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:
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.
I’ve previously written about Patrick Parker and his wife Mary Murphy. One of the family legends passed on to me by other researchers was that they had a son names James who went off to California, never to be heard from again.
There is a James Parker who appears in the 1852 Census of Canada in the vicinity of Patrick Parker’s family. He’s born about 1832 in Ireland. However, that census does not list relationships so there’s no telling if he’s a son or some other relation to Patrick. In the 1860 US Census, there’s a James Parker living with Patrick Parker’s family in Glen Haven, Wisconsin. The age listed would put his year of birth about 1832, also in Ireland. Listed below him are Ellen, John and Napolean Parker. The 1860 US Census also does not list relationships, so it’s not certain how they relate to Patrick either. But the placement is typical of an adult son who has married but is still living in the same household as his parents. It’s not certain by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s the most likely possibility.
I’ve researched all the other children of Patrick Parker and Mary Murphy who showed up in the United States, and have had some luck with tracking many of their descendants who lived mostly in Iowa. But this James disappeared after 1860.
And last night I found something intriguing. There appears to be a very similar entry for another James Parker in San Joaquin Township, Sacramento County in California, also in 1860.
Listed with this James Parker are an E., a John, and an N.J. Parker. They have similar ages, though slightly different. They are listed as from Canada and Wisconsin rather than Ireland and Wisconsin. But remarkably similar overall. At this point, I don’t have anything to corroborate this record.
It was at this point that I started writing this post, thinking that I had a something interesting to follow up on for later.
However, as I am wont to do, I added this to my Ancestry.com tree for James Parker. I treat my Ancestry.com tree as a database of possibilities. I’ve even posted a note on it warning other people they should copy my tree at their peril. When I posted this census entry to the family of James Parker, Ancestry went to work and started matching new records. Now that they live in California, it starts ranking California based records higher in its sort. Nothing popped up for James Parker, but four new census entries showed up for John Parker, born in 1858 in Wisconsin and living in California.
The first of these is a John Parker living in Santa Barbara in 1900 with wife Margaret and children John Warren, Mary Ellen, James Galen, and Ruth M. Now, this is also no guarantee that this is the same John Parker. In fact, the link was tenuous enough that I did not add the record to my entry for John Parker even with the database of possibilities caveat. It would just be too hard to unwind if it turned out to be wrong. So I created a new, disconnected family for a new John Parker and recorded it. If the research was a dead end, I could just delete them all, I wouldn’t have to disconnect them from the known Parker tree, and everything would be good.
I also added the 1910 US Census entry for the family (image not included with this post). This one had the same children, except that Mary Ellen is listed as Inez in 1910. Other people on Ancestry had added these two census records to families headed by a John Parker and Margaret Miscall.
The next step in this bread crumb trail of discovery is an entry in Ancestry.com’s California Death Index. The California Death Index is just a list of death certificates that were filed with the state between 1940 and 1997. It’s not a dispositive record without seeing copies of the underlying certificates, but I’ve generally had good luck with the index being correct. I haven’t seen the errors for the database that I’ve seen with other transcriptions.
The entry that I found was this:
Name: Mary Elleninez Gerard
[Mary Elleninez Parker]
Social Security #: 563325739
Birth Date: 1 Nov 1890
Birth Place: California
Death Date: 5 Jun 1981
Death Place: Orange
Mother's Maiden Name: Miscall
Father's Surname: Parker
Mary Elleninez Gerard (neé Parker)? That looks really promising, I thought to myself. Date of birth matches up, and the parents’ surnames match up with what other people had found for John and Margaret. None of those researchers had linked the record to Mary Ellen Parker however. Nevertheless, I added a husband to her with a last name of Gerard so that Ancestry’s search engine would look for her as part of a Gerard family. Nothing popped up immediately.
