August 29, 2014

Death of a Stranger Solves a Family Mystery 103 Years Later

The stranger checked his pocket watch. Almost 9:15 pm. The train from Milwaukee should pull in to the Missoula train station any minute now. He began to gather his belongings - two large suitcases full of his wallpapering and painting tools. In 1911 it didn't do to leave your luggage out of your sight so he tried to keep it by his feet whenever possible.

When the train stopped, the man picked up his luggage, ignoring the twinge of pain across his chest. He was a short man, only 5' 8" and heavy, weighing almost 215 lbs. At 55 years old he figured he wasn't in as good shape anymore and wasn't surprised that his chest and arm ached.

Carrying these suitcases as he went door to door looking for odd jobs was enough to make anyone have aches and pains! He was a drifter and went from town to town in the Western states, barely making enough to pay for his travel expenses. But that was how he had chosen to live.

He liked being alone and going places where no one knew who he was and the cries of "There goes Nigger Joe!" FN no longer rang in his ears. For that was what the townspeople called him in the town where he grew up. His grandfather, a free man of colour from Pennsylvania, married an Irish woman and his father married a German woman so he could, and did, pass for white among those who had not known his family.

It was growing dark and was drizzling a bit, so he picked up his pace. Even though it was a comfortable 67' he was sweating as he hurried towards the stairs to the Higgins Avenue Bridge.  Trudging up the stairs he noticed he was out of breath and his chest was tingling with bursts of sharp pain. He hoped he'd find a room to rent fairly close by once he crossed the bridge into town.

The bridge was crowded with townspeople but he barely noticed as the pain in his chest increased. Halfway across the bridge, he stopped and set down his heavy cases, gasping for breath as a lightning jolt of pain hit. He leaned against the railing and then suddenly fell and lay there, not moving. A woman screamed and a few men rushed to him to see if they could help him up. But the stranger lay dead. One of the men shook his head and told his friend to run and get Doc Walsh or the town police.

The body was taken to the Undertaker where Doc Walsh went through the man's belongings. Letters revealed that his name was Joseph E. Butler and he had relatives in Grafton North Dakota. A telegram was sent to the local police in Grafton and a brother came forward. Jake Butler provided the police with Joseph's wife's name and address in Seaforth Ontario Canada and a telegram was sent to her. While we do not have that telegram we can imagine what it said

Regret to inform you of passing of your husband Joseph E. Butler. Please advise what to do with body.
It must have been a shock to Carrie Butler, his wife. Joseph had deserted the family about 10 years earlier and had not been heard from since.  He left behind his wife and 6 children ages 7 to 20. There was no love lost between Carrie and Joseph and in later years she would not talk about him or his disappearance, only saying "he went out west" when asked by her granddaughter Mary. Nothing more was said and no one had the nerve to ask Carrie for details. Again, while we don't have the telegram Carrie sent back to Missoula, we can imagine her terse words

Bury him in Missoula
And so Joseph E. Butler, my husband's great-great grandfather, was buried alone in the Missoula Cemetery in Missoula Montana. It took me over 15 years to find his death but last night was my genealogy breakthrough. I followed a hunch I had that he had ended up in North Dakota near his brother Jake, and finding a grave online for a J. E. Butler prompted me to look for records of this J. E. Butler. None were found, it was as if he had come out of nowhere. No census, no marriage, no sign that he had ever lived in or near Missoula Montana. So why was he buried there and with an actual marker?

A phone call by my husband's cousin Judy to the Cemetery and to the Funeral Home that handled his autopsy and death provided us with the following information:

Name Joseph E. Butler. Died May 17, 1911. Place of death Missoula Bridge. Coroner said Heart Disease. No name of coroner. Buried May 27, 1911. Paid cash but no name of who paid. 

The Daily Missoulian, May 18, 1911, p12
With that I went on a hunt for a death certificate or newspaper notice, something that would give us a place of birth or spouse's name. I still was not sure this was "our" Joseph at this point. At that is where luck and friends came into play. I found an index entry to a newspaper death notice placed in The Missoulian on May 18th and put out a request on Facebook for anyone with access to this edition to copy and send it to me. 

