Thursday, August 25, 2011

Grains of Sand - Grains of Salt, Part 2

Part 1 of my research of Rollin Webber's life started to clear up a few things and simultaneously cloud things over a bit.  In other words, more grains of sand mixed with occasional grains of salt (aka seeds of doubt).  I more or less got the wives figured out (or at least I thought I did) with the help of a 1913 Washington Post "Licensed To Marry" notice that matched the name of Rollin's wife on his 1917 Draft Registration. Gertrude Webber was not Aunt Lois, she was Gertrude Cumberland of Washington DC.

License to marry notice - 1913
Rollin, age 33 in 1913 had married 18 year old Gertrude Cumberland who, as it turned out, was a Washington, DC native.  The next step to lock some of this marriage info into place for my research should have been the 1920 Federal Census;  1913 newspaper notice? check! 1917 draft registration? check! 1920 census? -------nothing. Zip! Can't find a thing on Rollin or Gertrude in 1920. That is to say, not on the census. I did find another patent issued to Rollin in 1922, this time for an "adjustable & reversible propeller" but nothing to prove he was still residing in Washington. To this date I still have been unable to find him or Gertrude on any 1920 census.  And it's not like I can  just scroll through the records like I did to find him in Oxford, Maine in 1880 because the population of Washington DC in 1920 was close to 450,000! I'm a patient guy and can be persistent but a task like that is a tad more than I want to tackle. What I did manage to find was Gertrude in 1930...still in Washington, DC...but marital status = D for divorced!  And she's got a 14 year old son named Rollin F Webber living with her!

1930 Federal Census - Washington DC

Still no clue where Uncle Rollin was hiding in 1920 but at least we've got some more info on him; an ex-wife and a teenage son.  The son makes sense now that we know he exists because the newspaper clipping of Rollin's attendance at his sister's silver wedding anniversary indicated he had his son with him. What is not clear in that regard is who was the Mrs. Webber attending the anniversary party with Rollin and Rollin Junior?   Divorcee Gertrude was reported on the 1930 census dated April, 1930. The silver wedding anniversary took place in September of 1930. Was it Gertrude or somebody else? Perhaps the "Faye" that Rollin listed as his wife on the 1942 Allentown draft registration? And if it was "Faye" did they live in Philadelphia like the newspaper clipping specified?  Allentown is just North of Philly so perhaps it was easier for Rollin to claim it was their city of residence?  Perhaps a little editorial license to keep things simple. And maybe it was Aunt Lois?

1930 Federal Census - Washington
Maybe. Maybe is the closest I've been able to come up with to answer that question. There's a Rowland Webber and wife, Faye, listed on the 1930 Philly census. She's from Indiana which turned out to make sense as I'll explain in a minute. But he's listed as being born in District of Columbia with parents born in Virginia. That's not even close. Then again, and I'll explain later, maybe it makes sense. But if this really is Rollin and Faye, maybe they borrowed Rollin, Jr. for the trip to New Hampshire to celebrate the silver wedding anniversary? Who knows? This one is weak, I'll admit, but unless I can pin down Rollin in 1930 with more documentation I'm basically assuming "Rowland" is Rollin and Faye is...TA-DAH!...Aunt Lois. The 1942 draft registration card lists Rollin's wife as "Faye Irwin Webber." And Philly Faye on the census record is listed as "Faye L Webber." steered me to a Faye Lois Irwin born and raised in Indiana. The website also provided a social security record of Faye I Webber's death in 1973 indicating she was a resident of Allentown, Pa with birth year info that matched all the census records. So by this time, I've got bits and pieces, some of which seem to fit together and others that require a little larger leap of faith to swallow as evidence. Nothing came up on my searches regarding the death of Rollin or where he and Faye (aka Aunt Lois) might be buried. To me, that meant one thing...ROAD TRIP!!!

