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Tagged with " National Archives"
22 Mar
2016

Finding Family Secrets

March 12 was Genealogy Day begun by Christ Church in Ireland in Ireland in 2013.  In celebration of the day, I offer a brief story of the sources I used in my own roots journey.  Not all genealogy sources are on-line.  Going on location, seeing actual gravesites and including others in your search such as museum and library staff or members of historical societies, can also lead to special assistance, new leads and the encouragement from those who love history and genealogy.  I hope that this story might inspire you to begin a search or look at alternative sources to help you put the pieces of your family puzzle together. 

Finding Family - 2

In the early years of my adult life balancing my roles as mother, spouse and professional, I didn’t have time to think about my ancestors or my family heritage.  I was too busy coping with carpool, making dinner or meeting the demands of my boss.  However, as I attended family gatherings and funerals when my parents or their siblings died, I began to hear interesting family myths and stories that intrigued me.   Others around me began pursuing their own family roots.  One of my aunts encouraged me to find information about her father, my grandfather, Harvey Depew Scott.  And my genealogical journey began.

Finding Family - 3It began at the National Archives in Washington, DC where I found thick files of correspondence, government forms and personal letters about my grandfather.  The National Archives is a treasure trove of fascinating information about veterans who have served in our armed forces as well as immigrants who arrived at the US borders from countries around the world seeking a better life. It is an excellent place to begin your own genealogy search.   I knew the surprising fact that my grandfather fought in the Civil War and my aunt had given me the data about his enlistment in the Union Army under a different name, John Howard Scott.  This enabled me to request the files and to be able to read through each valuable piece of information.

What I learned from those files, confirmed the whispered family secrets about John Howard Scott who changed his name to Harvey Depew Scott.  I learned where and when he was born, lived and died.  I now had enough information to search for more information about him and his ancestry.    Over the next several years, I traveled to many states in search of answers to my questions about his family of origin.  In Indiana where he was born, I visited the county courthouse and the local public library.  I learned about his father’s death when he was four and that his mother died in a poor house.  I found remote rural cemeteries where his uncle was buried; in the library, I discovered his uncle was a riverboat captain on the Mississippi River.  But I found nothing about how or when John Howard’s parents came to Indiana, nor could I find any information about his grandparents.

Now I was hooked.  Doing the research in family history is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.  As I found one piece of data, it would suggest other connections and often raise more questions.  I was on the search to find more pieces toFinding Family - 4 fit into the puzzle.  I combed through the US Census Data, traveled to other states where John Howard and later Harvey Depew lived.  I visited historical museums and requested help from local historical societies.  I even made copies of the whole file at the National Archives so I could review every detail.

I joined Ancestry.com to see if anyone else might be researching the same family, hoping to find new information.  There were some other potential connections to John Howard Scott’s family but without documentation.  I have learned to beware of the validity of postings of family relationships based on family stories but without documentation.  So alas, I was not able to find documentation, confirmation or information to answer my questions.

My genealogical journey has been fascinating.  I wrote a detailed series of blogs about what I found called “Journey to Fiction”.  As that title suggests, I decided that I could best write the story as fiction, with the opportunity to be creative with the missing information.  I hope to publish the book, “Trust, Betrayal and Forgiveness: A Family Story” later this year. Have you searched for family history in your family?  What have you found?  What has been your experience doing genealogy?

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Who Are Your Family Role Models and Inspiration?

In recognition of International Women’s Day, I honor my grandmothers and my aunts who have inspired me  and served as significant role models.

Schoolhouse, Old West, Plains

 

Years ago, one of my favorite aunts came for a visit when I was in my mid-thirties experiencing a low point in my life. She gave a life-long gift by reminding me of the role models I had in the strong women in my family. It was from them, I could always find inspiration and direction.

Both of my grandmothers had been school teachers. My paternal grandmother, Ellen, also became a school superintendent. Ellen was a great cheerleader and encouraged me to succeed in school, get good grades and go to college. My maternal grandmother, Grace, was disappointed that she had to give up teaching school to become a farmer’s wife. But she continued to read the Atlantic Monthly and other books and periodicals. She wrote letters about what she read and shared her opinions about the news and politics in letters to her daughters.

My aunt pointed out that both Ellen and Grace had significant challenges in their lives: Grace, reluctantly left school teaching which she loved to manage her husband’s family farm which she resented. She worked hard to survive the depression and the dust bowl. Ellen was left a widow when her youngest of five children was a few months old.

