On Sunday I posted a transcription of a letter my uncle wrote to my grandparents on 8 July 1942 describing leaving his home in San Francisco and traveling to Navy boot camp in San Diego.
When you are reading and sharing your family letters, it will be a much richer experience if you take the time to understand the context in which the letter was written. Here are some ideas to get you started in researching the context.
Look for images. Warren mentioned several places in his letter, among them the Federal Building in San Francisco and the Santa Fe railroad depot in Los Angeles. I was able to do image searches on google and find historical photos of those buildings. Libraries and state archives are another good resource for finding vintage images of buildings. With these searches I was able to go back in time and see what my uncle saw.
I knew that Warren was in the navy, and I was able to use Fold3 to discover a bit more about his experience. A 31 December 1943 muster roll from the submarine Searaven showed an enlistment date of 6 July 1942, just two days before he wrote the letter. That immediately got me thinking about what my 21-year-old uncle might have been feeling – excitement, fear, homesickness and more.
I thought about the date. July 6 was a Monday. Just two days after Independence Day, the most patriotic of holidays. I imagine the first 4th of July after Pearl Harbor must have held some particularly impassioned celebrations. Might those have perhaps prompted Warren to enlist? What was going on in San Francisco and the world at that time?
I looked at the San Francisco Chronicle and found some answers. On Sunday 5 July 1945, page 1 of the comics ran the cartoon, “Terry and the Pirates.” In this strip, the evil Chinese captor threatens Muzz and derides her independence. Mazz ponders the words of the Declaration of Independence regarding the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and how we must invest in our futures to keep those rights.
Elsewhere in the same paper, above the masthead on page 1 of the news section, was a striking photograph, the full width of the page, captioned “Yesterday, San Francisco saw a parade. San Francisco has seen other parades, many of them, but never one like this. For passing grimly down Market street marched sudden death. This was typified by a 3200-man combat team of the Army of the United States. Armed to the teeth, this unit, however, was not unique. It was only representative of hundreds of other such units in the United States and over the world ready – and anxious – for a scrap. Above, infantrymen of the unit march by with fixed baoynets.”[i] Other page 1 stories included “New Zealanders Pile Into Rommell; The Tide MAY Be Turning in Battle of Egypt,” “First Yank Flyers Skim Dutch Housetops to Bomb 3 Airdromes in Nazi Europe” and more.[ii] It seems that every day the first several pages of the Chronicle were filled with accounts of the war. Warren must have had those stories in his mind when he enlisted and as he wrote his parents of his experiences as a new recruit.
When you’re reading old correspondence, make sure you spend some time studying the history, reading the local newspapers of the time, and finding images to make your family letters and the people who wrote them come alive.
[i] San Francisco Chronicle, 5 July 1942, page 1, col 1.
[ii] San Francisco Chronicle, 5 July 1942, page 1
Last week saw the “final” blog post on the always-fascinating Julia Achard. (Final???!!! Don’t you believe it! I doubt I’ll ever be done with my obsession with her exploits.)
But...as I search for more stories of my ancestors, their families, friends, associates, neighbors, and those random people I find mention of in old newspapers to share on the blog, let me report on a picturesque incident – a cautionary tale for beachcombers and fisherfolk even today.
Before I wrapped up my Julia saga, I just had to do one more newspaper search and I found a brief mention of her in the Berkeley Daily Gazette of July 26, 1909. “Miss D. Wright and Mrs. J. A. Achard will open a dancing academy, Native Sons’ hall, Saturday evening, July 31st at 8:30. Juvenile class Wednesday, August 4th, at 2:30. Ballroom, fancy and stage dancing, physical and grace culture. Songs with gestures taught by the quickest methods.”[i] Gotta hand it to Julia, at nearly 70 years old, she’s opening a dancing academy. Quite a go-getter.
I need to see if I can find out a bit more about Miss D. Wright, but newspaper-rubbernecker that I am, I was captivated by many stories on that page, (a bigamist!, an embezzler! a leather dog-valise!), none so much as the tale of poor little Millicent Leary. “Timidly knocking at the door of the emergency hospital, two little girls appealed to the matron for aid. One of the youngsters was holding a blood-soaked handkerchief to her nose. ‘The crab did it – the nasty thing,’ sobbed the poor sufferer. ‘I’m not going to fish any more. It hurts my nose.’”[ii] It seems Millicent and her friend caught two small crabs and put them in a box. Curious Millicent insisted on peeking in the box at the angry crustaceans, one of whom showed his displeasure by pinching her on the nose. The doctor and nurses fixed her up and she was able to go home, a bit wiser for the experience.
Next time you go beachcombing, picture Millicent and remember to keep your schnozzle a safe distance from the crabs!
[i] Berkeley Daily Gazette, 26 July 1909, page 5, col 2 untitled article, from California Digital Newspaper Collection, cndc.ucr.edu : accessed 12 March 2017.
