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Friday, March 31, 2017

Curious Facts and Tales of Frank and Susanna Selgrath and Family

The fifth of Jacob Selgrath and Gertrude Schmelzer’s children was Francis Jacob, born and christened on 28 December 1826 in the village of Sankt Ingbert, Bavaria.

Franz’s older brother Nicholas had just turned eight; his sister Magdalena was five; his sister Katharina had just turned 4; and his brother Johann was 21 months old. The children’s father, Jacob, was probably a coal miner or working in some connection with the coal mines of that region.

Just after April 1834 when the last brother in the family, Ludwig (known as Lewis when they lived in the United States), was born, the family emigrated to America. They probably left from Le Havre, France, the nearest port city. They ended up settling in East Norwegian Township in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, an area rich in anthracite coal mines, which is where their father found work.

Indeed, it seems that all of the children and their mother too worked for a mining company, as when the family were counted on the 1840 United States Census, six of them were working in the mining industry, and as Katharina was married and Magdalena was not counted with them, that means every one of the family at home was working, including young Frank at the age of 13 and even Lewis who was just six.

Changes and developments in the mining industry gradually ended the employment of the women and children over the next decade.

When Frank was about 23 or 24 years old, he married a girl from France, Susannah Deach, whose original name was probably the more Germanic spelling Dietsch, and whose people came from the same region as his, the area west of the River Rhine that had been Germanic, then governed by France and then by Germanic states and so on, back and forth through the centuries.

Susannah had been born in 1830 and at the time of their marriage was about 19 or 20. The 1850 census taker found Frank living in a hotel and working as a carpenter, not married yet in August of that year. It is likely that he and Susanna were married later that year or early the next. Ten years later Frank was a carpenter in New Castle, Pennsylvania, at the time the 1860 Census was taken. He and Susannah had five children then:
  • Lewis, born 20 October 1851 
  • John J, born 3 August 1853 
  • John Franklin, born September 1855 
  • Jacob, born 4 June 1857 
  • William Francis, born 14 February 1860 
They also had a ten-year-old girl named Mary Deach living with them, likely a young relative of Susannah, who might have needed a girl to help her with those rambunctious little boys after school. Of course Mary went to school. So did Lewis and John that year. (Naturally we think Mary was the angelic one, or what was Tom Sawyer for? Mary could equally have been the troublemaker sent to her Aunt Susannah’s to straighten out. In such a scenario, might she have corrupted her little cousins, or might Aunt Susannah have been a strong enough role model to give the girl a fair chance at happiness?)

In August 1861 Frank went off to war and in early 1862, Susannah bore their last son, Joseph. On 3 July 1862 their five-year-old son Jacob died, whether by accident or illness is not known. It must have been very hard on Susanna to be without Frank when this tragedy happened.

Frank enlisted as “Francis Selgrath” in the 108th Regiment, 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Company E on August 7, 1861 in Philadelphia under Captain Hartman. On August 21 Major Ruff took over the Regiment and in October marched them to Washington, D.C., 137 miles away. On 28 November 1861 Frank was promoted to Corporal and with his company was moved through Annapolis, Maryland to Monroe, Virginia. On 22 October 1862 he was promoted to Sergeant in Portsmouth, Virginia, the Company having been moved there back in May 1862. Frank reenlisted 25 December 1863 in Portsmouth. Once he was wounded pretty badly.

His military records show he was mustered into service in Norfolk, Virginia, on 1 Jan 1864; the record says in its notes that he had reenlisted as a sergeant 31 August 1864 under Captain Gould and was promoted to 1st Sergeant on 13 October 1864. Something happened and he was relieved of 1st Sergeant’s duty on 1 January 1865 and reduced to ranks 13 February 1865—perhaps that was when he was wounded. But then he was promoted back to 1st Sergeant 21 May 1865. The notes also show that he purchased a Colt revolver and a saber for $11. His horse was worth $140, the arms he already owned were $200, and he was paid $94.53 in cash and clothing. He was mustered out with his company on 13 August 1865.

After the war, Frank moved his family to Mahanoy Township in 1865. The 1870 Census enumerator found him and Susanna there with their sons. Frank’s occupation is a little obscure, according to this census taker. There’s something scribbled that looks like “U.S. Navy.” Was he employed by the United States Navy in Schuylkill County? How so? What navigable water is there to speak of? None! This is pretty interesting and deserves more research.

Frank’s real estate was valued then at $1500 and his personal estate at $300. The census says he attended school within the past year, and unless that’s a mistake, maybe the Navy had sent him to school?! More interesting things to research.

His sons Lewis and John had left school, and at the ages of 19 and 17 were working as laborers. Frank Jr. at 15, and 12-year-old William, and 9-year-old Joseph were all in school. Interestingly, Susanna is marked as being unable to read or write. This may explain why the family’s ages seem to jump around, if she couldn’t do the math and was answering the questions.