And nothing else popped up for any of the other family members at the time either. I haven’t been doing real research in this process. This is just following my nose and poking around. It’s late at night and I should go to bed. However…
Last year my great grand aunt Frances died at the age of 103. In June of this year, I picked up five boxes of photos and other personal effects that had been in her possession from a cousin. I’ve been paying my friend Kim to scan all these items so they’d be available for everyone in the family. One of the items is an album containing photos from what appears to be trips my great grandparents Joe and Frances Weiss took. They visited relatives in Colorado, Illinois and California. And toward the back of the album was a photo of a nun with an inscription that appeared to be Sr. M. Germaine Parker. It’s hard to read.
I’ve thought Sister Parker might be a connection to one of the two missing branches of the Parker family. In addition to James Parker, there’s also another John Parker who went missing in records after 1880. He probably exists somewhere, but John Parker is such an incredibly common name and records from the 1800s are often sketchy. I haven’t found anything that matches up with him.
So I pulled out the album and looked for the photo. Sister Parker looks to be in her 30s or 40s, though it’s quite hard to tell with her habit covering everything except her face. I flipped backward through the pages of the album looking for other photos of her. And then I saw this photo:
Gerard! Mary Ellen Inez Parker Gerard! Could these be her children? Must search harder for her! And bingo! In 1920, there’s this census record:
Henry and Inez Gerard, living on Gardner Street in Los Angeles with children Jeanne and Mary Ellen, aged 4 and 1¼ years old. Those are the two girls from the photo. And Inez matches up with the daughter of John Parker.
And the most likely reason my great grandparents would be visiting the Gerard family that matches up with this trail is because they are related.
This is just the beginning. I’ll have a lot of hard work to prove all of this. That record for James Parker may be incorrect. James may be a cousin of my great great grandmother Mary Parker and not her oldest brother. James himself may disappear from available records. But my great grandparents did not visit the Gerard family randomly.
This is why family genealogists should research the descendants of their ancestors. The descendants provided the link that may lead to valuable information about James Parker and ultimately my third great grandparents, Patrick and Mary Parker. had I not gone down the tree, James Parker may have remained among the disappeared.
Tonight was the first session of my Genealogy and Family History class through the Continuing Education office at U.W. I don’t have a whole lot to report about the experience, as we did not cover any academic material today. The first half of the class the instructors reviewed the syllabus and their expectations. None of the work appears to be particularly difficult. Assignments include things like retrieving and printing a page from the census and requesting a vital record.
The second half of the class was dedicated to student introductions. Not so much tell us a little bit about yourself as tell us a little bit about your family. Throughout the introductions, whenever someone mentioned Iowa the genealogy instructor (the other instructor focuses on history) asked what part of Iowa. She mentioned she had a lot of interest in one county. About the 4th time she asked about Iowa, I realized that her name has been ringing a bell in the back of my head, and I realized why. She runs the GenWeb site for Wright County, Iowa. As I’ve documented here, my third great grandparents Patrick Parker and Mary Murphy Parker appeared to have ended up in Iowa. Four or five of their children were in Wright County Iowa, two others in Franklin County, the next county over.
I’m being taught by a person who has expertise in the genealogy and history of a specific county I’m interested in.
I’ve looked at hundreds of gravestones for relatives in the last couple of years, at least. Perhaps that number is in the thousands. I don’t keep a count, but the number is fairly high. What’s on gravestones is usually correct, but not always so. Do you know offhand how old your parents are? What about aunts or uncles or grandparents? Most of us do, but sometimes we are wrong.
My dad died before I was born. Had he been an only child I would have been the person mostly likely to fill out my grandpa Weiss’ application for a death certificate when he died in 1988. He was 84, but I didn’t know that at the time. I just knew he was in his 80s somewhere. When you send those in, the recorder’s office doesn’t fact-check them. They rely on your signature and the doctor’s signature that what you put down is accurate. And that’s the information that usually gets put on gravestones these days. The informant gives the information to the funeral director who fills out the application, everyone signs it, and then that information is sent off to the recorder, the Social Security Administration, and the people who make the grave marker.
So usually the information is accurate, but the year of birth can be off sometimes. I’ve seen that a couple dozen times, particularly on older graves.
