Monday, September 30, 2013

John McGrath - Luck of the Irish

John McGrath died the day the Titanic hit the iceberg, April 14, 1912.  He wasn't on it. It's just interesting to note things like that.  He had been in the US for at least 55 years. Before he married Rachel Simmons in 1858, I have no record of John, but he may have been somewhere in New York.  Where they got married is a mystery.  Just like in a movie, I think they must have been married by a circuit preacher or wagon train master. 

His birth year varies on records from 1821 to 1841, but the family notes I found in the old trunk in the attic had his birth date as June 24, 1831, born in Ireland.  In the 1860, 1870 and 1880 censuses his birth year figures to be about 1830 and his birth place is always Ireland.  But by 1900 those stats start to change a little.  On the 1897 marriage affidavit he gives his age as 56, born in Ireland.  He was marrying a 51 year old woman, I can understand him not admitting to the age of 67.  In the 1900 census his age is 64 not 69, born in New York.  His death certificate has his age "85 yrs or there about" (81 by my math) and birth place Ireland, his son-in-law Levi Patterson provided the information. The grave stone has his birth year as 1821 which would make him 91 at his death. Incorrect information, plus the look of the grave stone, just makes me think that it was placed several years later. 

Not being able to get a marriage record, I thought I would try for some birth records of their children.  His son, Art, was born in Henry, Illinois in October of 1876.  Birth certificates were not filed in Marshall County that early.  So hoping to find a birth announcement (with no luck), I searched the Henry Republican newspaper and just happened to find this newsy paragraph from May 18, 1876. That last sentence makes me think John was a little annoyed. But this little clipping tells me that he owned land in Illinois, I'd like to find out more about that.

On a beautiful sunny September Friday in 2005, I took a rare family history vacation day and drove from Grand Island to Broken Bow on Scenic Highway 2.  It's a beautiful drive up into the Sandhills, I love it up there.  I went in to the County Clerk's office and asked to look at land records to find out if John McGrath was a homesteader.  The Clerk showed me to the dusty old books and helped me get started and soon I found the McGrath name. The Clerk gave me this plat mat and marked where the land is.   He also tried to tell me how to get there coming in from the north, but I just wasn't sure how I would really know it if I saw it.  I grew up on country roads in a very flat part of Nebraska where the roads are all laid out on a square grid.  The roads in the Sandhills don't have intersections every mile.  I sat in my car debating whether or not to take the drive.  Time wasn't a problem, and it was such a gorgeous day it would be a nice drive anyway.  Then I noticed the line that ran through the part he marked (I marked the line I'm talking about with two red marks).
 A horizontal line with like a T every so often.  It went all the way over to the road south of Oconto.  The idea came to me that maybe that line meant a railroad, so I went back into the Clerk's office and asked him. He said, "No...(major disappointment) but I think it's an overhead power line."  With a huge smile, I thanked him and set out on my road trip!  I decided to go south of Oconto and then west, the dark blue line I have marked.  Following the curves in the road to the point of his mark, and with the power lines overhead there, I was sure I had found John McGrath's homesteaded land - at least a part of it.  I stopped my car on the road and took pictures.  Normally, I would have liked not to have those power lines in the photo, but I was glad to see them that day.  Climbing over the fence and walking around did occur to me, but I was by myself and didn't know what to do with my car.  There was no where to hide it.

So I sent to the Bureau of Land Management for his Homestead claim documents.  The claim was filed in North Platte on October 12, 1888 for the East half of the Southwest quarter and lots numbered 3 and 4 of Section 18 in Township 13 North of Range 23 West of the Sixth principal meridian in Nebraska containing 151 acres and eighty-three hundredths of an acre.  He built a 20 x 22 sod house, sod stable, grainery, chicken coop, well, windmill and pump, cellar and corral.  My Mom has a photo of the Homestead taken by Solomon D Butcher, which can also be found through the LIbrary of Congress, American Memory project here.  

