Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sture Wallin, Soldier and Baseball Player

My grandfather, Sture Nels Wallin (1892-1979) was a Nebraska farm boy, son of Swedish immigrants.  But somewhere along the line he developed a love—and a talent—for baseball.  He was a left-handed pitcher and third baseman who played baseball while in the U.S. Army in Europe at the end of WWI—I wish I could find out more about that team!—and later, after he returned home, in the county leagues of rural Nebraska. 

This photo shows Grandpa and his firstborn son (my father) around 1925.  My father, Robert Milo Wallin, wrote out some memories of Sture and his baseball career:

“Dad always played baseball, usually third base, and always he would hit cleanup (fourth).  There were county leagues in those days, and games were every Sunday afternoon...  He had played in the army as well, having been chosen to one of two teams out of the whole American army in France to travel to Italy and other countries for exhibition games after the war was over (1918-1919).  He was in fast company there, and I can remember him mentioning friends who were then in the Major Leagues in the 1920s.  He played baseball and fast pitch softball until 1936 that I can remember, which would have made him 44 years old.”

I can recall Dad saying that after Grandpa Sture came home from the war, he had the opportunity to try out for two professional baseball teams—one of them the St. Louis Cardinals, and I don’t remember the other one.  But by then Grandpa had been courting Grandma for seven years, and it was time for him to choose between her and baseball—and so he married his sweetheart and settled down on a Nebraska farm. 

But he never gave up baseball...  My Aunt Janet, the only one of his children still living, told me recently that she remembers going to her father’s baseball games as a small child in the 1930s, at the baseball field in Chapman, Nebraska, which was their home field.  She said she paid little attention to the games, though, preferring to wander around the stands and allow the spectators to make a fuss over her and buy her treats.

One of Grandpa’s uniforms survived all these years, and today it is a treasured possession of one of his grandsons, my cousin Brian.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Mystery Monday: The Brides of Emiel Zietzke

 Sometimes you think you know a person… especially if that person is your father. 

I’ve been researching the paternal line of one of my clients. He thought he knew his father, Emiel Zietzke, pretty well—it was his grandfather, Wilhelm Zietzke, who was the main object of his curiosity. But his father’s life has had some unexpected twists and turns that my client didn’t know about!

Emiel August Zietzke (1885-1956) was born in Bozeman, Montana. In his young adulthood, he helped his father Wilhelm run his confectionary store there. Emiel first married in 1911 at age 25, to Florence Henrietta Saunders. They homesteaded in the Wilsall, Montana area and had three children (all now deceased). But the marriage wasn’t a very long one; Flora died in 1924.

The years went by… Emiel remarried in 1938, after his three children were grown. His new wife was Lila DesRosier, whom he married when he was 53 and she was 31. They soon had two children—one died many years ago in a car accident, and the other is my client. The marriage certificate said that Emiel was a widower, but that was only partially true. What my client never knew was that his father had at least two more marriages between Florence and Lila, between 1924 and 1938, both apparently ending in divorce. 

The mystery is, who were those two wives, and what went wrong? And—were there more? 

I first discovered Ida Mason Benson when ancestry.com added some new Washington marriage records to their collections last fall. And there it was—a marriage in Spokane, Washington in 1930 between Emiel A. Zietzke of Bozeman, Montana and Ida Benson. A little more digging told me that Ida was a widow whose maiden name was Mason; her first husband was William C. Benson, and she had a son by that marriage named Albert. Emiel and Ida must not have been married long, as a number of Montana newspaper clippings show her reverting back to the last name “Benson” by the 1950s. My questions: When and why did Emiel and Ida split up? What happened to their marriage? 

Then a few weeks ago, after subscribing to newspaperarchive.com, I stumbled upon this clipping, from the Montana Standard, September 5, 1929:

Yet another marriage! So Emiel wasn’t a widower very long after his first wife Flora died. Some more digging produced a marriage certificate that told me that Emiel married Margaret Dell in Green River, Sweetwater, Wyoming in 1925. The article said that she left him after only two months, but a divorce wasn’t granted until 1929. My questions: Who was Margaret Dell? How did Emiel meet her? And what happened to their marriage?
Let’s reconstruct this roster of brides:
  • Florence Saunders: 1911-1924
  • Margaret Dell: 1925-1929
  • Ida Mason Benson: 1930-??
  • Lila DesRosier: 1938-1956, when Emiel died
That leaves one more question unanswered: Ida went back to the name “Benson.” Perhaps they weren’t married long. Did Emiel marry one more time, between then and 1938? Wouldn’t I like to know! 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Murder in Chicago

While researching the ancestry of my sister-in-law Susie, I came across the stories of two sisters—Anna and Eva Grimm.  I wrote about Anna previously, so now it’s her sister Eva’s turn to have her story told.