I can tell a year of birth is incorrect because lots of records created throughout a person’s life reference their age, and many of those are available. Census records in particular give an approximate age. For instance, the approximate ages for a person might be 5, 14, 15, every succeeding decade until late in life. Then the last census before they died gives an approximate age of 79, and the year of birth on their gravestone matches that, I’m going to look at it with suspicion. A caretaker probably just didn’t know exactly how old grandpa was.
I’ve also seen cases where someone appears in documents well before the year of birth on the marker. One relative appeared on the 1870 census, so I know he wasn’t born in 1872 as his grave indicates. People lie about their ages fairly frequently. Sometime they want to appear older to join the military. Sometimes they want to appear younger to their prospective spouse. The lie ends up on their grave.
But not only that, the date of death can be incorrect too. You’d think that people would know that because it just happened, barring cases when a body is discovered an unknown period after death. But I’ve run into a couple cases where it isn’t. Usually when this happens I’m pretty sure that the family placed the gravestone years after death. Perhaps they waited for a spouse to die before engraving. Perhaps one couldn’t be afforded at the time of death. My third great grandparents Knapp have markers with only their initials and surnames scratch into them. We’re currently considering placing a nicer marker there.
I’ve probably missed a few cases because I haven’t even looked for corroborating evidence. I suspect I can generally rely on the date of death on headstones. Finding the 0.25% of cases where it happens isn’t worth the effort for distance relatives.
It’s harder to detect than issues with the birth date. There aren’t a lot of documents that are functionally public after someone dies. There’s a will and whatever else is filed in probate, and the death certificate. Since the person isn’t living any longer, they aren’t creating a continuing paper trail.
In the two cases I’ve found, what showed that the date of death was wrong was finding the contemporary obituary or other references in newspapers.
For example, here’s the headstone for my third great uncle Richard Smith Blake:
It has a date of death of 27 December 1897. But then I was looking at the probate record, which was dated in February of 1897 and gave a date of death of 29 December 1896. That didn’t match up. I thought it might be possible I was misreading the handwriting. Lots of rural legal documents are in an almost illegible scribble made worse by poor microfilming, including this one.
Luckily, the local paper, The Ackley World (of Iowa) for 1896 and 1897 has been scanned and is online. And there was an obituary on page 1:
The scan is not the clearest, but it was most certainly published on 1 January 1897, nearly 12 months before the date of death on his headstone. My best guess is that the headstone was placed when his wife Elizabeth died almost 15 years later. Someone asked the family what to put on for Richard, and they ended up giving them the wrong date.
Now the lesson that professional genealogists would tell you comes of this is that one should never trust headstones alone and to get corroboration for everything. Strictly speaking, that’s true. But that’s not the lesson I take. If I run across discrepancies like this, I dig deeper. However, unless the person is a direct ancestor, it isn’t important enough for me to spend the effort to double- and triple-check everything. If a third cousin once removed has a year of death on his grave, that’s good enough for me. Richard Blake is my third great uncle by marriage. Had I not had the record of his will that contradicted the headstone, I wouldn’t have cared if the year was off by one.
On my cross country trip, I stopped in a number of locations to do some research that can’t be done via the internet (yet). One of those places was the Iowa Historical Society in Des Moines, which has microfilmed official county records and newspapers. I also stopped at a number of cemeteries.
One of my goals was to establish for certain whether or not the Stephen Parker buried in Saint John’s Cemetery in Clarion, Iowa is my third great uncle. I wrote about Stephen Parker last year. The census records show him as insane. I can now definitely conclude that Stephen Parker related to me is the same one buried near Clarion.
First, a visit to the cemetery shows his headstone includes the notation Company C, 12th U.S. Infantry. I know the Stephen Parker that lived in Grant County Wisconsin served in Companies C and F of the 12th U.S. infantry. So that’s him. Unfortunately, the grave doesn’t have any dates on it, as is common on many Civil War veteran headstones.
