Ysola Chaves Ryan’s Sensational Will Contest

It’s no secret that I love a scandal in my family tree. These situations make for the best stories. I found this one involving my second great uncle Elgie Jerome Ryan earlier this week.

My second great grandfather’s first wife (my ancestor), Mary Parker, died in 1875. William Dennis Ryan re-married a year later to Mary Powers, and they had three children: Elgie Jerome, Glenn Alexis and Arch. William already had six children with Mary Parker: Alice, Frances, Mary, Julia, Laura, and Leo. Glenn and Arch died before age 30. Over the years, Elgie lived with his siblings in Merrill and Colorado before moving west to Tulare, California and establishing a very successful drug store.

Elgie’s first wife was Barta Holford, who was from Bloomington, Wisconsin, just a few miles away from the Ryan farm. Elgie married Barta on 22 Aug 1905 at the Eastern Star Lodge in Bloomington. Shortly after that Elgie and Barta were established in Tulare.

The following are photos of Barta and Elgie taken from a family photo album.

Barta Holford Ryan (left) with Allie Ryan (right)
Barta Holford Ryan (left) with Allie Ryan (right)
Ryans in Tulare (Elgie in back right)
Ryans in Tulare (Elgie in back right)

Elgie died on 28 Jun 1926 in Tulare. The following obituary appeared in the Bloomington Record on 7 Jul 1926. I suspect the obituary is in the public domain, but out of caution I have included only the parts necessary to my story. Notice anything about the obituary? There is no information about who his second wife was.


Until this week, that’s all the information I had. It wouldn’t be too difficult to get Elgie’s death certificate to find that out, but I hadn’t yet gotten around to it. Last time I spent much time researching Elgie, I didn’t have access to too many California newspapers. But I recently upgraded to the “Publisher Extra” service at Ancestry’s Newspapers.com web site, which includes the Los Angeles Times. On a whim, I’d searched for “E. J. Ryan” and the following article from the 2 Mar 1927 edition of the Times showed up:

Headline from article on suit over Elgie Ryan will
Los Angeles Times, 2 Mar 1927, section 2 page 11 col 6, Sensational Will Contest

Now that’s juicy! I’ve included only the headline under fair use. Additional information that the article gave me included his second wife’s name (Ysola Chaves Ryan) and that an autopsy found poison in Elgie’s body! The death was ruled a suicide.

That was enough information for me to track down their marriage record on FamilySearch. I’ve no idea why I wasn’t able to find it earlier. They got married on 22 Mar 1925 in Los Angeles. Other articles in the Times say that Ysola was a teacher in the Tulare schools at the time of her marriage, but she appears to have resided in Los Angeles most of the time. Her sister was Mignon Le Brun, wife of silent film actor Cullen Landis.

Even stranger, at the time of Elgie’s death, Ysola may have left him and returned to Los Angeles. She maintained that Elgie didn’t commit suicide, but instead consumed strychnine accidentally. Now, it seems odd to me that a druggist, even a despondent one in ill health, would commit suicide in one of the most painful ways possible (strychnine) rather than a relatively painless one such as an overdose of morphine.

Eventually though, the courts ruled for Ysola Ryan that she was entitled to the entirety of the $118,000 estate ($1.6 million in 2016), and Elgie’s death remained a suicide officially, denying Ysola the benefits of Elgie’s life insurance. From the 5 Mar 1927 edition of the Santa Ana Register:

Santa Ana Register headline on resolution of suit of Elgie Ryan's will
Santa Ana Register, 5 Mar 1927, page 12, column 4, Wife of Suicide Awarded Estate

Ysola doesn’t appear to have remarried, dying in 1964 under the name Ysola Chaves Ryan.

The Age of Mary Parker

After a couple of years of little progress mostly due to focusing on other parts of my family tree, I’ve been making huge progress with the Parkers. You’ve probably noticed the multiple posts about them recently.