My wife and I had plans to drive to New England in July. I shrewdly made plans to stop in Allentown to see what information we could find. I figured the death date info on Aunt Lois would enable us to find obituary information in the Allentown library. I called ahead and found out they had a good genealogy section with microfilm records of obituaries. If we could find her listed I was hopeful that would also lead us to info on Rollin. Perhaps even lead us to where they were buried as I had found nothing on line. We got to Allentown the evening of July 6th and the first thing we did was scout out the location of the library and then searched for the last known address we had on Rollin using our GPS and the photo of the house taken in 1939. We found both.  The house looked basically the same with improved and updated siding and roofing. I knocked on the door and asked the owner's permission to photograph the house and showed them the 1939 picture as well so they wouldn't think I was a weirdo or stalker. (I also sent them a side by side 11 x 8 after I got home to print it out)
Side by side, 1939 and 2011
 The next morning we started our search in the Allentown library.  A very cordial and helpful staff steered us to computer files of the local newspaper, The Morning Call, and we started the search for Aunt Lois' obituary. We had the social security notice from citing her date of death in 1973 and residence (Allentown) so the obituary should be a piece of cake. I was hopeful it would also reveal info on Rollin, either a year of death or if he survived her. Found nothing. Nothing listed for Aunt Lois. Tried searching for Faye, tried searching for her maiden name, Irwin, and even tried Webber as Weber with one "b" but still nothing. They had obituaries organized by decades so we tried to find her in other time periods besides the 1970's and still found nothing on her.  When we tried that angle we struck out on Aunt Lois but, surprise! surprise! we found Uncle Rollin! The January 15, 1960 edition of The Morning Call,  page 26 listed the obituary for Rollin F. Webber who had passed away on January 14th in a local hospital. He had resided in Allentown since 1936 and his funeral services were to be held on January 17th in a funeral home in Washington, DC.

So much for finding gravestones in Allentown! He apparently was buried in or near Washington, DC. The obituary included a few pieces of information that were matches to facts we already knew and a few surprises as well. We knew his employment history with the navy yard. We did not know he was a veteran having served with the infantry during the Spanish-American war in Puerto Rica. (Not sure if that's a place or they meant Puerto Rico). His survivors were Faye (Aunt Lois), a brother in Michigan (another interesting tale), his son (Rollin, Jr) and one granddaughter (still a mystery to me), and was predeceased by one son (another mystery).  Lots of grains of sand flowing through the hourglass now but unclear what to take with a grain of salt. For instance, the way the obit was written it would seem that Uncle Rollin and Aunt Lois might not have lived in Philadelphia if "he was a resident of this area since 1936...and prior to that worked at...Washington, DC."  Not conclusive one way or the other by any means but just adds to the puzzle. Unless he prepared his own obituary before he died I would assume the information was provided by his widow and perhaps edited by the funeral home assisting with final arrangements. Thus, obituary info as wonderfully informative as this one was, still has to be considered with a grain of salt. It's not a biography, it's just an obituary.

We had reserved the morning in Allentown for research but had travel obligations going forward so we departed Allentown late that morning and headed on to New England. I was especially intrigued by the info that Uncle Rollin was a veteran and surmised that if funeral services were in Washington, perhaps he was buried in Arlington. During the next few weeks while we were vacationing I checked out Arlington cemetery rules on line and determined the best way to find burial information was to submit a written request as instructed on the cemetery website. I also did an online search for the Washington, DC funeral home listed in the obit but only found facilities with the same name in a couple of Maryland locations, nothing in DC.  I sent them an email inquiry to see if they could offer any insight but never received a response. Two weeks later, heading home to Florida, we drove South past and beyond Washington, DC with some reluctance not to be able to find where Uncle Rollin was buried but knowing a search would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

When we got home I decided to look up Lee Funeral Home online again and tried calling them. Two Maryland addresses with the same name were both located within 50 miles of DC. The gentleman I talked to verified that they were, indeed, the same company but they no longer had a facility in DC. He offered to have his office look into their archives to see if they could find any information for me regarding the services reportedly held in DC in January 1960. The next day Lee Funeral Home returned my call with the following info: "their office was contacted by Trexler Funeral Home of Allentown, Pa on January 15, 1960 and requested a representative  meet the widow, Faye Webber, at the train station in DC who was accompanying the remains of her late husband, Rollin F Webber, and assist her in coordinating movement of Rollin to the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC for burial on Saturday, January 16, 1960."