Ellen Scott, grandmother,

Ellen Scott, my grandmother, a teacher, and a strong role model.

Ellen, in particular has been an inspiration to me. I am currently writing a fictionalized story of her life. As a widow without a means of support, Ellen applied for widows benefits. The Government Agent who came in April of 1912 to interview her in person, filed a sensitive descriptive report (which I recovered from the National Archives). She was living in a tent south of Thedford, Nebraska where she had filed a land claim. He reports that

“she hopes to establish a home for herself and children; but it looks like a most hazardous undertaking as she is practically an invalid because of rheumatism (sic), and her children are undersized puny looking little fellows, and they are more than a mile from the nearest water….In their present desolate surroundings their condition is pitiable in the extreme.”

This was the occasion when she learned that her husband had a former wife and family. The agent describes,

“until I informed her of the fact, claimant declares she had no knowledge of the existence of a former wife. Her grief and tears were convincing of the truth. She begged me not to tell anyone in her home neighborhood.”

This helps explain why no one in the family knew about a prior family. Ellen shared no information about him with her children. Despite her crippling rheumatoid arthritis, she pulled herself together; returned to teaching school; became a school superintendent; and raised her family. See my blog series, “A Journey to Fiction” on my genealogical journey to learn about my paternal grandparents.

Both Grace and Ellen were also models of strength, resilience and accomplishment for their daughters. All five of my aunts completed college educations at a time when the lack of financial resources and societies’ cultural norms were major deterrents. Yet, they were persistent and resourceful. They found work to pay their way. Between the first wave of feminism and the second, during my young adulthood, all these women had successful careers and raised a family. They worked hard and overcame many obstacles. To me they were pillars of strength and fortitude. They were role models of how to meet challenges and find a satisfying life.

These seven women have been my inspiration and my role models. I honor and pay tribute to them on International Women’s Day.

Who are the women role models in your family? How have they influenced and inspired you? Are there other strong women who have served as role models and inspired you?

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18 Jan
2016

The Opportunity of Homesteading

“ Poverty in America Month:” The second in a series exploring the history of poverty

GRT-JA10-family-homestead

My grandfather homesteaded in Wyoming in 1890, married my grandmother in 1892 and moved to Nebraska to homestead again.  When my grandmother traveled back to Nebraska from New Mexico as a widow, she homesteaded with her children in 1912.  Records in the National Archives which I found from my genealogical search (see The Journey to Fiction series for the full documentation), provide a brief description by the government agent who came to inform her she was not going to receive widow’s benefits.  He filed a sensitive descriptive report of his meeting with her south of Thedford, Nebraska where she had filed her land claim.

“She hopes to establish a home for herself and children; but it looks like a most hazardous undertaking as she is practically an invalid because of rheumatism (sic), and her children are undersized puny looking little fellows, and they are more than a mile from the nearest water….In their present desolate surroundings their condition is pitiable in the extreme.”

The “pitiable” conditions the government agent described, could be the current conditions of poverty as well as throughout our history.  Despite the negative images we see or hear about those living in poverty, America has a long history of offering opportunity to the economically disadvantaged through such government programs as The Homestead Act, the New Deal, Social Security and the War on Poverty.  Even in the beginning, the early colonists and settlers not only looked for religious freedom.  They also wanted the opportunity to own property and achieve some material comfort and perhaps even success from their own industriousness and hard work.  Land ownership in the early years of our country was based on the assumption that the land was free.  Our ancestors offered no acknowledgement of the rights of the Native people to that land.  Initially, methods for allocating unsettled land was arbitrary and chaotic.  Boundaries were established by stepping off plots from geographical landmarks.  Overlapping claims and border disputes were common.

The sale of public lands became a means to generate revenue for the Government, not an opportunity to acquire property by the poor.  By the mid 1800’s pressure was building to change the land distribution policies.  People in the West and poor people everywhere supported the demand for free homesteads.  Finally, with eleven states seceding from the Union the slavery issue was removed from the opposition. The Homestead Act of 1862 was passed and signed by President Lincoln.  It has been called the most important welfare act ever passed in the United States.

