Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Could Always Use Some More Help

When I mentioned yesterday the odd discovery of a fourteen year old girl buried two thousand miles away from her parents' home, I couldn’t help but wonder what the story behind that puzzle might be.

Evidently, I wasn’t the only one wondering. Thankfully, reader Intense Guy (“Iggy”) applied his search talent in finding more clues. Thanks, also, to Google™ Books, an old county history book is revived and brought to new research life in time to provide part of the answer.

The parents of that fourteen year old girl, Gilbert and Emma Woodworth Larabee, were lifetime residents of Kenosha County in Wisconsin. Remaining in Pleasant Prairie when her parents and brothers left town—first for Iowa, then for California in 1886—Emma was married to a man who was married to his land. Gilbert Larabee, like his pioneer father before him, was a farmer. Inheriting the responsibility for his father’s family farm, Gilbert was not likely to consider joining the emigrating Woodworth family, no matter how cold the Wisconsin winters might become in comparison to the beckoning sunshine of California’s golden opportunities.

And yet, evidently, the Larabees’ oldest daughter found her way from Wisconsin to California—and at a young age in an era in which it was unlikely that she would have traveled alone.

A biographical sketch in the 1916 edition The City of Kenosha and Kenosha County, Wisconsin; a Record of Settlement,Organization, Progress and Achievement provides a clue. Evidently, Gilbert and his family did move to California.
            Gilbert E. Larabee, the youngest of the family, pursued his education in the common schools of Pleasant Prairie until he reached the age of eighteen years, after which his entire attention was concentrated upon the work of the home farm until the death of his father. He then began farming on his own account and for six years cultivated a tract of rented land of twenty-five acres. At the end of that period he purchased twenty-five acres but later sold his property and removed to California, where he spent one year.
The trick is, of course, to figure out which year it was that Gilbert and his family made the move westward. Using the timeline in the biographical sketch, unfortunately, doesn’t add up to any logical explanation for how Hattie died in California.

The timeline starts with the death of Gilbert’s father. The book provides further details:
He [Gilbert] was born in Pleasant Prairie, April 7, 1858, a son of Eleazer and Elizabeth (Morehouse) Larabee, who were natives of the state of New York and were among the first settlers to arrive in Kenosha county, establishing their home in Pleasant Prairie township, where for several years the father engaged in the manufacture of brick. He [the father] afterward purchased forty acres of land, upon which he resided to the time of his death, which occurred on the 4th of May, 1890.
If Gilbert’s father died in 1890, and then Gilbert “began farming on his own account” on rented land for six years, plus an undisclosed additional time period devoted to working the land he subsequently purchased for himself, it would be well past 1896 when he “removed to California.”

Hattie died there in 1892.

While it helps to have the explanation that the family did, after all, try life in sunny California, it doesn’t explain the circumstances behind their daughter’s death there in that earlier year.

We still have to stand on some presumptions. Either Gilbert made the move after his father died, but before purchasing his own tract of land, and the book’s report contains errors—which can be quite possible—or he and his family traveled west for a visit well before the time in which they attempted moving to the state. That, of course, would put the family in the position of trying to move to California—the very place that would remind them of the loss of their daughter—well after that loss had occurred.

Then again, there is always the possibility that the Hattie Larabee buried in Oakdale Memorial Park in Los Angeles County isn’t our Hattie…except for one detail: the inscription on her headstone:
Daughter of G. E. and E. L. Larabee.


  1. Well it sounds as though you have solved part of your mystery. Maybe something will help you to solve the rest sometime in the future. I'm sure you will keep digging!

    1. Thanks, Betty. It always seems like one answer found always leads to another question asked...

  2. I hate to sound morbid, but do you suppose it possible that they took the dead girl out west when they moved, and reburied her there?

    I see son Leon was born 1890.

    I see that the living daughter, Florence (b. 1880-ish?) had a girl that she named Hattie. Was this in memory / honor of the dead sister?

    1. She was 14..back in 1892 14 was considered a marrying age. California was the land of opportunity..perhaps her Mother traveled with her by train...maybe to escape a cold winter.

      I have found that if someone died they "reused" the name quite frequently. Which can be really confusing.

      Good find Iggy!

    2. Now that's a thought, Iggy: that Hattie was re-buried in California. I'm not sure that was the case here. The dates don't seem to add up: the visit and the death don't seem to be from the same time.

      And yes...about the other Hattie, I'm sure that's what it was: naming the daughter after the sister.

      It's odd that in subsequent histories that I've noticed not one mention of the deceased daughter Hattie. It's almost as if she were invisible, or forgotten. I'm sure that wasn't the case--but why did those biographical sketches not include her name? Makes me want to know more about that story.

  3. She could easily have died on a visit to CA. And although you said "—the very place that would remind them of the loss of their daughter—", also keep in mind that his wife's family was out there. Her support group was out there. And their daughter's grave was out there. She might really have wanted to be there.
    And they went "for a year".... And he really wanted to be home in Wisconsin.
    People's emotions and motives are complicated.

    1. Good point, Linda. So much goes into people's decisions. That hometown newspaper seemed so chatty when it came to printing up stories of locals. I just wish they had kept up the commentary when it came to this story. I would have loved to know.

  4. Wow. I never envisioned that moving to CA was even a possibility for these people. I should remind myself: never discount any possibility! I hope the correct time and reason will surface -- maybe in a small newspaper article somewhere . . .

    1. Mariann, I am finding so much through those historic newspaper resources. Yes, there are many of those newsy, small-town one-liners, "Mr. and Mrs. So and So enjoyed dinner at the home of..." but there are also gems hidden away in all those listings, too.

      My only frustration is that it seems the historic newspaper resources are a patchwork quilt--maybe more like a "crazy quilt"--of collections. Each website seems to have just so many issues of any given newspaper, or only newspapers from certain geographic locations, or time periods. With perseverance, though (and perhaps a few bucks in hand, too), you will find some viable hits...or not.

      What I'm also appreciative of is the Google Books approach to local history offerings. Where they fall down on the job--tantalizingly offering electronic versions of every page in the book, except for the very page you want--other online electronic book resources take up the slack.

      For example, along with Iggy's find mentioned above, I discovered an earlier "History of" volume from the same region, which covers more on this Woodworth family. These are the types of resources which offer contemporary reports of the families we're seeking, from the time period in which they were resident in that area...a real glimpse through their own neighbors' eyes.


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