any information about her first husband.
Over the years of research, I discovered that Charles Prosser had indeed gotten married, in 1884, to Amanda Quay, and they had a daughter named Lottie. But I lost track of him after that - he wasn't to be found on the 1900 census anywhere in Michigan.
Until about four years ago, when (trying one more time) I plugged Charles' name into the search engine at Ancestry.com, looking for "Charles Prosser, born 1864 in Michigan" - and got a hit. There was a Charles Prosser living in Chicago, Illinois, with his wife Anna (also born in Michigan) and his 4 sons. Careful analysis showed that this could very well be my great-grandmother's brother - he was a printer, and this possible second family did not overlap with his first one.
And just because I want to know everything about everybody (a good trait for a genealogist), I started tracing the sons: Lewis, Raymond Walter, Charles Albert, and Earl Augusta. I couldn't find Lewis anywhere, and in fact he wasn't mentioned in Charles' 1910 obituary. Raymond married Marie Bonine, and they lived in Oak Park, Illinois, where my Aunt Myrl visited them in the 1930's. They had a son named Don, and I traced his descendants to California, and found them on Facebook. Earl Augusta married Lottie Alder, and they also moved to California. They had no children.
Charles Albert was another mystery - I found his World War 1 Draft Registration card, where he was living in Detroit, but didn't find him after that. Until earlier this year, when I sent a message to someone who had a family tree on Ancestry. She replied that Charles Albert Prosser had married her great-grandfather's step-daughter, Irene Leroux. With that information, I was able to find them on the 1940 census, with three children, all born between 1923 and 1929. More exploring online told me that the two older children had died just within the last couple of years, but the youngest son, in his 80's, was probably still alive. Online directories found his current address and phone number, and so I called him and introduced myself. He was pleased (if bemused) to hear from me, and told me that his father never talked about his family. Over the next few weeks we exchanged a lot of information by email, and when I asked about doing a Y-DNA test through FamilyTreeDNA, he readily agreed.
Words cannot describe the elation I felt when FTDNA notified me that the results had been posted, and I signed in and saw that we had two matches, and both of them with the last name of Prosser.
At long last, after 40 years of research, and several "I give up" moments, I had a real breakthrough. A few minutes of research on Ancestry told me that John Prosser arrived in Rhode Island about 1698, and died there in 1714. His children and grandchildren headed for New York, where my (first name unknown) great great grandfather Prosser was born about 1822.
I've been corresponding with Allen Prosser, who coordinates the Prosser Surname Project for FamilyTreeDNA, and he's given me some great information. I found the wills and probate records for Ichabod Prosser (1744-1818, John Prosser's grandson) and Ichabod's grandson Daniel Prosser (1796-1890) and his wife Celia Prosser (1801-1892). And I've hired a professional genealogist in Rhode Island to find out more about John Prosser in the collections of the Rhode Island Historical Society.
I have gained so much information in just the past few months, it makes my head spin! And it proves to me, once again, that "there is ALWAYS something more to find!"
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Further research found this Charles Prosser on the 1940 census, living with his wife and children:
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.
There's Always More to Find
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!
CSI - Where Are You??
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?
The Luggage Tag
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!
All content (c) Claudia Breland, 2022