A few weeks ago, I noticed there was a Find-A-Grave memorial for a Leonard Parker at the church cemetery in Saint Mary, Ontario. Leonard Parker is reputed to be the brother of my ancestor, Patrick Parker. I wrote to the person who put up the memorial, asking if they were related. The answer was yes, and we exchanged some information about our respective family trees. One of the things she clued me in to was that the parish registers for some of the Roman Catholic churches have been scanned and are on FamilySearch. Not indexed, but available.

Which brings me to my great great grandmother, Mary Parker Ryan. She married William Dennis Ryan in 1864, had six children, and died of typhus in 1875, not quite eleven years into her marriage. She had a short and somewhat forgotten life. Every time I mentioned her to one of my relatives, I get blank looks. Apparently my great grandparents and grandparents generations talked so rarely about her that no one in the next generation had heard of her. That sort of reaction is part of why I’ve been drawn to genealogy, to remember the people who haven’t been.

The main source of information I had on Mary was her grave monument in a small cemetery on a hill about a mile east of Patch Grove, Wisconsin. I visited Saint Johns Cemetery in June 2011.

Grave marker for Mary Ryan (1841-1875)
Grave marker for Mary Ryan

It’s quite a nice monument for the time. William Ryan cared enough to spend some dough on it. Here’s a close up of the inscription.

inscription on Mary Ryan's monument
inscription on Mary Ryan’s monument

It reads:

Mary
Wife of Wm. D. Ryan.
Born Jan. 7, 1841. In
Ramsey, Township of Perth.
Canada West. Died
Feb. 20, 1875,
Aged 34 yrs. 1 mo. 13 ds.

The inscription has a number of problems with it. The Parkers lived for a time in Blanshard township in Perth County, Canada West. There is no Ramsey township in Perth County, and as far as I can tell, there never has been. The only Ramsey township I’ve been able to find is in Lanark County, Ontario. That sort of fits with another family legend, that Mary’s mother was one Mary Murphy who was part of the Peter Robinson settlement of Canada. One of those settlements was in Ramsey township. I have doubts as to whether Mary Murphy really was part of that endeavor, but there’s a geographical connection at least. Oh, and the nearest city to Ramsey township is Perth. My working hypothesis was that this particular Ramsey was the one indicated on her grave.

Additionally, her death certificate and other accounts put her date of death as 23 Feb 1875. Three days difference isn’t that big of a deal. Still…

A further problem is that there is a second marker for Mary in front of the monument:

Second marker for Mary Ryan
Second marker for Mary Ryan

You’ll notice this one gives a year of birth as 1840, rather than 1841. Rather confusing.

And, as it turns out, both are likely wrong. Going back to the thing above about the Ontario parish registers being online… I looked at the register for Perth’s Saint John the Baptist parish. There was no entry for Mary Parker in 1841. Her brothers Stephen and Patrick were there in 1835 and 1837, but no Mary. On the first perusal, I missed it. But on the second look through, I saw an entry for a Mary Parker in 1839:

Mary Parker baptismal register entry
Mary Parker baptismal register entry
On the 28th day of February 1839 the undersigned Priest of this Parish
has Baptized Mary seven weeks old of the lawful marriage of Patrick
Parker & Mary Murphy of Ramsey.
Sponsors Nicholas Dison and Emilia Dison

That’s an entry in a contemporaneous journal of parish actions. Unless it’s for a different Mary Parker, it’s pretty convincing evidence she was actually born in January 1839. January 7th fits, so I’m guessing that’s her actual birthday.

However, by the time the monument was erected, people were guessing at her actual age. Maybe she’d shaved off a couple of years. Maybe she forgot or didn’t know. Maybe the monument was erected years after her death. I’ve no idea the reason.

As an added bonus for this post, among the effects found in my great aunt’s house last year when she died was this photograph:

Mary Parker Ryan
Mary Parker

On the back is the inscription “Mary Park” and the paper is torn. Is it my ancestor or another Mary Parker or did whoever wrote the inscription just guess? I’ve no idea.

