Thursday, January 21, 2016

Questions Genealogists Ask Themselves

If you've been busily engaged, looking up all the details on your ancestors, you may find yourself asking only the most basic of questions—sort of like the who, what, where, and when of the proverbial newspaperman. Just the facts, ma'am.

When the stories get messy, however, the questions move from the realm of the academic to a more gut level response:
  • "They did what?!"
  • "What were they thinking?"

With civil engineer John Syme Hogue's story, questions took that latter left turn for me. Yes, indeed, he was a civil engineer, according to an early Michigan marriage record I found for him, dated November 27, 1915—although from accounts of his early activities, his was an engineering application of a less-civil sort.

Going back over John Hogue's family history, there was absolutely no indication that a man such as this would have taken the path he chose. There had to be a back story, I kept telling myself. But the more I looked, the less likely I was to find any dirt. Other than vague newspaper references to the possibility of his use of drugs—nothing specified—there were no clues as to what compelled him along his downward spiral.

I've mentioned that his was a family that was said to be both prominent and well-respected in his hometown of Charleston, West Virginia, and that his roots led straight back to luminaries in this country's formative years, including Chief Justice John Marshall. Lest you doubt that connection would yield any personal meaning for him, given the separation of generations, think again. In a May 10, 1942, announcement in the Society page of The Charleston Gazette, this handy detail emerged about the wedding attire of one of John Hogue's nieces:
The wedding gown is that worn by Mary Willis Ambler of Yorktown, Va., for her wedding in 1783 to Chief Justice John Marshall, and is one of the heirlooms in the Marshall House in Richmond.

You can be sure the bride, wearing her third great grandmother's wedding gown, had her photograph featured prominently alongside the three-column-long report of the occasion. Not to mention, such phrases as "old and prominent families" handily laced the article as well.

I've spent hours poring over newspaper accounts linked to family names, in hopes of finding something to reveal The Big Answer as to how and why the younger John Syme Hogue turned to a life of crime. So far, there's been nothing in print. That isn't to say I've exhausted this search trail. Perhaps, embedded in some archive or collection of papers, there will be the telltale reason. If there is one.

In the meantime, lacking any discovery via searches on John's own name, the next step is to check out his brother's name, for it was Andrew O'Beirne Hogue who played the role of savior in his condemned convict brother's turn of fortune at the critical juncture lying between the provincial Supreme Court sentence condemning him to die and the appeal for a retrial initiated by his Canadian defense attorney that March of 1917.

Above: Entry for the November 27, 1915, marriage license to wed John S. Hogue of West Virginia and Mary Crider of Ohio in Detroit, Michigan. Image courtesy Somehow, I doubt this Detroit wedding received the same fanfare as the later Society page coverage for that of his niece, back in his hometown.  


  1. So "they got him off" huh? :)

    You summed up my thoughts well - They did what? Why? - as in they moved to Texas from Tennessee? Why? They left the old country? Why? I'd love to know their motivation(s)!

    1. Tell me about it! It's always the questions that don't have answers we can look up in handy documents that plague me.

  2. The grass is always greener except if it is snowing! :)


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