At the same time I began a search online and found that the Missoulian was available for free at Chronicling America. As I was pulling up that date, a Facebook friend sent me the article.  I eventually found 3 articles about Joseph and his lonely death in Missoula on the Higgins Avenue Bridge. 

Our cousin Judy mentioned how said it was that he died alone, but I don't think it was the saddest part of this story, for he chose the life of a drifter. 

For me the sad part was that his granddaughter Mary (my husband's grandmother) is not with us to learn what happened to her grandfather. It was a mystery she longed to solve and I would have loved to share this with her.

And so the story ends. 103 years later, Joseph has been found. Perhaps one day we may be able to visit his grave in Missoula and pay our respects.

FN This description of the nickname the townspeople had for Joseph came from the grandson of a man who knew Joseph personally. 

The Daily Missoulian., May 19, 1911, Morning, Page 10
The Daily Missoulian., May 23, 1911, Morning, Page 10,

August 27, 2014

Oldest house in Britain discovered to be 11,500 years old

Oldest house in Britain discovered to be 11,500 years old
A Typical Archeology Dig
This is fascinating. Archeologists  uncovered a  circular structure near Scarborough, North Yorkshire, which dates back to the Stone Age 8,500 years BC. It was found next to a former lake and predates the dwelling previously thought to be Britain's oldest, at Howick, Northumberland, by at least 500 years.

The team said they are also excavating a large wooden platform made of timbers which have been split and hewn. It is thought to be the earliest evidence of carpentry in Europe.

It's fun to think about the possibility that one of your ancestors lived in this house! If you have ancestors from Scarborough Yorkshire this is certainly a possibility. My daughter-in-law has roots that go back to that area so it's interesting to speculate.

Have you researched the history of your house? Two years ago I researched the land where we built our home 16 years ago and that was fun. It used to be a large farm piece of property which was severed over the past 100 years. It was fun to look up the previous owners in census records.  Next I want to research the old homes I lived in when I was in town, especially the house that was haunted!

Read more at Oldest house in Britain discovered to be 11,500 years old

August 26, 2014

Sneak Peek at Season Finale of Who Do You Think You Are?

Image Credit: TLC
The season finale of Who Do You Think You Are? Airs Wednesday August 27 at 9/8c

Who Do You Think You Are? is a TLC TV series sponsored by

Lorine's Note:
I  watched a Screener Video of this episode which TCL kindly sent me and although I cannot divulge much of what is in it, I can tell you that the Season Finale is going to be mind-blowing! I'm going to watch it again when it airs tomorrow night.  For now, here's a little summary of some of the happenings:

Minnie Driver sets out to learn more about her secretive father and traces the highs and lows of his career in the Royal Air Force during World War II. 

Through military documents, she comes to understand why her father was the way he was, and how his combat experience impacted the rest of his life. 

Since Minnie never met her paternal grandparents, she follows the trail in England until she comes face-to-face with the very first relative she’s ever met on her father’s side, and finds a kindred spirit in a family member she never knew about.

August 25, 2014

What's Your Mix?

What's Your Mix?
My English great grandfather David Simpson
It occurred to me a few days ago that I don't know my mix. By "mix" I mean the % of my ethnic ancestors I have in my bloodline. 

I know I have Irish, English, Dutch, American and Canadian but as to percentage of each group, I've never bothered to figure it out. So here goes!

I'm only going to go back 5 generations because that way every branch of my ancestors is known to me. I can go back 15-20 generations on some lines but not my Irish McGinnis family. I don't want to assume they are Irish going back from my 2nd great grandfather Joseph McGinnis. 

So - if I take my lineage back to my 2nd great grandparents, who's in the mix? And where were they born?

Paternal Ancestors:
3 born in Ireland, 2 in England and 3 in Canada
Joseph McGinnis & Fanny Downey - both born Ireland
David King & Mary Bell - both born England
Levi Peer & Jane Greenlees - Levi born Upper Canada (Ontario). Jane born Ireland
Isaac Vollick & Lydia Jamieson - both born Ontario. Isaac and Lydia's lineage is Dutch

Maternal Ancestors: 
8 born in England!
Charles Fuller & Georgiana Golding - both born Kent England
John Caspall & Mary Ann Williams - John born Kent, Mary Ann born Devon
Charles Simpson & Sarah Jane Page - both born Kent England
William Stead & Sarah Elvery - both born Kent England

Of my 8 great grandparents, 4 were born in Ontario and 4 in England
Of my 4 grandparents, 2 were born in Ontario and 2 in England
My mom and dad were both born in Ontario

Ireland = 3
England = 16
Canada = 11

I'd need to go futrher back to bring in my Dutch, German and Native American ancestors. 

