Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The August Henry Becker Family – Part 3

In my last post I described how I had found members of August Henry Becker’s first family in Florida. My client (Eileen) was even more interested now in learning about her half-siblings and cousins.

Robert Becker, August’s youngest son from his first marriage, had shown up in several lists on Ancestry. Besides the censuses, his name appeared on a US Petition for Naturalization form which gave his birth date, birthplace and then current address. He was also on the Florida Death Index, the US Social Security Death Index, US Public Records (city and area directories and telephone directories) and several military records pertaining to his service in the US Army during World War II, all of which gave additional addresses for him.

There were similar public records, mainly local area directories and the death records for Robert’s wife, Mary Agnes, his mother, Nellie, and his sister, Emily and her family who, as I mentioned before, also lived in Florida.

I did specific searches for Robert’s and Emily’s children, whose names I had from the censuses and found marriage records and directory listings for them with relatively up-to-date addresses. On a general Google search I found a remarkable site called Florida Memory, which had a photograph of “Sisters Judy and Susan Becker with their dog – Miami Beach, Florida” (see below). That discovery was a real surprise. The photos were contributed to Florida Memory by Susan. The website is associated with the Division of Library and Information Services, part of the Florida Department of State, and has a great collection of photos, videos, audio recordings and other material pertaining to the region’s history.
 
Susan, Judy and Scat. Photofrom print collections of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memorycontributed by Susan Campbell. Reference: http://floridamemory.com/items/show/13091
I joined a discussion list for the FLMiama-Dade group, hosted by Google Groups, with the hope of making contact with other family historians who might help in the search for the Becker families. I posted a request for information indicating what I knew about the individuals. A participant responded with a copy of an obituary for Robert Becker, from the Orlando Sentinel, that mentioned several members of his family, including their addresses, and the funeral home which handled his interment. That same discussion list-participant found and sent me a 2006 roof-repair permit, of all things, from the City of Miami records, for the home of one of Robert’s daughters. The address matched what I had from the directory lists so I believed I was really on the right track.

I emailed the funeral home that had handled the services for both Robert and Mary Agnes and they indicated they would forward my query to one of Robert’s daughters. I also looked up the daughters on White Pages to confirm present-day addresses and then sent them letters by post introducing myself and Eileen, their long-lost half-aunt. We were soon in contact with each other and exchanging information about the two families of August Henry Becker.

Of great interest was the number of family photographs and important documents of which Judy and Susan were able to give us copies. They included Nellie’s birth and death records as well as the marriage license and divorce papers for her and August. Eileen had never known the details of the breakup of her father’s first marriage so this information really added to his story and filled in many blanks.

Eileen has stayed in touch with both Judy and Susan the last few years. This past summer Judy made a trip to Alberta to visit Eileen and meet her family and, of course, to take in the festivities of the Calgary Stampede. Both Judy and Eileen have expressed to me their pleasure in being able to meet and to learn so much more about their common family members. It is one of those real success stories – to tie together family history events and help forge ties with relatives who might never had had the opportunity to meet.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

More About August Becker’s First Family

As I indicated in my last post, there are some interesting stories about the family of August Henry Becker that we were able to unearth in a variety of ways and places. Much of the information came serendipitously as I moved from source to source, searching for anything to do with the man and/or the surname.

Eileen (my client) recalled that a man had shown up at her home in Edmonton, possibly in the 1930s or ‘40s, claiming to be her father’s son. The man was rushed off by Eileen’s mother and not a word was ever spoken again about the visit or the individual’s claim of a connection to August. We are pretty sure the individual was Robert Becker, August’s youngest son from his first marriage.

In the process of searching for data, I checked the usual sources for August Becker, primarily on Ancestry. We knew he had been born in Pennsylvania, so that bit of information was useful in finding immigration and settlement documents.

The 1911 Canada census listed both August, Nellie and three children – Joseph, Emily and Thelma – living almost next door to the family of Henry Needham, in the Provost area of Eastern Alberta. Two of August’s brothers had also immigrated to Alberta and lived in the area. The article in Early Furrows, mentioned in my last post, had noted that Nellie and August had come to Canada in 1906 to join Nellie’s parents – Henry and Susan Needham – and brothers in homesteading in Eastern Alberta. It also described a fourth Becker child, Robert. By 1921, August and Nellie were in Edmonton, with August working as a photo engraver, which was his first and main occupation. He apparently was not cut out to be a farmer.

Interestingly, a search of Henderson’s Edmonton Directory on the Peel’s Prairie Provinces website found August working as a photo engraver at McDermid Engraving Company, proprietor Mr. F. G. McDermid. August worked there from at least 1919 through 1922. In 1920 Mary Moller joined the firm as a photo retoucher – and so they met! In 1922, August’s daughter Emily also worked at McDermid’s, as a stenographer. We speculate she was a friend of Mary’s at the time as they were of similar age.

Border-crossing information showed that August, along with Mary Moller, his future second wife, had travelled to the US on January 4, 1923. I also found another border crossing document for Nellie Becker, who went to the US on January 8, 1923. She was going to “visit” her father, Henry Needham, in Ohio. Nellie was accompanied by two of her children, Thelma and Robert. Her parents had previously returned to the US in 1921. The address he gave at the time of his trip to the US in 1923 was the same as the one shown in the directories so things were tying together.

By 1923, as we saw on the border crossing forms, it appears August’s marriage had broken up and he was now in love with Mary Moller. Nellie had indicated on the border crossing document that the last person she had visited or been friends with in Canada before she left was one F. G. McDermott. I did not think the similarity of names was a coincidence and she was actually referring to F. G. McDermid of McDermid Engraving. That seemed to tie the individuals even closer.