So much for Arlington. Uncle Rollin was buried in Congressional Cemetery located right in the heart of downtown Washington, DC. I looked up the cemetery and they have a website. I was a little concerned when I saw the size describing the cemetery grounds on 35+ acres with 14,000 headstones that it might be a challenge to find out where Rollin was buried.  Another website called had failed to provide any info. But on the Congressional Cemetery website I not only found a listing of Uncle Rollin's burial site, it even provided a photo of his gravestone!

Site - R88/109 Congressional Cemetery
The engraving on the stone is not clear enough to decipher in the photograph provided by the website but I can always improve on the quality by visiting there myself. Maybe not anytime real soon but the next time I go past DC I'll be sure to stop and visit. What struck me as interesting was to recognize that the style of his gravestone, a tower capped with  curved cathedral type peaks facing out on four sides (that's how I describe it, anyway),  is very similar in style to the gravestones of Rollin's parents and grandparents in the Webber cemetery in Oxford, Maine. Finding the gravestone so quickly and easily on the website wasn't the only surprise, however.  Also interred at the same grave site, Rollin in site R88/109,  adjacent in site R88/110 were two Webbers... Cora S. Webber, date of death January 1, 1912. and sharing the same site with her, the unnamed son of Rollin F. & Cora Webber, death date December 28, 1911. Here was the "predeceased son" mentioned in Rollin's obituary. And Cora, who had to have been Rollin's wife before Gertrude and Aunt Lois, apparently died as a result of an unsuccessful birthing of their unnamed son. Mother and child passed away three days apart. Uncle Rollin, with Aunt Lois's assistance, was reunited with his first wife and infant son and all three rest together in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC.  To me that is just so sad but so sweet that Rollin would want to be buried with his first wife and infant child. Not to mention that Aunt Lois, Uncle Rollin's third wife, made sure it happened the way her husband wanted.

License To Marry notice - May 1910
 The Congressional Cemetery website even listed a short obituary for Cora including her maiden name and age (31 yrs. 8 mos. 1 days). Even though her maiden name was spelled wrong (nee Trewella vs Trewolla) I was able to find records of her birth in Virginia and, again, a license to marry notice published in the Washington Post in May, 1910.  Thus,  Rollin and Cora were only married about a year and a half before she passed away. And to the best of my knowledge after researching Rollin from Oxford, Maine to Washington, DC, Rollin had a total of three wives: Cora, Gertrude, and Faye Lois. I found some information on Cora's life, beginning with her birth in Bowling Green, Virginia in 1880. She and her family had relocated to DC by 1900 and in 1910 at the age of 30 she married Rollin. Gertrude was born and raised in DC but the last record I can locate on her is the 1930 Federal Census where, as a divorcee, she lived with her son, Rollin Junior, still in the District of Columbia. No information after that has been forthcoming in my research but I'm hoping when the 1940 Federal Census records are made public (should be next year) I might find more on her and on Rollin Junior as well. I have a social security death notice transcript that appears to report Junior's death in March, 1976 but that's all I've been able to find. I have found nothing to verify any clues about the granddaughter mentioned in Rollin's obituary. At this point I can only assume she might have been a daughter of Rollin Junior but that trail, so far, has gone cold.

So my research on my Uncle Rollin has pretty much come full circle from his birth in Oxford, Maine in 1880 to his death in Allentown, Pa in 1960 with burial in Washington, DC.  It's true that the decade from 1920 to 1930 is a little foggy as far as where Rollin was residing but I'll continue working on picking out whatever details and records I can. The question at this point of my investigation was, what happened to Aunt Lois? My source information on her consisted of three Federal Census records from Indiana for 1900, 1910, and 1920, the questionable Philadelphia census in 1930 (with husband, "Rowland"), and the social security death record of 1973. When we had been unable to find her obituary in the Allentown library, the staff suggested we submit a request to the state for a death record. I could do that and maybe I still will but my cheap  frugal nature is holding me back from paying for it. Recalling what the Maryland funeral home  ( Lee Funeral Home)  people had told me I thought it was worth a shot to contact the Allentown funeral home (Trexler Funeral Home) regarding Aunt Lois.  Trexler had coordinated moving Rollin's remains to DC so maybe they would have also taken care of Aunt Lois when she died (in Allentown) in 1973. It was worth a shot and it turned out to be a good guess. Trexler researched their archives and got back to me with confirmation that they did indeed, handle arrangements for Aunt Lois and, as with Uncle Rollin, coordinated moving her remains to Indiana where she is buried in a family plot with her parents and a sister. Trexler even provided me with a copy of her obituary.