In this "Testimony of Claimant" form, John states he was born in New York, not Ireland as in the early census records.  He established actual residence on that property in March, 1888 with "myself, wife & boy", that would be Rachel and Art.  Question #9 is "What is the character of the land?  Is it timber, mountainous, prairie, grazing or ordinary agricultural land?  State its kind and quality, and for what purpose it is most valuable"  The written answer is "Rolling farming & grazing land & very poor at that". Now I can tell from John's signature at the bottom of the page, that someone else wrote these answers.  For some reason, I can just hear a grumpy old man telling whoever was writing it to "make sure you put that in there!"  This is his signature.
Two other men filed "Testimony of Witness" forms, Alonzo Patterson and Henry Brown. Both men answered "yes" to "Have claimant and family resided continuously on the homestead since first establishing residence thereon".  These are dated April 27, 1895. But when Rachel died in June 1896, they were residing on the "Brown & Hughes farm east of town".  Maybe they moved closer to Cozad when Rachel became ill to be closer to a doctor. The Brown of "Brown & Hughes" could be Henry Brown.  John sold the land in 1909.

I have never found an obituary for John, but I have his will.  Dated March 25, 1912, he left $1.00 to each of his 3 children and "the rest of his property of every kind and description" to his grand daughter Nellie Patterson.  Actually Nellie Patterson was a grand daughter-in-law, but I think there were 2 Nellie Patterson's and I'm not sure which one he meant.  He made no mention of his wife, Susan, she had not been living with him for seven years. But she did attempt to get her portion of his estate.  Art requested reimbursement for some medical expenses in the amount of $211.50, which seems to have been denied.  The funeral expenses totaled $69.00 for a casket, burial robe and use of a hearse.  The funeral expenses were paid, Susan got $200, the Executor's fees were $85 and Nellie Patterson received $318.25 and a promissory note for $50 payable to her.  Whether his children received their $1.00 it doesn't say. 

After finding out about his second marriage from the Will documents, I got this copy of the marriage record from Custer County.  It has John's parents as Arthur (his son's name) and "R McCarty".  Knowing his firstborn daughter's name was Mary Rebecca, I ventured a guess that the R stands for the name Rebecca.  I entered her name in my software as "R (Rebecca?)", and it's in my Rootsweb World Connect Tree that way. It's even noted that I am assuming that's her name.  I have seen a few trees in Ancestry that have her name as "R Rebecca".   

With the story about the wolves, the remark about the land being very poor and the fact that he gave his children $1 in his will, I get the impression that John McGrath could gripe about it all right along with the Walter Matthau & Jack Lemmon characters from "Grumpy Old Men".  Not as mean as the "warped, frustrated, old man" Henry F. Potter in "It's a Wonderful Life!", but a guy with a pessimistic attitude.  That attitude may have made its genetic way down to me, my first reaction is most often negative.  But give me a minute to think and I might see things better.  John may not have had the best of luck in his life, but at least he didn't come over on the Titanic. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Wrong Man, directed by me, not Hitchcock

It was just like the Hitchcock thriller, a case of mistaken identity.  The wrong man was sent to prison (until I checked the records further).  

For a while, I thought I had found my Great-Great Grandfather John McGrath in the 1910 Census in Columbus, Platte County, Nebraska.  On the "Name of Institution" line, it says "City Jail 27 to 32 incl".  John McGrath is listed on line 27.  His age was 67, a little young. He was widowed which was not exactly correct but his second wife had left him, maybe he just answered the question that way.  Born in Pennsylvania, listed as a Hobo.  I would not be surprised if he was a hobo and it is definitely possible to jump on an eastbound train in Cozad and end up in Columbus.
Year: 1910; Census Place: Columbus Ward 2, Platte,Nebraska; Roll: T624_853; Page: 25A; Enumeration District: 0178; FHL microfilm: 1374866.

Through the Chronicling America website, I found a newspaper article from the Columbus Journal about a stabbing (just a wound) and another article which said McGrath pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year in the penitentiary.  At the Nebraska State Historical Society Library I was able to find the prison record which was difficult to read but looks like it says this guy had children Thomas and Joseph living in Sidney, Australia (looks like Austria).  Unless he lied about those children, this clears MY John McGrath as the criminal. 

This John McGrath was born in Pennsylvania, he was Catholic, age 67, widower, a miner, 5 ft 1/4 in, 109 lbs, with gray hair.  There's more to the physical description, but it's very hard to read.  I have copies for anyone who is related.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Friday's Faces from the Past - 3 Generations

 Rachel, John & son Art McGrath, 1892
 Art McGrath, 1963
Orville & Virgil McGrath, sons of Art, 1962

Neither Orville nor Virg had children.  They end this McGrath line.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

75 Years Ago...

On Saturday, September 24, 1938, Stan Bell and Violet McGrath, my Grandparents, were married in Central City, Nebraska.  They had 32 years together, 21 years departed by death, and it's been 22 years now that they've been together again.  