[ii] Berkeley Daily Gazette, 26 July 1909, page 5, col 3 “Crab Bites Little Girl on the Nose,” from California Digital Newspaper Collection, c
Last week we left off with Julia's brother, Charles Brannack, arrested in the opium dens of Santa Cruz. Today we return to Julia's saga...
By the time Charles Brannack was arrested in Santa Cruz, his sister had been married to her third husband, Meliton Achard, a Frenchman, and at last a husband near to her own age. They were wed 2 July 1885 in Livermore, California.[i] For a time they lived in Lodi. This may be where Julia began her occupation as a midwife. On 30 November 1889 Julia filed a patent application for a liniment, “highly beneficial in cases of sore throat, rheumatism, sprains, bruises, &c.” It’s ingredients were specified as one gallon alcohol, one pound of chloroform, six ounces ether, six ounces laudanum, six ounces gum-camphor, six ounces tincture arnica, two ounces tincture cayenne, three large beef-galls, four ounces fresh butter.[ii] She advertised her compound in various newspapers.[iii]
Julia and Meliton lived for a time in Lodi and then moved to San Francisco. She advertised herself as a midwife and Meliton is listed in the city directories as a hotel keeper, The Liberty House.[iv] It is hard to know how long they lived happily together, but the end of the marriage appears decidedly unhappy.
"Julia Achard… charges cruelty as a ground for her application to be divorced from Meliton Achard. The parties were married in Livermore July 2, 1885, and until recently, for aught that appears in the complaint, Achard was a good husband. Achard entered upon his course of ill treatment by calling his wife bad names and imputing to her a want of chastity. This sort of thing culminated last Monday in physical abuse and threats by Achard to take his wife's life. He drove her from the house by force, and then nailed up the doors and windows so that she would not be able to return. He has since held sole possession of the family residence at 555 [sic] Mission street, and Mrs. Achard has been compelled to look out for herself.[v]
Much as this would lead one to believe that Meliton no longer loved Julia, apparently he (or perhaps Julia) had a change of heart . Seven months after his incident with the hammer and nails, Meliton’s obituary reads, “Died… Achard, In the Napa Insane Asylum, 9 July 1896, Meliton Achard, beloved husband of Julia A. Achard, a native of France, aged 52 years, 3 months and 29 days.”[vi]
Julia was not widowed for long. On 12 June 1897 she married her fourth husband, Edward W. Matthews in Oakland.[vii] But this turn at married life proved no happier for Julia, and she was granted a divorce from Edward on 9 January 1899 on the grounds of neglect.[viii]
Julia lived in San Francisco for several years as a “widow.” She appears to have used the surname Achard, at least professionally, for most of the remainder of her life. In June of 1898 she was practicing as a midwife with a “home in confinement” at 126 Second street.[ix] Perhaps one such patient of Julia was Rose de la Fontaine.
Rose, the daughter of Edward and Mary O’Neill was born about 1874.[x] On 22 February 1893, Rose married John de la Fontaine.[xi] Five months later Rose gave birth to Florence, who sadly died on 31 August 1894 at the age of one year, one month and one day.[xii] On 22 January 1899, John and Rose lost another child, Grace, at the age of two months and 16 days.[xiii] Maybe Julia Achard assisted at the birth of Grace. In any event, in September of 1899, Rose was under the care of Julia Achard, when she died on 8 September. “It was reported to Coroner Hill that Mrs. Achard had represented herself to be a physician. Should this prove the fact, the woman will be liable to prosecution for practicing medicine without a license. Malpractice is suspected.”[xiv]
However, the following week, the newspaper headline indicated “Midwife Achard was not to blame at all, Mrs. de la Fontaine died of a painful disease. First Verdict of the Jury not approved and a second verdict of death from natural causes received. Coroner Hill held an inquest yesterday morning upon the body of Mrs. R. de la Fontaine… The deceased had been attended by Mrs. Achard, a midwife, who had administered some simple remedy to relieve vomiting. The autopsy showed that cirrhosis of the liver had caused death and that there were no evidences of malpractice or of even any necessity for it. Mrs. Achard testified that in her experience of thirty-eight years as a midwife Mrs. de la Fontaine was the only patient who had died in her care. She had suggested that a physician should be called, but Mrs. De la Fontaine refused to allow one to be summoned, as she did not believe her condition to be serious. The jury returned a verdict that death had been caused by neglect, on the part of some person unknown, to summon medical assistance, but the coroner refused to approve of the verdict and the case was reopened and additional evidence introduced. Autopsy Surgeon Zabala assured the jury that death was due to disease and even if a physician had been called in a few days before her death it was doubtful whether he could have succeeded in saving her life. The jury returned a verdict of death from natural causes, and the verdict was approved".[xv]
If Rose de la Fontaine was the first patient who died in the care of Julia Achard, she was not the last.