I knew he died before Jun 1897 due to news reports on his autopsy that appeared in that month. The Iowa Historical Society library had on microfilm the Wright County Monitor, the local Clarion newspaper. I started in June and worked backwards looking for a report on his death. I almost missed it, since it doesn’t include any headline at all. Just a long paragraph on his death. It appeared on the 2nd of June, and reports his date of death as being on the 29th of May.
I still have some details to figure out on this collateral branch. I don’t know exactly when or where Stephen Parker was born. It was between 1935 and 1937 in Ontario. And I don’t know anything about his wife’s parents other than their names on Margaret Parker’s death certificate. She emigrated from Ireland, but I don’t know where in Ireland. I don’t know if she immigrated with her family or on her own. The first mention I’ve found of her is when Stephen and she married in 1873.
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.
I’ve just had the most exciting genealogy breakthrough!
Here’s the first piece of background: My great great grandmother (one of them) was Mary Parker. She was born in Canada to Irish immigrants (both born about 1803) named Patrick Parker and Mary Murphy Parker in about 1841. The family came to Grant County Wisconsin and lived there at least from 1860 to 1870. She married William Dennis Ryan and died in 1874. That part part is all pretty established. But Patrick Parker and his wife Mary disappeared after that. I know of at least four other descendants of the Parkers who have been trying to find out what happened to them. Most of the children moved to Iowa between 1865 and 1875. We thought they might have dispersed after their parents died. One speculated that perhaps they moved back to Canada and that’s where they died. She even hired a genealogist to dig into cemetery records in the townships in Ontario where they were known to have lived. But no luck. (Some of the Parker grandchildren did emigrate to Canada.)
I’ve for sure found Mary (Murphy) Parker. I think I may have found Patrick Parker.
More background. This is somewhat involved. I describe it all because it shows the serendipitous trails these breakthrough take.
Since I will be doing the cross country road trip next month, I decided to flesh out my family tree some more so I could prioritize things to research when I go through Iowa. I’ve already have nearly complete trees for two of the children, Mary Parker Ryan and Stephen Parker. This spring I started on Patrick Parker’s son Patrick Parker. He married Carrie Ulrich of Eau Claire and they moved to Iowa where they had a number of children. I finished the basic portion of the tree Tuesday morning morning. It’s a big branch of the tree. I got about half of that done in 4 days, which was a lot of work.
I moved on to the next child, Alice Parker. Someone else already figured out she married a John Scallon. They moved to Iowa, then Chicago. Of course, I like to check everyone else’s work. One of the things I usually do is go look on Find a Grave which is attempting to catalog all graves using volunteers. Bingo! Alice Scallon’s grave is there, added and photographed just this August.
I looked at the photographer’s contributor page, and it has a link to a web site in which he has guides to several cemeteries in Franklin County Iowa area. One of them lists a Patrick Parker, died 28 Apr 1874, aged 72 years. Hmmm, I think. That’s an almost exact fit to what I know about my 3rd great grandfather.
But that’s a common name and there are probably four or five dozen Patrick Parkers that would match. Still, the presence of Alice Scallon in the same cemetery gives it some connection.
Next step is to see if any other site has information on the Patrick Parker buried there. FamilySearch.org does not. Neither does the W.P.A. grave catalog made in the 1930s. (To boost the economy during the depression, the feds paid people to transcribe all the cemeteries in Iowa.) And I checked the weekly Ackley World newspaper for the issues following 28 April 1874. Then I got the bright idea to see if I could find Mary Parker nearby in any of the census records.
Bingo! There’s a Mary Parker living in Osceola Township (Franklin County), Iowa in 1885, aged 83 and a widow. Again, it might not be her though. I added that record to my tree and tagged it speculative. Mary Parker is a common name.
So the next thing I did was go back to the guide that fellow made and look at Patrick Parker again, in case I missed something. Only this time I accidentally hit next (when searching for Parker) twice, and lo and behold, there was another Parker in the cemetery: Elizabeth Parker Blake. And her birth date matched up with Elizabeth Parker, daughter of Patrick and Mary Murphy. So now there are two daughters of Patrick Parker buried in the cemetery, along with someone who could be my Patrick Parker.
