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.


  1. Hi Susan

    After reading the story above, I did some research and found records which offer some answers to this mystery. I haven't yet found evidence of George Wendell Phillips after 1924, but I have found some of interest, prior.

    Firstly, you name his father as Benjamin or George. In a report of George's mother's 1924 death, it records that she had previously been married to Benjamin Phillips of Salamanca. I believe the following links likely to be Benjamin Phillips and family:-

    1892 NY State Census

    1855 NY State Census

    There are records on this link that give Benjamin's mother as Anne Rees D: 17 Mar 1883 (70 yrs 2m), father as Jonathan M D: 13 Jan 1882 (65yrs 6m), and siblings burials.

    This link gives a NARA holding of a service record of the US Marine Corps for a Phillips, George Wendell DOB: 11/21/1887 Service Number: 00013785 Date of Enlistment: 08/11/1918.

    In a report entitled "Local Marine is Helping to Pacify Santo Domingo" from The North Tonawanda Evening News 1919, it records that Corporal George W Phillips, the son of Minnie S Patterson, 264 Goundry Street, is a 'flyer' in Squadron D of the Marine Aviation Force.

    A report from The Evening News - North Tonawanda - Monday, 9 February 1920, reads:-

    Norton -Phillips

    The marriage of Miss Frances Norton to Mr George W Phillips took place Wednesday morning at 10 o'clock at the home of the brother of the bride. Mr W E Norton, 1928 Collins Drive, Miami Beach.

    The ceremony was beautifully simple. The bridal altar was arranged under a canopy of palms and flowers. Only the immediate relatives and friends of the young people were present. Dr. J. M. Gross performed the ceremony and used the ring service. A wedding breakfast was served to the bridal party and guests.

    The romance which led to the wedding began while Mr Phillips was stationed at the marine aviation field. The bridegroom has recently returned from San Domingo, where he served with the aviation forces. Mr. Phillips is the son of Mr & Mrs J. J. Patterson of 264 Goundry Street, but he and Mrs. Phillips will make their home in Miami.

    There is a great photo of the Marine Flying Field, Miami, Florida, 1918 on this link:-

    Also worth noting that in a report of Jerome Patterson's 1936 death it is recorded that 'no immediate relatives survive'.



    1. Deb, you are a force to be reckoned with! Thank you so much! I thank you and my client thanks you... Very helpful stuff!

    2. Deb, I'm not sure if you'll see this but was wondering if you noted where Jerome Patterson was buried. I found Minnie Patterson's obit and it said she was buried at Batavia. Trying to figure out which cemetery. I was hoping maybe George is buried near his mother. It's a long shot.

  2. Never mind, found Jerome's obit too. Also didn't say which cemetery but has a funeral home and will try that route.

  3. Hi Sue

    "In 1921 a daughter was born to George and Francis in Pennsylvania—how they came to be there remains a mystery."

    Hope this helps - a little!

    Miami Herald - 23 Oct 1921

    Mr and Mrs George Phillips, who has been visiting the latter's brother, William E Norton, in Collins Avenue, left Thursday for Pittsburgh, Pa., their new home.

  4. Thanks, Deb! I am curious - what newspaper website did you find that on? I just subscribed to but I'm always curious about what different sites have...

  5. Hi Sue

    You're welcome - Article is found on

    Historical Articles (1911-1922)

  6. Oh and just another two snippets which may be George! 1940 Census he is recorded at living in Dansville in 1935.

    Genesee Country Express and Advertiser - 7 Feb 1935

    Dansville Town Topics

    "George Phillips is confined to his home by illness."

    Genesee Country Express and Advertiser - 22 Aug 1935

    Dansville Town Topics

    "George Phillips, who has been ill with pneumonia, is convalescing"

    Both from

    1. Fantastic! I added these things to my notes! Thanks once again!