Obituary notice - Aunt Lois
It was interesting to see in her obit that "a former government employee, she had worked in the U.S. Census Bureau in Washington."  I assume her work in DC is how she met Rollin. She was still in Indiana for the 1920 census with occupation listed as "clerk for U.S. Treasury."  Ironic that she worked for the Census Bureau while the 1920 census record for Rollin has eluded me and the 1930 census from Phily is a little shaky as far as solid evidence goes. And while we're on the subject (1930 census), if "Rowland" really is Rollin, and if Faye aka Aunt Lois works for the Census Bureau, could Rollin have "borrowed" previous wives' ancestry info for some reason?  It might explain why "Rowland" was listed as being born in DC and parents born in Virginia.  Kind of a stretch and an interesting conspiracy theory but the bottom line is I simply don't have a clue. All I can do is try to piece together as much information as I can find and hope that it's accurate and logical.  All in all I feel fortunate to have been able to document as much as we have on the lives of both Uncle Rollin and Aunt Lois  and will continue to work on those "foggy" years of 1920 to 1930.

                                              MORE NEWS FROM UNCLE ROLLIN

Two days following our library search in Allentown my sister in law gave me some records she had discovered while sorting through items in her home in preparation for a yard sale. Talk about irony?!? And good timing! One of the records was a letter dated July 6, 1958.  The letter was written by Uncle Rollin and addressed to my mother and father.
Letter written by Uncle Rollin - 1958
Rollin wrote the letter to thank my mother and father for updating him with information regarding the passing of his sister, Florence (Webber) Currier, who had died June 22nd. He listed the names and addresses of extended family so that my parents could ensure all concerned family members were notified.  The listings have given me  source documentation for my files on the 1958 residences of extended Webber family members. (Thank you, Uncle Rollin!) One is listed as his brother, Charles, but instead of Charles Webber he's listed as Charles Kezartee.  In my Part 1 post my grandmother, Florence Currier had also listed a brother named Charles. And in the same post I included a newspaper clipping of Florence's silver wedding anniversary that included attendees, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Webber Kezarth. Long story short...when their father died in 1880 Charles was 2 years old and adopted by a couple from Michigan, last name Kezartee. So Charles was embraced by a new family and got a new surname in the process. Rollin also noted his thanks  "for the invitation to come and see you but my condition makes it uncertain what we can do."  This comment, one and a half years before he died, suggests to me that the "brief illness" cited in his obituary may have been longer than "brief." But the one comment Rollin made in his letter that truly filled me with inspiration to carry on my search in family history was the sentence, probably addressed to his niece, my mother, that said, "Some day I hope to give you a detailed list of your relatives showing their connections to the Webber family."  I don't know if he ever did that or not.  If he did I'd love to see it. But, in the meantime I'll do my best to make sure my descendants will have access to any and all family genealogy information I can gather. And to that end, my search goes on.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Grains Of Sand - Grains Of Salt, Part 1

Sometimes when I'm researching family history, information sources just start clicking into place in quick succession, one clue right after the other. It can be exciting (yes, you're right, I've gotta' get a life!) but it's more the exception than the rule in genealogy.  Nevertheless, it does happen and when it does, it brings to mind an hourglass. For me, anyway. An hourglass that for a few brief moments almost brings my ancestors back to life. When the hourglass is stood upright the sand begins to fall, one grain right after the other. Grains of sand descending from the top bulb into the bottom in a smooth uninterrupted flow.  I'm not the first to view life events this way.  Hourglass imagery has been around for centuries and at times has even found its way onto tombstone engraving to symbolize the swiftness of time in our lives.  Even our ancestors knew life is short!