[i] San Francisco Chronicle, 6 Dec 1895, page 8, column 5, “Cruel Husbands Sued for Divorce”
[ii] Website: Women Inventor’s Index – 1790-1895, http://staff.lib.muohio.edu/shocker/govlaw/FemInv/patgifs/400992/01.jpg accessed 11 April 2013
[iii] Sacramento Daily Union, 22 Feb 1889, page 2, Advertisement “J.A.A. Liniment”
[iv] Great Register of Voters San Joaquin County, California 1890 California State Library, California History Section; Great Registers, 1866-1898; Collection Number: 4 - 2A; CSL Roll Number: 119; FHL Roll Number: 977281; City Directories for San Francisco, California, 1892, Publisher: Edward M Adams, Page Number: 163
[v] San Francisco Chronicle, 6 Dec 1895, page 8, column 5, "Cruel Husbands Sued for Divorce" (note: city directories of the period indicate the address of the Achards was 550 Mission, not 555 Mission as stated in the newspaper article)
[vi] San Francisco Call, 17 July 1896, page 13
[vii] San Francisco Chronicle, 14 June 1897, page 9, column 3.
[viii] San Francisco Chronicle, 10 January 1899, page 6, column 1.
[ix] San Francisco Call, 2 June 1898, page 10
[x] US Census 1880 Year: 1880; Census Place: San Francisco, San Francisco, California; Roll: 77; Family History Film: 1254077; Page: 74C; Enumeration District: 151; Image: 0150, lines 6-15, accessed through Ancestry.com 5 March 2013
[xi] San Francisco Call, 20 July 1893 (sic), page 12, “Married” (note spelling is listed as de la Fontane)
[xii] Ibid, 1 September 1894, page 8, “Deaths”
[xiii] Ibid, 23 January 1899, page 9, “Deaths”
[xiv] San Francisco Chronicle, 9 September 1899, page 11 “Malpractice Is Suspected”
[xv] San Francisco Call, 12 September 1899, page 12, “Midwife Achard Was Not To Blame At All”
It would be difficult to assess who was the blackest sheep in the Brannack fold, but Julia’s brother, Charles Edgar Brannack might be a good candidate.
In January 1882, Charles and his nephew, Fred Wermuth (the two of them only a year apart in age) were involved in a barroom brawl in Calaveras County. Charles and Fred along with their friends, a pair of cousins named Thomas and Robert Pope had gone quail hunting. The four men, none older than 23, packed their hunting gear, including four shotguns, and camped in a deserted cabin in the Sierra foothills. On Friday evening they traveled to the town of Camanche, and after a period of drinking in John Cavagnero’s general store, they got into a row with each other, breaking up furniture, glassware and windows. Henry Cavagnero, John’s brother, sent word to John who came in, calmed the men down and got them out into the street. Back inside, the Cavagnero’s heard someone in the street yell, “Look, he’s going to shoot!” whereupon Charles Brannack rushed back inside, leveled his shotgun at Henry and exclaimed, “Shall I shoot the son of a bitch?” And he did! Cavagnero was seriously injured, shot entering in his head and neck. Another man standing by him, Michael Fox, was also struck with shot in his nose.
The four ruffians took off in a wagon at break-neck speed, headed for Lodi. The wagon hit a stump, threw some of the men and some of the shotguns which fired as they hit the ground. The Pope cousins, one of whom was wounded on his head, turned themselves in the next morning, but were later discharged. Charles Brannack was arrested and jailed in Sacramento, though no charges were brought against Fred Wermuth. In July, Brannack was sentenced to two years imprisonment at San Quentin prison for shooting Cavagnero. It appears Henry Cavagnero survived.
Any time he may have served in prison did little to improve Charles Brannack’s behavior. In November 1887, the Santa Cruz police chief and another officer witnessed a man purchase opium. The two followed him, trying to find his “joint” – the place where he would smoke the entrancing drug. They followed him to Lyman Brannack’s barn . The officers saw a light in the upper part of the barn. Stepping to the door, the officers were confronted by Charles Brannack, the son of the owner, carrying a lantern in one hand and a shotgun in the other. Seeing the officers, Brannack blew out the light. They seized Brannack, and upstairs in the barn found there a regular opium joint. They arrested Brannack and confiscated all the paraphernalia. Charles Brannack and fellow smoker, Henry Horn, were brought before Justice Skirm, who fined Brannack $100 and Horn $25, and while Brannack was able to pay his fine, Horn could not and was sentenced to $25 in jail.
By the time Charles Brannack was arrested in Santa Cruz, his sister had been married to her third husband, Meliton Achard, a Frenchman, and at last a husband near to her own age…. More next week about Julia’s marriage to Mr. Achard.