This is assumed to be their "wedding" photo.  I don't know how long of an engagement they had, but it's about a 45 minute drive from Giltner or Aurora, where they each lived, up to Central City - in the next county north.  Grandma had just turned 21 on the 19th, maybe that was when he asked her.
 
County Judge, R. E. McCutchen signed the license - on a Saturday.  Thomas A. Barton, Presbyterian Minister performed the ceremony the same day.  Witnesses were Grandma's sister Mrs. Gordon (Alice) Cruff and Mrs. Thomas A. Barton. 


Looking for an announcement of their marriage in the paper, I didn't find one, but I found this paragraph about a dinner at his parents.  This was in the Aurora newspaper on September 30, was it referring to Sunday the 25th?  Why is it Violet McGrath and not Bell? Or was this dinner the week before on September 18?   Was there an announcement made there that day?   Maybe the "news" reporter just got Violet Bell's name wrong.  You can't believe everything you read in the newspapers.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sunday's Obituary - Mrs. Rebecca Smith


The obituary of Rebecca Smith, daughter of John and Rachel McGrath. This helped me a great deal with tracing this family from 1860 through their deaths. Rebecca was the sister of my Great Grandfather Art McGrath, mother of 8 children and lived to be 76 years old. She died just over 3 months after her husband, William Dixon Smith.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Rachel Simmons vs Rachel McGrath: The Jury Is Still Deliberating...

How many coincidences does it take to make a fact?

For as long as I've been doing this family history research, I have been looking for the parents of Rachel Jane Simmons McGrath.  Rachel died in 1896, too early in Nebraska for a death certificate at either local or state level.  I have found several snippets of information for her, but not a document that connects a little girl to a married woman.  I present my case... 

Exhibit A.  Rachel's obituary says she was born November 24, 1841.  No parents names given.  
She married John McGrath in 1858, but no exact date or location is given.  Grace Methodist Church in Cozad, Nebraska no longer exists and apparently neither do the records.  Locally no one knows what happened to them, and at Wesleyan University where Methodist records are housed from old Methodist churches throughout the state, there are very few records from Grace.  I searched myself.  

Family notes had her born in Pennsylvania.  No exact location, just Pennsylvania.  I haven't learned the trick to getting a birth certificate from Pennsylvania if there is one.  

Exhibit B.  The 1850 Mercer County, PA census.  In 1999, I searched for all Rachel Simmons' from the Family Tree Maker CD of Pennsylvania census records.  The closest one I found was in this family:
Father Lebius, Mother Ruth, Rachel is 8 years old, Rosilla 6, Louisa 4 and William 1.  Now to find a record that proves this little girl is the woman who married John McGrath.

Exhibit C.  In the old trunk in the attic was an obituary for John & Rachel's daughter Mary Rebecca Smith which gives some details on their married life.  Rebecca was born February 12, 1859 and...
"At the age of 10 years she moved with her parents to Bradford, Stark Co., IL and with her parents at the age of 16 years, moved to Henry, Marshal Co., IL.  On July 28, 1880, she was united in marriage to William Dixon Smith, at Henry, Marshal Co., IL, and started house keeping on a farm near Whitefield Corners, IL, where they resided until they moved to a farm near Eldorado, Clay Co., NE, where they made their home for 35 years living in Stockham since then.  Mr. Smith passed away May 8th 1935."
Exhibit D.  The 1860 Fulton County, Illinois census record.  John & "Jane" are in Buckhart Township with one-year-old daughter Rebecca.  I have tried to get a marriage record in Fulton County, but was told there was none.  I've also requested searches in nearby counties with no luck.

Exhibit E.  Also in Buckhart Twp just 6 households away is the family of Cyrus and Ruth Webb with 3 Simmons children, Mary 16, William 10, and Ruth 8.
Interesting, but I was unsure of this family until 2007 when I learned from fellow researcher Peggy Johnson that Ruth Webb here was formerly Mrs. Lebius Simmons.  Peggy told me about...