The next ten years found Frank back to working as a carpenter, although the census taker in 1880 noted that Frank had been unemployed for two months out of that year. His son John, age 26, was a machinist, and Frank Jr. was a cigar maker. They were employed steadily, but the younger boys, William at 19, a fireman, and Joseph, at 18 a laborer, had both been out of work for three months.

Lewis had gotten married when he was about 25, to Barbara Schaeffer, who had been born in New York City to German immigrant parents. The Shaeffers had moved to Pennsylvania, and there in Mahanoy Township Lewis and Barbara were living. Their first two daughters were born in 1878 and 1879, named Susan and Mary. Lewis was working as a colliery engineer for the Primrose company, which meant he was involved with the design, building, and maintenance of the machinery used in the coal mines. This is the trade he followed the rest of his life.

I expect that Susanna was thrilled to have two granddaughters after all those sons. It’s nice to see that they were named after her and young Mary Deach—so perhaps Mary wasn’t a troublemaker. She was probably as angelic as Polly in Tom Sawyer after all. Maybe she made the boys a lot of treats as they were growing up.

If anyone knows what "CH Constellation" means, let me know!
Frank’s physical condition deteriorated in the next ten years. He applied for an invalid’s pension based on his military service which was granted 18 September 1890. Susanna must have died during those years too, for Frank was alone in 1900 when the next census was taken, living with his niece Eliza and her husband and daughters. Eliza’s exact relationship is not yet known, but it is likely that she is related through Susanna. Frank was widowed and supposedly was a laborer in the mines, but no doubt he was really doing carpentry for the mining company.

Ten years later he was boarding with the Irish Toole family, Sylvester and Sadie, also in Mahanoy Township, the date of the census being 11 April 1910. There was another widowed man boarding there too, and the couple had three daughters and a baby son. They at least knew the facts about Francis, unlike the “niece” ten years before, who had his age way off, his profession wrong, his name mangled, and his year of immigration way off. In 1910 the truth emerged: Frank was 86 years old, he had his own income; he had come to the United States in 1834 and was a naturalized citizen. In fact, he owned the home where he was “boarding” and Sylvester Toole was renting it from him! But I’m sure that in the sense that Sadie Toole was providing the meals and doing his housework, perhaps he liked being known as their boarder.

Whatever was the reality, he was taken to the country hospital at the end of May suffering from a stroke, and he died nine days later. The supervisory nurse filled out the paperwork and did not know his birth information, but she guessed he was around 80 years old. She knew he had been born in Germany, that he was a widower, and she knew he had been a carpenter, so it is probable that his people had been to visit in those nine days. After his burial, he was given a Civil War veteran’s grave stone in the cemetery in Ashland.

Frank’s son Lewis had eleven children that we know of, but only seven are identified so far:
  • Susan, born November 1878 
  • Mary, born November 1879 
  • John Adam, born 12 December 1880 
  • William F, born November 1882; married; died June 1969 
  • Catherine E, born August 1884 
  • Gertrude D, born February 1888; married Frank Klitsch; died August 1973 
  • Louis F, born 1907; married Harriet M Mehl in 1940 
Five of their children had died before 1900, Susan and four whose names we don’t know. It is likely that Barbara had several more miscarriages than were recorded. Their last son must have been a surprise, being born when his parents were 55 and almost 53. But Barbara’s mother also had more than 11 children, so she seems to have come from a remarkably fertile family. This makes the possibility more likely than that Louis was maybe an illegitimate grandchild reared as a son with no sign in any of his records that his parents were other than Lewis and Barbara. Lewis and Barbara always lived in the area of Mahanoy, so it is likely that they at least visited his father during those last weeks. Lewis died only two and a half years after his father, on 10 January 1913.

Frank’s son John J Selgrath, a machinist by trade, was married 1 June 1886 to Elizabeth Kopf Reishan of Mahanoy Township. Elizabeth was a widow, but it is not known if she had any children by her first husband. John and Lizzie had three children:
  • William J, born 26 May 1887 
  • Anna F, born 21 September 1888; married Joseph Wehinger; died of pneumonia 19 December 1918 
  • Henry, born 14 November 1889 and died 5 January 1910 of pneumonia 
John J Selgrath died before his father did, on 18 December 1905. His wife, Lizzie, died in 1920.

Frank and Susanna’s son John Franklin, who always went by Frank, who had started early on making cigars, eventually became a machinist and married twice. Nothing is known yet about his first marriage. His second was to a woman named Margaret Eade who went by the nickname Maggie. They were married in 1894 or 1895. Their son John Ed Selgrath was born January 29, 1896 in Neshaminy, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. John became a telegraph messenger and then a pipe borer. The family lived near Philadelphia—perhaps they didn’t have a lot of contact with Frank’s father, and Frank did not long survive him. When John registered for the draft in 1917, his father was dead, and John was the sole support of both his wife and his mother. Margaret Eade Selgrath died in 1933.

