Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Was Mrs. Roberts a Widow?

It was among those many newspaper clippings regarding Albert Roberts, the man in the Council Bluffs photograph I found, that I discovered one unusual detail. It was in one of those brief, gossipy newspaper mentions of doings about town, that I spotted one puny phrase that seemed out of place:
Mrs. Lillian Cowger and son, Edward, of Omaha spent Sunday with her mother, Mrs. Albert Roberts.

The sticking point in that April 20, 1914, entry in the Council Bluffs Evening Nonpariel is one idea: the woman and her son, traveling from Omaha, went to visit her mother. Not her parents, despite both Mr. and Mrs. Roberts being alive and living in the same place, but only her mother.

Clearly, by 1914, Mrs. Albert Roberts was already married, but the three oldest daughters, at least as far as we could see from the 1900 census, were named Leta, Eva, and Ola, not Lillian.

There was a second little detail which confirmed that glitch I noticed in the newspaper mention. The household of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts of Riverton also included two other people, at least in the 1900 census. Those two people were listed as twelve year old Mamie Eachus and fifteen year old Lillie Eachus. 

The two Eachus girls were listed as daughters in the Roberts household, but no one else in that group of eight people had the surname Eachus. Since Alice was the likely reporting party, she (or the enumerator) may have incorrectly listed the relationship from her own vantage point, rather than as relationship to the head of household.

Looking at the marriage record for Alice and Albert Roberts seemed to muddy the waters even more. The August 13, 1889, event showed the correct information for Albert Roberts: twenty year old son of Thomas Roberts, as we have already seen, whose mother's name was Amanda van Horn. The record showed he had been born in Henry County, Iowa, and that this was his first marriage.

When it comes to the entry for Albert's bride, we encounter some confusing information. Her name, first of all, is listed as Alice Eachus, and the entry shows this to be her second marriage. And yet, her father's name is given as Charles E. Eachus, and her mother's as M. A. Roberts, the very surname of the man she was about to marry.

If Mamie and Lillian Eachus were indeed Alice's daughters and not Albert's, did this mean they were born to an unmarried woman? That seems highly unlikely in that era—especially twice for the same woman. What was the name of Alice's first husband? If not Eachus, then what?

Since we already have spotted a Mrs. Lillian Cowger coming from Omaha to visit her mother, Mrs. Albert Roberts, let's see what can be found for that Lillian Cowger. After all, Lillie was often a nickname for Lillian. It's possible that Lillie Eachus and Lillian Cowger could have been the same person.

As it turned out, learning to read between the lines often helps resolve research dilemmas. There was an additional curious entry for the Albert Roberts household, this time from the 1910 census. The Roberts household included a line for someone named Lillian. Her surname was listed as Roberts and she was listed as a daughter-in-law, not a daughter. Her entry also stated that, at twenty six years of age, she was a widow. She was mother of one child. And yet, there was no listing for that child.

There was one other problem with that entry: a widowed daughter-in-law presupposes a now-deceased son, and yet the Roberts' only son, Stanley, was still very much alive—and, at that point,  only twelve years of age. Unlikely he would have been the deceased husband of Lillian, let alone father of her child.

Moving to other indicators of just who this Lillian might have been, the easiest tell would be to pull up her own marriage record. Don't assume it would be easily found, searching for the Roberts surname, however. The record not only helps put every name in its proper place for Lillian, but helps us unearth the hidden story about her mother.

Married about a year and a half after that first appearance as Lillian Eachus in the Roberts' 1900 census entry, Lillian Elizabeth Eachus' December 2, 1901, event united her with a Riverton man whose scrawled name on the record looked like Ern. P. Cowger. More to the point, Lillian's parents' names were given as John W. Eachus and Alice Jane Dooley.

Was Alice Jane Dooley Eachus, then, the woman who became wife of Albert Roberts? If so, who was John Eachus, and what became of him?

One thing to note, from Lillian's marriage record, was that she was not born in Iowa, as the 1900 census had led us to believe. She was born in California. Her mother—and possibly Alice's parents, as well—had earlier moved to the Reno, Nevada, area, which is where John Eachus died.

While I can't locate the actual newspaper report from any online repositories, an Ancestry subscriber had transcribed a December 10, 1888, article from the Daily Nevada State Journal. Under the headlines, "Coroner's Inquest," the news item detailed the testimony obtained during the investigation and stated, in part, regarding John Eachus that,
the unfortunate man was lying on the track, but when he was discovered it was too late to stop the engine, although every effort was made to do so. As soon as the engine was stopped...the engineer went back and found the body, but no signs of life being evident, he started off for Reno and informed parties of the occurrence. Coroner Brown departed on a special to the scene of the accident, and found the unfortunate man alive but sinking rapidly. He was brought to Reno where he died Sunday morning at 3 o'clock.

Based on what we found in the 1900 census, we can piece together the rest of Alice's story. Widow Alice Eachus and her two daughters returned to Iowa, after that tragic 1888 episode, and by 1889 had married Albert Roberts.

Still, that does not give us the right information for Alice's own parents, who obviously were not surnamed Eachus. It takes moving to Alice's own death information to uncover that. Sure enough, at the point of Alice Roberts' death in 1927, we discover her father's name was indeed Charles E., as Alice's marriage records had revealed—it's just that her maiden name wasn't Eachus. It was Dooley. And her mother's name? Not quite M. A. Roberts, as we saw in Alice's marriage record. But close: it was Lydia A. Roberts.

That leaves me with one more question, though. Remember, I'm still trying to determine which of three couples named Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts is the right identity for the photograph I found bearing that same inscription. Does the Mrs. Albert Roberts in the Council Bluffs picture look like a woman older than her husband? Does she look like a woman who had already been widowed? Or do we need to consider the family stories of the other two men named Albert Roberts?

Above: All clippings of documents are courtesy of; excerpt of an unidentified Mrs. Roberts from photograph labeled "Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts," which photo is currently in the possession of the author until claimed by a direct descendant.


  1. This story really shows the importance of checking every document for information. Also the importance of keeping all your research in pencil!

    1. No kidding, Miss Merry! I was surprised at all the changes. Just goes to show: when you think you've found the answer, just keep looking. The real answer may be hidden behind that first one you found.

  2. Interesting discoveries! That 1889 wedding date seems about right for the photograph - for one, those frizzled bangs were quite popular then.

    1. Far Side had mentioned those bangs too, Melanie. I'm actually getting sucked into having a favorite (hint: this one is it) so it's making it harder for me to maintain an impartial viewpoint. But it's encouraging to hear you think so, too, Melanie!

  3. Managed to locate the 05 Jun 1881 marriage in Sutter, California between John W Eachus, native of Illinois, and Alice Jane Dooley native of Iowa.
    Charles Dooley born in Virginia Father
    Lidy Ann Dooley born in Virginia -mother- married in Iowa

    1. Excellent! Thank you so much for locating that, Per. I'll pull it up. I think this will be another avenue in trying to locate any pictures of the couple to compare with the one I found. So far, not much material to go by on the Roberts side, but perhaps there will be an Eachus researcher out there with some additional family photographs.

  4. Hey.. I sent you a pm on facebook. My nme is lorelle... Last name is podchalski... We need to talk. My number is in the message


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