Patrick Parker in Grant County

My genealogy white whale since shortly after I started has been finding Patrick Parker and his wife Mary Murphy. I’ve written about them here multiple times. I’d found pretty solid evidence on what happened to 8 of their 10 children, the only two where I was missing basic information were the sons James and John. Last month I found good evidence for James. Two weeks ago I found John, though I haven’t pursued it much yet.

But as much information as I’ve found on all their children, the evidence I have for the pair themselves is aggravatingly small. I’ve located them together in the 1851 Canada Census, the 1860 US Census, and the 1870 US Census. I have a possible grave site for Patrick in Iowa. And Mary Murphy can be found in the 1885 Iowa Census. That’s the sum total of direct evidence I have for them.

I have indirect evidence for them. I know they arrived in Canada between 1832 and 1835, based on the listed countries of birth for their children. The death records for several children list their names. The grave marker for my great great grandmother Mary Parker Ryan gives a place of birth for her, which places Mary Murphy in that place at least.

Today I was looking through the online maps collection for the Wisconsin Historical Society, and I saw they had added a map for Grant County from 1868, and the description included “shows townships and sections, landownership, …” The earliest landownership map for Grant County that I’ve viewed came from 1878 and the Parkers were not to be found on it. So, I took a peek at the 1868 map:

1868 map of Grant County, Wisconsin showing the Parker and Ryan farms highlighed
1868 map of Grant County, Wisconsin showing the Parker and Ryan farms highlighed

Lo and behold, there he is! The P. Parker farm is just southwest of North Andover (a town which is no longer a town). On the map, I also highlighted the location of the farm for Patrick Parker’s son in law, William Dennis Ryan. And with handy Google Maps, I can show you where the Parker farm is on today’s maps.

This is the first direct piece of evidence for their existence that I’ve found in nearly 2 years. You don’t know how thrilled I am about this.

Joseph Peter Weiss

Joseph Weiss as a child
Joseph Weiss as a child

My great grandfather Joseph Peter Weiss was born on the 4th of July 1866 in Cassville, Wisconsin to Anton Weiss, a hardware dealer, and Anna Clara Voigt. Joseph moved to Merrill Wisconsin as a young man to operate a hardware business with his older brother Robert. In the mid-1890s Robert left Merrill and chased gold rushes across the west, leaving the business to Joe, who continued to operate it until 1908. In that year, he moved to Madison and became a hardware dealer in partnership with another older brother, Theodore, until he retired.

Joseph Weiss - early twenties
Joseph Weiss - early twenties

In November 1891, Joe returned to the Cassville area to marry Frankie Ryan in Patch Grove. The husband and wife returned to Merrill to start their family. They had six children: Florence Marie, Joseph William, Helen Catherine, Richard Glenn, George Archibald, and Laura Ann Frances. All were born in the Merrill area, though Frances’ birth came just months before the move to Madison.

In Madison, Joe purchased a house at 740 Jenifer Street, a mere 8 blocks from the Capitol building and 1 block from Lake Monona. He lived there 52 years. He died on the 7th of November 1960 aged 94 years, and was survived by his wife and 5 of his children. His remains buried in Resurrection Cemetery in Madison.

Researching family in Madison

Monday I spent most of the day at the Wisconsin Historical Society looking through their microfilmed newspapers. Mostly I was looking for obituaries and a couple of marriage announcements that happened in Cassville and Glen Haven Wisconsin. They have a rather large collection of Wisconsin newspapers, as well as a few newspapers from elsewhere in the country.

The most important item I sought was an obituary for William Dennis Ryan, my 2nd great grandfather. I found his grave last year, so I knew he died in 1919. A brief mention of his death in a Colorado newspaper (where several children lived) narrowed the time frame to some time before the end of August. The nearest town with a newspaper was Bloomington. At the time, the Bloomington Record was a weekly newspaper. So I started at the last issue of August and worked backward. Found it. Which means I now have a date and location for his death.

William Ryan obituary
William Ryan obituary

I also found obituaries for Mary Weiss, Agnes Weiss, Peter Voigt, Gertrude Voigt, Alonzo Teasdale, Clara Teasdale, James Ryan, Elgie Ryan, Archie Ryan, Glenn Ryan and Martha Klaus.