And when the research clues are clicking, when the sources and the evidence from years ago seem to fall into place on their own, I try to remember to be patient and not get carried away with accepting material as fact the first time I see it (there's that excitement issue again).  Documentation, after all, is generated by people. Just because a record is typed or printed or written in good penmanship doesn't mean it's irrefutable. What is irrefutable is that people make documents. And people make mistakes. People contribute information to be recorded, sometimes about themselves and sometimes about others.  And people have different motivations that can affect the accuracy of those contributions. People lie, people brag, people cheat, and lots of people take short cuts. Some people are dumb, some people are not as smart as they think they are, and some people, believe it or not, have something to hide. Maybe even our own ancestors!  So taking this all into consideration,  I try to be cautious about information I see when I first see it. And take any information with a grain of salt.

My maternal grandmother's youngest brother's life has commandeered my interest strongly but I don't really know why. My research of  my grand uncle, Rollin Farquhar Webber,  has been an on-again-off-again process of investigation with stops and starts and roadblocks and surprises for quite some time. I think I've compiled a fairly accurate picture of his life but it hasn't been easy.  Photographs are what stirred my interest in Rollin initially, probably because some of them were noted on the reverse side with names of those pictured. (That makes research so much should be a law!)  I may have met him but I don't know for sure. My memories are of "Uncle Rollin and Aunt Lois in Allentown" and my sister recalls visiting them when she was younger. Whether or not I was included in any visits or if I ever saw my grand aunt and uncle at my grandmother's home in New Hampshire, I don't recall and will never know.  The photograph below is the first one I came across that captured Rollin and his wife, Lois, but there were no identities noted on the back. All I knew at first was that I recognized my grandmother, Florence (Webber) Currier standing on the far right of the photo.

No id's noted on back but recognized my grandmother on right.
 Somewhere along the line I found  photos with the identities noted on the back of the pictures and then was able to identify Uncle Rollin and Aunt Lois as second and third from left in the photo above.

Rollin identified in center

Lois identified in center
Once I knew what they looked like I had the start of building this branch of my family tree and commenced researching Rollin. I knew he was my grandmother's brother, one of nine mentioned in a letter my grandmother had written to her daughter, Alice (my mother's sister) in 1957. On another page of the same letter, Florence (Webber) Currier recalled that for she and her siblings, "childhood was over," when their father died. She was 11 years old when he died and she was born in 1869 so her father had to have died around 1880.  Thus, it was probable that Rollin was born sometime between 1869 and 1880.  He was the last one listed in her letter's list of brothers and sisters so I guessed she might have listed them in chronological age order, making Rollin the youngest of the nine children. Just a guess at this point. What made things frustrating at this stage of research, guessing or not, was that I couldn't find any Federal Census Records for Oxford, Maine for the Webbers in 1880 on I had some census records listing their father in 1870 in Oxford, Maine but nadda for 1880.

Florence Currier's 1958 letter

Florence mentioned that when her father passed away her mother was not in good health and unable to take care of nine children. So Florence and two siblings were taken in by an aunt in Boston. Unfortunately, she did not mention what happened to Rollin. We know Rollin exists, we just don't know much about him. Not yet.

GRAINS OF SAND FROM ANCESTRY.COM's website gave me some clues on Rollin.  I had added him to my tree on the website with what little I knew about him; name, birth state, and entered birth year as 1880 + / - ten years. The website generates little vibrating leaves (as in family tree leaves blowing in the wind) that flag attention to possible sources of information related to any people in your tree. For Rollin, the first clues shaking the leaves were Federal Census records for 1900 and 1910. The 1900 record listed a Rollin F Webber residing as a lodger in a home in Fitchburg, Ma, a single male born in Jan 1880 in Maine with both parents listed as born in Maine. Rollin F Webber worked as a machinist and reported 0 months of unemployment. I thought this information was credible because the parental birth data matched, his reported birth date was logical, and Florence had once lived with a half sister in Fitchburg. I checked driving distance between the half sister's census address and Rollin's and they were less than a mile apart. If this is Rollin, we've got birth month & year as well as an occupation. This looks like a good grain of sand falling into place.

Fitchburg Census - 1900

The 1910 Federal Census listed a Rollin F Webber lodging in Washington, DC, still single, still a machinist (working at the Washington Navy Yard), with age and parental birth info still in line with what we already had. So again this is looking like good information. Washington DC not too surprising considering we know that years later "Uncle Rollin" lived in Allentown, Pa about 200 miles North of there. We'll take this clue with a grain of salt until we find more information.