 It appears that Henry Cavagnero was likely John Cavagnero’s brother-in-law per the 1900 census. - US Census 1900 Year: 1900; Census Place: Jenny Lind, Calaveras, California; Roll: 84; Family History Film: 1240084; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 1038; lines 36-43, accessed through Ancestry.com 29 January 2017
 San Francisco Chronicle, 22 Jan 1882, page 8 “A Barroom Brawl” and Sacramento Daily Union, 23 Jan 1882, page 1, “Result of a Carouse”
 San Francisco Bulletin, 22 July 1882, page 2, “State News Items”
 US Census 1900 Year: 1900; Census Place: Jenny Lind, Calaveras, California; Roll: 84; Family History Film: 1240084; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 1038; lines 36-43, accessed through Ancestry.com 29 January 2017
 Santa Cruz Daily Surf, 5 November 1887, page 1, col 5. “Opium Smokers Arrested”
“Sentinel Jottings,” Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California) 06 Nov 1887, Page 3, col 1, accessed through Newsapapers.com 29 January 2017
After Julia's marriage to Jacob Wermuth ended, she didn't wait long to remarry. But again, she found herself married to a man old enough to be her father.
Just four days after she appeared in the 1860 census in her father’s house, Julia was married to Percival Monroe.[i] He was about 40, she just 18. The start of the marriage might have been a bit rocky – the following year Percival Monroe was declared insolvent, discharged in San Joaquin county court from the payment of his debts and liabilities.[ii]
I have found few records for Julia in the 1860s. It is curious to me that while she and Percival were married in 1860, the first child I can find from their union was not born until 1873. And while the marriage may have lasted twenty-some years, it does not appear that it was a bed of roses. In 1883, Percival was arrested at Stockton on a charge of libel preferred by his divorced wife, Julia A. Monroe.[iii]
This would not be Julia’s last foray into the court system. The following year, she sued her father. Before Hester Withee Brannack’s death in 1869, Lyman and Hester had engaged in some real estate transactions in which property was deeded to Hester. After Hester’s death, Julia and her siblings, as heirs of Hester, brought suit against Lyman to inherit certain parcels. The court ruled, however, that the parcels in question were not Hester’s separate property, and instead belonged to Lyman.[iv]
Nor was this Lyman’s only brush with a court. After Hester died, he married a woman named Sarah. They lived in Santa Cruz, California where he was on the city council[v], resigning 11 March 1885.[vi] He was involved in various ventures including shipping and lumber in Santa Cruz. A lawsuit was brought against him in 1889 by Alfred H. Fitch for the non-fulfillment of a contract to deliver shingles. An entire trial was held, Brannack called many witnesses, the case went to the jury which deliberated for a short while when they received word that Brannack and Fitch had settled, Fitch agreeing to withdraw the suit and pay the court costs, and Brannack agreeing to donate to the YMCA $150, a sum about equal to the court costs.[vii]
Much as Julia struggled to maintain a happy marriage with Jacob Wermuth and Percival Monroe, her father, Lyman’s marriage to his second wife Sarah might not have been a bed of roses. More next week about Lyman’s 1889 trip to Pontiac, Michigan where he makes a new friend.
[i] Ancestry.com. Marriage records of San Joaquin County, California [database on-line]. Provo, UT: The Generations Network, Inc., 2004. Original data: Marriage records of San Joaquin County, California : August, 1850-December, 1865. Stockton, Calif.: The Society, 1969., “Register of marriages no. 1”, page 20 accessed through Ancestry.com 30 January 2013
[ii] Stockton Daily Argus, 14 May 1861, accessed through Newspaper Abstracts, http://www.newspaperabstracts.com/link.php?id=31769, 30 January 2013
[iii] San Francisco Bulletin, 7 March 1883, page 1, “State News in Brief”, accessed through Genealogybank.com 30 January 2013
[iv] The Pacific Reporter Volume 4, page 488, West Publishing Company, “Brannock v. Monroe”, accessed through Googlebooks 30 January 2013 http://books.google.com/books?id=3ek-AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA488&lpg=PA488&dq=Hester+Brannack+the+pacific+reporter&source=bl&ots=fZZp96WxFY&sig=iSNFOCy5yt3-g8ilBclNmCmrUwo&hl=en&sa=X&ei=g7YJUY_5NOGjigL-0oCgDQ&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Hester%20Brannack%20the%20pacific%20reporter&f=false
[v] Santa Cruz Local News Index, 15 April 1884, “Elected to City Council”, http://www2.santacruzpl.org/history/oldnews/full.php?record=1835&term=brannack, accessed 30 Jan 2013
[vi] Website – City of Santa Cruz Common Councils and Mayors, 1876-1906, http://scplweb.santacruzpl.org/history/gov/sc2.shtml accessed 30 Jan 2013
[vii] Santa Cruz Daily Surf, 12 February 1889, page 1
More of the continuing saga of Julia. Newspaper accounts led me to her stormy first marriage…
Jacob Alexander Wermuth and Julia Ann Brannock were married in San Joaquin County 1 January 1857. Julia was 14, and Jacob was about 20 years her senior. Son, Millard, was born just ten months later. Two days before her second wedding anniversary, Julia ran off with another man. The Weekly Stockton Democrat tells the story:
"ABDUCTION of a WIFE -- On Thursday, the 30th ult., a man by name of HANNA, who had been employed on a ranch near Henderson's, on the Mokelumne, eloped with the wife of J.H. WORMUTH. HANNA had formerly been suspected of improper intimacy with WORMUTH's wife, from which cause he had returned her to her parents, with whom she lived until a reconciliation took place, when she returned to her husband.