Eva Grimm was born around 1886 in Aurora, Illinois, and married her husband Albert Wyatt in 1908.  The marriage was not a match made in heaven.  Eva eventually ended up having an affair with a man she knew who lived in Chicago whose name was Herbert Conkright, and she even moved in with him for a few months one spring.  But eventually she returned to her husband Albert, although her contact with her lover continued—but not always by her choice.  When she ignored him, Herbert sometimes posed as a detective when attempting to get information about her from her family and friends.  One time, it was reported in the papers, he threatened to push her off a bridge to her death if she didn’t return to him.

The situation continued to deteriorate as she resisted his advances and threats.  Her lover could not stand the thought that she had gone back to her husband for good.  On November 14, 1920 he lured her to his boarding house in Chicago, where he fatally shot her in a fit of jealous rage, as the newspapers later reported it.  In the sensational trial held in 1921 that was splashed across the front pages of newspapers all over the Midwest and beyond and nicknamed “The Triangle Trial,” her lover was referred to as the “Fair-Haired He-Vamp.”  Many sordid details came out—including quotes from his letters to Eva, found in her husband Albert's attic—letters which were in turn endearing, threatening, and just plain creepy.  When it was all over, he was sentenced to 18 years at Joliet State Prison.

I found Eva’s grave at the same local cemetery where my parents are buried. Eva is buried in an unmarked grave, beside her mother and father. Her husband is buried elsewhere.

Another thing that speaks of the sad state of Eva and Albert's marriage: On her death certificate, Albert Wyatt gave his wife Eva’s age as “about 35” and her birth date as “unknown.” A very sad commentary on what strangers they were to each other, even after twelve years of marriage.

More posts on the Wyatts:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Mystery Monday: George Wendell Phillips—Gone Without a Trace

One of my clients has a nagging question and I’m trying to help her answer it.  Her father never knew his father, because for some reason that has been lost to history, the man left his wife and baby daughter and disappeared into the mist, around the time his son was born in 1924. 

George Wendell Phillips was born in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, New York on November 21, 1887, according to his WWI draft card.  The draft card gives a few more clues.  By 1917 he was 29 and living in North Tonawanda in Niagara County, New York, and working across the state border as a hotel clerk at Reed House in Erie, Pennsylvania.  He was of medium height and weight, gray eyes, and brown hair.  When asked about previous military service, he said that he had risen “from private to captain at Chamberlain Military Institute in Randolph, New York.”  The above photo was taken either during WWI or perhaps earlier, when he was at Chamberlain.

His father, who may have been named George or possibly Benjamin, was born in Wales.  But he had passed away by the 1900 census, and George’s mother Minnie is listed as a widow who has borne “2 children, 1 still living.”  This photo may be George’s parents, but we can’t be sure.
Somehow George met a young woman from Florida named Francis Norton, who went by the nickname “Frankie” all her life.  How the two of them found each other is part of the mystery.

George was quite close to his mother, Minnie, and after he and Frankie were married, it appears that they lived with her in New York.  And when their daughter was born in Pennsylvania a year later, George and Francis named her “Minnie.”  

Now the story gets murky…  By 1924, Francis was back in Florida, giving birth to a son who never knew his father.  How Francis went from a wife and young mother in Pennsylvania in 1921, to a single mother in Florida in 1924, is anybody’s guess.    

Francis remarried, but she had no more children.  Her son and daughter never knew anything about their father, and both of them have now passed away.  But my client, who is George and Francis’ granddaughter, found her missing grandfather’s name in an old family Bible, and she has never stopped being curious about who he was and why he left his young family.

We’ll probably never know the “why” of George Wendell Phillips’ disappearance.  But I’d surely love to tell my client what happened to him after he dropped out of sight in 1924.  Maybe someone out there knows something.

I did crack the case, with some help!

For more of the story, see this post.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Why Learn About Your Family History?