Frank and Susanna’s next son after the little boy Jacob who died during the Civil War, was William Francis Selgrath. William had been a fireman in his teens after leaving school, but that was in 1880 and there were no further records available until 1900. That year, William had become a carpenter like his father and was living in the household of his father-in-law, Nicholas Krauter, in Mahanoy City. William was married to Carolina Krauter, who had been born in June 1865 in Germany and whose parents and family came to Pennsylvania when she was about ten years old. William and Carolina Selgrath married about 1885 and had the following children:
  • Nicholas Edward, born 23 April 1892 
  • Agnes Elizabeth, born 14 February 1894 
  • Susanna, born August 1896; married Thomas Killian 
  • Joseph, born 16 June 1899 
  • Barbara, born in 1902 
  • William A, born in 1905 
There may have been another child born in 1908, as there is a strange death certificate in the files of the state of Pennsylvania that says a 43-year-old woman named Carolina Selgrath died on 28 November 1908 of shock from childbirth, and her parents were William F. Selgrath and Carolina Krauter, which is clearly impossible, as the age of this daughter is the age of her mother. Clearly a clerk got things all wrong and this was the death of both the daughter four hours after its birth, and the mother, Carolina.

In 1910 William had a woman named Bessie Entwhistle working for him, taking care of the children. He fell in love with her and they were married in 1916. Bessie’s parents came from England. No record has been found to indicate that William and Bessie had any children together, nor do we know when either of them died. Since they lived in Mahanoy, it is possible that William and his family may have visited his father, Frank, but with the death of his wife in 1908 it is understandable that he could not take his aged father into his household.

The youngest son of Frank Selgrath and Susanna Dietsch, Joseph Selgrath, grew up in Mahanoy and stayed there after he was married. He became a carpenter, working for a colliery company. He married Elizabeth Hess in 1880 when they were both about 18, and their son Frank was born the next year. Their six known children were as follows:
  • Frank, born August 1881; died in 1918 
  • John, born in April 1884 
  • Gertrude, born in October 1887; married Lewis R Nieswender and had two daughters 
  • Harry, born 27 May 1890; married Elizabeth; died 5 November 1950 
  • Hattie, born in April 1893; married Thomas Freil and had several children—but there was one born in 1922 whose father is Thomas Freil and one born in 1923 whose father is John Friel. This is a mystery! Stay tuned, there will be more to come on this! 
  • Blanche, born 1 July 1906; married Samuel Tulin; died in 1994 
Before Blanche was born, they had another child who died, but nothing is known about that child yet. Joseph died 28 November 1930 of a rare form of cancer of the connective tissue in his left arm, called a sarcoma of the humerus. His wife Elizabeth died 28 August 1945 from the effects of a head injury she got in a fall in her home. Curiously, her death record takes a good ten years off her true age, and yet the informant is her own son Harry.

There you have it—the known and unknowns about Frank and Susanna Selgrath’s ever-expanding family. Their story has no ending . . . yet.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Shoemaker of Pottsville

Katherina Selgrath of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, married a shoemaker when she was not quite 18 years old, in about 1839.

Ferdinand Bödefeld had come from the farming and mining regions of Westphalia, and specifically a village located southwest of Arnsberg called Stockum and sometimes known as Stockum-bei-Amecke (Amecke being the town just at the southern tip of the modern reservoir called Sorpesee). At the end of the 18th century the land belonged to the Duchy of Westphalia, under the control of the Archbishops of Köln until the end of the Holy Roman Empire. After the Thirty Years’ War, the French had annexed much of the land west of the Rhine River, and in 1803 the area was secularized and given to Prussia by the Congress of Vienna.

Ferdinand was the son of Maria Theresia Gierse and Frans Bödefeld. Frans was the son of Josef Bödefeld and Anna Clara Sebastian. Theresia was the daughter of Engelbert Gierse and Anna Catharina Scharfenberger, whose parents were Caspar Scharfenberger and Maria Veronica.

Ferdinand and his younger brother Bernard immigrated to the United States, ending up in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, in the 1830s. Ferdinand established his shoemaker shop there, and among his apprentice shoemakers were his young brother-in-law John Selgrath, and his son Jacob. Ferdinand and Katharina had ten children who lived to adulthood: Jacob, John, Joseph, Magdalena Helena, Katherine, Theresa Agnes, Ferdinand Joseph, Isabella Josephine, Mary Ann, and Francis John (known as Frank).