Homestead Act

Wagon_train 3

Men or women or the head of a family over 21 could file an application and lay claim to 160 acres of Government land, land frequently brutally taken from Indian tribes on the frontier.  Homesteaders were required to live on the land, build a dwelling and grow crops for five years before they could claim a deed to the land.  Three generations of my family, including my grandmother, took advantage of this opportunity.  Despite being an invalid, she completed her homestead claim, went back to teaching school and became what is reputed to be the first woman school superintendent in her part of Nebraska.

Homesteading provided an opportunity for the poor in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  My family benefited many times from the welfare of the Homestead Act.  Two of my grandmother’s sons homesteaded in Wyoming in 1918 after irrigation was established and opened arid land to farming.  The land was free but it required hard work, sacrifice and surviving the harsh conditions of the American plains.

As the frontier moved west, some changes in the laws increased the land claim to 640 acres and reduced the homestead requirement from five to three years.    By the end of the nineteenth century ninety million acres of public land had been distributed.  Very little of the 570 million acres that still remained open to settlement was usable for agriculture.  By 1934 over 1.6 million homestead applications were processed and more than 270 million acres or 10% of all US land had passed into individuals hands

Strong communities with a commitment to social values, education and personal responsibility were spawned through the territories covered by the Homestead Act.  The economic, agricultural and social stability generated by the Homestead Act was utterly inconceivable in other times and place.  It was a huge contribution to the American prosperity of the twentieth century.   I, for one, am very grateful for the opportunity it gave to my ancestors.  I am also very proud of their stamina, grit, perseverance and hard work to overcome the challenges they faced.

Next time we will explore life in dugouts and sod houses, common homesteader shelter on the prairie.

Did your ancestors homestead?  Do you have family stories?  What was their life like?

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4 Jan
2016

Life Was Hard on the Frontier

A look at poverty in the late nineteenth century during “Poverty in America Month”

“Grandad’s milk cow was in an open-front shed built of driftwood gathered from the river.  Grandma realized the snow would swirl around it and cover it completely in a very short time.  To keep the cow from smothering in the snow, Grandma decided to go out to free her from her stall.  She tied a rope to the doorknob so that she would find her way back to the dugout.  She said later that she would not have made it back to dugout without the rope to guide her.  In the night a herd of horses belonging to a neighbor six miles away, ran right over the top of the dugout.  Grandma could just see those horses breaking through the roof and coming in on top of her family, but that didn’t happen.” (From “Tales of a Sod House Baby: Stories of the Kansas Frontier as told by my mother” by Helen McCauley Merkle.

wagon trainThis is a typical story of life on the frontier in the late nineteenth century.  After passage of the Homestead Act in 1862, people from all walks of life came in search of land on the frontier.  Most were poor…farmers from the East without land of their own, newly arrived immigrants, single women and former slaves.   The opportunity was enticing for many who were tempted by railroad flyers or the exaggerated claims of hucksters.

However, many families were unable to survive for five years to make their claim.  My grandmother was one of them, leaving New Mexico to return to her family home in Nebraska as a widow with five children.  But like many pioneers, she was determined and filed another homestead claim in an arid area of the Nebraska sand hills, a mile from the nearest water.

The physical conditions on the Great Plains were challenging. High winds, tornadoes, drought and plagues of insects also confronted the subsistence life of homesteaders.  Destroyed crops or livestock herds meant that farmers went into debt mortgaging their land to buy additional seed, supplies or replacement livestock.   Blizzards, like the one described in the story above, and bitter cold temperatures were common.

tornado

Family Story

A family story passed down to me describes a howling blizzard with white-out conditions.  My grandmother, crippled from rheumatoid arthritis, and her two youngest children, one of whom was my dad, were living miles from any neighbors.  Dried corn cobs used for fuel for the stove to warm their modest one-room house were gone.  The wind howled and showed no signs of letting up.  She could not, as an invalid, manage herself to go the barn for more corn cobs.  She refused to allow my father, still a young boy, to go out in the blinding white-out blizzard for fear that he would get lost and freeze to death.  So, they burned my grandmother’s books to keep warm.  It must have been a very painful sacrifice for her to make, since she was a school teacher who placed a high value on education.  She had collected her treasured books over a life-time.

Since I am writing a fictionalized story about my grandmother who struggled in poverty raising her five children, I have been curious to learn how poverty at the turn of the nineteenth century compares to poverty today.  In 1900, as reported by Digital History, the average family annual income in today’s dollars was $3000.  Half of all American children lived in poverty and about 60% of the population lived on farms or in rural areas.  Exact comparisons are hard to find but today more than half of our population lives in the suburbs; about 21% of US children live in poverty and the average household income is over $72,641.  Life was hard in 1900 where life expectancy of white Americans was 48 and African Americans was 33.  One in four children had a 50% chance of dying before the age of 5 and half of all young people lost a parent before they reached 21.