On Wednesday, I stopped in at the Dane County Register of Deeds to pick up some vital records. I requested the death certificates for Alfred and Mae Sorenson as well as their marriage certificate and the birth certificate for their daughter Evelyn. They found the first three, but no birth certificate. I was hoping the death certificates would have information on Evelyn, but they did not. The marriage certificate gave me Mae’s maiden name, Gibbons. Though since she was a ward of the state as a child, I don’t know if that name is that of her parents or was given to her in some other manner.

Alfred Sorenson - Mae Gibbons marriage certificate
Alfred Sorenson - Mae Gibbons marriage certificate

Theoretically, everyone born in Dane County after 1907 should have a birth record on file. However, a fair number of births never were registered. I know Evelyn was born in 1914, but I don’t know the exact date. In Alfred and Mae’s obituaries, Evelyn was listed as living in California. She was on her 4th marriage at the time, but I haven’t found any reference to her after 1958. With an exact birth date, I could list everyone in the Social Security Death Index with her date of birth whose first name matches, and could figure out which one was her. There’s also an outside chance she’s still alive as well. Sadly none of the Sorensons born in 1914 matched her.

I found out one really nice thing about Dane County: I can actually search through their records myself. All I had to do is fill out a form, give them a piece of ID, and they let me peruse through the records without supervision. The Wisconsin Historical Society has pretty liberal access policies too. No ID needed. Just walk back among the microfilm stacks, pull out what you need, and start looking. The King County vital records office, by comparison, works behind a glass partition.

Alice V. “Allie” Ryan

My 2nd great aunt Alice Ryan was born the 10th of May 1865 in Glen Haven, Wisconsin. She was the first child of my 2nd great grandparents William Dennis Ryan and Mary Parker, farmers in Grant County of primarily Irish descent. Alice never married. Instead she worked as a dressmaker while living with her father (Mary Parker Ryan died young). She moved to nearby Bloomington shortly after the turn of the century where she operated a millinery until she died on the 6th of May 1953. Alice is buried in Saint John’s Cemetery in Patch Grove, Wisconsin with her parents.

This is the first in a series of posts I plan to write about people in my family tree on the anniversaries of their birth.

Early photos of Joseph Peter Weiss and Frances Ryan Weiss

Joseph Peter Weiss is my great grandfather. He died in the 1960s, so I never met him. His wife was Frances Ryan. The Weisses are German, the Ryans Irish. When Anne Falconer sent me photos from Clara Weiss’ album a few months ago, a few of them were of Joseph and Frankie. Without ado, here they are:

Click on each photo to go to the page for each photo on my genealogy site where larger scans can be downloaded.

Joseph Weiss (early 1870s)
Joseph Weiss (early 1870s)

Most of the photos that Anne sent me were copies she had made. However, she sent me an original print of the photo above!

Joseph Weiss early 20s
Joseph Weiss early 20s
Joseph and Frances Weiss (about 1891)
Joseph and Frances Weiss (about 1891)
Frances Weiss holding a child
Frances Weiss holding a child

I don’t know for certain which child this is. It is likely either my great aunt Marie or my great uncle Joe Jr.

Mary D. Ryan

Yes, this is all genealogy all the time. Deal! Right now, I share with you something that occurred since about 10:30 last night. It is 12:07 a.m. right now. This is mostly to document how pieces get connected.

The story starts with Mary Weiss, my 2nd great aunt. According to the inscription in 2010 Quotations of Emo, she died June 21st, 1898 in Denver Colorado. That’s a long way from Cassville, Wisconsin. Because the 1890 census was destroyed in a fire, I have no easy to find records of her between 1880, when she was 11, and her death in 1898. Why did she move to Colorado? Teaching? Nursing? Was she running a hardware store like her brothers?

