Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Stayed Behind

When Maud Woodworth Bean’s father William emigrated with his parents from the cold north in Wisconsin to more hospitable climes in sunny California, some of his siblings joined him. Not so for his older sister Emma.

When William made the move to Covina, California, it was 1886—at least, according to his own obituary almost forty years later. By the time of that momentous journey, he had been nearing twenty years of age, himself.

Also making the move were his parents, Lafayette D. and Eliza Smith Woodworth. Since William was the next-to-youngest son in the family, it would make sense that he and his younger brother, Lafayette junior, would accompany their parents.

On the other hand, of his many siblings, the ones closest in age were two sisters, Lillian and Emma, and a brother, Harvey.

At the time of the move west, Harvey—now married to Eva Victoria Williams, who had just given birth to their son, Milton—was not in any position to accompany his family, although he apparently did, much later in life.

Both sisters, too, were also married. As we’ve already seen, Lillian had married Fernando Cortez Hoskins in 1881, and had made a move in a different direction: east, to Ludington in Mason County, Michigan. By the time her parents removed to California, she was the mother of two children, herself.

Emma, also, had begun a life of her own. Marrying on April 7, 1877, in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, she became the bride of Gilbert E. Larabee. Apparently, Emma and her fledgling family remained in Pleasant Prairie for the next twenty eight years—up through at least the 1905 Wisconsin State Census. Even by the time of the 1910 Federal Census, Emma and Gilbert were still living in Wisconsin—although at this point, they had moved seven miles from the bucolic-sounding Pleasant Prairie to the nearby town of Bristol. Yet Gilbert was still listed as a farm owner in the census.

Some time before her brother William’s passing, evidently Emma lost her own husband. Though he was included in the 1920 census in Bristol, for the 1930 census, Emma was listed as widowed in the household of her son Leon (known as “Lee”). A quick search through Find A Grave yields a photograph of Gilbert’s grave marker.

Though Emma’s parents and brothers had moved two thousand miles away when she was in her twenties, she continued life in the very same place where she was born. She and her husband were both buried in the same county in which they were married.

And yet, I wonder whether they had always stayed in Kenosha County, Wisconsin. A little string of clues piqued my curiosity. The 1880 census shows the young family—a threesome with the addition of their toddler daughter, Hattie. While the unfortunate loss of the 1890 census has left us in the dark, the 1895 Wisconsin State Census showed another arrival in the Larabee household—although with just a listing of head counts of both males and females, nothing further, the picture was still a bit fuzzy. The 1900 census cleared up one part—providing the names of one of those other two children of Gilbert and Emma—but demonstrating by that very listing that Hattie was no longer with them.

Beside Emma’s name was a count of her children: three born to the family, though only two still living. With daughter Florence arriving in 1886, and son Leon soon following in 1889, there was no mention of Hattie.

Not finding Hattie through any records in Ancestry.com, I took a look at Find A Grave. Not that I’m usually successful in such an approach, but it was worth the try. At least one Hattie Larabee showed up in the search results. Oddly, she was not buried alongside her stay-close-to-home parents in Bristol, Wisconsin, but far, far away in a distant state: California.

Not only that, but she was buried in the same cemetery in which her grandparents and some of Emma’s brothers were buried: Oakdale Memorial Park in Glendora, California.

Taking a look through some historic newspaper indexes, I find no obituary or news clipping to explain her passing, or even why this Wisconsin girl had died so young—and so far from home. I’ll have to keep looking, of course. A mystery like this can’t quietly be set aside. Yet it may conceal an answer I might never find, as to why a daughter of parents who remained all their life in the same county, would herself wander so far from home.


  1. I always find myself wondering what prompted the ancestors to "head west" - as they did kit and koodle (or should I say kith and kin?) one day in 1880-1. The entire family from granny to baby got in a wagon and headed out... Did they even know where they would end up?

    I suspect sometimes - the grandparents went only because the children went (they were dependent on them for care in their advancing years - not social security).

    My Uncle moved to California back shortly before WWII - because the climate was so much better for his skin condition. He never looked back (he did come back for summer visits) but he loved the dry desert -

    What we wouldn't give to read or hear what was going through the minds of the ones that moved!

    1. Iggy, I know that particular family story of yours has left a lot of unanswered questions. Of course, we wouldn't have had such questions if we never went looking for our roots. It's our desire to know that sometimes gets paid back with such upstart mysteries, unfortunately.

      On the other hand--as you've already discovered on my behalf with a link you sent me--there are other resources that help piece together the story of what might have been on their minds as our relatives moved far from home. We are so rich with Internet sources that help us delve into finding the answer to those mysteries. And I'm so thankful for that.

  2. In the 1890's many children died from diphtheria and scarlet fever.
    I will guess that they were visiting California and the girl took sick and died..how horrible for the mother to have her child buried so far from her home but within the new home of her Grandparents. Of course this is just a guess..she could have been in an accident while on vacation with her parents. I hope you discover therest of the story:)

    1. I may discover it sooner than we expected, Far Side, thanks to a link Iggy just sent me this morning. Of course, even that doesn't tell the full length of the story...but it is a help.

  3. I really like the way you continually question the data, asking the whys and hows. Are you perhaps thinking that between 1880 and 1890, Hattie became ill? So that Emma and her family would travel to California to seek medical advice, which was not successful in saving Hattie's life? But maybe I'm thinking of how we might do things today -- probably back then, on the heels of the Gold Rush, California wasn't so advanced.

    Or perhaps Emma and her family went to California to visit the others, and while there, Hattie fell sick and died. In either case, very sad to lose a child.

    I'm marching through the 1800s will all of my wider family (siblings and their children), and I see many, many children who died early in life -- not only as infants, but as grade school children, teenagers, young people in their 20s and 30s. It's hard to imagine a mindset in which these mortality rates would seem "normal."

    Thanks for this thoughtful post!

    1. Thanks for reminding me of that possible scenario, Mariann. I do know that during that time span, people from the north central regions with tuberculosis did travel west for relief of symptoms--and hope for a cure--from tuberculosis. I transcribed a number of letters from friends of our Tully family in Chicago who were faced with that same situation. They, however, generally went to the southwest territories of Arizona, New Mexico--and some even to Colorado.

      That might have been the same for Hattie. I don't know yet. The air is certainly dry enough out here, although that added variable of altitude (which one would get in New Mexico or Colorado) would be missing in southern California.

      It is hard, indeed, to put ourselves in the shoes of those living in the 1890s--adopting that mindset, as you mention. It's been fascinating enlarging that "Big Picture" to take in the milieu of life in that place at that time--to help re-calibrate my expectancies about what life was like for these families.


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