I love finding these interesting stories that help round out what can be very boring genealogy research. In my current project of double checking and expanding my past Burnham research, I was looking in to the family of Wolcott H. Burnham who was born in Vermont in 1820 and whom moved his family west. Wolcott settled in Wisconsin, however, his son Col. William A. Burnham settled in South Dakota. William’s son, Harry, is the subject of this amusing tale.
Harry was married around 1890 to Edna Dean Foster. They lived in Groton, Brown, South Dakota where Harry was in the “Druggist” business with his father. They had two children, William Audley Burnham, b. 1891, and Marie, b. 1894. On July 4, 1894, while Edna and the children were away visiting in Wisconsin, Harry made the horrible decision to run away with a 17 year old girl. Harry and the two Hayes sisters (they never name either sister) checked in to a hotel in Aberdeen, South Dakota as “Mr. H. Wallace, wife and sister, Minneapolis”. Supposedly, the younger sister drove the carriage back to Groton. The article goes on to describe both fathers heading out in search of the couple. The term “fire in his eyes” is used.
At the end of the article, there is an almost anti-climatic paragraph announcing that Harry and his parents had returned to Groton. It seems that Miss Hayes had smartened up and left him on the road.
I found later small newspaper snippets that mentions that Edna and the children returned to an empty house in August 1894. It seems that Harry high tailed it to St. Paul, Minnesota. Later in August it was said that Edna and the children were following Harry and would attempt a reconciliation. I found Harry, Edna and the two children in Ramsey, St. Paul in 1895 Minnesota State Census. Harry was working as a druggist. So the reconciliation must have worked out for a short time. Harry was married to a second wife, Minnie, in 1903. They had one son, Clifford, born in 1904. The family lived in Groton, Brown, South Dakota in 1910. Harry was a druggist.
In 1920, Harry was divorced and living in Seattle, Washington. In 1930, Harry was married to his 3rd wife, Emma Hill, and living in Los Angeles.
It looks as if while Harry escaped real trouble from his “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”, he doesn’t seem to have had a lot of luck with the ladies from then on in.
When I first started doing genealogy research, it was all names, dates and facts. It was just putting together puzzle pieces, with each individual being a part of the puzzle. As my research continued, I felt as if I got to “know” the families. As I collected more photos, I could actually start putting faces with the names. That is when the research took an emotional turn.
I’ve always enjoyed being able to add anecdotal information to my research. I think that makes any genealogy research results more personal. That of course lends itself to more emotional involvement. Even before I had too many interesting side stories about my ancestors, the mundane looking up of data started to affect me emotionally. Early on I realized that after going over death or burial records for a long period of time, I was emotionally drained. It was very depressing to read about children and young people dying, especially when the cause was something that people don’t die from now.
One family’s story in particular upset me more than most. It was the family of Peter Stanford and Mary Doherty in New Haven, CT in mid 1800’s. I was collecting information from the New Haven Vital records. Combining birth data and death data, I found out that Peter and Mary had 9 children, 8 daughters and 1 son. Only the one son, Peter Jr, lived pasted the age of 6. Only one daughter lived even that long, the rest died by the age of one! I couldn’t imagine the grief that Peter and Mary must have felt as each child was born, and subsequently died. Then to make matters worse, Peter Sr died at age 44, only one month after the last daughter died as an infant. Peter Jr went on to a sad life himself. He married Catherine Bohan in 1896, she gave birth to a daughter with exactly the same name as me, Mary Elizabeth Stanford, in 1897. Catherine died in 1899. Peter became ill with Phithisis and his daughter was put in an orphan asylum. Mary was 2yrs 7 mos at the time of her death due to Tuberculosis Meningitis while in St. Francis Orphan Asylum. Peter died at age 31 in 1902. I couldn’t help but feel very sad for this family that seemed to personify how hard life was for those living in the Irish ghettos in New Haven at that time.
Another part of my genealogy research, as referenced in other posts on this blog, is reading old newspaper stories. I’ve read 100’s of old articles, some just giving me data on marriages, births and deaths, but others adding details to my ancestors’ lives. I had an inordinate number of ancestors who were constantly arrested for serving alcohol on Sundays! I read about how my Great Great Grandfather fell and slipped on ice and was out of work. Along with those mundane anecdotes, there are stories of a more serious nature that make me think about ancestors involved. How might their lives be different if they lived in modern times and got help for their alcoholism or other mental illnesses.
Just this week I was researching my Kieft family in Devon, England. I was pouring over old newspaper articles on findmypast.co.uk (They have a new monthly subscription that I highly recommend.. pay a reasonable fee for one month of binge researching!). I started finding article after article about a Bertie Kieft ( he went by “Kiff”) who was born in 1883. It became increasingly apparent that Bertie was a serial rapist. At one point after many convictions, a judge called him a “terror” to the unprotected women of the neighborhood”. I couldn’t help but wonder if Bertie wouldn’t have benefited from counseling after his first arrest. In later arrests, based on statements he made to the judge, I felt as if his arrests were almost a cry for help. It became clear that he couldn’t help himself. While the details of his many attacks were horrible and depressing, I also found myself caring about Bertie.
Since it seems impossible not to get affected emotionally while researching your family’s history, I like to think that these side stories, whether happy, sad or merely the day to day happenings in their lives, these details help add a certain dimension to my research. It is a lot more interesting reading stories about an individual than it is to just read names and dates. Now, if the researcher can just survive the researching!
Here is the synopsis of the sad criminal life of Bertie Kiff:
On 25 Nov 1901 Bertie was charged with assaulting Miss Clara Evelyn Lewis, the school mistress in West Down. She was walking home and was followed by Bertie who then grabbed her and assaulted her. She was found by a Mr. Slocombe who brought her home. On the way they passed Bertie and she pointed him out as her attacker. In the trial Bertie was found guilty and sentenced to 4 months in prison.
In 1902 Bertie was charged with assaulting Annie Manning, age 20 in Berrynarbor. The trial was held October 1902.
Miss Manning had been a school friend of Berties and was on her way home from the Coronation festivities. Bertie approached her and offered to walk her home, but when she refused he chased her and assaulted her. She testified that he was wearing a “Volunteer Uniform” at the time. She pushed him away and he fell in a stream. Her friends arrived to help and Bertie ran away. During the trial Bertie had to admit that a year earlier he had been charged with a similar crime. He was found guilty of the assault on Miss Manning and was sentenced to 6 months hard labor.
In early 1906, Bertie married Frances Sable Avery, however it does not seem as if the couple lived together for any extended period of time. Bertie was in jail much of the time after the marriage.
In 1906 Bertie pleaded guilty to charge of violent assault against Agnes Ferrier who was under the age of 16, in Bittadon. The judge referenced his past convictions and said that he was a “source of terror to unprotected females in the neighborhood”. Bertie was sentenced to seven years in prison.
In 1909 there was a death notice for Bertie printed in the paper. It said that he had died on the Isle of Wight at age 27. His wife, Frances, notified the paper that he was in fact still alive and in good health. She was living in Barnstaple.
In 1911, Bertie Kift, age 26, married, born Ilfracombe in “His Majesty’s Prison” on Castle Street, Worcester, Worcestershire, England
In 1915, when Bertie must have been just out of prison after 7 years, he plead guilty to the charge of assault on Annie Marie Harris in Ilfracombe. He was sentenced to six months hard labor.