The Colorado State Archives has an online index of documents, and one of them was the death record for a Mary Weiss in June of 1898, which meant it was pretty likely the same Mary Ryan. The document itself is available for purchase. However, they want $25 for a copy of it, so I put off buying it. Last week I bought it for myself as a birthday present, and it arrived today. No scan of it yet. But really, it’s pretty minimal, and it doesn’t even look like the original document. More like a transcription that was typed out. Mainly it is independent confirmation of the information inscribed in 2010 Quotations of Emo. Otherwise, it didn’t give me much additional information of the useful variety.

She died in St. Anthony’s Hospital, where a cursory search of the internet did not reveal it’s history. This confirms her status as single, which was easy to guess since she still had the Weiss surname. The cause of death is listed as pulmonary tuberculosis. Which made me think perhaps St. Anthony’s was a famous sanatorium at the time and she was shipped there by her parents as a chance for her to get better. No idea as yet. It has a line for Dr., which is listed as J.N. Hall, and the undertaker as Waters and Simpson. None of that will be useful in tracking her down except that she died in St. Anthony’s.

So I started searching. The Google search didn’t have anything. So I jumped on NewspaperArchive.com, which has an extensive inventory of Madison newspapers, but previously only had a paper from Colorado Springs from that state. Still the case. But for some reason, this time I Googled Colorado newspaper archives perhaps hoping to find something I could eventually visit and dig through microfilm. But on the first page was the Colorado Historical Newspaper Archive. Holy crap! Why didn’t I know that was around?

So I searched for Weiss in 1898 in Denver, but found nothing relevant. Some perusing around seems to indicate they have no digitized newspapers from that year for Denver. Damn.

On a whim, before I closed my laptop for the evening, I search for Nat Leonard. That’s the son-in-law of my another 2nd great aunt, Julia Ryan Dolphin. Julia Ryan married Harry Dolphin and moved to Colorado from Glen Haven with her sister Laura Ryan and daughter from her first marriage to William Grimm. They are buried in the main city cemetery in Colorado Springs. Her daughter Kathleen married Nat Leonard, who was a boxer and later ran tour companies. But I hadn’t been able to track down who Nat’s parents or other immediate family. I have a couple of clues from their graves, but I hadn’t pursued them yet.

The first couple of items that showed up were from 1918 and were about Nat and his wife visiting her parents in Colorado Springs arriving by stagecoach. The 4th item was from July 1923:

Plateau Voice 20 Jul 1923
News item from the Plateau Voice

Mrs. George Gibson is entertaining her sister, Miss Laura Ryan; nephew, Edward Leonard; and an uncle, Nat Leonard, of Colorado Springs.

I immediately said (out loud even), Holy crap! Laura Ryan had 4 sisters: Frances Ryan Weiss (my great grandmother), Alice Ryan (who lived in Beetown, Wisconsin), Julia Ryan Dolphin, and Mary D. Ryan. The last had disappeared after the 1900 census. I’ve been trying to find her for 8 months! She has to be Mrs. George Gibson!

Not necessarily. I know she doesn’t have a nephew named Edward Leonard (grand-nephew though), and Nat Leonard himself would be a nephew, not an uncle. So if those are wrong, its possible the sister designation is wrong too.

But I think it is her. Plugging her husband into the Ancestry.com search engine finds him in Collbran, Colorado in 1910, 1920, and 1930. All with a wife named Mary listed as being born in Wisconsin around 1868. Which matches what I know about Mary Ryan.

So I did a search on Find a Grave, to see if I could find her burial site. Bingo! There’s a George and Mary Gibson buried in Calvary Cemetery in Orchard Mesa, Colorado, not far from Collbran and Plateau City.

Tombstone for Mary and George Gibson

And now that I have an online source for Colorado newspapers, I have a lot of digging to do.

Joseph Weiss marries Frankie Ryan

So why post about the Weiss family yesterday? It’s because I found new information. A lot of new information about my genealogy. The following is what I knew about my great grandfather Joseph Weiss yesterday morning:

Joseph P. Weiss Descendancy Chart
Joseph P. Weiss Descendancy Chart

From the memory book Aunts Jane and Sue gave me, I knew that Joe Weiss married Frances Ryan and had six children: Marie, Joe Jr., Helen, Glenn, Arch, and Babe. Other than my grandfather Arch, I didn’t have any other information when I started. From Ancestry.com I was able to find them in the census records for 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930. That gave me more information, such as approximate birth dates.