Washington DC Census - 1910

 Having no census records for 1880 was still bugging me but every search I did on came up with nothing. There could be any number of reasons why I couldn't find any of my grandmother's family recorded for that year. I know the website has gazillions of records all transcribed from written records like census records so I thought perhaps there was a spelling transcription error involved. The computer programs try to overcome this possibility by ranking clues in a descending order of relevance. The 1870 Oxford census records had been recorded in handwriting (and transcribed to the computer accordingly) as surname, "Wilber" instead of "Webber" so I thought maybe a similar problem was making the 1880 records illusive. I figured the town of Oxford, Maine in 1880, although a thriving farming community, might not be too hard to scroll through all of the Federal Census pages to see if I could find something. I don't know how to do that on so I got access through HeritageQuest via my local (Florida) library card. I only had to go to page 4 of the Oxford census pages to find it.  My great grandfather, Samuel Webber was listed on page 4 on line 13 with his wife and seven children listed in descending order by age. There was Rollin at the bottom of the family's listing with his age posted as "4/12."  The enumerator who compiled and presented the record dated it "on the 3rd day of June, 1880."  BUT (and that's a big but), Samuel Webber's name and the entire information on line 13 was lined through. Crossed off. No wonder the computer couldn't find it! Due to the line-out the information was never transcribed into the data base. Same for the family members listed, including Rollin and my grandmother who, for some reason, was listed as "Hulda F" instead of her given name, Florence. Huldah was her middle name according to all other records I've seen. But not even counting blatant errors by enumerators I've seen numerous name changes like that, especially swap arounds between given and middle names. (My father was born and named George Charles but he changed it to Charles George). So now I'm feeling better that another grain of sand has made its way to the bottom of my research hourglass.

Oxford, Maine Census - 1880
I found the "missing" 1880 census in June 2010. In August 2010 I visited the Webber Cemetery in Oxford, Maine and noted Samuel Webber's headstone engraved with date of death:  May 24, 1880.  Perhaps, and this is just my guess, the enumerator for the 1880 census, wanting to submit up to date and correct data on his record dated June 3rd 1880, lined through Samuel Webber's name because, after all, one doesn't count the dead on the census! And it's probably a safe bet that said enumerator didn't anticipate transcription for computer records would be thrown off by his attempt to ensure accuracy.  (He probably didn't foresee those quivering family tree leaves either).  With three Federal Census records as sources I believed information on Rollin was beginning to fall into place. Subsequent census records, however, were not so easily forthcoming.

I already had a photograph of Rollin's house in Allentown.

I also had a newspaper clipping reporting my grandmother's silver wedding anniversary in 1930. Rollin was listed as a guest (name misspelled as, "Wilber") indicating he lived in Philadelphia with his wife (was this Aunt Lois)? and a son. Nobody in my family ever heard of Uncle Rollin having a son.  If we had it would mean we had a cousin floating around out there somewhere. Not a terribly unusual phenomenon in genealogy...I've already come across a couple of "cousins" in family history research but, nevertheless, this was a new one on me. provided more data on Rollin but not census records.

1917 - World War I Draft Registration

1942 - World War II Draft Registration
 The middle name, Farquhar raises its interesting head. But previous research had come across an aunt of Rollin who had married someone whose surname was Farquhar. He must have impressed somebody to warrant awarding Rollin with such an unusual middle name.
1916 - Patent issued

Draft registrations confirmed Rollin lived in Washington DC in 1917.  A patent issued in his name for a motor vehicle starting device was also confirmation of his residence in DC. The 1942 draft registration shows he moved to Allentown, Pa while still working for the US Navy in ordinance. His career with the government and his success in designing a patented machinery device indicate he was a highly skilled machinist. But family questions abound while he hook slides from Maine to Massachusetts,  down to DC and back up to Allentown via Philadelphia...who is Gertrude in 1917 and who is Faye in 1942 and who is the son mentioned in 1930?  Where is Aunt Lois in all of this? Just how many wives did Uncle Rollin have? I've heard that sailors have a girl in every port but does that apply to employees of the Navy too? Lots of questions brewing in my research so obviously, I've got some more digging to do to come up with some answers. I've done that but this is starting to turn into a novel so I'm going to stop here and continue on in another post.  Stay tuned... be search will go on in Part 2