When the U.S. Civil War began, at first it must have seemed a little remote from the Boedefelds. But soon it became their war too. Their sons John and Joseph joined the Union Army and fought for months through the cold and heat and the mud and terrors. John was wounded, and Joseph severely so. They survived, but life was never the same for them. The same thing happened to John Selgrath, who returned unable to continue with shoemaking as a profession. In the summer of 1863 in particular, the battles moved to Pennsylvania itself as General Robert E. Lee tried to consolidate his forces at Gettysburg. On June 30 part of his army was critically delayed at Hanover and prevented from helping at Gettysburg over the next two days. The Battle of Gettysburg is well documented as a major turning point in the war, and although it was fought over 70 miles away from Pottsville, all the citizens of the area were certainly riveted by what happened there. We do not know what Ferdinand Boedefeld did in particular to help the Union in the War, besides sending his sons to fight, but two years after the war ended he was presented with an inscribed gold-headed cane that said,
“To Ferdinand Bodefeld by his Friends, as a mark of esteem for his devotion to his adopted Country, in the hour of her peril. July 1867.”
Shoe making in the early part of the nineteenth century was still an ages-old handcraft, able to be done by a single person. Towards the middle of the century after the invention of the sewing machine by Elias Howe in 1846, somebody else invented a machine for stitching parts of shoes. Thereafter, the mechanization of making shoes progressed through the century until most shoes were being made in factories using machines by 1900. But Ferdinand Boedefeld made shoes and boots by hand until he could no longer work. He handed over his business to his son Jacob, and Jacob became a well-known boot-and-shoe maker in Pottsville, listed in bold letters in all the city directories until 1895, when he died suddenly, only nine years after his father, Ferdinand.

For many years the boot-and-shoe making tools were around our house, but sometime in the last 35 years they disappeared.

Sic transit gloria mundi . . . et calceamenta!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Unscientific Thoughts on the Selgraths

I am not a scientist nor do I have any specific interest in infertility, except from the genealogist’s point of view. I’m looking at a family in which it seems something prevented a generation from reproducing where all other factors in their society should have led to a different outcome.

Returning again to the family of Nicholas Selgrath and his wife, Margaretha Hartung (I have written about them in this blog before), we might think a couple who married in the 1840s and had six children would have a very numerous progeny by now.

Yet within two generations their family had died out except for one possible line.

Of their six children, only one son had any children, and he had just two. One of those children had children. What causes such a thing? Was it simply bad luck?

The eldest son seems to have moved around a lot and apparently never settled down or got married. The 1870 census, when he was around 22 – 23 years old, found him working as a brakeman on the railroad and living at home. His name was Francis, or Frans, as one census calls him, and Frank, as he is called in the 1900 Census, when he was living in the town of Mammoth in the mining district of the Tintic Mountains of Utah and working as a locomotive engineer. (Mammoth is a favorite now with people who like ghost towns, but back when Frank lived there it was booming.)

His next sister, Mary, was working as a “tailoress” when she was 18. Somewhere she met Christian Kramer, who ran a carpentry business with his younger brother Henry. Mary and Christian married in Manhattan, New York, on 25 August 1874. Henry Kramer married a couple of years later and had seven children. Maria and Christian never had any. They moved to California about 1876 and in 1886 were living in downtown San Francisco. By 1900 they had moved to Fruitvale, a suburb of Alameda, and then by 1910 they had settled in Oakland, where they remained. Mary continued her dressmaking business throughout her life. Christian died there in 1923, and Mary nine years later in 1932, having become an inmate in an “old people’s home.”

The third sibling, Jacob F Selgrath, was still going to school when he was 16, and by the time he was 26 his occupation was a nonspecific “laborer.” That was in 1880. He died on 25 November 1900 of heart disease at his home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The record states that he was working as a driver and was married. I even looked up the address where he died and found it on the 1900 census, but another family was living there in June when the census was taken. The Selgraths must have moved there between June and November that year. There has been no record found of his wife’s name nor whether there were any children. I’m assuming there were not, because I have not found any Selgrath children of the right age living in that area during the next few decades who aren’t already identified as belonging to some other branch of the family. But I could be wrong—I frequently am!

The next child in the family is Margaret, and we know about her. She’s the one who went with her other siblings to Utah and ended up marrying a railroad man there—a widower with two little children. She was the one who was active in Catholic Church work and I speculated that she worked in the parish that included the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City. She had no children of her own.

After Margaret came Charles. We’ve already discussed him too. He’s the one who became a railroad man, married Emma Leonard, and they had a son in Salt Lake City and a daughter in Pennsylvania after they moved back home. They ended up twenty years later in Ogden, Utah, where Emma died, and then Charles moved to San Francisco to live with his daughter and her husband, which is where Charles died. Charles’s son died unmarried and childless, and Charles’s daughter had four children. Whether any of them had children is unknown at present.

Last in the family comes John F Selgrath, born in 1867. He grew up and became a locomotive engineer like his brothers. Like them too, he moved to Salt Lake City. He married Maggie Ammerman in 1899, a woman ten years younger than himself, either from West Jordan, Utah, or from Iowa, depending on which record you look at. You may remember in the story about John’s sister Margaret, she and her husband lived in West Jordan in 1900. Probably that’s where John met Maggie Ammerman. She could have been from both places: she was probably born in Iowa and the family had moved to West Jordan when she met John.