But then I noticed something. Elizabeth Blake’s husband is Richard Smith Blake. And the family that Mary Parker is living with in the 1885 census is that of R.S. and Lizzie Blake.
That has to be my third great grandmother, Mary Parker) in the 1885 census. Got to be. Alive ten years after all the researchers thought her dead, and in a completely different location from where they’ve been looking (as far as I know).
I still don’t have confirmation that buried in the Saint Mary’s Cemetery is my third great grandfather. But it’s looking like a good possibility and worth researching. Hopefully I’ll be able to find something in the state archives when I visit Iowa.
So here’s an interesting one. My third great uncle was one Stephen Parker (me → George R. Weiss, my father → George A. Weiss, his father → Frances Ryan, his mother → Mary Parker, her mother → Stephen Parker, her brother). Like all the Parker kids he was born in Canada. His birth was likely in Ramsay Township near Perth about 1937. Father Patrick Parker and mother Mary Murphy took the kids to America sometime shortly before 1860. The family shows up in Glen Haven, Wisconsin in 1860, and in nearby Patch Grove in 1870. However, Stephen isn’t with the family in 1870. He enlisted with the Union Army on 16 May 1862.
In that record, you’ll see that he enlisted with his brother Patrick. But Stephen was discharged not even 3 months later on 2 August because of injury. He shows up in the 1870 U.S. Census in Clarion, Iowa as a single man, farming. By 1880, he’s married to Margaret Burk, and they have two daughters, Mary and Agnes. But he’s no longer listed as the head of the family and the column for insane is marked!
By 1895, he’s been committed to the Independence State Hospital for the Insane and is not longer living with the family. I haven’t been able to dig up anything that shows what his symptoms of insanity were. I thought perhaps alcoholism, but that doesn’t seem to fit with this news report filed shortly after his death, that appeared in the Waterloo (Iowa) Courier on 16 Jun 1897.
An autopsy over the body of Stephen Parker at the Independence hospital has explained the cause of insanity in what physicians pronounced one of the most remarkable cases ever brought to the asylum here. Parker was insane for years, all attempts to account for the malady failed. The autopsy showed that during the war he suffered a fracture of the skull, from which minute particles of bone pierced the brain. Around these osseous matter formed, which affected the sufferer’s mind and caused his death. During the many years of his confinement in the asylum, the existence of the fracture was unsuspected. Had it been a simple operation would have restored him to sanity and perfect health.
So far this is the only madness I’ve found in my family tree, but there’s plenty more people to check out.
The Stephen Parker family story doesn’t quite end there though. Margaret Parker and her two daughters moved to Seattle in 1906 where they became employed by the Seattle School District. I love it when they live in Seattle, because I have so many more tools to find them. The Seattle Times used to list who was teaching where every year. Margaret died in 1924. Mary taught elementary, mostly at Longfellow School, which I believe was across the street from what’s now Miller Playfield. She died in 1932, at 615 Bellevue Ave. According to King County, it’s the same building there now.
Agnes taught high school mostly. She first taught at T.T. Minor. For several decades she taught at the Broadway School which used to be where the Broadway Performance Hall is now. But in the 1942 school year, she taught history at Ballard High School. Unfortunately, the paths between the Weiss side of my family and the Hathaway side did not cross; my grandfather graduate in the spring of 1942 and joined the merchant marine in May for the war.
Agnes Parker retired in 1947. She was very involved as a supporter of the Seattle Art Museum throughout her time in Seattle. In addition to listing the teachers every year, the Time also listed who bought season passes for S.A.M. every year. And you think you give up privacy with Facebook! Agnes became friendly with the Considine family, local vaudeville and theater promoters until they moved to the burgeoning entertainment capital of the world, Los Angeles. It was on a visit to Hollywood producer John Considine Jr, that Agnes died.
Neither Mary nor Agnes had any children, so that branch of my family is not running around locally. I had hoped at first though, when I first found them in Seattle.