Today we hear from the media, politicians and pundits about “income inequality”.    In the San Francisco Bay Area the news, editorials and casual conversation focus on the housing crises and homelessness.  All these terms denote poverty, a condition that none of us like to talk about.  The Center for Law and Economic Justice reports record high numbers of people in the United States live in poverty today…approximately 46.5 million or one out of 7 of us.    The US Census Bureau reports that the poverty rates have remained about the same for the last four years.  Two out of three Americans will live in poverty for at least a year in their lives according to The Brookings Institute.

But numbers are cold, abstract and don’t carry much emotional meaning.  I am concerned that the poverty and homelessness today disproportionately impacts women and children, as it did my grandmother.   The majority of poor children have a single mom struggling to make ends meet with a low-paying job or the reviled welfare check. Those children need health care, nutrition, housing, education and more attention than that single mom may have time to give.

We have no consensus today on a safety net or a government effort to offer opportunities to those women and children.  Our current trend is to leave such support to a patch work of non-profit and under-funded government agencies.  Most of us ignore the homeless, have no contact with the low-income single mom and carry negative images of those who depend on “the government dole”.  Are we willing to acknowledge the poverty in our midst during this month of Poverty in America?  These children are our future.  Will we provide them the support they need to grow up to contribute to that future?

Next time we will look at the history of opportunity for the poor in this country with a focus on the Homestead Act of 1862.

Did your ancestors live on the mid-western prairie?  Were they farmers?  Did they homestead?

What do you think about our current attitude toward poverty in America?

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14 Aug
2015

Journey to Fiction – Part 7

This is the seventh and last in a serial documentation of the journey I have traveled from reading yellowed documents in the National Archives to launching a historical fiction novel based on the lives of my grandparents.
Please see the earlier blogs describing the journey to this point at bevscott.com/blog/.

New Mexico, Dugouts and the Decision to write a novel.

Dugout 2My grandfather, H.D. Scott died in Hanley, New Mexico January 27, 1911 at the age of 70 leaving my thirty-nine year old grandmother a widow with five children. Although I know that she eventually returned to Nebraska where her parents and several siblings lived, I am curious about her life in New Mexico especially since she was severely crippled with rheumatoid arthritis. I would like to find where my grandparents lived and my grandfather’s grave. I planned a trip to New Mexico.

First stop is the Tucumcari Historical Museum. I learned almost immediately that my grandparents probably lived in a dugout given the time they arrived, 1910.  As my research continued I learned that settlers at that time frequently arrived on the railroad with boxcars divided into one area for livestock and another for farm equipment and household belongings.  Some also had a raised platform on one end for the family to eat and sleep during their journey.  The Homestead Act had opened land to settlers for free as long as they lived on their land.  The initial dwellings were frequently dugouts because they were cheap to build and didn’t require lumber and other building materials.  Settlers were lured by the railroad who advertised the “choice farming” and clean air.  But nothing was said about the low rainfall and the difficulty of finding water.  Guessing that H. D. was attracted by the promises of a climate good for asthma and tuberculosis, I looked for land records of a homestead claim with no results.  Because H.D. died a little over a year after they arrived and Ellen left for Nebraska they did not fulfill the requirement to live on the land for five years.  I was out of luck in finding where they lived.

Grave marker

However, the museum staff helped me locate my grandfather’s grave which is now on private property.  It is a white marker provided by the Veterans Administration with his birth name of John Howard Scott.  Thirty years ago two of H.D.’s sons, my uncles, visiting his grave site discovered that the grave marker was broken and falling apart.  Their request for a new grave marker from the Veterans Administration began the family search to learn more about H.D.’s life which I later took over and have chronicled in this blog series.

Although I could not find much information about where H.D. and Ellen lived, I was still intrigued by how Ellen, severely crippled, managed to get her five children back to Nebraska.  Reviewing the National Archives documents, I found correspondence between the Pension Bureau and my grandmother.  She submitted an application for widow’s benefits almost immediately after H.D. died.  Then in the summer of 1911 she wrote that she would be going back to Nebraska and would send them her new address by September. One Government Agent’s report tells that they “drove all the way from New Mexico, where the soldier died, to her old home in Nebraska.”  From our perspective today, it sounds like they “drove” a car.  But I am sure they could not afford to have a car at that time so I assume they drove a horse and wagon which matches the family story that her older sons drove the wagon and she laid in the back as they made their way back to Nebraska.