Particularly, I didn’t know who Joseph’s parents were. There were three Joseph Weisses born in Wisconsin about the same time. And I knew Joe had a brother named Theodore. He didn’t show up on the census records for any of the three Joe Weisses I found. Ryan was also a pretty common name. I had an idea which was the correct Ryan family, but didn’t have enough to feel comfortable. So I was kind of stumped.

Ancestry.com also had a database record that showed Joseph Weiss marrying a Frankie Ryan in 1891. That had to be my great grandfather, but Ancestry had only the names, date and location. They did not have the original record, which could have given me more information and confirmed that it was actually my great grandfather.

A quick note about sources. From what I can tell, genealogists classify their sources into three basic strata: primary, secondary, and everything else. Primary is something that is recorded at or near the time of the event, or is related by someone who was there. Secondary is something that is based off a primary source, such as a history book. Then there’s the rest, which could be family legends, or family trees that other people put on the internet, etc. Generally primary sources are the most reliable. And what’s primary or secondary isn’t always clear. For instance, the information on my grandfather’s death certificate is a mix. The death information is primary, but the birth information is based on what I told the funeral director, which he submitted to the health department.

The database that had the marriage information is no better than secondary. Information could have been transcribed incorrectly. This is what Ancestry had to say about the provenance of the data:

Dodd, Jordan, Liahona Research, comp.. Wisconsin Marriages, 1835-1900 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2000. Original data: See Description for original data sources listed by county.
Original data: Grant County, Wisconsin Marriages, 1835-1890. County court records located at Lancaster, WI or FHL #1266662 and 1266982-1266988.

That doesn’t tell me a lot. I figured at some point I would stop by the county courthouse or state records division on a trip there and look up the microfilm myself.

Last month, I was perusing the web site for the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. They have a genealogy database, which is based off the same microfilm records that Liahona Research used. In fact, they are more complete than what was sold to Ancestry.com. But not only that, you could easily order a copy of the original microfilm page for each record for only $15. They had the record listed for the Joseph Weiss/Frankie Ryan marriage. So I ordered it.

The record came yesterday.

Marriage Record for Joseph Weiss and Frankie Ryan
Marriage Record for Joseph Weiss and Frankie Ryan

Pay dirt!

This lists Joe Weiss’ father as Anton Weiss, which is the the family I’d considered the most likely before. Now I can list his parents as Anton and Clara and add a number of siblings from the 1880 census record to what I know. One mystery is where is Theodore in the 1880 census? Him not being there is why I didn’t add the Anton Weiss family to my known information. Boarding school is unlikely, but possible. Perhaps he moved out young to work on his own or for a local farmer. In addition to the census information, the marriage record lists his mother Clara’s maiden name as Voight. Taking on the husband’s name makes finding wives’ birth families through census records a pain in the ass. Since both Anton and Clara are from Germany (I cut off that part of the census record below), I will have names as starting points when I eventually dig into German genealogy information.

1880 United States Federal Census Record for Anton Weiss family
1880 United States Federal Census Record for Anton Weiss family

Frankie Ryan’s father is listed as William Ryan, and that was also the most likely of my choices for the Ryan family. What had kept me from concluding this was the case before was that in later censuses, Francis Weiss’ father is listed as having been born in Canada, but the W. D. Ryan listed in the 1880 census is listed as having been born in Wisconsin. The marriage record has Laura Ryan listed as a witness, and the William Dennis Ryan family in the 1880 census had a Laura as a child. Suspicions there are confirmed, and I can add additional information from the 1880 census record for this family as well.

1880 United States Federal Census Record for William Ryan family
1880 United States Federal Census Record for William Ryan family

Since the Ryan family is of Irish descent, I can add Irish to the list of nationalities that make up my mutt blood.

There’s some curious things about the William Ryan family in that census, but that will have to wait for another post.