"On Thursday, the 30th ult., upon pretext of visiting her parents, she left home but did not return at night, which fact created some suspicion. On the following morning her husband went in search of her, and learned to his surprise that she had not visited her parents, and that the latter knew nothing of her whereabouts.
"HANNA, who has for several weeks past resided in this city, obtained a buggy from the Centre St. Livery Stables on Friday, and in company with WORMUTH's wife arrived in town as the boat was leaving for San Francisco, upon which they took passage, registering their names as Mr. & Mrs. BROWN.
"The father of the runaway wife, Mr. L.H. BRANNOCK, a gentleman much esteemed by his neighbors, arrived in the city yesterday, and obtained a warrant for the recovery of about $200 in coin and a quantity of jewelry in the possession of his daughter, and left on the boat last evening.
"The marriage of Mr. WORMUTH with his wife occurred about 2 years since, at which time she was 14 years of age. They lived happily until the appearance of HANNA upon her father's ranch as a hired man, when she repeatedly gave evidence of improper intimacy with HANNA.
"A child about a year old, the issue of the marriage, is left motherless and disgraced at her father's house; while the husband, a young man of intelligence and much respected by all who know him, has been made miserable through the heartless desertion of his wife.
"HANNA is a Canadian, with nothing prepossessing in his personal appearance, and uneducated; and while wanting in everything that elevates the man, his conduct has been uniformly that of one who would stoop to whatever was low and debasing in human character to accomplish the objects of his animal nature. Although the laws do not hold criminally responsible for the part he has taken in the abduction of a wife, it is to be hoped they may prove effectual in securing the return of the property, in obtaining which he undoubtedly performed the part of an accomplice, in order that his designs might be the more successfully carried ou"t.
The San Francisco Bulletin continues the story on January 12:
"More of the Abductor of the Girl-Wife - The San Joaquin Republican says:
One Hugh Hanna was brought before Justice Brown, at Stockton, on 10th January, on charges of stealing a silver watch, valued at $16, and $16.50 in coin, from Mr. Wormuth, on the Mokelumne river. Hanna, who is a Canadian, had been at work for the father of a Mrs. Wormuth, a respectable gentleman named Brannock, and succeeded in seducing his daughter, a girl of some fourteen or fifteen years. She was married to Mr. Wormuth, who discovered her intimacy with the fellow even after marriage. A separation ensued, but the husband was induced to receive the girl back. About a week since, the wife eloped with Hanna, and was pursued and overtaken by the father of the young woman about 150 miles south of San Francisco. They were taken to Stockton, and the foolish child-wife was saved from the shame, disgrace and certain ruin of living with Hanna, by being re-admitted to her father's house. Unfortunately, the theft of Mr. Wormuth's property could not be proved upon the accused, and the District Attorney was compelled to enter a nolle prosequi. He gave the fellow a severe lecture, concluding by advising the rascal to leave these parts. If he is wise, he will heed the advice."
In April of 1859, Jacob Wermuth was granted a decree of divorce, the allegation of desertion being sustained. On the 12th of September, 1859, Fred Wermuth was born. Given the timing of his birth in relation to Julia’s elopement with Hugh Hanna and her divorce from Jacob Wemuth, it may give a clue to suspicions about his paternity that Fred lived with Julia, and Millard stayed with Jacob.