I also learned from the Archives documents that the Government Agent who came in April of 1912 to interview my grandmother in person, filed a sensitive descriptive report of that meeting.  She was living in a tent south of Thedford, Nebraska where she had filed a land claim.  He reports that

“she hopes to establish a home for herself and children; but it looks like a most hazardous undertaking as she is practically an invalid because of rheumatism (sic), and her children are undersized puny looking little fellows, and they are more than a mile from the nearest water….In their present desolate surroundings their condition is pitiable in the extreme.”

Dismal River

Not only were Ellen’s circumstances dire and “pitiable in the extreme,” but they were a mile from the nearest water from a river aptly named, the Dismal River.  It also appears that this was the occasion when she learned about H.D.’s first wife.  The agent describes that

“until I informed her of the fact, claimant declares she had no knowledge of the existence of a former wife.  Her grief and tears where convincing of the truth.  She begged me not to tell anyone in her home neighborhood.”

The report, that she begs the Government Agent not to tell anyone, helps explain why no one in the family knew about H.D.’s first family, why my grandmother shared no information about him with her children and why she avoided answering any questions about him.  I had exhausted my sources about H.D. and Ellen Scott.

This journey of the genealogical research uncovered a fascinating story that deserved to be told.  But, there were several missing pieces.  Although I had much to learn about writing fiction, historical fiction, I decided to write this story using what I had learned as the foundation for the story and creatively filling in the missing pieces.

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17 Jun
2015

Journey to Fiction – Part 6

This is the sixth in a serial documentation of the genealogical journey I have traveled from reading yellowed documents in the National Archives to launching a historical fiction novel based on the lives of my grandparents. Please see the earlier blogs describing the journey to this point at bevscott.com/blog/

Dear Readers to “A Journey to Fiction”,
I am back to writing again after five months. As some of you know, my family has suffered sadness and loss this year. I have wanted to be available, to be of support, to grieve and to find the path for the new ways of living our lives. Hence, the hiatus in my blog and my writing. I hope you enjoy the next installment below of “A Journey to Fiction”.

midwestregion_map

My grandparents, H.D. and Ellen Scott moved to Oklahoma in 1898 with three of their children. My father, the fourth son was born in Oklahoma in 1907. I described in Part 5 of this “Journey” my speculation about why they moved and what I was able to find in official documents about their lives. The correspondence I found in the National Archives reveal the deteriorating health of my grandfather as he is desperately trying to comply with requirements to receive Veteran’s Benefits from his service in the Civil War. From the documents, I learned that his doctor had urged him to move to a warmer climate than Oklahoma.

He spent the winter in Phoenix in 1909 living in a tent according to the Examiner who wrote, in April, 1909, “In view of his poverty and physical condition and the fact that he has a family of young children and that it is his desire to remove his family to some place in the Rocky Mountain region, a matter of large expense, I recommend that the claim be made special, especially since the examination may take considerable time. He is old and his condition is precarious.” He was 69.

The 1910 US Census lists the family residing in Quay County, New Mexico in the community of Hanley outside of Tucumcari. They must have moved after H.D. returned from Phoenix in 1909. But why? The only clue is his deteriorating health and the recommendation from the doctor that he move to a warmer climate. But why Quay County, New Mexico? I learned from additional research that the area around Tucumcari had been publicized as choice farming land. My grandparents and many others were probably tantalized by the railroad advertisements offering free land and clean air good for those ailing from tuberculosis and asthma. I suspect that H.D. suffered from asthma. With the hope of finding a farming paradise, a warmer climate and improved health, my grandparents moved to New Mexico. In August of 1910, a fifth child was born…a girl.

Tucumcari-Mountain

In April, 1909 the Examiner had reported that there were discrepancies in H.D. (alias John Howard) Scott’s statements. In reviewing the Archive documents, the deposition given by my grandfather reveals what those discrepancies were. He was shown evidence, in September of 1909 that the soldier John H. Scott was not known by any other name during his service, that he married Harriet Foncannon and that he lived with her for many years. Yet, H.D. claimed he had never married her. When asked which statement was true, he replied “I will not answer. I will not discuss the matter.”

