Googling for genealogy may bring with it a certain measure of success, especially if the name in question happens to be an unusual one, like Peachy Taliaferro Wilson. But Google alone cannot open every digital door to researchers. Some treasures lie behind firewalls or require special subscriptions to access.
It occurred to me yesterday that I hadn't tried my hand at that very process—not at Google, but at some of the subscription newspaper services I use. So I headed over to NewspaperArchive.com and entered for my search term, "Peachy Wilson." I decided to leave all the search parameters wide open—not limiting the dates nor locations of publications—and see what might happen.
My only results were four hits from a newspaper in Helena, Montana. An unlikely place to begin my search for Peachy's children, The Daily Independent ran at least four issues in June, 1894, which included the Reverend Wilson's name.
The first mention, on June 17, was an announcement of upcoming activity at the local Methodist Episcopal church:
Rev. Dr. Peachy T. Wilson and wife, medical missionary of the North India conference, Budaum, India, [likely Budaun district, part of the Bareilly division of Uttar Pradesh] who is visiting in Helena, will talk at St. Paul's M. E. Sunday school to-day at 12:15, also at the children's day exercises in the evening. The doctor has been engaged in missionary work in India under the direction of the Methodist church for nearly twenty-five years.
Lest you think educational presentations were the sole reason for Dr. Wilson's arrival in Montana, there was apparently another purpose for his visit to the area. The clue slipped out in various "personals" placements among the pages of The Daily Independent during the week the Wilsons were in town. Inserted among the newspaper's ads, the notice read,
Wm. H. WilsonYour father is at 727 Breckenridge street, Helena, and wishes to see you at once. Any information of my son will be thankfully received.
The insert was signed off by "Peachy T. Wilson, Missionary to India" and dated from Helena on June 19, 1894.
Perhaps this unusual published request caught the eyes of the editorial staff at the Independent, for it wasn't long until an article explaining the Wilsons' predicament ran in the paper. With the plaintive subheading, "Does Any One in this City or State Know the Address of Wm. H. Wilson?" the half-page-long column provided the back story.
Mentioning the personal ad having been run by Reverend Wilson, the newspaper called for a nineteenth century version of crowdsourcing when it guaranteed
There is a story in connection with that card that will enlist for Mr. Wilson the sympathy and aid of every man in the state, and of every woman also.
The article explained how the senior Wilson had served as a missionary in India for twenty seven years, and how, shortly after he arrived in India, his son William was born there. As we've already seen, the Independent recounted how, at six years of age, the Wilson son had traveled from India to the United States with the rest of his family, and how the children were left behind when "the parents" sailed, once again, for India.
Thankfully, the article included further details on William's life—at least the most recent part.
Six years ago the boy came to Montana. He found work on a horse ranch in Custer county, and every month his parents received a letter from him. After remaining in Custer county for a couple of years he went up into Choteau county and was employed by C. Wallace Taylor as a sheep herder. The winter of 1892-93 he spent in Helena, and also two months of the past winter and his parents heard from him regularly.
That is the point at which the litany of locations got fuzzy. Of course, it was also when his father wrote to let him know of his return to the States. Naturally, Peachy wanted to see "their boy"—which the newspaper was quick to mention was "now a man of 27 years of age"—but William advised them not to make the trip in the winter. It would be too abrupt a contrast in temperatures for the couple, now accustomed to the heat of India. They set their plans for a visit that June.
Despite letters being exchanged regularly every month, the Wilsons noted that the last they had heard from William was on March 4, 1894, in a letter postmarked Helena. William explained that he was headed out "in the country"—likely returning to his usual line of work. Peachy sent a reply stating the Wilsons would stick to their plan to visit in June.
That letter was returned to them, undelivered.
The report in the Independent noted how "sorely disappointed" the Wilsons were to not see "their boy" during this visit, since they hadn't seen him for years. Worse, they were soon to depart for India once again. They hardly wanted to leave without having the chance to visit with William, especially considering, as the newspaper put it, they "are well advanced in years."
The writer closed with a recap of the headlined plea to help the Wilsons find William, requesting newspapers throughout the state to also run a story on William, in case "he may see one of the country papers." Nearly begging the people of Helena—anyone associated with any boarding home where William might have stayed the past winter—to contact Peachy Wilson at his lodging in town, the newspaper concluded with their rallying cry, "That boy must be located for the old folks."
I never found any follow up report giving hope that the family was reunited. I tend to think Peachy and his wife left town without knowing what became of William.
Whatever the outcome of that drama in Helena, I do know one thing: in that long editorial call to action was inserted one clue that will further my search for William. According to the Independent, when the widowed Peachy Wilson left his children behind in America for his first return to India, he left William in care of "an uncle."