They don’t appear to have had children when John died suddenly in the summer of 1906. The record doesn’t say what the cause of death was, but it occurred in Farmington, Davis County, Utah, another very rural place in those days. I wondered if John had the family heart disease, and then I saw on the Findagrave memorial page this sentence: “He drowned in Lagoon Pond.” Really! Was he swimming?

Lagoon Resort opened in the summer of 1886 on the shores of the Great Salt Lake, called Lake Park in those days. Then the proprietors moved it east to Farmington where there was a big pond, hence the name change. You should see the history here. I hope John got a chance to ride on the new Carousel, which had just been installed that year. But what a horror for Maggie, for what must have been supposed to be a fun outing to turn into tragedy like that.

Or did she push him in? Maggie remarried in less than a year. (I do tend to read too many murder mysteries.) If she did the dastardly deed, she got her comeuppance fairly soon—she died during an operation for an ovarian cyst in 1912.

Lagoon Resort, from the their website history page

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Who Is Sadie Firman and What Happened to Maggie?

Margaret Selgrath, a daughter of Nicholas Selgrath and Margaretha Hartung, was born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania on Leap Day, 29 February 1856. Her father died when she was only 14, and her mother continued to provide a home for her, her 16-year-old brother Jacob, her 9-year-old brother Charles and her 3-year-old brother John.

When the siblings grew up, Margaret, Charles, and John moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, between about 1885 and 1895. They did not apparently join the Mormon church, as Margaret’s obituary tells of her many years of active service in the Catholic Church. Margaret married Fred David Breining from Ohio, a locomotive fireman for the railroad. Her brothers Charles and John also worked on the railroads.

The 1900 Census finds Margaret and Fred living in West Jordan, Salt Lake County, with two children, Fred and Sarah, born in October 1895 and January 1897, respectively. The record states that Fred and Margaret have been married for 5 years and that Margaret has borne only the two children.

There are a number of discrepancies between this record and other known facts. The birthplaces are off. Instead of Ohio, Fred is said to have been born in New Jersey to New Jersey parents. His parents were actually both born in German states. Margaret’s and her father’s birthplaces are correct, but her mother is said to have been born in Norway; actually she was born in the German state of Hesse.

Margaret’s birth date is said to be February 1854, but we know that it was actually 1856, so she has added two years to her age for some unknown reason. Her husband’s birth date is said to be January 1850, but it was actually January 1860, so he has been given 10 extra years. Maybe Margaret was sensitive about being four years older than her husband—she made herself four years younger in this census report.

West Jordan at that time was rural. The neighbors’ professions are either farmer, farm laborer, or sheep raiser mostly, with one blacksmith, one carpenter, and curiously one “capitalist” from Denmark—a 67-year-old woman. Fred’s profession is not named. I wonder if Maggie didn’t want to talk to the census taker—it might explain those discrepancies in the record. The record states that they own their home, and that it is not a farm.

They are not found in 1910, nor is the son, Fred G Breining, listed anywhere that I can find in the World War I draft registration database, which surely was a major oversight, or a major problem of some kind. The 1920 Census lists the family renting a home in Salt Lake City on 600 South Street. Fred Sr. is still a railroad fireman, and Fred Jr. is now an accountant for a mining company. (Considering that the largest open-pit mine in the world was underway in Bingham Canyon twenty miles southeast, he could have been working for the Kennecott Copper Corporation in their downtown offices.)

Maggie and Sadie Margaret are also listed with the family. Again the discrepancies are there, but there are fewer than before. The young people’s ages and birthplaces are correct, as are their father’s age and paternal grandparents’ birthplaces.

Maggie’s and her mother’s birthplaces are correct, but the particulars of her father’s birthplace are off, if understandable. His birthplace is listed as France, which would have been correct had he been born a couple years sooner, but that territory had been handed over to Bavaria to rule just before Nicholas Selgrath had been born. However, in January 1920 the World War had just been ended by a treaty that gave the territory back to France and to the United Kingdom to rule for a number of years.

A bigger discrepancy is in Maggie’s birth date. It is written as 40 and overwritten as 50, but of course it should have been 64.

The mystery appears when Fred Jr. married Marguerite Shea in November 1920. He listed his mother’s name as “Sadie Firman” on his marriage license. What? Who is Sadie Firman and where did she come in?

Maggie died the next year, 2 July 1921. The obituary simply says she was Mrs. Fred Breining and mentions her Catholic church service work. Could her full name have been Margaret Sarah or Sarah Margaret, and her nickname Sadie, the same as her daughter’s?

As an aside, Maggie must have enjoyed living downtown where she could attend mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, completed in 1909. It is a magnificent building, Romanesque on the outside and Gothic in the interior, on South Temple Street, then known as Brigham Street. I cannot resist putting in a few pictures, from the Cathedral’s web page.
The Cathedral under construction
The original nave
Brigham Street with the Cathedral facade on the right

The mystery about Margaret deepens when daughter Sadie Margaret Breining married John Albert McCormick in 1925. Sadie also listed her mother’s name as “Sadie Firman” on her marriage license! Where is this Sadie Firman coming from?