Although my grandfather now going by Harvey Depew Scott denied his first marriage, the Examiner must have been convinced that he was really John Howard Scott who served in the Civil War. The Government finally approved the awarding of his pension. In December of 1910, in Hanley, New Mexico, a H.D. received his first pension check. He died one month later in January at age 70.

tucum-nm-1913

What does my thirty-nine year old grandmother do now that she is a widow with five children living in rural New Mexico? I know that my grandmother had severe rheumatoid arthritis from an early age. So she was not only a widow but probably disabled. I know she ultimately moved back to Nebraska but I wonder how she gets there and when she leaves Hanley. I want to know more about life in New Mexico and to find my grandfather’s grave. I planned another road trip to New Mexico.

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18 Nov
2014

Journey to Fiction – Part 5

This is the fifth in a serial documentation of the journey I have traveled from reading yellowed documents in the National Archives to launching a historical fiction novel based on the lives of my grandparents.

Move to Oklahoma; Claiming Veterans Benefits

20141113_084938

My grandparents, H.D. and Ellen Scott were married in Thedford, Nebraska in 1892, purchased land from the Russell’s, Ellen’s family, and had three of their five children. I continued to review the documents I copied from the National Archives and discovered that H.D. filed for Veterans Benefits due to disability in 1897. According to the documents they moved to Dewey County, Oklahoma in 1898. Thomas County, Nebraska land records show they sold their Nebraska farm land back to the Russell’s in the same year. The family is listed in Oklahoma in the 1900 Federal Census.

By 1909, H.D. was living in a “canvas home (a tent with board siding) and ‘baching’” in Arizona, according to the documents filed by Pension Bureau Examiner. “He is evidently in very straightened circumstances…as a great sufferer from asthma.” He reportedly went to Arizona “two or three times to get relief from his affliction.” But, he left his wife and four children in Oklahoma.

Why Oklahoma? Was H.D.’s health already deteriorating in 1898? Alas there are no clues in the Archive documents.

Oklahoma was one of the last territories to be open for homesteading. Dewey County was Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian land. In 1892 it was opened for settlement. A search of homestead records however, does not show H.D. or Ellen filing a land claim in Dewey County between 1898 and 1910. During my road trip to Oklahoma, unfortunately, I did not get to the Dewey County Court House to review land records before they closed. But H.D. Scott and wife must have purchased land there, because later I discovered records in Thomas County, Nebraska that Ellen’s father and brother bought land in Dewey County, Oklahoma from Ellen and H.D. in 1901. Perhaps it is they who were investing in land in Oklahoma and H.D and Ellen purchased it and then resold it to them. I know from family lore that H.D. raised horses. Perhaps although his in-laws owned the land, H.D. raised his horses and settled his family there. Or more likely H.D. and Ellen needed the money.

Clay Scott - Oklahoma I

As I mentioned, the family is listed in Oklahoma in the 1900 Federal Census. My father was born in Oklahoma in 1907. Recording of births did not begin in Oklahoma until October of 1908. I have a notarized statement from the woman who attended my grandmother when my father was born documenting the date and location. I also have a picture of the house in which he was born taken many years later in the 1950’s. When I visited Dewey County in search of his birthplace recently, the small town they lived near, no longer exists.

During the time the family lived in Oklahoma, my grandfather was trying to obtain his Veterans Benefits. The documents in the National Archives include correspondence regarding his deteriorating health. In April,1909 as mentioned above, he was living in a tent in Scottsdale, Arizona, a community of sick people, and according to the Examiner, was “favorably known considering the short time he has been there” (since November, 1908). By this time, he had filed three claims for Veterans benefits. My grandmother wrote to the Examiner when she sent her only pictures of him, “I do hope he will get his pension before it is too late.”

The Pension Examiner wrote in April, 1909, “In view of his poverty and physical condition and the fact that he has a family of young children and that it is his desire to remove his family to some place in the Rocky Mountain region, a matter of large expense, I recommend that the claim be made special, especially since the examination may take considerable time. He is old and his condition is precarious.”

However, due to “discrepancies in the soldier’s statements,” the Pension Bureau ruled that more investigation was required. I wanted to know how they investigated the discrepancies and if my grandfather received his pension before he died in January, 1911.

Have you done any genealogical research? What is your experience?

