Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Postscript on a Divorce:
No Trophy Wife Here

Poking around in old newspapers, census records, and online indexes, I’m trying to pick up on a part of the Bean family history that I had never heard mentioned before. The fact that Leon S. Bean, the successful Palo Alto builder, had not only stepped past the late stages of the prim and proper Victorian era to be involved in a divorce, but then to remarry, was something never mentioned among the Bean family members that I knew personally.

I wanted to find out something more about just who this woman was that Leon married. Who was Emma Bement? That was the name listed in the San Jose newspaper that carried the marriage announcement. And yet, I couldn’t find any further—or even previous—mention of that name.

Though joining those symbiotic genealogy partners, and, I couldn’t come up with any results—not even a death record online for her as Emma Bean.

As is often the case, it took a lot of bouncing around between several online resources—testing all the possibilities, tracing them back several decades to insure the right information was captured—before I could feel secure in what I discovered.

At least I had “Square One” to start from. The marriage announcement did include ages, which helped—microscopically.

As for Emma’s “maiden” name—Bement—it turned out to be a false lead. Emma had evidently been married before. But at this point, how was I to know?

So the fifty-seven year old Leon takes a second wife. She, at that point is fifty, herself. Not exactly what one would call a trophy wife, but who’s counting? Leon barely outlives the wedding…well, I exaggerate…passing on a mere eight years later.

What, then, becomes of Emma and the “considerable fortune” Leon has amassed?

The clumsiness with which both and stumble over common names such as Emma Bean did not help matters. I followed up with searches in the various databases for Emma Bement, her former name, with no success either. It took going back a second time to the San Mateo County Genealogical Society website before I found some hints.

My first possibility was that Emma Bean had remained in Palo Alto or Redwood City. The 1930 census did show a widowed Emma Bean with her sister, Clemma Epperley, at 537 Addison Street.

Because I had not been able to find any death information for Emma Bean, I thought perhaps the surname Bement was what was preventing productive search results. Next step: use Emma’s sister, Clemma, to discover what their maiden name might be.

While a first name like Clemma might cause one to anticipate gleaning from search results might be akin to cherry picking, let me disabuse you of that notion. Clemma, herself, evidently was married more than once. Thanks to various local indexes on the website for the San Mateo County Genealogical Society, I did piece together the story for Clemma: married to an Epperley—no, here’s a different record, so make that an Epperly—she was previously known as Mrs. Tully, wife of Frank.

But no maiden name.

It took a lot of dodging in and out of databases and online resources to find the one listing—by now, I’ve forgotten for which of the sisters it was—that showed the maiden name to be Green.

Oh, great: Green. Nothing like making the search easier!

Thankfully, somewhere along the line, I did find a listing suggesting that their father’s name was Leo. Checking an 1880 census record from Watsonville in Santa Cruz County—a little off course, admittedly, for the Santa Clara sisters in Palo Alto—I was able to determine that this was a solid possibility. Well, solid, that is, as long as the name Clemma is not that common a name. The 1880 family grouping did, however, coincidentally include sisters Clemma and Emma.

I couldn’t find any death records, though, for either Clemma or Emma—and that’s why I had pursued that maiden name. I wanted to move from date of death to find an obituary.

It was, once again, thanks to a small, local database, that I found Emma’s date—ironically, the small and agile once again trumps the genealogy powerhouses. From there—that tiny local website database—I moved back to, holding my breath all along in hopes that their newspaper collection would include the dates that might hold Emma’s obituary. So often, those gaps in the collection seem to be strategically placed to obliterate all my hopes.

There, however, in the San Mateo Times—and not even missing out on the obligatory journalistic errors—was a remembrance of the former city resident.

Redwood City--Mrs. Emma Bean, 93, a former long-time resident of Redwood City, died yesterday at a Santa Clara county hospital. A native of Watsonville, Mrs. Bean resided in Redwood City for 35 years before she and her husband, the late Leon Bean, moved to Palo Alto in 1946 to make their home at 537 Addison avenue.
Surviving are a sister, Mrs. William Jefford, and a niece, Mrs. Alma Smith, both of Salinas.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday from Crippen and Flynn chapel. Entombment will be in Alta Mesa Memorial park, Los Altos.
It was such a small mention. Same old address, though. But with a strange twist. Unless I can chalk this up to yet another newspaper error, Emma was not even buried in the same cemetery as her husband. Let me amend that even further: not buried, entombed.

Almost makes me want to go look up a couple wills.


  1. I'm assuming Emma and Clemma were twins. ?? No?

    And did I miss something? I thought you visited Leon's grave and the person at the cemetery said Leon and Emma were buried there. Now it appears Emma was somewhere else?? I guess I'll stay tuned for the next episode.

    1. With names like that, surprisingly they weren't twins! At least...not if the census records can be believed.

      Yes, you are correct, Wendy: I did visit Leon's grave so long ago, and that mention of "Emma" did happen. I found it odd that the obit for Emma would indicate another cemetery.

      On the other hand, you know my penchant for knocking the newspaper people. There are really so many errors in newspaper publications. I suppose the next step might be to obtain a copy of the death certificate for Emma. Then again, she is not exactly a blood relative here...and we all have to draw a line somewhere in those research bunny trails.

      On the other hand, I found it interesting, in looking up the Alta Mesa Memorial Park on Find-a-Grave, it was listed in the city of Palo Alto, not Los Altos. Admittedly, the two are next to each other--and in the same county as Leon's cemetery--but nevertheless, not exactly a confidence-instilling discrepancy.

      I'm hoping a trip to San Jose in the near future will resolve some of those issues. Of course, that means a wait before the "next episode" is ready to make its appearance.

    2. Jacqi, if your search does bring you to San Jose, let me know. It would be fun to compare notes about ancestor sleuthing over coffee.

  2. Jacqui, our ancestors are bound to connect somewhere along the line. My ancestors were in Watsonville/Gilroy/Monterey, San Francisco, Fresno and I was born in San Jose. I'm going to spend some time on the San Mateo website - might just find something interesting!

    1. Debi, I heartily recommend you search through the Schellens collection on the San Mateo website. It would probably be the most helpful for your situation. The Schellens collection evidently included news clippings for anyone connected with San Mateo County, regardless of whether it was specifically published in that county's newspapers or not. It offers a wider range of resources--though certainly hit and miss--than the specific county documents might offer.

      You can access the Schellens Collection index via the bar on the left of the San Mateo County Genealogical Society's website; scroll down and click "Databases." When the page comes up on the right, look for the Schellens Collection hyperlinks.

      I've found the first of the two links for Schellens to be the more helpful of the two, although their alpha search buttons are more suggestions than cut and dried delineations. I found my Bean family listings under the button for "Bar"!

  3. I knew you would find more out about her..but it all leads to more questions..bunny trails..cute:)

    1. Just called that cemetery this afternoon. Turns out Emma is buried there--the cemetery is now considered to be part of Palo Alto--and she is indeed entombed. Just to check, I asked if her husband was also buried there. He must be in the San Jose cemetery, not with Emma. Hmmmmm...wonder what story's behind that?!

  4. Ah, here is the answer to my question on your earlier post! Now I know what happened to Leon. What about his first wife? (I'm sure it's in a post I haven't yet read!)


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