Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sometimes, You Just Have to Call it Quits

He is the third member of his family to pass over the great divide in the past year, L. D. Woodworth, a brother, having answered the call last November, and a sister, Mrs. A. L. Patterson, dying in Sioux City, Iowa, four weeks ago.

So carefully—okay, I’ll admit it, so tediously—I’ve been tracing the Woodworth line back into the late 1800s, trying to discover who each of the siblings featured in William C. Woodworth’s obituary might have been.

I’ve been able to conquer (mostly) the difficulty of navigating the records gap during immigration time between Kenosha County, Wisconsin, and Covina in the sprawling county of Los Angeles, California. I’ve located additional information on each of William’s three remaining siblings—Harvey P. Woodworth nearby in California, Emma Woodworth Larabee back home in Wisconsin, and Lillian Woodworth Hoskins even farther away in Michigan. And of those of his siblings mentioned in the obituary as having passed “over the great divide” before him, I’m managed to piece together some records on William’s brother, Lafayette D. Woodworth.

When it comes to the recently-deceased sister, “Mrs. A. L. Patterson,” not only do I meet with no success, but with an indescribable urge to run in the opposite direction, screaming. Where did this woman hide her documents?!

My suspicions are that Mrs. A. L. Patterson was actually the former Mrs. Charles Larabee of Beloit, Wisconsin, about sixty miles west of the Woodworth farm in Kenosha County. There, in the 1870 census, twenty three year old Frances Larabee resided with her husband and two year old son, Theron. Back in Bristol in Kenosha County for the 1880 census, the family is joined by daughter Rosa and son Sumner.

And then?

Somehow, the family moves west—though not quite so far as the California move of Frances’ siblings—to Sioux City, Iowa. Yet, only two of them show up in the 1895 Iowa State Census: Frances, and her seventeen year old son Charles, whom the family often called Sumner.

Life may not have gone well for the Larabee family by that point. But then, I really can’t tell. Neither good nor bad is mentioned about them in the Sioux City newspapers—with one small exception: a funeral notice.

The notice is not for Frances' husband Charles, who by this point was not showing on census records, but for oldest son Theron. Published the day after his passing in the Sioux City Journal on Monday, February 6, 1899, the brief entry provides no additional information on the family:
LARABEE—In Sioux City, Io., Sunday, February 5, 1899, Theron Larabee, 621 West Third street, aged 31 years, of chronic intestinal ulceration. The funeral will be held at 2 p.m. from the Whitfield M. E. church, Rev. H. G. Pittenger officiating. Interment will be in Floyd cemetery.
Other than that mention of the one Larabee child, I can find nothing on Francis’ passing—nor on that of her husband. One must presume that he did pass away, though, not only for the reference in William’s own obit of Frances as Mrs. A. L. Patterson, but for the 1900 Census record for the couple in Sioux City.

But wait! Is that the same couple? Frances is there, admittedly, but her husband’s initials are listed as A. W., not A. L. Newspaper error again? Or census taker’s mistake?

Or is this just the case of a totally different couple, coincidently including her correct month of birth—albeit with the year overwritten into illegibility—and accurate tally of children?

The 1910 census shows the household of A. W. Patterson again. This time, we learn that this was the second marriage for each of them. We also see that another of Frances’ children has died—most likely her daughter Rosa.

The 1920 census adds the detail of Frances’ husband’s first name: Arthur.

And yet, no newspaper reports to provide the passing of Frances, her first husband Charles Larabee, or her daughter Rosa. No online documentation of her marriage to either Charles or her second husband, Arthur W. Patterson—or, for that matter, to disprove either of these two associations. Not even any record of her own passing. Other than that brief mention in her brother William’s obituary in a town two thousand miles away from Sioux City, Iowa, there is nothing to capture the simplest snapshot of this woman’s life.

As maddening as it seems to me, sometimes it is just better to set aside such loose ends for another time. Someday, the records I’m seeking will be digitized and added to the massive collections online, and then, with a press of a button, the verification I’m seeking will be staring back at me from my computer screen.

And I can stop screaming. That will be better for everyone's health and well-being.


  1. Unfortunately, not all questions can be answered with the documents available.

    1. Although there are sometimes clues that can be found locally, thanks to library collections of local genealogical societies and historical societies...but a trip to Wisconsin and Iowa is not in my immediate future, unfortunately.

  2. The Iowa Census of 1925 shows Frances is the daughter of Lafayett Woodworth and Eliza Smith.


    and implies that she is married to "Art Patterson" How the reporter for the obit got A L Patterson (I mean, "Al" I could see... if you said it with a midwestern drawl "AlllLLL" but Art?)

    1. Bit by bit, these additional confirmations are surfacing. I imagine the difference in initials was merely owing to a typo somewhere along the way.

      Did you happen to notice the age disparity between Frances and her second husband? I bet there were quite a few stories surrounding that scenario!

  3. Another bio...

    While living in Wisconsin Mr. Woodworth
    married Miss Eliza Smith, who was born in
    Madison county, N, Y., but at the time of her
    marriage made her home in Kenosha county. Of
    this union there are eight children living, three of whom reside in California. The names of the children are as follows: Mrs. Frances Patterson, of Sioux City, Iowa; Mrs. Mary Vincent, of California; Joel. N. Woodworth, of Sioux City, Iowa; Mrs. Emma Larrabee, of Kenosha county, Wis.; Harvey P.; William C; Mrs. LiHie Hoskins, of Detroit, Mich.; and Lafayette D. Woodworth, Jr.


    1. That is such a terrific find, Iggy! Thank you so much! That gives me confirmation about Frances, and reminds me that I've yet to pursue further information on Mary Vincent and Joel Woodworth--Joel, by the way, being a name that has been passed down to the current generation, and one, I believe, that had deep roots in this family's history.

  4. I see Iggy is hot on the trail..if it is out there he will find it. Way to go Iggy:)

  5. You have searched so diligently, for so long, through the tragic circumstances of these and other ancestors, especially through a series of premature deaths. You've been so thorough and examined all leads, it seems to me. I believe you are entitled to take a big break . . . that's what the "run screaming" reflex is telling you, I'd say.

    Maybe a quest into another branch of the family will turn up some more ebullient stories! And these unsolved questions will always be there for you to find on some other day.

    This has happened to me so many times! Sadness fatigue. In Moby-Dick, one of Melville's characters advises, "Do not look to long into the heart of the fire!"

    1. Thanks for sharing your insight into this experience, Mariann. I'll certainly take it to heart. What you say about the "run screaming reflex" and "sadness fatigue" really hit home--even though I felt safe, knowing I've been separated by decades from the trauma. I think what I'll do--after finishing the business at hand of the rest of this story--is take a break and just share some of the mystery photographs. There are so many more of them....


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