Exhibit F.  The marriage record of Cyrus Webb and Ruth Simmons from the "Register of Marriages 1853-1862, Ritchie County, West Virginia", Courtesy of the Ritchie County Historical Society Newsletter, July/August, 1974 Vol. 2 No. 4.  (I found this online originally, but the page is no longer up).    
"1/11 Cyrus R. WEBB, farmer, age 25, b. Harrison Co., VA, son of James & Bridgett Webb; m. Ruth SIMMONS, widow, age 28, b. Mercer Co., PA, dau of Jonathan Smith; 1 July 1854, by Thomas Stinchcomb."   
So what happened to Lebius?  But this clarifies Exhibit E.  Ruth is remarried and has more children.

Exhibit G.  A newspaper clipping that came to me from Lilly Martin Sahiounie just this year.  We had "met" through the Simmons message list years ago and have corresponded a lot on this family.  Her ancestor Rosilla Mills is the sister of Lebius Simmons AND she has a son named Lebbeus.  (Note the name Rosilla in the 1850 census.)  The newspaper clipping she shared with me, which I almost dismissed, is from 1913 and mentions "Mrs. R. M. Pettit, Cozad, Neb".  Lilly had to point out to me who the "R" was!  Young Ruth Simmons, daughter of Lebius & Ruth, married a man named Pettit.  The Illinois Marriage Index shows "William H Pettit married Ruth Maria Simonons" Oct. 4, 1868. I would have never found it with that spelling! Through census records and Find A Grave, I followed Ruth to her grave in Sterling, Colorado.  In 1900 she was living in Callaway, Nebraska very near the homesteaded land of John McGrath and 30 miles from Cozad where Rachel had died in 1896. 

Exhibit H.  A very kind soul answered a request I posted on Rootsweb Message Board for Logan County, Colorado asking for information on Ruth Pettit in Sterling where she died. He answered my post with a cemetery survey - including a .jpg copy - that shows Ruth's parents were Lebius & Maria Simmons.  Not quite how I have her name, but too close to dismiss.

This is the evidence I have.  I rest my case.

Would the jurors of "12 Angry Men" be able to conclude based on this evidence that the little girl in 1850 Mercer County, PA is the same person as the married woman in 1860 Fulton County, IL?  Is it enough to convince Juror #3 that they are one and the same Rachel?  Is it just coincidence that by 1860 Cyrus and Ruth Webb moved to Fulton County, Illinois where Rachel McGrath also lived?  It is just coincidence that Ruth Pettit married in Stark County, Illinois where Rachel McGrath lived at that time and then moved to Callaway, Nebraska just 30 miles from Cozad where Rachel McGrath died?

What other documents in a persons life might mention the place of their marriage?  Will I ever find it in writing who Rachel McGrath's parents were for sure?  I dream of finding a diary or family bible that belonged to Rachel or maybe her mother Ruth or even sister Ruth in some old trunk in an attic.

I have several documents for John McGrath who will be the subject of my next post. None of them have the answer.


This is a Solomon Butcher photograph of the McGrath homestead cropped in close to Rachel & John.  My mom has this photo.

It seems wrong to have a favorite person among people I've never even met, but I can't help but have a little extra compassion for Rachel.  Her father died before she was 13, he was only about 34. Her young sister Louisa may have died before the age of 14.  Her sister Mary Rosilla got married in 1861 to James Jackson Davee, had 2 children and died between 1864 and 1866 at about age 22. Her mother Ruth died before 1866 at about 46 years old.  Rachel herself lost 2 children in the 1860's and she only lived to be 54.  I have never found death dates or locations for any of them.  I can't help but feel for her losses.

Thank you for hearing my case.  Let me know how you vote!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sunday's Obituary - Mrs. John McGrath


There's not a lot of information here.  Only the sad mention of "a great sufferer for many months."  I will have more to come on Mrs. John McGrath this week.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Wednesday's Child - Linden Shroy

Little Linden was laid to rest beside his Great Grandmother Rachel McGrath in the Grace Cemetery in Cozad, Nebraska.  His Great Grandfather John joined them 3 years later. Linden's parents were Elmer and Rebecca Shroy, his grandparents were Levi and Minnie Patterson, Minnie was the daughter of John and Rachel.  Elmer and Rebecca Shroy moved to Aberdeen, Washington. 



It seems obvious that the grave marker was placed no earlier than 1909 and maybe not until 1912 or later.  The dates on the marker for Rachel's birth date and John's birth year are wrong.  I'm wondering if I ever find out John and Rachel's marriage date, it might be in March.  John and Rachel will be my next couple of posts.