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2 Oct
2014

Journey to Fiction – Part 4

This is the fourth in a serial documentation of the journey I have traveled from reading yellowed documents in the National Archives to launching a historical fiction novel based on the lives of my grandparents.

John Howard becomes Harvey D.

Globe Hotel

John Howard Scott disappeared from his home in Weatherford in 1879; and I could not find him in the 1880 US Census. Ten years later I found Harvey D. Scott living in Wyoming in 1890. The US Census records were destroyed by fire in 1890 but the National Archives had homestead records for Harvey D. Scott living in Glendo, Wyoming. In addition the 1890 Veterans Census showed a Harvey D. Scott in Laramie County, Wyoming. He had changed his name.

I theorized in my last “Journey to Fiction” post that he had joined a cattle drive headed to Dodge City. Some of the cattle drives continued north to Wyoming so perhaps he stayed with the drive as a cook and left the crew in Wyoming. I wanted to know more about his stay in Wyoming. I wanted to see where he homesteaded. Unfortunately, when I arrived in Wheatland, the county seat of Platte Wyoming, I discovered Glendo and the surrounding land is now under water from the Glendo Reservoir.

Map of WyomingNot to be deterred, I went to the Platte County courthouse to look for land records. There I discovered that Harvey D. Scott paid the required filing fee of $18.00 and received 160 acres under the Homestead Act in approximately 1886. Now I knew that he had not only changed his name but he also identified himself as an unmarried man within seven years after he abandoned his wife Harriet and their children in Weatherford, TX.

He “proved up” on this land, meeting the government requirements of living on the land, building a home and farming the land for five years. He received the land deed in 1892 and sold 40 of the 160 acres in 1893 for $450. From my earlier visit to Thedford, Nebraska, I knew that he had married my grandmother, Ellen in Thedford in 1892. Since she taught school in Wyoming, they must have met there. From my earlier explorations in Thedford, I had also learned Ellen and Harvey bought land from her brother and her father in 1892 and 1893 so perhaps the sale of Harvey’s land in Wyoming helped to pay for the Nebraska farm land. Ellen sold the remaining 120 acres in Wyoming after Harvey’s death for only $40. Perhaps it was so much less because there was less demand for land due to livestock losses in recent severe winters or the ending of the open cattle range in Wyoming. It is easy to imagine that my grandmother needed money in 1913 and sold it at a loss in desperation.

Mining Deed

I continued to be amazed by what I found in the court house records. In 1890, Harvey D. Scott purchased a mining claim of 1500 feet in length and 300 feet in width for $100. He sold it less than a year later in 1891 for $5000! That is a successful investment. Perhaps he was getting ready to propose to my grandmother.

I had found my grandfather with a new name as an unmarried man homesteading in Wyoming seven years after he abandoned his family. I knew Harvey and Ellen were married in Thedford, Nebraska in 1892 and purchased land from her family. Their three oldest children were born there. Now I wanted to know why and when they moved to Oklahoma where my father was born in 1907.

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18 Aug
2014

Journey to Fiction – Part 3

This is the third in a serial documentation of the journey I have traveled from reading yellowed documents in the National Archives to launching a historical fiction novel based on the lives of my grandparents.

On the Trail of John Howard Scott…

Harvey D Scott

Grandfather as a young man before he abandoned Harriet.

I knew from the depositions I found in the National Archives, that John’s first wife Harriet reported he had abandoned her in 1879 leaving her “destitute” with five children and a sixth on the way.  She believed he was dead.  But I knew he lived until 1911 under the name of Harvey Depew Scott.  Looking for clues, I combed the depositions he gave to government agents when he was trying to prove his identity as a Civil War Veteran.

There he acknowledged that he was in Kansas and in 1880 went to work as a cook for an “overland”  expedition from Fort Dodge to Laramie, Wyoming.  Another time he reported that he worked cattle.  It was the time of cattle drives from Texas up to Dodge City.  Thousands of longhorn cattle were driven by drovers up the Chisholm Trail and the Western Cattle trail.  It is estimated that over five to six million cattle driven up the Western were packed into wooden railcars and shipped to Kansas City, Omaha, St. Louis and Chicago.  1880 was one of the peak years for cattle drives. Some cattle were to be delivered farther north and were driven across western Kansas to Ogallala, Nebraska, Dakota Territory, Wyoming, Montana and as far north as Canada.