“Trees without roots fall over.”—anonymous

My husband isn’t interested in genealogy. He tries hard—but if I go on about it for more than a minute or two, his eyes glaze over. It seems that people are either very interested in genealogy, or not interested at all. For those who are—but who are not natural-born researchers equipped with mad computer skills, endless hours at their disposal to learn the tricks of the trade, and $300 to spend on a subscription to ancestry.com—and if no one in the family has done the work, or if they had, it’s in a dusty old folder and it’s impossible to figure out, let alone enjoy—why pay someone to research one’s family history?

First: To honor those who came before.
My ancestors were a mixture of heroes and black sheep and ordinary people. But I don’t want any of their stories to be lost. The matriarchs and patriarchs, the babies who died, and all those in the middle—they were real people, and their blood runs through my veins.

Second: To preserve your family story for those who will come after.
Interest in genealogy seems to skip a generation in some families. I sent ancestry binders to nine of my cousins for Christmas a few years ago. One cousin didn’t even acknowledge receiving it—but I later heard that his daughter thought it was the best thing ever. You just never know.

Third: To understand yourself better.
Are your children anything like you? Are you anything like your parents? Blood really is thicker than water, and when you look at your family’s past, you might be surprised at what looks back at you. A few years ago I went to Sweden, and as I looked around, I realized that the men all looked like my father! But you don’t have to cross an ocean to have those moments. A photo, a story, a surprising discovery about an ancestor’s life, can make you feel like a part of something bigger than yourself.

Fourth: To bring family together through their shared history.
Some of my best interactions with my cousins and aunts have been over genealogy. They may not all be interested in everyone or everything, but most of them are interested in someone or something! And I’m surprised how often they have something to share—a story, a document, a photo, a family artifact, or a question that puts me on a whole new path of research. And for the elderly suffering from memory loss, the memories from long ago are the last to fade. They may not remember their grandchildren’s names, but they remember their grandparents’ names.

If you have always wondered about your roots, then remember this: The longer you wait, as your grandparents, aunts and uncles, and parents pass away (and their belongings are scattered), the more of your history will fade into the mist. Find out what you can from those who are still alive. Look around your house or theirs and see what has survived. And take that step—what do you have to lose?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The View from an Amish Buggy

I’ve had Amish friends for a long time.  I took this picture from the back seat of their buggy—one of my favorite places to be...  When I first got to know my original Amish friends, their eight children ranged in age from two to eighteen.  Now the youngest is out of school (which means eighth grade in their culture) and the oldest has a houseful of children of her own.  Six of my Amish friends came to my wedding, and I’ve been to two weddings of theirs.

A year ago, I decided it might be fun to do an ancestry binder for my original Amish friends as a gift, so I asked one of their grown daughters for a few names and dates—and I was off to the races doing Amish genealogy.  I was worried about a few things, though:  (a) that it would be impossible to figure out which of the many Yoders and Millers and Bontragers belonged to which family; (b) that I would find lots of instances of intermarriage, which would embarrass them; and (c) that it would be boring—after all, how many Indiana farmers could I write about before I slipped into a coma?

All of these worries proved to be unfounded. 

As far as the common names—they were very creative with their first names, so that helped a lot.  In my friends’ family tree I found first names like Harley, Tobias, and Benedict.  And even if there were two or three Daniel Millers in a town, they never had wives and children with identical names.

As far as intermarriage—I was surprised how little of it I found—very little that was closer than five or six generations back.  (How many non-Amish Americans could swear to a certainty that they are not related to their spouse that many generations back?)  What I found was that the Amish moved around more than I thought.  Most of the Indiana Amish have their roots in Holmes County, Ohio, and farther back than that, in Somerset County, Pennsylvania—but my friends’ tree contained ancestors who lived in Kansas, Maryland, Illinois, and Michigan.  Also, a number of non-Amish family lines have married into the Amish over the years (examples: Whetstone, Lambright), which also kept the gene pool fresher.

As far as being boring—in genealogy there’s always something new to find, always another bend in the road...  And even the Amish have a few skeletons in their closets.  There’s “White Jonas,” for example—but that’s a story for another day.  

Postscript, 2020:  I wrote this post in 2013...  I live here now, and have lots more Amish friends, and my Amish family tree now holds over 18,000 people (and growing)!

See also:  My Amish blog, "My Amish Indiana"