Both death records for the two children list their mother’s name as “Sadie Firman.” All right. Apparently somehow Margaret Selgrath morphed into Sadie Firman in the records created by the children. This is definitely weird.

But it isn’t such a mystery after all. Prepare for an alarmingly anti-climactic ending!

A check of records for a possible Sadie Firman turns up a marriage record for a definite Sadie Firman, born in 1872 in Salt Lake City; she married Fred David Breining on Christmas day 1894. She died in January 1897—thus the two children are hers, as she died apparently in giving birth to Sarah Margaret, nicknamed Sadie. Her grave marker is in the big Salt Lake City Cemetery, and Findagrave shows it is next to her husband’s.

Where our Maggie came in is in the role of second wife and stepmother. The 1900 census taker probably assumed the children were hers. The confusion with dates didn’t help. Despite the five-year marriage recorded in that census, it could have been only about two years and a little more, if that. Despite the census taker recording that she had borne two children and they were both living, those numbers actually belonged to the father, Fred David Breining.

Considering the answers to the census taker’s questions, there is a strong possibility that Fred David himself was answering the questions, and the date of his first marriage had been five years before, so that fits. His first wife had had just the two children. Perhaps Fred David cut off the interview before things could have been cleared up because he had to get to work or something. Who knows. That doesn’t explain why his birthplace, which is known to be Sandusky, Ohio, was changed into New Jersey. Maybe he came on the scene after that question had been answered by Maggie.

In any case, what I wrote a few days ago about William Francis Selgrath and his sister Margaret, nephew and niece of our Maggie Selgrath here, still appears to be true: they were the last of their generation in the progeny of Nicholas Selgrath.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Otherwise Forgotten

I hate it when I’m researching family lines and I come across one that seems to end with nobody to remember these people. I’m going to write about a bachelor cousin who had very few close relatives except his sister and whom probably nobody would otherwise remember. He must not be utterly forgotten.

William Francis Selgrath was born to Charles Selgrath and his wife Emma Leonard in Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, on 9 April 1886. Charles and his wife and two of his siblings, an older sister named Margaret and a younger brother named John, had been working for the railroad in their hometown in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, around 1885 and had all decided to migrate to Salt Lake City. [Note: They did NOT have any affiliation with the Mormons; they were all staunch Catholics.]

But then Charles and Emma left Utah and went back home to Schuylkill County between William’s birth and 20 July 1890, when their daughter Margaret was born in Pennsylvania. They stayed there a little over twenty years. The 1910 Census found them still all living in Schuylkill County, in the tiny community of Mt. Carbon, next to Pottsville. The father, Charles, was an engineer on the railroad, and 23-year-old William was working in the roundhouse.

During the next decade the parents and Margaret moved to Ogden, Utah. Probably Charles continued to work on the railroad, as Ogden was a huge railroad hub for the entire western region. William moved further west and settled in Sacramento, California. When he registered for the draft in 1917, he was working as an inspector for a government entity in the state capitol. He was not married and listed his mother as his next of kin.

In June 1920 William’s sister, Margaret, married George Wishart of Ogden, Utah. I hope William was able to come for the wedding, for it might have been the last time he would see his mother.

Emma had tuberculosis, unknown to the family, and when she finally sought medical help in July 1923, she lived only a couple months longer. She died and was buried in Ogden, Utah.

Margaret and George Wishart had a son and a daughter born to them in Ogden, and then they moved to California. They had a daughter born in San Bernardino and a son born in San Francisco. While living in San Francisco, they invited Margaret’s father, Charles, to come and live with them, which he did. Charles died there in 1928.

William Selgrath moved to Carmel, California, in Monterey County and opened a bakery there, which he ran for many years. The Wisharts joined him there in 1930. William Selgrath died in November 1970 at the age of 84, and his bakery was taken over by the Wisharts and renamed after them. George Wishart died in June 1980, and Margaret Selgrath Wishart died in 1986 at the age of 96.

William and Margaret had few or maybe no cousins, as neither their aunt Margaret Selgrath Breining nor their uncle John Selgrath in Salt Lake City ever had any children. Their older aunt Maria and her husband, Christian Kramer, never had any children. Their uncle Jacob Selgrath seems to have been married (back in Pennsylvania), but no record has been found showing his wife’s name nor whether he had any children. Their oldest uncle, Francis Selgrath, disappeared from all records with no progeny.

William and Margaret were the last Selgraths of their family line. Gone but not forgotten.

Saturday, March 4, 2017


Ludovicus Selgrath was christened in Sankt Ingbert, on 18 April 1834.  His parents, Jacob and Gertrude Selgrath, took him and his elder siblings to a new life in the United States later that year. (Family tradition always said the family came from Bavaria, but St. Ingbert is a community in Saarland. Having looked at the history, I note that the little community, along with Ensdorf, the village I knew about, were handed over to Bavaria after their territory was taken away from Napoleonic France. It was not until much later that Saarland was given its own status as a state.) In Pennsylvania, Ludwig’s name became Americanized and he was known as Lewis from then on.