More next week…
 Western States Marriage Index, Jacob Alexander Wermuth and Julia Ann Brannock, San Joaquin, Vol M, pg 85 http://abish.byui.edu/specialCollections/westernStates/westernStatesRecordDetail.cfm?recordID=1487551, accessed 30 January 2013
 California death index, Millard W. Wermuth, Birthdate 4 Nov 1857, Death Date 30 Dec 1954, Source Citation: Place: Sacramento; Date: 30 Dec 1954. accessed through Ancestry.com 30 January 2013
 The Weekly Stockton Democrat, Sunday 9 January 1859, http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/casanjoa/2006-03/1143565203, accessed 30 Jan 2013
 “More of the Abductor of the Girl-Wife,” The San Francisco Bulletin, 12 January 1859, page 3, column 4, from GenealogyBank.com accessed 15 January 2017
 The Weekly Stockton Democrat, 24 April 1859, http://www.newspaperabstracts.com/link.php?id=25303 accessed 30 January 2013
 California death index, Millard W. Wermuth, Birthdate 12 Sep 1859, Death Date 3 Apr 1950, Source Citation: Place: Santa Cruz; Date: 3 Apr 1950, Social Security: 548073697. accessed through Ancestry.com 30 January 2013
More than ten years ago while researching the death of my great-great uncle’s wife, I stumbled upon a character who has fascinated me ever since. I’ve researched Julia and her family in newspapers, census records, city directories and coroner’s inquests, and each story I find makes me want to dig deeper and learn more…
I originally wrote the post below as part of an article I aspired to publish in a Calfornia genealogical society periodical in the hopes that one of Julia's descendants might stumble upon it and want to connect with me. However the publisher felt the proposed article (at 5000+ words) was too long and I struggled with editing out any of the many good parts, so it was never published.
Two days ago, however, I had the most delightful email from Linda, Julia's great-great granddaughter who found the family tree I posted about Julia on Ancestry.com. We've had a couple of long phone conversations and she even sent me a picture of Julia. Linda is happy to have this information about Julia and her family out there,warts and all. In the coming weeks, as my Sunday Stories blog posts, I will run all the sections of those 5000+ words I wrote. Enjoy!
I first met Julia in 1901. Even then, I wasn’t sure what her name was. It might have been Achard, it might have been Shiland. It took me years to figure out which was the right one – and why there might have been any question in the first place.
I encountered Julia from the newspaper articles about Sarah Ahern’s death.
“The Bulletin says ‘With her lips sealed as to who gave her the medicine which caused her death, Mrs. Sarah Ahern of Tiburon died suddenly Friday. The circumstances surrounding the case are such that arrest may follow the investigation made by the coroner.’” Before her death, Sarah “…would say nothing other than that a friend had given her medicine. After her death, however, Mr. Ahern found a small box and some cards bearing the name of Mrs. J.A. Achard of 415a Third Street, San Francisco. Coroner Eden was notified and held an inquest. The facts as above stated were brought out, and Dr. W.J. Wickman, the coroner's physician made an autopsy, finding that the woman was a victim of malpractice and that death was due to septicema. James Ahern, the husband, remembered seeing Mrs. Shiland visiting his wife. Mrs. Shiland was called as a witness, and was put through a rigid examination. She admitted calling on Mrs. Ahern, but denied giving her any medicine or attending her. This is the second time she has been called before the coroner's jury. Three years ago she was a witness in a San Francisco case. The jury was given the case and returned a verdict that Mrs. Ahern came to her death from blood poisoning, due to causes unknown.”
Another article indicated that the box contained pills, and that the doctors who treated Sarah after Mrs. Achard left “stated their belief that she was suffering from the effect of medicine given her by a malpractitioner.”
What were these pills? I suspected that Sarah might have committed suicide. Her fifteen-month-old daughter, Agnes Jane, had drowned February 15, 1900, after wandering into a tidal lagoon behind the family home. Could Sarah have secured some pills which would put an end to her personal grief and perhaps her guilt? Perhaps if I could find Mrs. J.A. Achard I might learn something about what those pills might have been.
More next week…
 For more about Sarah Ahern, see my blog posts from January 2016, “Suffer the Little Agnes Ahern,” “One Loss Leads to More,” and “Discover Leads to Understanding” at http://www.mkrgenealogy.com/searching-for-stories-blog/archives/01-2016
 The Marin Journal, 16 May 1901
 San Francisco Chronicle 12 May 1901, page 11 “Died of Septicaemia”
 San Francisco Call, 16 February 1900, page 4, “Mother Finds the Body of Her Child”
4, “Mother Finds the Body of Her Child”
I’ve been working on a timeline of a potential relative, Anthony Graham. He’s not a direct ancestor, and he may or may not be a relative, but I’m hopeful that tracing him will help me learn more about my great-great grandmother, Jane Graham Ahern. (Long story about why I think he might be related. I’ll save that for another blog post.)
I’ve been trying for years to come up with a specific birthplace for Anthony. I have some census records that have a mix of “Ireland” and “Scotland” as a birthplace. I can find him on the 1850, 1860 and 1880 US Federal census and all of them show he hails from Ireland, but on the 1880, 1900 and 1910 censuses, most of his children report that their father was born in Scotland. And one daughter, Jennie, can’t seem to make up her mind – in 1880 her father is born in Scotland and her mother is born in Ireland, while in 1900 Da’s from Ireland and Ma’s the Scot. Anthony’s death notice in the San Francisco paper indicates he was a native of Scotland, but obviously he didn’t write that, and due to the 1906 earthquake and fire, no death certificate exists to provide additional information.