The total is 30 so I can calculate what % of 30 each of those numbers is.  I do it with Algebra: 

We know that Ireland is 3 out of 30
So X % = 3/30
Therefore X/100 = 3/30
Next step is X= 3x100 / 30
Thus X=300/30

It looks like I am 53% English, 37% Canadian and 10% Irish. What's your mix?

August 24, 2014

Sharing Memories Week 34: School's out For Summer!

Sharing Memories Week 34: School's out For Summer!
My son and his best friend
Here is a Challenge for all genealogy bloggers. I want you to keep a weekly journal called Sharing Memories. Some of you may recall that in 2010, 2011 and 2012 I provided weekly prompts to help with writing up memories of ancestors and ourselves. 

If you missed this weekly series called Sharing Memories you might want to have a look and see if any of the prompts appeal to you.

This week's prompt is School's out For Summer!

What did you do when school was over for the summer? As a young child did you go to Grandma's or summer camp or stay home with mom? As a teenager did you get a summer job? 

My mother worked so I stayed home with my older sister in charge. Then as a teen I worked all summer at our local library. 

Summers were fun as a kid. I hung around with my best friend Janie (who I met in Grade 3). We hiked out in the country, we sat in our rooms and shared confidences, we hunted for tadpoles in the local creek, and we embarked on dozens of adventures! We were inseparable and spent every day together. In fact Janie remained my very best friend until her death 2 years ago. 

If you have seen the movie Stand By Me, that was Janie and I and our adventures every summer. We shared many fun times exploring the woods, going where our parents had forbidden us to go. The old deserted house out in the country was one of our favourite scary places to hike to and explore. We saw signs of tramps having been there - old rusty cans of beans, spots where fires had been set inside the house, filthy bedding, etc.

On the rare times we weren't together, I went to the playground just down the road from our house and spent many happy hours on the swings, content with my dreams and ideas. 

August 23, 2014

Review of Top Hat Photo Repair and a Discount for my Readers

Recently a photo restoration service called Top Hat Photo Repair offered to restore a photo of my choice in exchange for a review of their services. I have dozens of old photos that need some restoration work so the offer was tempting.

However I my reviews are always honest so I had to warned them that if I didn't like the service they would not get a good review from me. Well I'm pleased to say I am very happy with the work they did! 

Here is the before photo. It's a very dark photo of my grandmother holding my mother ca 1916. 

I love this photo. Clothes on the line, Grandma's pocket bulging with clothespegs and my mom no doubt squirming in her arms. 

Here is the photo after Top Hat Photo Repair was finished restoring it. I can see Grandma's face better and my mom's face is completely visible now. They were very accommodating about doing more on the photo after sending me their first restoration. There were 2 small items I wasn't 100% satisfied with in the first attempt but I love the final product below.
Review of Top Hat Photo Repair and a Discount for my Readers
Michael, of Top Hat Photo Repair has offered my readers a discount of 20% on photo restoration. Just use the promo code "olive"  This discount is good until September 15, 2014. Their prices are very reasonable and I hope some of my readers will be able to take advantage of this offer.

August 22, 2014

Deadly Victorian Fashions

Deadly Victorian Fashions
What we do in the name of beauty, vanity and fashion! During the Civil War women wore corsets laced so tightly they could barely breathe, and often fainted from lack of oxygen. 

Victorian times were no better, with women wearing everything from gowns made with  arsenic-based dye to create a beautiful green colour, to flammable crinolines. When fashionable women wore the wide based crinoline under their skirt or dress, they could very easily set themselves on fire not realizing how close the bottom of their skirt was to an open flame.

It wasn't just those wearing the garments who died or suffered serious side effects - those working in the hatting occupation were working with poisonous mercury and suffered from mercury poisoning. Hence the expression "mad as a hatter"
Visit Deadly Victorian fashions to see the photographs and read more about deadly fashions.