Not much is known about Lewis’s early life. His father’s profession isn’t known, and Lewis’s early training could have been anything. One of his brothers was a general laborer, one became a shoemaker, and another worked on the railroad.
Irish track worker,
mid-19th century

When Lewis turned 27 years old, the U.S. Civil War had started. Lewis had two enlistments: he was a part of Company D, 15th Pennsylvania Infantry, and he served in Company B and Company D, 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry. His rank was Sergeant.

Lewis didn’t marry until he was 40 years old—he married Rachael Thomas in the Bethesda Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 25, 1874. Their only child, Malcolm Lightwood Selgrath, was born there on 26 September 1877.

If Lewis had a job that required him to travel, it might help explain why his wife and son were living with her brother and sister-in-law John G. and Emma Thomas when the 1880 census taker came around on June 9. Ray, as she is called in the census, may have been temporarily separated from Lewis, but evidently not permanently. Still, this is only speculation. Perhaps Lewis was one of the drifters—men who had become permanently detached from their homes by the War, or by something else, and who could never afterward settle down.

Lewis died on 27 February 1894 in New York City—there is no evidence that Ray was living there, so perhaps he worked on a railroad or was a traveling salesman. In Pennsylvania later in the spring, Ray applied for a government pension based on her husband’s war service, which was granted. She probably hadn’t been divorced from Lewis if she were claiming a widow’s benefits. She went to live with her brother Samuel after Lewis died, still living in Philadelphia. Rachael Selgrath died in October 1916.

Meanwhile, Lewis and Rachael’s son, Malcolm, lived something of a roving life.

Before he had turned 21, Malcolm and 23-year-old Grace Bennett of Ashley, Pennsylvania, were going together, and two days after Malcolm’s 21st birthday, they married on 28 September 1898. Their daughter, Adeline, was well on the way and was born a little over two months later, in December.

Malcolm didn’t stick around. A little over a year later, the 1900 census-taker found Grace and her toddler daughter living with Grace’s widowed grandmother, her father, and two uncles in her hometown of Ashley.

Before 1910 Grace got herself divorced from Malcolm, married a man named Johnson, and had another daughter. In an effort to make herself more respectable, she also changed the birth date of her daughter Adeline to October 1899, 13 months after her marriage to Malcolm instead of three . . . she could not have foreseen that over a hundred years later we could easily look up the registration of that birth, made at the time it happened, and guess the reason for the discrepancy.

In 1910 a census taker found 32-year-old Malcolm in Weston County, Wyoming, working as a hired man for a wealthy sheep rancher who had four other hired hands. Weston County is very rural Wyoming, on the eastern border of the state roughly west of Rapid City, South Dakota.

Maybe sheep-herding wasn’t exactly Malcolm’s forte, because seven years later when his daughter, Adeline, at the age of 19, married 44-year-old Stanley Wilbert in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, Adeline put on her marriage license that he lived in Philadelphia and that his occupation was “clerk.” Apparently she could only guess what her father did for a living. Obviously Malcolm did not attend the wedding—as Adeline was said to be only 18, her mother had to give permission for the marriage.

The next year when Malcolm had to register for the World War draft, he had gone to Minneapolis, Minnesota and was working as a machinist for the C. M. & St. P. Railroad. The draft registration is dated 12 September 1918.
Machinist working in a railroad shop, about 1937

Malcolm continued to drift somewhat and evaded the census takers in 1920, 1930, and 1940. But he did register for the World War II draft, as required. The year was 1942 and at that time Malcolm was living in Canton, Ohio. Canton is south of Cleveland and Akron, and northwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On the line asking for the name and address of someone who would always know his whereabouts, he lists a Masonic Lodge in Iowa, a tiny community about 100 miles west of Mason City, Iowa. What connection could he have had there? Is there a railroad there where he could have worked as a machinist? Did he do something else?

I do wonder why the Selective Service asked men as old as Malcolm was then to register for the draft. He was 64 that year. Did they really think it might become necessary for men of that age to serve in the military? It was a terrible war, to be sure, and perhaps that contingency underlines how very serious it was seen to be to stop the rampant nationalism of that era. One hopes the dangers of such ideology can still be recognized and stopped in today’s world.

Four years later, Malcolm was living in the Stark County Home located just north of Canton, Ohio, in Plain Township, a tiny section including the railroad yards. He died there of asthma, complicated by chronic heart disease, on 7 July 1946, two months before his 69th birthday. The death certificate reports his usual occupation was that of a machinist and that he was “single,” not divorced. There is no indication that his ex-wife or daughter were ever notified. Probably they had completely lost touch with him.

