19 May 2015

Black Sheep of the Family

I think I've actually written about my great grand uncle before. I never even knew about Leonard Rollett until a few years ago when I finally broke through who his parents were and subsequently discovered him as the brother of my great grandmother May Rollett.

Leonard Rollett was born 7 Jan 1908 in Missouri to David Rollett and Rosa (Clark) Rollett. He died at the young age of  21 on 31 July 1931. When I discovered this it automatically had my attention. I've come across other family members that died at young ages and I find myself digging for answers. How did they die? Why so young?

The one thing I love about doing research on my Missouri ancestors is the availability of birth and death records at Missouri Digital Heritage. I found Leonard's death certificate while searching through looking for any records of his father, mother or siblings. On his death certificate for cause of death was "homicide, fire arm" and for contributory "shot by officer." Knowing that there had to be a story, I went searching for newspaper articles. In this case I was not disappointed.

And there you have it. I have a robber in my family tree. This is a story I can tell to my kids to remind them the crime doesn't pay. His partner in crime, Flutty, received 5 years for his involvement in the crime.
Leonard's sister May left behind her husband and four children and never looked back (as far as I know). I really would like to know more about this family. Crime and irresponsibility seem to be a part of their lives. 

12 May 2015

So Young, Yet Such a Man

Once again it's time for another #52Ancestors post. I've written about my 3x great grandfather many times. First because he was such a mystery to all of us, but now that I've solved the mystery, I write about him because his life was what novels are made of.

William George Woolsey was born in Iowa on 15 Dec 1865 to Richard W Woolsey and Charollette Ann (Beck) Woolsey. William refused to talk about his parents or his family. When asked by his children and grandchildren where he was from or who is parents were his response was, "I was born in Iowa and ran away as a young lad from an abusive Irish step mother, and that's all I'm going to say about that." Well he was successful in keeping the family, for generations, from finding out about his past until a couple years ago when someone saw a post I put on a forum and knew about a William Woolsey in their family who was born in Iowa and ran away from home. When we began putting the pieces together we all understood why.

In order to understand William's hatred for his parents we need to back up in time a bit. At the time of William's birth the Civil War had just ended. Charlotte lost her first husband and the father of her first three  children on 3 Apr 1863, John Nolan. Richard Woolsey, too, had suffered the loss of his first wife Alice Susan (Buck) Woolsey in 1862. Richard and Alice had six children. It would appear from the trail of records that Richard and Charlotte were devastated and lost after their first spouses died.

Richard then married Charlotte on  6 Sep 1863 in LaGrange, IN. Then William was born two years later into a very large blended family. I'm not sure what went wrong, but by 1870 Richard is no longer in the picture. He and his six children are living in Creswell, Cowley, KS. Shortly after this Richard built the first hotel in Arkansas City, KS known then as the Woolsey House and he in turn was endearingly known as Uncle Dick. I have never found a record of divorce, but clearly they were no longer together because Charlotte was living in Lincoln, Linn, KS with her four children, William being one of them and only four years old at the time.

By 1875 Charlotte is still living in Lincoln, KS, but now under a new name. She is in the home of James Kennedy (Kenneda). She is listed as C.A. Kennedy. James has three children from a previous marriage, Charlotte has her three Nolan children and William Woolsey and then together James and Charlotte have an eight month old Ella. Dear Lord, talk about a blended family of monstrous proportions. Poor William must have really felt left out, being the only Woolsey in the home. Charlotte then died in Linn County on 13 Apr 1876 at the age of 38.

At this point William is left without a mother and has a father chasing gold across the country. William is only 11 years old at this point. Even if his father was not a part of his life it became clear that at least his Woolsey half-siblings were when I found him in the 1880 census living in the home of his half sister Eva (Woolsey) Brown. In this census he is enumerated by his middle name, George. What I find strange is that he is listed as a boarder instead of half-brother-in-law. Then again when you look at that title I can see why, boarder was just easier to record. He at one time in his life mentioned that he named two of his daughter after his sisters, Eva and Minnie, however, Minnie turned out to be a niece, a daughter of his half-sister Caroline, but close enough. 

I don't find Richard in the 1875 Kansas State Census, probably because he has caught "gold fever" and is off chasing his pot at the end of the rainbow. In 1880, however, Richard is in Sauk City, Whatcom, WA. He is just one of the many miners hoping to strike it rich. I don't know when Richard left Sauk City. What I have been able to determine is that the original Sauk City was destroyed by fire (all except the general store of George Perrault) in 1889. I wouldn't be surprised if Richard through in the towel and took off at that point, but unfortunately that is likely lost with time.

Sometimes before 1900 Richard starts mining in Faulkner, Sierra, New Mexico where he was enumerated in 1900 on the US Census. I think it's very likely that he had been there for many years. He had an established mine and was again well known in the area. In some newspaper account Hillsboro is mentioned. Faulkner no longer exists and Hillsboro is an unincorporated town, basically a ghost town. I'd love to go visit this old mining ghost town some time. It's where he spent his last years until he fell ill. He was then brought home to Arkansas City, KS by his children where he died 21 Oct 1908. In his obituary each of his children is mentioned, including William, who's "whereabouts unknown."

At no point do I ever find any indication that Richard was involved in his life. At least Eva was, though no one knows for how long he was able to be with his Woolsey siblings. This mystery drove me crazy for years, and if it hadn't been for someone from the other side of that story in the family, I may never have solved it. Message boards have brought about such break throughs on more than one occasion. When you have a mystery, don't forget to use the message board. You never know who will be reading and knows the other half of the story you are looking for.

The amazing part is that John Woolsey who solved the mystery when he found my post was also born and raised in the same town in Modesto, CA as I was. He told me one time that he had asked his dad before if he was related to the Woolsey's in the phone book, and it turns out that he was. The Woolsey names he had seen and asked about where my grandfather and father (and his siblings). It makes you realize what a small world we live in and that we may be more closely related to our neighbors than we realize.