Far west town

 

 

Going from Texas to Dodge City at ten to fourteen miles a day easily took two to three months.  Life on the cattle drive was dusty, lonely and frequently dangerous.  Any strange noise or unexpected event especially at night could precipitate a stampede of the thousand to fifteen hundred skittish animals.  Heavy rains meant flooded rivers and the trail drivers had to get reluctant cattle into rushing  water, make sure none of them were carried downstream with a fast-moving current or got stuck in the quick sand at the river’s edge.

Cattle towns provided distractions and entertainment for the drovers.  Dodge City was infamous as a wild and lawless town.  A typical frontier town, it acquired a reputation of glamour, excitement and opportunity.  Buffalo hunters, cowboys, gamblers, gun slingers and railroad men were drawn to Dodge City for thrill of adventure and easy come, easy go money.

Although killings didn’t happen every day, they were not a rare occurrence either.  In the saloons where drinking, gambling and female entertainment occurred, and arguments among the rough characters who frequented these establishments were usually background in the style of the American West. Handcuffs in jeanssettled by  gun fights.  The men shot dead were often buried in unmarked graves on famous Boot Hill.  Wyatt Earp, his brother, Dave Mathers and other famous gun slingers and killers hung out in Dodge City.

Did John Howard join a cattle drive from Texas to Dodge City and then go on to Wyoming?  Did the lure of Dodge City entice him north from Texas?

I believe there is a strong possibility he was in Dodge City or passing through during its rough and tumble days in the 1880’s.

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10 Jun
2014

Journey to Fiction – Part 2

This is the second in a serial documentation of the journey I have traveled from reading yellowed documents in the National Archives to launching a historical fiction novel based on the lives of my grandparents.

In my journey to uncover the family secrets about my grandfather, John Howard Scott, aka Harvey Depew Scott, I had discovered a trove of documents in the National Archives that confirmed the stories of another family. I had found information in Indiana searching in County records, libraries and cemeteries about John Howard’s parents, his birth, his Uncle Bill Swan and marriage to his first wife, Harriet. (see May 20 Blog) But, the National Archive documents indicated that the family had moved to Texas. In fact, a deposition from a Civil War soldier confirmed that his sister, Harriet, had married John Howard and that she lived at the time in Fort Worth, Texas. I wondered if I could find more information and learn when and why John and Harriet and their children moved to Texas. That led me on another leg of this journey.

Weatherford 3I began by exploring the census records. I discovered that in 1870 John and his family had moved to Illinois; but, in the 1880 census, John was not listed. Instead, Harriet is listed with six children living in Parker County, Texas. What happened to John and why was Harriet in Texas?

I turned back to the depositions. The government agents had tracked Harriet down in Fort Worth, thanks to her brother. In her deposition, she reported that the family moved to Weatherford, Texas, a small rural community in Parker County west of Fort Worth, but no hints as to why they moved to Texas. In November, 1879, John Howard had gone into town for a load of corn and never returned. Harriet said she was left destitute with five children and a sixth on the way. She looked for John tracking him to Fort Worth but ultimately lost the trail and assumed that he was dead. Five years later she had re-married and was running a boarding house in Fort Worth.Archives Document

Following the census records also revealed three more generations of John Scott’s in Fort Worth, Texas, but no John Howard Scott. I wanted to know what had happened to him when he left Weatherford in 1879. Since I had found interesting information in libraries and historical societies in my search in Indiana and Nebraska, I decided the next stop in my journey was a visit to Texas.

I had no better luck than Harriet. I could find no trace of John Howard in Weatherford or in Fort Worth. He got out of town and left no trace. I did find in the Scott family plot in the Fort Worth cemetery and two of the three generations of John Paul Scotts. In the library, I found the obituary for John Howard’s son, J.P. Scott Sr., a “Pioneer in Business” who died in 1959 at age 92. It is Interesting that the obituary reports he moved to Fort Worth from Weatherford after his father died. J.P. founded his company in 1892, just three years after his father left the family. Originally the company served as a wagon yard selling firewood and awnings and shoeing horses. When he retired in 1938, his sons took over the business which then consisted of the Scott Awning Company and the Scott Rug Cleaning Company.

Historical Fiction Page - Scott GravesiteWhere did John Howard go when he left Weatherford? When did he change his name to Harvey Depew Scott? What did he do between 1879 and 1892 when he married my grandmother? My journey and my search weren’t over yet. I still had many questions.

I would love to hear your stories researching your family.

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