My mom once sat down and told me about her mother and father’s siblings, and most of it wasn’t pretty! I wrote down what she said about each one, and lately, I’ve been trying to sort out fact from fancy.
My grandfather, Robert Johann Erickson, had five sisters, and one was named Mary Elizabeth (pictured)—but she was always called “Liz.” Two of Liz’ sisters died of tuberculosis—I’ve written about them previously. Here is what my mother said about her Aunt Liz:
“Liz had seven children and died in childbirth with the seventh. Their ages ranged from 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, down to the baby. My grandmother (Liz’ mother) raised the baby. The father hired a neighbor girl, 18 years old, to be housekeeper, and a year later she married him. They had four children, making 11 in all. He was kind of lazy...”
I’ll never know about the “lazy” part, but I wanted to find out more about this great-aunt and uncle that I never met. Besides that, when someone dies young, there’s often a story there.
Mary Elizabeth Erickson was born in 1884, the second of nine surviving children of Charlie and Lena Schmidt Erickson. Liz, as she was called, married Arthur Stafford in March 1901, when she was just sixteen years old. They had their first child, Mabel, a few months later—and more children came along in 1903, 1905, 1906, 1908, 1910, and 1913.
The 1910 census shows Arthur and Mary living on a farm in Will County, Illinois, next door to Arthur’s parents. They had five children by then, and a sixth on the way. But Liz’ luck ran out with child number seven… Records on findagrave.com show that baby Earl was born on the 29th of January,1913 and Liz died a week later, on the 6th of February. She was buried at Alexander Cemetery in Romeoville.
But what was Arthur to do? The census records back up my mother’s assertion that the baby was raised by his grandparents. The 1920 census shows young Earl Stafford living with Charlie and Lena Erickson. He was still there for 1930 census, when he was seventeen.
It is very possible that Arthur brought in a young unmarried neighbor girl to help with the children and the housework—that would have been very common. And when I checked the 1910 census, Arthur and his family live in the same census district in DuPage Township as 12-year-old Amy Shepherd and her parents. By 1913, Amy would have been old enough to be “hired out”—and we know that she was Arthur’s wife probably by 1916, when their first child was born.
The 1920 census shows Arthur (age 39) living with new wife Amy (age 23). They already have three young children (the oldest is three), and five of Arthur’s children live with them. Arthur’s oldest child, Mabel, is only five years younger than her stepmother, and Mabel’s occupation is listed as “servant—at home.” I can only imagine how dreary poor Mabel’s life was. (Later census records show that within the year, young Mabel had ‘escaped’ her home via marriage—but by the 1930 census, she had five children of her own!)
The 1930 census shows Arthur (50) and Amy (32) living with two of his children and four of theirs. So Arthur did indeed have eleven children.
Arthur outlived his young wife by eleven years. They were buried together at Woodlawn Memorial Park in Joliet.
So, my mom was right about the seven children, the death in childbirth, the baby being raised by grandparents, the young second wife, and the four additional children… But I’ll never know about the “lazy” part.