And then I found it! Another obituary, from the Los Angeles Herald. “Death of a Pioneer… Mr. Graham was a native of Glasgow, Scotland.”  A city! There were more details. He “… landed in New York when quite young. He afterward became engaged in the construction of the railroad across the Isthmus of Panama, and finally came to California in 1850.”
Now it was time for me to enter these items on his timeline. And that’s when the whole thing fell apart.
Anthony’s timeline shows four children born in New York - Francis in 1846, Ann Eliza on 23 November 1847, Jennie on 18 February 1850 and Anthony Daniel in 1853. The sentence construction in the obituary infers he was engaged in the construction of the Panama Railroad prior to his arrival in California in 1850. If that is true, it is unlikely that he could have fathered Jennie in 1850 and Anthony Daniel three years later if they were born in New York.
When I looked at the timeline of the Panama Railroad, even more inconsistencies arose. Construction of the railroad did not effectively begin until May 1850 and the railroad was not completed until 27 January 1855. It would have been difficult for Anthony to become engaged in the construction of this railroad if he were in California by 1850.
Integrating the Los Angeles Herald obituary details into the existing timeline I had for Anthony points out some problems with the information provided. Since the dates seem “off” I have to question the other details in the obituary. I don’t know who provided the details to the Herald, but it was likely his son Frank who is mentioned in the article. Based on his census records, Frank seems clear that his father was born in Scotland, but if Frank is wrong on the dates of Anthony’s movements, could he be wrong on the birth place as well?
Try using a timeline in your own research. It might help you to see some inconsistencies in your data for your own ancestors as well. How have timelines helped you? Please leave a comment below.
 1850 U.S. census, Orange County, New York, population schedule, Newburgh, p. 106 (stamped), dwelling 1402, family 1584, Anthony Graham; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 September 2016); citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 573, page 106A, image 218.
 1860 U.S. census, San Francisco County, California, population schedule, San Francisco, p. 218 (penned), dwelling 1851, family 1876, Anthony Graham; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 September 2016); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 67, page 383, image 383.
 1880 U.S. census, Tulare County, California, population schedule, Visalia, p. 21 (penned), dwelling 226, family 230, Anthony Graham; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 September 2016); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 85, page 48A, ED 098, image 482.
 1880 U.S. census, Los Angeles County, California, population schedule, Los Angeles, p. 10 (penned), dwelling 92, family 95, Frank Graham; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 September 2016); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 67, page 224B, ED 025, image 151
 1880 U.S. census, Merced County, California, population schedule, Merced, p. 11 (penned), dwelling 110, family 113, Edward Tobin; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 September 2016); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 68, page 345C, ED 043, image 711.
 1900 U.S. census, San Francisco County, California, population schedule, San Francisco, p. 5 (penned), dwelling 72, family 79, John O’Gara; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 September 2016); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 105, page 5A, ED 0204.
 “Died (Graham),” (San Francisco.) Daily Alta California, 4 August 1888, p. 7, col. 6.
 “Death of a Pioneer,” Los Angeles (California) Herald, 4 August 1888, p. 2, col. 3.
 1850 U.S. census, Orange Co., New York, pop. sch., p. 106, dwell. 1482, fam. 1584, Anthony Graham; 1860 U.S. census, San Francisco Co., California, pop. sch., p. 218, dwell. 1851, fam. 1876, Anthony Graham
 Baptismal record for Ann Eliza Graham, St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Newburgh, Orange, New York
 Baptismal record for Jane Graham, St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Newburgh, Orange, New York
 1850 U.S. census, Orange Co., New York, pop. sch., p. 106, dwell. 1482, fam. 1584, Anthony Graham; 1860 U.S. census, San Francisco Co., California, pop. sch., p. 218, dwell. 1851, fam. 1876, Anthony Graham
 “Panama Canal Railway,” Wikipedia.org (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panama_Canal_Railway : accessed 28 September 2016).
When you’re searching in online newspapers do you seek out alternate sites with the same newspaper? Maybe you should.
Different newspaper sites, for example Chronicling America (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/) and the California Digital Newspaper Collection (CDNC) (http://cdnc.ucr.edu/) have some of the same newspapers, including the San Francisco Call. But they don’t necessarily use the same Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software so one paper may read a string of printed newspaper text as one set of characters and another site may read it differently. If you’ve searched for a word or a phrase, one search engine may find it, but another one may not. You’ve got better odds of finding what you’re searching for if you check out both sites.
But there’s an even more important reason than just the straight-up OCR software used. Some newspaper sites allow readers to correct the text. If you search for the phrase “Wife Wants a Divorce” in the San Francisco Call on 10 December 1904 using the California Digital Newspaper Collection you’ll find an article with the headline “Wife Wants A Divorce from Charles O. Huber.” But if you search for “Wife Wants a Divorce” on the same date in the same paper using Chronicling America, you’re out of luck.
