Just as I had done the other day, taking my time to wander through lists of any documentation I could find on Ancestry.com for descendants of the Homer Fulk family, I spent yesterday camped out in the world of historical newspaper archives. Bit by bit, I’m hoping to reconstruct the descendant lines of our Kelly ancestors in Lafayette, Indiana.
After the arrival in Lafayette of the Kelly family from their undisclosed hometown in Ireland, it hadn’t taken long for the branches of Bridget Kelly Creahan’s family to disperse beyond the Indiana county where they originally settled. Oldest daughter Ella had married Homer Fulk, son of a state senator from Bloomington, nearly one hundred miles south of Lafayette. While we’ve already traced as much of the life of her youngest son, Lyman Fulk, as can be found in Indiana—and the few hints we’ve found, indicating the family’s move to Tennessee—it appears that Ella’s other two children headed, upon adulthood, in the opposite direction.
Chicago had been the destination for Homer and Ella’s daughter Mary who, as we’ve already discussed, married a Chicago man named Charles Slater. That city also became home to Mary’s brother, Robert Fulk—or, as he constantly was listed in Cook County records, Robert “Faulk.”
It was thanks to the many tidbits on the social pages of Bloomington, Indiana, newspapers that I could piece together Robert’s life during the years from the mid 1910s through early 1920s. On page four of The Bloomington Evening World on October 12, 1916, I gained my first clue from the explanation of Ella’s current housekeeping arrangements:
Mrs. Ella Fulk, who has been making her home with her son, Lyman Fulk, south College Avenue, will go to Chicago tomorrow for a visit with her son, Robert.
Over the years, there would be many such entries in the Bloomington newspapers, with Ella noted as traveling to Chicago, or returning from Chicago—along with her trips back to Lafayette to visit her brother John Creahan and sister Anna Quinlisk.
At one point, though, the newspaper actually provided a report of substance. The October 22, 1917 edition of The Bloomington Evening World mentioned that
Mrs. Ella Fulk has returned from a two months visit in Chicago. Mrs. Fulk went especially to attend the wedding of her son, Robert Fulk to Miss Gertrude Pryor.
Now, that was information! It was hard to zero in on someone with a name like Robert Fulk in a place as large as Chicago. Especially considering that his surname was routinely re-invented as Faulk, I couldn’t be sure the results Ancestry.com was delivering were for the right man. Checking on a marriage record for Gertrude Pryor gave me a second way to verify I had the right person.
Of course, I hadn’t banked on the possibility that Gertrude, herself, might have had a second identity. The Bloomington newspaper must not have considered it quite proper to mention that Robert had, ahem, decided to marry a woman who was not exactly a “Miss.” Gertrude, in fact, had not only been previously married, but apparently was also mother to two children.
Not that that situation was rare or looked down upon. I can’t possibly read between the lines to decipher why the newspaper had reported the marriage the way it had. But in Cook County, the 1917 marriage record showed Gertrude as the former Mrs. Hopkinson. It was easy, in the subsequent census report less than three years after their marriage, to tell that the two children listed as Harriet and Charles “Faulk” were too old to have been Robert’s own descendants.
What was eerie about that 1920 census, though—enumerated on January 20 through 21—was that it was taken only days before Gertrude’s own passing. I wasn’t aware of that turn of events until I found—again, through NewspaperArchive.com—an article in the February 12 edition of The Bloomington Evening World:
Mrs. Ella Fulk received word this morning of the death of her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Robert Fulk, of Chicago. Death was due to pneumonia. Mrs. Fulk was unable to go on account of illness but her son, Lyman, left for Chicago this morning.
I wondered, after that point, what had become of Gertrude’s two children. Already suffering the loss of one parent, they now faced this second bereavement. Did the census listing showing the two as Harriet and Charles Faulk—instead of Hopkinson—indicate that Robert had legally adopted these two step-children? I couldn’t tell, because I was unable to find Robert in any subsequent census reports, despite taking the time to linger on Ancestry.com and explore all the hints and possibilities.
It wasn’t the historic newspaper collection that told me the rest of the story, this time. Instead, I had to jump over to FamilySearch.org—which I find to be a great working partner to Ancestry.com—to uncover what had become of Robert Fulk in Chicago.
Just as Chicago had not been good for Robert’s sister, Mary—who had died young after moving to the city, herself—and just as it had not been a supportive milieu for Robert’s new wife, the city did not serve Robert well, either. Perhaps it later became the source of unbearable memories for him—or perhaps it just was too unhealthy an environment. It is hard to tell from what little documentation I’ve so far been able to locate. All I know is that, only four years after losing his wife, the forty year old Robert, himself, died in Cook County, Illinois, on January 16, 1924.
As were so many in his extended family, he was buried back in the hometown of his mother, in the family burial plot at Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Lafayette, Indiana.