Drifters cannot be tethered.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Mixed Up Marriages

I was doing some research on the 19th-century Selgrath family of Pennsylvania when I found another one of those somewhat odd situations that do come up when you’re dealing with human beings and all their flaws.

Jacob and Gertrude Selgrath packed up their six children in 1834 and moved from their home in Bavaria to a new home and future in Pennsylvania, in the United States of America. Their eldest, Nicholas, was in his mid-teens, and the youngest, Ludwig, was a small baby, having been born in the spring of the year of their emigration. After Nicholas came two daughters, Magdalena, who apparently died young (we aren’t even sure she lived to emigrate with the rest of the family), and Katharina. Next came Johann, Franz, and then little Ludwig. Katharina married in about 1839—she was not enumerated with the rest of the family in the summer of 1840 in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.

We have no record of Jacob’s occupation. Nicholas married and worked as a general laborer, providing well for his family of six children. Katharina married a shoemaker and had ten children. John married and had two children. He served in the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War. Frank married, became a carpenter, and also served in the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War. He had six children. Lewis too served in the Union Army, came home, lived in Philadelphia until his marriage when he was 40 and then moved to New York City. He had one son.

John, the subject of this story, married when he was 25 and with his bride, 18-year-old Eliza Biessel, lived next door to his sister Katharina and her husband. John had become a shoemaker, having been apprenticed for a time to his older brother-in-law. John and Eliza had two children, a boy, Francis, born about four years after their marriage, and a girl, Ella, born five years after that. They had a third child, a boy born in February 1862, who died 11 months later of smallpox. This was after they had moved to Philadelphia, to the northeast section called Frankford. Sometime during that time period, John served in the Union Army in the Civil War.

In 1870 the census taker didn’t do a thorough job and left out many of the questions he was supposed to ask. The page listing John and Eliza with 16-year-old Francis and 11-year-old Ella is blank as to occupation, value of household, birthplaces, parentage, education, and all those other little demographic categories that were supposed to be gathered that year.

During the next ten years the household changed dramatically. Apparently John’s wife Eliza died. His son Francis married a Scottish woman named Sarah, and they had two children: a boy in 1874 and a girl in 1876. And then they got a divorce, and Francis moved out, leaving Sarah and the two little children living with his father. Ella moved out too—maybe she got married, or maybe she sided with her brother and went to keep house for him—or maybe she died. I can’t seem to find any records about her from 1870 onwards.

The 1880 census taker came around on June 4th that year and found John, a widower, working as a “laborer”—what happened to his shoemaking profession? We’ll never know, but considering that he did serve in the army during the Civil War, perhaps he came home wounded in a way that prevented his doing fine work. Keeping house for him is his daughter-in-law, Sarah, who had been born in Scotland. William is the 6-year-old grandson and Mary is the 4-year-old granddaughter. John is reported to be 50 years old. Actually he was 55 that year. Sarah is 25 years old.

Apparently the housekeeping included a May-December romance, for in 1900 we find that the census taker reports John and Sarah are married. They say they’ve been married for 24 years, but that would mean 1876—and they weren’t reporting a marriage four years after that, so they must have decided to change their story somewhere along the way. Or they just can’t “do” math. Maybe their romance was what broke up the marriage between Sarah and Francis—who knows.

I had to smile when I saw their birth dates. The 1900 Census was the only U.S. census back in those days to ask for the month and year of birth as well as the age on the last birthday. Sarah reported that she had been born in April 1855 and was 45, which was probably all true. But maybe she didn’t want such a large age discrepancy between her and her husband, because she reported his birth date as March 1834 (there is a christening record from the Catholic Church in the small town in Bavaria where he was born; it says he was christened on 15 March 1825). The next question, “How old was John on his last birthday?” was answered, 76. You shouldn’t make things up when you can’t do math. 

Fortunately perhaps, John’s son and Sarah’s ex-husband Francis didn’t mourn the situation forever. He stayed in the Philadelphia area awhile and married a woman from there named Mary, and they had two sons. Their son Francis James Selgrath was born in 1885, and their son Samuel was born in 1889. Sadly, Mary died in 1894. Francis moved himself and his young sons to Wilmington, Delaware and remained there. His troubles were not over yet, as he suffered the death of 17-year-old Samuel in 1906. His son Francis James married Elsie Jones and gave him a grandson in March 1909. But again sadly, Francis James died in an accident in 1921.

Maybe you are wondering whatever happened to those young children whose parents divorced and whose grandfather became their stepfather? William, when he was in his early twenties, married a woman a couple of years older than he was, Caroline Krauter. His sister Mary married a man named George Hale and lived in the small town where her grandmother Eliza Biessel had grown up. I suspect they went to live with relatives after their mother took up with their grandfather. It would have been pretty weird for them in that household . . .

I don’t know when Francis died, or where he went after his younger sons had both died. I hope he didn’t hang around and marry his former daughter-in-law . . .

Some family skeletons should just stay in the closet, huh?