Why? Because someone (me) edited the text on CNDC but not on Chronicling America. I’ve captured a series of images to explain what I’m talking about.
This first image is my search and the results of that search on CDNC. I got a hit!
The next image is my search for the correct spelling on Chronicling America and the following image shows the results. Zip. Nada. Zilch.
But the next two images show my search and results for an alternate spelling. "Aviite avants a divorce." Ah, that pesky OCR! To my ear, it reads a little like Zsa Zsa Gabor ending yet another marriage… “A vife a vants a divorce.” And when Zsa Zsa asks, Chronicling America listens! I got a hit for the article.
The final two images show the text now as it now appears on CDNC after my correction, along with the image of the article. And following that is the text as Chronicling America read it.
Admittedly, I set this example up. But can you be certain that the words you’re searching for in a newspaper appear the same way on two sites? What if someone corrected the text to show how your ancestor’s name was spelled in the article but you didn’t check that site? Instead, you searched in the one with the sketchy OCR mistakes. Are you willing to take that chance? I’m not.
On Saturday 24 September 2016, I'll be presenting "A Nose for the News" at the Kelowna and District Society Harvest Your Family Tree Conference. (http://kdgsconference2016.blogspot.ca/) I hope to see you there!
I might need to add a subtitle to my Searching for Stories blog. I’m thinking “Journeys Down the Rabbit Hole.”
Searching city directories for examples of what information can be found in them in preparation for an upcoming presentation, I discovered that Caron’s Louisville City Directory for 1936 contained something I hadn’t seen in other directories – a two-and-a-half page “Chronology of Local Events, January 1, 1935 to April 1, 1936.”
I was fascinated with the detail. “May 2, 1935 – Three killed by lightning – storm causes $80,000 damage to city.” “May 15 – Fire causes $25,000 damage at St. Joseph’s Orphan’s Home; 208 children led to safety.” “June 18 – Federal Government announces plans to build vault at Camp Knox for safe-keeping of substantial part of its gold supply.” “Aug. 29 – Stone lifted from Mammoth Cave mummy; ancient man in poor condition.” Story after story to investigate.
And then I saw this – “Oct 11 – Mrs. Ella Rogers held legally dead.” I had to know. In a coma? Removed from life support? Who was she? What happened to her? My subscription to GenealogyBank.com called to me. My 90-minute trip down the rabbit hole led to nearly 25 articles in newspapers from Lexington, Kentucky to Portland, Oregon, about the mystery disappearance of a pretty young widow.
After a trip to Chicago, she returned to her swanky Louisville apartment. She didn’t even unpack her suitcases, but had friend, Hal Harned, to dinner on October 7, 1928. Just as he was leaving, a taxi waiting for him in the street, the lights in her apartment went out. Harned offered to help, but she insisted she could take care of it herself. Ella was never seen again.
Harned tried to reach her the next day and made repeated telephone calls on the days following. Not hearing back, he contacted her father-in-law.  When the police investigated they found no trace of the woman. The dishes from her dinner with Harned were still on the table. Her suitcases still unpacked. Only her purse and the key to her apartment were missing.
The janitor of her building was investigated but eventually released due to lack of evidence. Police dragged a nearby pond but found nothing. Dead ends abounded – suspicious ash found in the building furnace was determined to be not from bones, but from coal. The “blood spots” on a wrench turned out to be rust. Theories of suicide, kidnapping and even death at the hands of hired thugs were floated, but nothing panned out.
Eventually, after seven years with no trace, no contact, no activity in her bank account, Ella McDowell Rogers was declared legally dead.  To this day the case remains unsolved.
I’m not sure why I like to chase rabbits like Ella Rogers down the hole. But It sure beats anything I can find on TV. How about you – any of you get sucked into an afternoon of research on a complete stranger? Feel free to share what you find in the comments section.
 Caron’s Louisville City Directory for 1936, (Louisville, Kentucky: Caron Directory Company, 1936), 11. From Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011, accessed 4 September 2016
 Caron’s Louisville City Directory for 1936, (Louisville, Kentucky: Caron Directory Company, 1936), 12. From Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011, accessed 4 September 2016
 “Mystery Cloaks Missing Widow,” New Orleans States, 17 November 1928, p. 2, col. 6.
 “Believe Young Widow Victim of Foul Play,” Omaha [Nebraska] World Herald, 28 December 1928, p. 2, col. 4
 “Suicide Hinted Now in Case of Missing Widow,” Lexington [Kentucky] Leader, 24 November 1928, p. 1, col. 8.
 “The Mystery of the Vanishing Lady,” The [Portland] Oregonian, 28 October, 1945, page 109
 “Court Rules Woman Dead,” Lexington [Kentucky] Leader, 11 October 1935, p. 27, col. 7
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.