Sunday, October 13, 2013

Reconstructing a Family Constellation

Though the early and sudden death of Patrick Phillips was a tragedy for his family to endure from May 18, 1912, onward, at our distant vantage point, we can begin to dissect the documentation to piece together his family portrait.

That day’s article in The Fort Wayne Sentinel was part news report and part obituary. Other than a brief funeral notice, no other entry eulogizing the man appeared in any city newspaper after that first day.

Determining Patrick’s own family is somewhat difficult. Though the newspaper mentioned that he was born at home on Dawson Street, there is no such street in existence in downtown Fort Wayne now. While I can locate census records for his earliest childhood, they don’t list any street names alongside the numbered households. The most likely household—that of a Michael and Catherine Phillips—has names to match those siblings identified in his death report…with the exception of a daughter listed at the very point at which his name should have been inserted.

The 1880 census shows the household of Catherine Phillips—now widowed—to include Patrick at about the right age, mysteriously supplanting the Betsy who would have been just his age if this were the household of the 1870 "Michiel Philip" family. A death index seems to corroborate this speculation, handily showing Michael to have left the scene at a premature age, himself. If, that is, we have found the right family.

Given my uncertainty over what I’ve found, it was indeed helpful to notice the names included in the list of Patrick Phillips' survivors:
Besides the widow and four children mentioned above, Mr. Phillips is survived by three sisters and one brother, as follows: Mrs. E. A. Betz, of South Bend; Mrs. C. Moore and Mrs. M. DeMoss, residing at 1816 Hoagland avenue, this city, and Thomas Phillips, of Baker street.

Indeed, looking on the very page of the 1900 census where Patrick the newlywed lived in his mother-in-law’s household, only two doors down can be spotted a Catherine “Phillip” living as mother-in-law in the home of Thomas and Catherine Moore. Considering my mistaken presumption that the “C” in this “Mrs. C. Moore” referred to her husband’s first name rather than her own, that was an easy find.

Mrs. M. DeMoss was more of a challenge. For whatever reason, I had no success locating her at However, hoping that the Irish Catholic tradition in Fort Wayne would hold true for this part of the extended family as well, I took a peek at the databases, seeking any Catholic Cemetery entries for the DeMoss family. There was only one: for a Marie, dying July 24, 1936. As the entry mentioned that her last residence was actually Long Beach in California, I had my doubts, but when I cross referenced her with her sister Catherine Moore’s burial place, the numbers matched up. Evidently, the lone DeMoss relative was buried in the Moore family plot—a plot, incidentally, which appears to tell its own litany of tragedies.

Linking Catherine and Marie as Phillips sisters was easier than the next task: that of finding their brother Thomas. Patrick’s obituary, strangely, inserted the detail that his brother lived on Baker Street.

I began to discover why anyone thought to mention that.

Apparently, there were two Thomas Phillipses in Fort Wayne in 1912.

And that’s not all: evidently, they both married women named Jennie.

And neither family lived on Baker Street.

Now what? Starting back at the 1900 census, I figured I’d plod ahead, taking a look at both of them. Since Thomas-and-Jennie-number-one lived on Bass Street, I thought perhaps they might be victims of newspaper reporting error. After all, this wouldn’t be the first time that has happened. On the other hand, just in case the reporter amazingly got this right, I thought I’d take a look at Thomas-and-Jennie-number-two.

Unfortunately, this second couple on whom I had pinned my hopes also disappointed me. Even farther away than Bass is from Baker, this couple lived on Orchard—not likely fodder for journalistic mis-reporting. Besides that, their children were named Pearl and Russell. Keeping in mind this would be a family of Irish Catholic descent, I decided to go with couple-number-one and their slightly more Catholic-named progeny, Lew and Edna.

By the entry for the 1910 census, our couple was still on Bass Street—though truth be told, the badly mangled entry was my incentive for unfolding my tale from the 1900 census.

Come 1920, though, we get the proof we were seeking, with Louis and Edna’s parents showing up on none other than Baker Street, a change that must have occurred shortly after that barely-legible 1910 census was noted.

After grappling with that quandary of which Thomas-and-Jennie, I thought I’d leave well enough alone. Someone else can find Mrs. E. A. Betz of South Bend, Indiana—whoever “E. A.” might turn out to be. But if “Marie” can be “Mary” and “Catherine” can be “Cassie” then I feel a bit more confident that this 1880 household of the widow Catherine was the childhood home of Patrick Phillips. While that doesn’t explain why the three year old in that 1870 census was a daughter and not the son Patrick that I would have expected, those census records are not prone to sterling accuracy, either.


  1. Is it possible the informer on that 1870 census said "Patsy" but the census taker heard "Betsy" and didn't bother inquiring about gender assuming Betsy would be a female? Of course, it's possible -- anything is possible in the world of census-taking. I like this theory, and I'm awarding myself extra credit for thinking of it after only one cup of coffee this morning.

    1. Brilliant! Wendy, you might be on to something. And after only one cup of coffee! I'll certainly keep that in mind.

      Of course, that blows away my pet theory: that the "E. A." in Mrs. Betz' name signified "E" for Elizabeth. I just may have to track down that other sister, just to put my mind at ease.

  2. Nothing is perfect..least of all the Census Records and Newspapers..but they give us sprigs of information:)

    1. You're right, Far Side. While I certainly can't trust just one, in the majority, there's a lot to be gleaned. Where would we be with our research if we didn't have all these resources?

  3. You need the services of a gent that lived at 221B Baker Street..


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