The censuses, border crossing forms and community history book gave us names of the four children from August’s first marriage along with their birth dates – the 1911 Canada census shows month as well as year – so I searched for them, mainly to see what had happened after they returned to the US. I found Nellie and the children on the 1930 and 1940 US federal censuses, living in Pensylvania.

On further review I discovered Nellie, Emily and Robert, quite by accident, on a 1945 census from Florida, of all places. That set off a whole new investigation which I will discuss in my next post. The 1945 census showed Robert, was married, with one daughter who had been born in Pennsylvania in 1943. Nellie was living with the family as well. Living in the same house was Emily, also now married and with two sons of her own, also born in Pennsylvania. Joseph and Thelma appear to have remained in Pennsylvania.

On Ancestry, I came across August on a private Family Tree. I wrote to the owner of the tree and found she was related to August through one of his sisters. She had a great deal of information about his siblings and I was able to give her more data on August’s life and second family in Canada. Not only did she have the data on family members, she also had photos of them which she kindly shared with us.
 
Photo of the family of August John and Amelia (Herchenbach) Becker, taken at their Mt. Carmel home in Pennsylvania
We believe the family picture was taken about 1925, on the occasion of August’s parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Nearly all of August’s brothers and sisters and their children, including his daughter, Emily were shown in the photograph. Eileen was surprised and delighted by this piece of information. She had previously thought, and had possibly been told, that her father had travelled to Pennsylvania in the 1920s for a funeral of one of his parents. She was even more shocked when I showed her that they were both still alive and well on the 1930 census and then came up with copies of the obituaries notices for both of them – her grandfather’s in 1932 and her grandmother’s in 1936 – again kindly given to us by the Ancestry family tree-owner.

Eileen knew that her paternal grandparents had lived in Pennsylvania after migrating from Germany in 1880. They were part of a very large population of Germans recruited to work in the region’s coal mines. Eileen had found some information in the Mt. Carmel Catholic church records but had never met her grandparents. She had met one aunt who had visited Canada in 1951, but she had never knew much about her father’s other siblings. She thought he might have been cut off from the family following his divorce from Nellie. The family photo demonstrated this was not the case at all.

Eileen was now very curious about her half-brothers and sisters and we set about finding out more about them. In my next post I will detail some of the other surprising things we found out about those half-siblings and cousins.


Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Usefulness of Community History Books

A few years ago I was looking for information concerning the father of a client, by the name of August Becker. Eileen (the client) knew he had been married before he met her mother but apparently neither one would ever talk about that marriage while Eileen and her siblings were growing up, or what happened to the union in the end. The parents had been deceased for many years before we started the research – Eileen herself was in her eighties – so we had no one to ask about the situation. She did know that her father had apparently lived in Eastern Alberta at one time so that was a start.

I will have more to say about some of the very interesting stories uncovered about the family in a later post but what I wanted to highlight today was the usefulness of local area history books. I have a couple in my collection for my own family. They were produced in the 1970s and contain the recollections of original settlers and/or their children about the areas where my parents were raised. Many local communities took advantage of government grants back then to assemble the stories and information about the areas and the families. The books provide, in many cases, first-hand accounts of people, places and historical events not available elsewhere. There are many such historical summaries spanning the country, highlighting villages and farming regions in most provinces.

I also have some pages from a similar book titled Portrait and Biographical Album of Washington, Clay and Riley Counties, Kansas, published by Chapman Publishing Co. of Chicago, in 1890. It is part of a large series of similar books put out by Chapman, Biographical Publishing Co., Lake City Publishing Co., Record Publishing Co. and others in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Dozens are available to read and download for free at Archive.org (just search for “portrait and biographical”). Most have the description “. . . Portraits & Biographical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens” but also offer historical information about the communities. I found a few similar books that can be read on Open Library and Google Books. I am sure there are many other websites as well where genealogists may access books of interest.

The book with information about Riley County, Kansas contains very interesting information about one of my 2nd great-granduncles, who was a prominent doctor in Randolph, Riley County, and his parents, my 3rd great-grandparents. The biography opened up another line of inquiry for information about my ancestors which I had not seen anywhere else.

Anyway, I did a search for a similar book for the Provost region of Alberta and found one available for purchase on Amazon, called Early Furrows: A story of our early pioneers in Provost, Hayter, Bodo, Alberta and surrounding districts, published in 1977 by the local Senior Citizens Club of Provost. Not only did it contain a write up of the first August Becker family, it had a photograph of them as well.
 
Photo of the family of August and Nellie (Needham) Becker, taken on their homestead near Provost, Alberta about 1915 (copied from Early Furrows; photo was provided by Emily (Becker) Henry, second from the left)
Seeing the family for the first time delighted Eileen and set us off on more searches for August’s first family and Eileen’s half-brothers and sisters, whom she never knew or knew about.

The Early Furrows book, along with many others, including my own KIK Country, about the communities of Keoma, Irricana and Kathryn, near Calgary, has since been scanned and can be accessed on the our roots nos racines website which has a wide collection of material on Canadian local histories.

Local area historical publications are always worth looking at. Sometimes recollections of those submitting information are not entirely accurate but they they do provide a great resource written by members of those families who lived in the areas. The information in the books can easily be compared to that found in other data sources.

Grants are available in Canada from many provincial departments and other organizations to support the activities of local communities, including the assembly and publication of history books. In Western Canada, these websites might be investigated:
Alberta      http://culture.alberta.ca/

Next up: more about those elusive Becker family members Eileen learned about and some of the surprises she had when stories she was told turned out to be not exactly truthful.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.